Who wrote the book, Sri Ramachandra, the ideal
King? Who wrote that he was "Not simply a great warrior, a mighty
King. He was an Avatara, a divine incarnation, and a divine
incarnation of a special kind." "All men are divine incarnations,"
the person wrote. "But when we speak of an Avatar we mean more than
this. An Avatara... is a special incarnation, a human form being
taken in which the Divinity veils Himself and through which shines
forth His glory. Not in germ, in 'divine fragments', as in us, but
in full radiance of Deity, God reveals Himself in man to man."
Who wrote that the reason Sri Rama had taken form
is the one which has been stated by Lord Krishna in the resounding
verse of the Gita, "Yada yada he dharmasya... "? Who wrote that
sometimes the purpose of Divine incarnation is to teach -- as in the
case of Lord Krishna "whose divine 'song' is still the world's
wonder"? That "Sometimes He [the Avatara] is also an Example; and as
an example for men of the world... Ramachandra stands supreme, the
ideal man in every relation of life... "? Who wrote that in Sri
Rama's instance there was the additional mission -- "to shew forth
the ideal Kshatriya", and that this is the ideal that India needed
most at the time?
Who founded the Central Hindu College which became,
in the words of a distinguished biographer, "a nucleus radiating the
Hindu culture and ideals", and which eventually became the nucleus
for the formation of the Benaras Hindu University? Who brought out
-- in association of one of our most learned philosophers -- the
Sanatan Dharma series to impart both knowledge of our religious
traditions as well as reverence for and pride in them? Who wrote in
association with that great philosopher what is till today one of
the most instructive translations of the Gita? Who brought out a
series of publications narrating the heroism of our Aryan ancestors
to instill pride in our past?
The very Annie Besant whom sycophantic Congressmen
are citing as precedent today! There literally cannot be a greater
contrast between her and the one these sycophants seek to legitimize
by invoking her. She did not alight into the Congress presidency
from a helicopter. She had been in the forefront of Indian public
life for two decades before she was anointed President. Indeed, for
twenty years before she came to India, she had been in the forefront
of almost every struggle for reform in Britain. It has been well
said that the history of reform in Britain from 1874 to 1893 -- the
year she came to India -- is coterminous with her biography of those
Struggles to improve working conditions of workers?
She was in the forefront -- from the conditions of work of women
making matches to those of municipal workers to those of dockers.
The heartless eviction of tenants? She was the vanguard in the
movements against the Coercion Act in Ireland. The establishment of
the National Secular Society? She was the co-founder. The work of
the Fabian Society? The spread of socialist ideas and the socialist
movement in Europe? She was in the forefront. The rights of women?
She was in the vanguard...
From architectonic measures to the minor things
that we do not even think about, her role was of the first order. We
live under that impact to this day. Consider a matter which seems
simple in itself but has had a vital place in the evolution of
freedom in regard to religious expression and belief. When a person
assumes high office in India today -- from becoming the President to
Prime Minister to Chief Justice to member of Parliament, whatever --
she or he has to take an oath. Our Constitution and laws provide
that he may take an oath in the name of God or he may swear an oath
of affirmation. Where does this option come from?
From a great agitation -- in which Annie Besant
played a central role. The fighter and reformer that she was, she
began working with Charles Bradlaugh. Both of them became anathema
to the establishment -- in particular to the clerical establishment.
Bradlaugh stood for Parliament. They were heckled, they were set
upon. They were soon imprisoned for republishing a proscribed
pamphlet advocating contraception -- they felt that, whether one
agreed with its contents or not, it is important in the cause of
free speech that it be printed and circulated. Her former husband, a
narrow-minded clergyman, sued to snatch custody of their children:
the case itself became one of the spurs to remedying the law that
favoured husbands in such matters.
Bradlaugh won the election to Parliament. But he
refused to take the oath in the name of God. The clergy and others
seized this. A committee of Parliament was appointed to determine
whether he could take his seat in Parliament by making a solemn
affirmation. The House voted to disallow him. Declaring that its
order was contrary to law, Bradlaugh refused to comply with it. The
Sergeant-at-Arms was directed to remove him. Demonstrations flared
up everywhere. The House rescinded its resolution. The opponents
took the matter to court. The court held against him.
The seat was declared vacant. But Bradlaugh won
again. A vast crowd, with Annie Besant in the lead, marched to
enable him to enter the House. As they had forsworn violence,
Bradlaugh was forcibly removed from the precincts. A huge protest
movement erupted: a petition bearing a quarter million signatures
was presented to Parliament. The movement was stoked by the
incessant tours and writings of Annie Besant as much as by anything
else: Sir C P Ramaswami, from whose brief biography of Annie Besant
facts about this episode have been taken, recalls Mrs Besant writing
that by the great wrong which has been inflicted on him, Charles
Bradlaugh has become the incarnation of a great principle.
Bradlaugh was elected a third time -- this time in
a general election. He introduced, and the House eventually passed
an Oaths Bill -- from which flows the option we have today -- to
take an oath in the name of God or to solemnly affirm...
It was this enormous work on a entire array of
issues which had made Annie Besant one of the most conspicuous
reformers long, long before she came to India. How considerable her
reputation was can be gauged from the effect that the mere news of
her accepting Theosophy had on Gandhiji at the time. Sir C P
reproduces Gandhiji's observation:
"When I was studying in London in 1888 and after,
I had become, like many like me, an admirer of Bradlaugh and
Besant. Imagine my excitement when one fine morning I read in the
London press that Annie Besant had become a Theosophist under
Blavatsky's inspiration. I was a mere boy practically unknown to
anybody. I would have been more than satisfied if I could have
touched the hem of the garments of Madame Blavatsky and her
distinguished disciple. But I could not, though some friends had
kindly taken me to Blavatsky Lodge. When Dr Besant came to India
and captivated the country, I came in close touch with her and,
though we had political differences, my veneration for her did not
Back in India, with the triumphs in South Africa on
everyone's lips, Gandhiji broke journey in Benaras more than once
just to pay his respects to Annie Besant. Even when they had parted
ways because of political differences, Gandhiji's words for her
remained reverential. Introducing her to the audience in Ahmedabad
in 1918, we find him saying: "I have often said that there have
been, and there may still be, differences between her and me; there
are quite a few even today... Having said this, I admit I cannot but
look up to her with reverence, honour her, pay tribute to her for
her excellent qualities, for she has dedicated her very soul to
India. She lives only for India -- to live thus is her sole
aspiration... In my view, Ahmedabad has covered itself with
unsurpassed honour by honoring one who has rendered such great
services as she has... "
Pandit Nehru described his first meeting with Annie
Besant as "one of the outstanding events in my life." "Her
personality, the legends that had already surrounded her heroic
career and her oratory overwhelmed me," he wrote. "With a young
boy's admiration and devotion I gazed at her and followed her
about." In his autobiography, Panditji writes of his going to attend
her lectures in Allahabad: "I was deeply moved by her oratory and
returned from her speeches dazed and as in a dream. I decided to
join the Theosophical Society, although I was only thirteen
then...." Mrs Besant herself conducted the initiation ceremony, he
records, and adds, "I was thrilled." This was the impact she had on
persons before her great work in India reached anywhere near the
heights it eventually did.
Because of her, "Home Rule" has become a mantra in
every village, Gandhiji said of her political work. She worked
ceaselessly for an array of reform movements. Her contribution in
restoring pride in Hindus for their own culture, religion, history
was of the highest order. She crafted legislative proposals of
far-reaching significance: from manifestos, statements,
declarations, resolutions, which led, among other things, to the
Montagu-Chelmsford reforms; from these to the Commonwealth of India
Bill of 1925, one of the first attempts within India to draw up the
principles of a constitution for the country.
Where is the comparable record of Sonia in public
life? On every issue of the day, Annie Besant's view was known, it
was thoroughly thought-through, openly and widely expressed: she was
a prodigious writer, and an even more prodigious speaker -- her
voice was incomparable, carrying to ten thousands in the open air
even at that time, writes a biographer who heard and saw her for
decades. On what issue do we know Sonia's view? Is there any
indication at all even of the possibility that on any issue
whatsoever she has a view of her own?
Indeed, by recalling Mrs Besant, Congressmen remind
us how in every particular, she was the exact opposite of the one
for whom they make her out to have been a precedent.
Writing: In his memoir of her, Sri Prakasa, the son
of Dr Bhagvan Das, the erudite philosopher who was her collaborator
for decades, and one who himself knew her since he was a toddler,
writes, "All her letters... are in manuscript. She wrote all her
articles, whether for newspapers or learned magazines, herself. The
manuscript of all her books is also in her own handwriting... " Yes,
two collections of letters have been put out as if they have been
edited by Sonia: the letters were written by Panditji and Indira
Gandhi, they were collated by others, the explanatory footnotes -- a
few words a piece about persons and events alluded to in the letters
-- have been compiled by the staff of the Nehru Memorial
Speaking: Annie Besant gave thousands of lectures.
She would speak for an hour or more. Audiences used to be mesmerized
by her eloquence, her knowledge, to say nothing of her immersion in
our culture and religion. Sir C P recalls as acerbic an appraiser as
Bernard Shaw saying of her that she was the greatest orator in
England and possibly in Europe. "I have never heard her excelled.
She was then [he was writing of the time she took to socialism]
unapproached." Just a single detail will speak to the distance
between her and what we see today: Sri Prakasa writes, " ...She
never carried any notes. She never consulted any papers as she
spoke. Her memory must have been remarkable, and I believe she just
rehearsed her lectures to herself once, before going into the
lecture hall; and that was enough for her. She never faltered for a
word and her voice never broke..."
All testified to the extreme generosity of spirit:
she never spoke an ill-word of anyone, she bore calumny -- and much
was heaped on her throughout her life -- without any thought of
avenging it. Sir C P's observation is typical: narrating her
isolation in the years when she had fallen out of step with the
national movement, he writes, "Easy it is, if success blesses us, to
possess some facile virtues and to prove and demonstrate them. But
it is difficult for one living amidst calumny and obloquy, at all
junctures to remain sweet-tempered, patient and forgiving,
long-suffering, and yet hopeful of the future. As one who came
across Mrs Besant very often during these years, I can say that I
did not see one bitter expression on her face, nor did I hear from
her lips one vengeful word."
Contrast the appropriation by Sonia of one
governmental Trust after another, their conversion in effect into
family Trusts with Mrs Besant making over the Central Hindu College
to the Benaras Hindu University. Contrast it with what Sir C P
writes of Mrs. Besant's uniform practice. She received large sums,
he recalls, all of these she distributed in scholarships, in
charitable gifts, in donations to worthy institutions. He writes
that he "is personally aware of the circumstance that, generally
speaking, at the end of each year, Dr. Besant used to draw cheques
on all the banks in which monies were deposited to her credit and
denude herself of all property..."
On every occasion, as at the Resurrection speech in
Talkatora Stadium, all we hear is "Me and my family." Even in the
Address she delivered at the very occasion these Congressmen cite as
the precedent, the one she delivered on assuming the presidentship
of the Congress in 1917, what is it that Mrs. Besant said? "....I
have no words with which to thank you," she told the delegates, "no
eloquence with which to repay my debt. My deeds must speak for me,
for words are too poor. I turn your gift into service to the
Motherland; I consecrate my life anew to Her worship by action. All
that I have and am, I lay on the Altar of the Mother, and together
we shall cry, more by service than by words: Vande Mataram!"
The very expressions -- Motherland, Mother, worship
of the Mother, the Altar of the Mother, and of course Vande Mataram
-- communal anathemas in the eyes of our Congressmen.
Every act, every thought had been in the public
domain for forty years in Mrs Besant's case. Every act, every
thought has been shrouded behind the speech-writer's script, the PR
advisor's sheen today.
The Congress-presidency came after twenty years'
unremitting labour in the service of India in Mrs. Besant's case. It
has come as a measure of desperation by persons who have no other
way of acquiring office today.
Even more important, indeed it is ludicrous to even
have to recall it, was another fact. Even as she laboured for India,
the Congress transformed -- under the Lokmanya, under Gandhiji. Mrs
Besant withdrew to Adyar. It is too harsh to say that her
foreignness was the inevitable factor, but something like it was.
She could never reconcile herself to the demand for complete
independence, the apogee of her aspiration for India remained Home
Rule as part of the British Empire. So also her adoration for
Hinduism. Even so adoring a devotee as Sri Prakasa expresses this --
ever so delicately. In one lecture at Benaras he heard her extol
Hindu ceremonies for their ancestors, he writes. I don't believe any
of this, he remarked to his neighbour. He was roundly reprimanded.
But has she ever made offerings for her own ancestors?, he
Even during her lifetime -- she died in 1933 -- the
Congress had moved far away from the 1917 in which it had elected
her President. And that too for a year only. Today we are being told
that because she was the President eighty years ago -- for one year,
it is all right to have Sonia as President -- for life!
Every detail an opposite. And yet the claim, "We
have a precedent."
And the one thing that enables them to get away
with such travesty: the near-total ignorance of the rest of