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Open letter to the Vice-President: Right message to the wrong people

A. J. Philip A. J. Philip
10 Jan 2022

Dear Shri M Venkaiah Naidu Ji,

I had a couple of occasions to enjoy your hospitality at your house. Once I invited you as chief guest at a function. Unlike many other VIPs, you gave a prompt reply explaining why the Vice-President could not attend. No, I did not feel offended. Rather, I was happy that you were frank and forthright.

On the two occasions that I heard you, I was impressed by the series of witty one-liners you said in quick succession. Your sense of humour, command of the language and deep knowledge of Indian, especially South Indian, religious and cultural traditions were clearly discernible. 

For the benefit of my readers, let me quote two of your witty comments. Once, when you were asked about your interest in becoming the Rashtrapati, you gave a hilarious reply, that you are happy being 'Ushapati' (the husband of Usha) who is your wife.

Regarding the functioning of Parliament, you said: "In Parliament, either you should talk out or walk out. But what is happening is a frequent breakout. If this continues, democracy will be all out.” Your pun on the word “out” and the metaphorical reference to cricket were at once brilliant.

I would have been very happy to be at the St. Joseph’s Monastery at Mannanam, near Kottayam in Kerala, when you were the chief guest at the concluding function of the 150th death anniversary of Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara.

A few years ago when the Vatican announced that Chavara Achen, as he is popularly known in Kerala, would be canonised and a date was set for the same, I visited Kainakari in Alappuzha where he was born and Mannanam where his mortal remains were buried.

I consider Chavara Achen as one of the great social reformers of Kerala on a par with Sri Narayana Guru and Ayyamkali. It would be a surprise for many that the school he set up was a Sanskrit school and he made it mandatory for every church to have a school attached to it. Even today, the colloquial word for school is Pallikoodam -- that which is attached to the church.

I prepared a powerpoint presentation on Chavara Achen with the photographs of photographs and paintings that I took and presented it at a function at Kerala Club while unveiling Chavara Achen’s portrait there. I would be happy to invite you to the Club at Connaught Place on any day of your choice. 

Founded in 1939 by VP Menon and KPS Menon, Kerala Club is older than Kerala, which officially came into existence only after the State Reorganisation Commission recommended its formation along with other states like Andhra.

Is it any wonder that I followed your visit to Kerala with great interest? I was amused to know that you and your wife fell for the Kerala dish Puttu, made of rice powder and grated coconut, and that you bought the machine to make it. 

I remember the International Herald Tribune carrying on its last page a beautiful write-up on Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s cook who accompanied him to Paris. The whole article was woven around a picture that showed the cook, one Mr Nair from Kerala, pushing out puttu from the machine to the utter astonishment of half a dozen chefs, all dressed in white with the chef’s cap and apron, who surrounded him. 

To return to your visit to Mannanam, I was really touched by a point you made there. Let me quote from the Times of India report: “Let us not hate or ridicule other religions. Irrespective of caste, creed, sex, religion and region, we are all Indians and should treat everybody as our brothers and sisters. Inciting people against each other is a crime against the nation. Secularism is part of our breath”. 

I had two school-going children. Every year, we parents had to go to the school to attend the parent-teacher meeting. Both of us wanted to meet the class teacher of one of our sons. She would praise our son to the skies. He was so good, compassionate and well-behaved. She would say.

We dreaded meeting the other class teacher. “Your son is so distracted that he makes me crazy. He is not interested in studies. I do not know how he manages to get marks. Is he like this at home also?”

I knew my children better than the teachers. I could not, therefore, question them. What they said about the two were really true, leaving the question how two children growing up in the same situation, eating the same food and acquiring the same attitudes be so different? Like chalk and cheese!

Now, imagine how I would have felt if the teacher who found only faults with one son said those words in respect of my more disciplined son. Wouldn't I have felt irritated? That is what I felt when you told the essentially Christian audience, “Let us not hate or ridicule other religions”.

My apprehension was not wide of the mark. This became clearer to me when I checked the comments on the ToI report. One of the first comments was that you did the right thing to admonish the Christian evangelists. I know that you harbour no ill-feelings against the Christians.

I do not have to tell you that perceptions, sometimes, matter more than the truth. Some like the reader I quoted would have taken your comments as an admonishment which, you will admit, was hardly your intention.

Here, let me also mention that if the police find any Christian preaching hatred against Hinduism or Islam or Sikhism or ridiculing these or any other religion, he or she should be dealt with severally under the various provisions of the law. You know Andhra much better than me. Have you ever come across any Christian priest or evangelist doing anything of the kind I mentioned?

Secularism is an article of faith for the Christians who believe in Jesus’ words as mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew, “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, but render unto God that which is God’s.” Small wonder that Christian voters are seldom guided by their priests and bishops. 

Recently, a Kerala politician who crossed paths with the organised church over an environmental issue and whose symbolic body was buried long before he died, received one of the most memorable funerals in Kerala.

No, the late PT Thomas, who was married to a Brahmin lady, never repudiated God but he preferred to have a song composed by poet Vayalar to be played while his mortal remains were taken for cremation. The point is that Christians are essentially secular.

Is that the case with the party that you represent? Of course, you will tell me that the Vice-President has no party affiliation. Technically speaking, you are right but your political beliefs can’t easily be forgotten. I am sure you would know what happened at Haridwar where the saffron-clad people met for three days from December 17 to 19 and made provocative speeches.

Speaker after speaker spoke ill of the Muslims. The chief organiser himself wanted Hindus to follow in the footsteps of the Buddhists in Myanmar and kill Muslims or drive them out of the country like the Rohingya Muslims. One woman wanted every Hindu to take up swords and start killing Muslims.

I am a student of the Third Reich, especially the rise and fall of Adolf Hitler. Of course, Hitler blamed the Jews for all the ills of the nation. He and his regime used euphemisms like the “final solution” to exterminate the Jews in the concentration camps that came up in Germany and Poland. Even they did not openly ask the Germans, read Aryans, to take up swords.

As Vice-President, you would have been within your rights to speak up against those so-called Sants. Yes, you may say that you have no obligation to do so. That is what the Prime Minister and the Home Minister also thought. They did not say anything. The man who organised the Dharam Sansad was seen justifying his words and television channels were showing videos of the Uttarakhand Chief Minister touching his feet.

Now, imagine, Sir, how the state would have reacted if a Muslim leader had made a similar exhortation against Hindus. You always talk about Indian civilisation. The civilisation is the sum total of the contributions made by all communities, including the Muslims, the Christians and the Jains, to name a few. You would have seen the original handcrafted copy of the Indian Constitution.

The section on Fundamental Rights that includes the Right to Life is embellished with a painting of Ram, Lakshman and Sita. When Ram leaves Ayodhya for his vanvas, his brother Bharat was not there.

When he returns to Ayodhya, he hears about the cataclysmic events. He goes to the forest to persuade Ram to return and be the King. The first thing Ram asks is about the welfare of a microscopic minority at Ayodhya. Such was his concern for the minorities.

“In that time and era, without any caste discrimination, Shri Ram befriended Nishadraj, who was considered as a lower caste. He was accorded the same respect that was bestowed on his other royal friends. Rejecting apartheid or racial discrimination, He also graciously accepted the semi-eaten plums offered by a tribeswoman Shabari at that time. As a king, Shri Ram was a true guardian of people’s rights, treating all those under him as equals”.

Do you think Ram would have tolerated those Sants who want to kill Muslims? But Modi and Co. tolerate them in the mistaken belief that it would fetch them votes. If anyone thinks that the Muslims can be exterminated, they live in a fool’s paradise. Any such attempt will lead to civil war which will finish the country.

I was very happy to read that you felt so serene at the St. Joseph’s Monastery at Mannanam that you wanted to spend a few minutes in meditation there. Even I had a similar feeling at Mannanam. Kerala is a small state in India.

In the rest of the country, Christian worship centres are not necessarily grand. In many places, they meet in huts for prayers. Today, Hindu vigilantes have made their life miserable. It has become easy for a few mad caps to barge into a Christian prayer hall, accuse the pastor of proselytisation, throw the Bible and drive out the faithful.

Christians do not retaliate. They have been taught to suffer, not to counter attack. That emboldens them to stage such attacks in many villages and even in a city like New Delhi. They are able to do it only because they enjoy the patronage of those who came to power promising sabka vikas (development for everyone).

Where else in the modern world does a Prime Minister employ 55 cameras of Doordarshan to cover him on his visit to Kashi where he behaves like a Hindu priest? And in Gurgaon, hardly 40 kms from Parliament, Muslims are not allowed to pray in public places. Is this secularism?

My column last week was headlined “Genocidal talk: Silence is no virtue”. You have reached a certain position in life. I have no idea whether you would be considered for the post of President when it falls vacant. Even if you are not, you have the stature to speak out against anyone who dares to question the secular credentials of the country, denigrate Mahatma Gandhi and call for the annihilation of Muslims.

All secular-minded persons look up to you to play the role of a fatherly figure who cannot discriminate against any of his children on grounds of religion, caste or class. How I wish you to speak what you spoke at Mannanam to those who bay for the blood of Muslims. That would truly be Vice-Presidential, Sir!

Yours etc




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