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Last Updated: Monday, 11 August, 2003, 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK
Hindu nation: What role for religion?
Sir Mark Tully with Chunnibhai Vaidya at the Ghandi Ashram
Sir Mark Tully with Chunnibhai Vaidya at the Ghandi Ashram

In a BBC Four documentary, Sir Mark Tully travels through India examining the challenges facing secularism. Is there a vacuum in which Hindu nationalism is flourishing?

Anyone who says religion is needed in Indian politics - where only last year Hindus in Gujarat took bloody revenge for a Muslim attack on a train - might well be accused of criminal irresponsibility.

But during my travels around India searching for an answer to militant Hinduism, everyone I met felt religion should have a place in government.

In Ahmedabad we visited the scenes of some of the worst violence last year.

Among the victims I met was Sher Khan, a courageous 14-year-old boy who had been shot in the side. He will never walk again but still hopes to open a small shop.

Riot in Ahmedabad last year
The riots in Ahmedabad left many traumatised
In the "ashram" or retreat in Ahmedabad, where Gandhi spent 12 of the most crucial years of his campaign against the British, the spiritual director, Chunnibhai Vaidya, said the Mahatma believed religion should "pervade politics".

But which religion? Ahmedabad is a stronghold of the National Volunteer Corps, known as the RSS, which is the heart of the Hindu Nationalist movement.

The VHP, the missionary branch of the RSS, preaches militant Hinduism as the religion for India. We saw their missionary zeal when we drove for five hours to visit one of the many schools they have established in the remotest corner of Gujarat.

Then we caught a plane to Kerala in the deep South to discover how Indian Muslims and Christians felt about the threat from the Hindu missionaries.

'Pride in religion'

There, the head of an Orthodox Christian Seminary said secularism could not take on militant Hinduism because the value Indians put on religion could not be ignored. A Muslim minister in the state government agreed.

We then went to Madhya Pradesh to discuss the secular creed of the Congress party which ruled India for almost all the first 50 years after independence.

Reaching the capital of Bhopal, I found the state's Chief Minister, Digvijay Singh, felt the secularism of his Congress party needed to be redefined to take account of India's deeply religious ethos.

We only just made it in time for our interview with the Deputy Prime Minister, Lal Krishan Advani, because of an air mishap - the pilot's radar collapsed.

Although Mr Advani's Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, is part of "the RSS family" he was anxious to disassociate himself from its more extreme members.

He blamed their anger on the Congress party's secularism which he said left no room for Hindus to take pride in their religion.

India is experiencing a rising tide of Hindu communalism - but it has accommodated Islam and Christianity almost since their birth and they, too, need space.

So, with elections looming, will India continue as a secular state?

Our documentary concludes that most politicians believe this will only be possible if India's age-old tradition of religious tolerance remains at the centre of its national ideology.

Hindu Nation: BBC Four, Monday 11 August 2003 2100 - 2150 BST; rpt 2320 - 2410; Thursday 14 August 2230 -2320


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