Raman Fielding/Bal Thackeray : Historical Rama-i-fication "Ram nam satya hai "/The name Rama is truth

Jennifer Takhar

In The Moor's Last Sigh the megalomaniac character Raman Fielding distorts the history of India to make it coincide with his convictions : Hindus must eliminate all Muslims from India. Fielding's encouragement of religious apartheid leads to the destruction of Bombay at the end of the novel when the city goes up in flames. For Rushdie Bombay synecdochically stands for India, the fragile unity of which the author correctly senses is under siege. We are going to discover how devastating the control of history becomes when a Hindu fundamentalist takes it upon himself to rewrite it. This search for historical control is frighteningly reminiscent of new evidence which reveals Hitler's attempts at uncovering the secrets of Atlantis and the Holy Grail, hoping to reinforce the Nazi's racist ideology and justifying the genocide that followed. Scientists of the highest calibre were engaged in a project to rewrite the record of the past in order to influence the future course of history. Raman Fielding follows suit by taking up Indira Gandhi's attempts at reducing the pantheon of Hindu gods to a monovocal power.

In Midnight's Children the symbolic value of the multiplicity of Hindu gods is a guiding force for Saleem Sinai. He is more attracted by this multiplicity than by the Muslim faith into which he was born (p.194). In order to guarantee her success in a country where the majority of the population is Hindu " the Widow", Indira Gandhi appropriated the image of all the Hindu goddesses and became a sort of monotheistic goddess, an idea that goes against the multiplicity of the Hindu pantheon : Rushdie believes

[Indira Gandhi] She is Devi, she is also Lakshmi, Parvati, Uma. She was the mother goddess. Bharat Mata, that's who she wanted to be. So if she wants to be Mother India, then that includes everyone else ; they are all incarnations of her ". (Uma Chaudhuri in Imaginative Maps : a conversation with Salman Rushdie, 1983)

In Midnight's Children Indira ends up representing an all powerful "..one God " for the masses (p.438). Fielding has a predilection for the Hindu god, Rama, the avatara or incarnation of Vishn, the Hindu God responsible for the preservation of the universe. It is important to underline here the close relationship between Raman Fielding and the ominously titled "Widow," Indira. In one of the first rough drafts of what was to become Midnight's Children, Rushdie wanted the title Madam Rama, an oblique reference to Indira.

Ian Hamilton writes that the first effort at writing Midnight's Children "was entitled Madam Rama, and its main character bears some resemblance to Indira Gandhi, whose state-of-emergency repressions had left Rushdie disillusioned and indignant : Nehru's legacy betrayed by Nehru's daughter. " In the same article, Liz Calder, from Gollancz Publishers, stated that this draft of Midnight's Children : "[the novel] had some great stuff in it...he plundered it for Midnight's Children. " [The New Yorker, 25th December 1995, pp.102-103]

"'RAM'an" Fielding (305) is inspired by the real life character of Bal Thackeray, the leader of the Hindu fundamentalists in Bombay. Thackeray is the near replica of Raman Fielding, nicknamed Mainduck in the novel. Fielding strongly reminds us of the Maharathi Hindu fanatic, Chaggan Bhujbal in the documentary created by Rushdie, The Riddle of Midnight (1987 Channel Four). Apparently the prototype Rushdie had in mind during the creation of Fielding is none other than the Russian Jirinovski, a particularly abrasive combination of nationalism and fundamentalism : " He was against trade unions, for strike breakers, against womens' labour, for sati, the immolation of widows on their husband's funeral pyre, against poverty and in favour of wealth" (287-288). Mistry severely reprimands Thackeray in Such A Long Journey, through Gustad Noble's banker friend, Dinshawji : "that bastard...leader who worships Hitler and Mussolini. He and his "Maharashtra for Maharashtrians" non sense. They won't stop until they have complete Maratha Raj [rule]." (73).

What concerns us most in The Moor's Last Sigh, is the fact that Mainduck/Thackeray follows in the steps of Indira with his monodimensional-ising of the pantheon of Hindu gods : he privileges the reign of the Hindu avatara Rama. That is to say that the downfall of Bombay's plurality is commensurate to the destruction of the plurality of the Hindu pantheon symbolised by the single voiced authority of Indira and Raman Fielding. Mainduck longs to cast aside Bombay's multicultural heritage and he seeks to provoke an irresistible rise of The Hindu against the religious pluralism which Bombay represents : " He spoke of a golden age 'before the invasions' when good Hindu men and women could roam free" (299). He uses the famous image of the palimpsest of the Indian nation: "The true nation is what we must reclaim from beneath the layers of alien empires" (299), these 'layers' refer to the numerous colonisations of India, by the Portuguese, the Moguls and the British. Mainduck ha! ppens to be linked to India's own Mafiosi. If he represents the future, the new way (300) there is no hope for the continuation of the multicultural ideal that Rushdie was so fondly accustomed to in the good old days of Midnight's Children.

In The Moor's Last Sigh, the almost interchangeable Bal Thackeray/Raman Fielding, the influential extreme right wing mayor and former humoristic cartoonist, appears as the head of a Hindu mob wanting to chase away Muslims. Bal Thackeray attempts to forbid the Pakistani cricket team from playing in Bombay ; Raman Fielding then accuses the Indian team's Muslim player, Abbas Ali Baig, of deliberately eliminating himself from the match against Pakistan and consequently reducing their chances of winning (229). The name of Fielding's party, " the Mumbai Axis ," originates from the name of the Mother Goddess of the city of Bombay. This party more than the character of Fielding is the exact model of the Shiv Sena.

The Shiv Sena is rewriting the history of the country from a Hindu perspective and awaits the reign of Lord Ram to give a lesson to the Moguls (Muslims) of India. The researcher, S. P. Udayakumar, expounds upon the great reverence inspired by Rama amongst the Indian people : "Ram is not only a favourite deity but also a communal rendering of Indian 'national history'." Udayakumar clarifies the importance of Ram in India's Hindu society, demonstrating " a...linear account of the past that had no Muslims, (as Fielding does) no privileges to the weaker sections of society, and no politicisation, Ram becomes...'history in full. " In the novel the communalist conflicts culminate, as in the real life history of India with the destruction of the Ayodhya mosque that Zeenat Vakil, the brilliant art critic, attributes to the victory of one piece of religious fiction over another. (351)

Various articles have covered the destruction of the mosque at Ayodhya in 1992, linking it in large part to the manipulation of religious history by Hindu politicians. Rushdie describes the dismantlement of the site explaining how "The mosque at Ayodhya was destroyed...'fanatics', or alternatively, 'devout liberators of the sacred site' (delete according to taste) swarmed over the seventeenth century Babri Masjid and tore it apart" (p.363).

It becomes clear that manipulation of historical fact is potentially disastrous. Most alarmingly over the last decade, the main Hindu right wing party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has made an organised effort to infiltrate the professional institutions and propagate its own version of history. According to Iqbal Ansari" [religion-tainted], communal perceptions of history have got entrenched in the collective psyche of many Indians...(and that this)...mythic-psychic-folkorish operant...makes it possible for some politicians and bigoted religious leaders (such as Fielding/Thackeray) to manipulate and mislead people". The BJP defends Maharathis and this defence means that thousands of immigrants are fiercely repressed, especially those Indians who have come to make their fortunes in Bombay. Muslims, who only make up five percent of the population of the city are equally repelled. To lead this heavy handed combat the Shiv Sena, a particularly virulent right wing Hi! ndu organisation, with close ties to the BJP, vindicates the use of force and brandish warlike symbols. This army of Shiva has been responsible for violent pogroms : in Ayodhya 1992 and in the seventies it attacked South Indian shops and their merchandise. According to the BJP and its ugly political sister, Jawaharlal Nehru's secular socialism is deemed a distortion of the authentic Hindu identity of India. So, for the BJP, 'this kind of Nehruvian socialism' is just a continuation of the anti-Hindu agenda of the British Raj during the colonial reign.

The BJP considers that the reign of Muslims in India was a scourge and that the Partition of the sub-continent in 1947 can be seen as a betrayal to the nation by Jawaharlal and Mahatma Gandhi. Some of India's great secular historians have taken up arms against this historical revisionism of the Hindu right wing, of the BJP, by hailing nineteenth century Muslim predominance, and claiming that Hindus and Muslims in India represented two equably notable nations. For the very same historians it is the British colonial reign that created communalism or Hindu/Muslim strife. It is too early to know where this cultural struggle will lead, but it has already influenced the writing of Indian history : communalism, the conflict between Hindus and Muslims and other types of religious conflict have become an important field of research, even overtaking yesteryear's obsession, anti-colonial nationalism.

The tragic truth is that Indira Gandhi stands responsible for the creation of the Shiv Sena and Mistry vehemently reminds us of this, in Such A Long Journey : " And today we have that bloody Shiv Sena, wanting to make the rest of us into second-class citizens. Don't forget, she [Indira] started it all by supporting the racist buggers" (391). Here the character Dinshawji explains the exclusion of Parsis, "'ethnic minorities,' second-class citizens," advocated by the Shiv Sena so that Lebensraum will be created in India for the pure blooded Hindu race. Mistry ironically confirms the Shiv Sena's racism when he explains how the dim-witted, slow-minded Parsi character, Tehmul, recruited by the Shiv Sena, distributes "racist pamphlets aimed against minorities in Bombay. They had promised him a Kwality Choc-O-Bar if he did a good job" (86). Tehmul does not understand that he is tightening a noose around his own neck for the sake of a sweet.

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