Malayalam novelist Paul Zachariah triggered a controversy when he said legendary novelist OV Vijayan adopted a “soft-Hindutva” approach in his last part of life. The reason he cites for this departure is that Vijayan received an award instituted by Tapasya, an RSS-inspired organisation. In that context, he equated Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Hitler much to the chagrin of state BJP leaders who threatened legal action against the writer. Zachariah said, “If Hitler was alive today and he came and gave me an award, I would not accept it. If Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s killer, comes to give me an award, I would not accept it. A democratic and secular person like Vijayan should never have received the award.”
Zachariah, a rabid Christian communalist, harbours pathological hatred towards Hinduism or Hindutva. It’s true that in Vijayan’s writings, there is a departure from Communism towards spiritualism. Being a communalist, he can’t tolerate that transformation in Vijayan.
More than his writings, Zachariah is known for his below-the-belt comments on Hindutva and RSS. He waxes eloquent on secularism but has no qualms in accepting awards with hefty prize monies from Muslim extremist organisations such as Jamaat-e-Islami. Many say he attacks Modi and RSS to keep Islamic fundamentalists in good humour.
In an interview to Rediff On the Net, Zachariah, while enlisting the reasons for India’s backwardness, says: “I personally feel the concept and character of the nation has been superimposed on us in a misguided way which itself can be very damaging. For example, people talk about a 5,000 year-old history of Hindustan, 800 year-old history of the Mughal empire, etc. as part of the Indian tradition we inherited. All this happened, after Nehru’s very good but foolish book, Discovery of India. Frankly, living in Kerala, I have nothing to do with this 5,000 year-old history, I have nothing to do with this 800-year-old Mughal tradition and I have not been affected by it at all. I am not beholden to these traditions for any day. In a nightmare I see the Indian nation as a robot created and set in motion by the British and installed with a beautiful dream- software made by Gandhi. What was Gandhi’s idea? Was he, in true Indian tradition, just a godman who adventured into politics and messed it up us usual? Or was he the bearer of an idea whose time had not yet come? It seems to me that only he held the key to the important questions raised by Indian nationhood. Only the stapathi knows the flaws of the moorthi. Discovery of India was the secondary software which provides the robot its creative neurosis — the illusion of a grand and single self; something like Advaita. And now the virus is Hindutva.”
Zachariah projects himself as an unbending secularist but his commitment to secularism is limited to abusing RSS. His antipathy towards Hindu scriptures is well-known. He boasts he hasn’t read Adhyatma Ramayana and Mahabharat and insisits there is no need to read them. But he fervently believes that the Bible is the only way to redemption. He has bared his communal fangs several times. He spoke disparagingly about Sita at a function, where he was snubbed by speakers who spoke after him.
“If a person is a secularist, he should show his commitment in his life. OV Vijayan had married Teresa, a Christian, but never converted her to Hinduism. On the other hand, Zachariah who married a Tamil Brahmin, Lalitha, got her converted to Christianity for marriage,” said Nandakumar, General Manager of Kurukshetra Publications. Zachariah’s two children and grandchildren were also brought up in Roman Catholic traditions. “Such a vainglorious person is talking about secularism,” said a journalist, who doesn’t want to be quoted. People who know Zachariah-Lalitha couple from close quarters say that out of the two, Lalitha is intellectually and culturally superior to her husband. She was a Central government employee and a highly graceful woman. “The frustration in their married life comes out in the form of anti-Hindu utterances,” said the journalist quoted above. The journalist added that whenever Zachariah visits Delhi, he revels in the company of “some Thomases in the media”.
In 2010, Zachariah was abused and attacked by activists of DYFI, the youth wing of CPI(M), for saying that the first-generation Communist leaders had “lavishly indulged” in sex taking advantage of their underground lives. Pinarayi Vijayan had then justified the attack on Zachariah, saying it was natural outburst of party supporters. Now, a prominent BJP leader has said he would face the same fate if he continues to attack PM Modi.
Although the Christian community in Kerala has attained prosperity and political influence, its contribution to the cultural space has been negligible. Only a handful like Zachariah could make their presence somewhat felt. He revels in that glory: as the Malayalam adage goes: Mookilla rajyathu murimookkan rajavu (In the land of people with no nose, the half-nosed man is king).