Shri Guruji, An intensely patriotic Indian - Verghese Kurien

Courtesy: "I too had a dream", pg.181 to 185 - Dr. Verghese Kurien, Roli Book Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi

In 1967, as Chairman of NDDB, I was asked to be a member of a high-powered committee, set up by the Government of India, to look into cow protection. It was a collection of rather individualistic and interesting personages. Justice Sarkar, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was appointed its Chairman. Among the other members of this committee were Ashok Mitra, who was then Chairman of the Agricultural Prices Commission, the Shankaracharya of Puri, H.A.B. Parpia, Director of the Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysore and M.S. Golwalkar ‘Guruji’, the head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the organisation which had launched the entire cow protection movement.

When this committee was set up one of the first questions to be raised in the Parliament was : ‘Is there any Muslim on this committee ?’ The reply given was : ‘Yes, there is Dr.Parpia.’ Whereupon Parpia got furious and wrote to the government saying : ‘If I have been put on this committee because I am a Muslim, I herewith submit my resignation.’ He told the government that since he was not a practicing Muslim, they better think again and put some mullah on the committee ! However, the government managed to pacify him and he stayed on.

For some inexplicable reason, the Shankaracharya and I took a spontaneous and mutual dislike to one another. I still recall my first meeting with him. He strode into the room, bare-chested, carrying an ankush (trident) in one hand and a rolled up deerskin tucked under his other arm. He walked up to the chair next to me, spread out his deerskin on the seat and sat down. In those days I used to be a heavy smoker and I thought to myself that if he did not need permission to carry a deerskin. I did not need permission to smoke and I continued smoking. Unfortunately, each time I took a puff and exhaled the smoke, it would move in his direction. The Shankaracharya glared at me, made some angry noises, snatched up his ankush and deerskin and moved down a few chairs away from me. He continued to glower at me from his new position and I continued to smoke. Justice Sarkar, who was watching this little sideshow delightedly, leaned forward, tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Dr. Kurien, may I have a cigarette too ?’ That was Justice Sarkar. A great man.

Incredible as it might seem, this committee met regularly for twelve years. We interviewed scores of experts from all fields to get opinions of all shades on cow slaughter. It was a tedious and time consuming process. My brief was to prevent any ban on cow slaughter. It was important for us in the dairy business to keep weeding out the unhealthy cows so that available resources could be utilised for healthy and productive cattle. I was prepared to go as far as to allow that no useful cow should be killed. This was the point on which the Shankaracharya and I invariably locked horns and got into heated arguments. I constantly asked him, ‘Your Holiness, are you going to take all the useless cows which are not producing anything and look after them and feed them till they die ? You know that cannot work.’ He never had any answer to my query.

For twelve years the Government of India paid the committee members to travel to Delhi and attend the meetings. We continued like this and it was only when Morarji Desai became Prime Minister that I received a little slip of paper, which said, ‘The cow protection committee is hereby abolished .’ We were never even asked to submit a report.

However, one rather unusual and unexpected development during our regular committee meetings was that during that time, Golwalkar and I became close friends. People were absolutely amazed to see that we had become so close that whenever he saw me walk into the room he would rush to embrace me. He would take me aside and try to pacify me after our meetings, ‘Why do you keep losing your temper with the Shankaracharya ? I agree with you about him. But don’t let the man rile you. Just ignore him.

Golwalkar was a very small man – barely five feet - but when he got angry fire spewed out of his eyes. What impressed me most about him was that he was an intensely patriotic Indian. You could argue that he was going about preaching his brand of nationalism in a totally wrong way but nobody could question his sincerity. One day after one of our meetings when he had argued passionately for banning cow slaughter, he came to me and asked, ‘Kurien, shall I tell you why I’m making an issue of this cow slaughter business ?’

I said to him, ‘Yes, please explain to me because otherwise you are a very intelligent man. Why are you doing this ?’

‘I started a petition to ban cow slaughter actually to embarrass the government,’ he began explaining to me in private. ‘I decided to collect a million signatures for this work I traveled across the country to see how the campaign was progressing. My travels once took me to a village in Utter Pradesh. There I saw in one house, a woman, who having fed and sent off her husband to work and her two children to school, took this petition and went from house to house to collect signatures in that blazing summer sun. I wondered to myself why this woman should take such pains. She was not crazy to be doing this. This is when I realised that the woman was actually doing it for her cow, which was her bread and butter, and I realised how much potential the cow has.

‘Look at what our country has become. What is good is foreign : what is bad is Indian. Who is a good Indian ? It’s the fellow who wears a suit and a tie and puts on a hat. Who is a bad Indian ? The fellow who wears a dhoti. If this nation does not take pride in what it is and merely imitates other nations, how can it amount to anything ? Then I saw that the cow has potential to unify the country – she symbolises the culture of Bharat. So I tell you what, Kurien, you agree with me to ban cow slaughter on this committee and I promise you, five years from that date, I will have united the country. What I’m trying to tell you is that I’m not a fool, I’m not a fanatic. I’m just cold-blooded about this. I want to use the cow to bring out our Indianness. So please cooperate with me on this.’

Of course, neither did I concur with him on this nor did I support his argument for banning cow slaughter on the committee. However, I was convinced that in his own way he was trying to instil a pride across our country about our being Indian. This side of his personality greatly appealed to me. That was the Golwalkar I knew. They had accused him of plotting the murder of Mahatma Gandhi but somehow I could never believe it. To me he came across as an honest and outspoken man and I always thought that if he were the Hindu fanatic that he was made out to be, he would never have been my friend.

During the last days of his life, when he was ailing and in Poona, he called all the state heads of the RSS to talk to them because he knew he was dying. After Golwalkar passed away, one of these men turned up at my office to meet me. ‘Sir, I am the head of the RSS in Gujarat,’ he said, introducing himself. ‘You probably know that Guruji is no more. He had called all of us to Poona and when I told him that I was from Gujarat, he said to me : “When you go back to Gujarat, please go to Anand and specially convey my blessings to Dr. Kurien.” I have come to convey this message to you.’

I was deeply touched and I thanked him, expecting him to leave after passing on the message. But he continued : ‘Sir, I want to ask you a question if you don’t mind. You are a Christian. Of all the people in Gujarat, why did Guruji send his blessings to you and you alone ?’

I asked him why he did not ask Guruji this, I could give him no answer because I really did not know.