Earlier this week, Ashok Singhal was finally claimed by nature. He succumbed to illness and old age. With his death, the chorus of hatred and violence has lost one loud voice.
It takes a lot to develop a personality which oozes viciousness by its very presence. You have to divest yourself of the elements of humanity, empathy for others and the potential for goodness. After emptying yourself of these attributes, you remain human only in form. Singhal belonged to this category of human beings.
In Indian culture, we do not speak ill of the dead. Death is a humbling human experience, and we mostly greet it with silence.
But there are deaths and there are deaths. There are people we want to be eternal - those who give others cause and hope to live, to believe in life despite all its miseries, who make everybody feel important and needed. Their departure takes a part of our selves away from us.
And then there are people who leave behind threads of vicious bitterness, every moment of whose active existence is a torment for others. All deaths, therefore, do not deserve our mourning.
One can say that we are also known by our mournings. Mourning is not only a personal act; nations also mourn.
In democratically-run nation-states, the ritual of mourning is taken very seriously. When the government of Great Britain mourned the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, it received a severe tongue-lashing from liberals. That it chose to lower its flag to mourn the death of a tyrant who ran one of the most brutal regimes of the world was taken as an act of betrayal of the principles they claim to be their raison d'etre.
The response of elected governments to deaths is calibrated to represent the feelings of the people. Not all dead are condoled by the Head of Government through words, let alone a visit.
Now, India claims to accord equal dignity to all its citizens with full recognition of their religious and cultural identities. So, when the Prime Minister of India decides to pay homage to a person like Singhal, who was solely defined by his visceral hatred of Muslims and Christians, by making a personal appearance at his last rites, he makes a definite statement - he abides by the values that the departed espoused. Muslims and Christians of this country have reason to feel left out.
The PM's tweet also informed us that Singhal was the force behind several noble deeds and social work. This also exposed the idea that the tweeter has about of noble and social deeds.
A simple Google search will be enough to find out the real thoughts and deeds of the departed VHP leader. Sample some of Singhal's more recent comments to get a measure of the man:
On the eve of the Lok Sabha elections, in February 2014, Singhal exhorted Hindus to bear five children, in order to "revive the community's declining population in the country as Muslims and Christians are outdoing our numbers by converting Hindus and by marrying the religion's girls."
In February 2013, Singhal had opined: "Freedom of the Muslims to marry multiple times and have lots of kids has to be curbed. The decision in the matter of the Ram Janmabhoomi cannot be left in the hands of the court anymore and the Parliament soon has to come on a decision on this issue."
In November 2014, after the BJP was firmly ensconced at the Centre, he had declared at the World Hindu Congress at Delhi that Hindu rule was now established in Delhi, comparing Narendra Modi's rise to power with the rule of Prithviraj Chauhan.
"Eight hundred years after it (power in Delhi) went away from Prithviraj Chauhan, it did come back into the hands of a proud Hindu. It has happened after 800 years."
In June 2015, he declared that India will be a Hindu nation by 2020, and the entire world by 2030, following the BJP's victory in the 2014 polls. Again in the same month, he brought back the Ayodhya issue by saying that there could be no communal harmony unless Muslims forwent their claim on Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi, where there were temple-mosque disputes.
Noble words indeed! The only social work Singhal was known to be associated with was the demolition of the Babri Masjid, after a long Ram Janmabhoomi temple campaign. It resulted not only in the demolition of the mosque at Ayodhya, but also in large-scale killings and mayhem, leaving a permanent scar on the body and psyche of the nation.
Singhal was definitely a divisive man, a figure of hate. The mission of his life was the elimination of Muslims and Christians from India, something which cannot be tolerated or condoned. But he lived a full life, unrestrained by the law of the land.
People of many kinds exist in India. You cannot outlaw each one who entertains Singhal's ideas. Jawaharlal Nehru had said long back that India tolerated all kinds, mad and vicious included. But they belong to the class of "also exist", who, if not opposed, are ignored.
But when the Prime Minister enacts the ritual of recognition, by terming the death of such hate-mongers as a loss to the nation, it really turns the tables on Muslims and Christians of India. It looks like it's they who are being pushed into the "also exist" category.
The AAP government in Delhi did the right thing when it rejected the demand of the BJP to adopt a motion to condole the death of Singhal. It just could not place him on a venerated pedestal.
The Parliament will soon be in session. One has to wait to see whether those who have benefitted from Singhal's politics of hate will succeed in securing the Parliament's respect for him. We cannot be sure.
After all, in this very Parliament is hung the portrait of a man, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who was part of the conspiracy to kill Mahatma Gandhi. He also proposed a vision of the nation which negates everything this India stands for. Now, the followers of this conspirator hold power at the Centre.
It was no surprise, therefore when the Head of Government took pains to register his approval of Singhal's deeds by calling them social and noble. It's just one more occasion when he exposes himself.