Parameswaran ji — Saint in White Robes
S Gurumurthy, Chairman, VIF

Parameswaran ji, as he was known to his countless admirers, is no more. P Parameswaran, who became the pracharak of RSS when he was 23 and ceaselessly worked for 70 years more till he breathed his last, had only one mission in life that was nation and one deity that was Bharatmata. Though an organisation man, his acute intellectual urge drove him to found the Bharatiya Vichara Kendram in Thiruvananthapuram decades ago, through which he expounded the other, uncelebrated spiritual mind of Kerala. For a quarter-century until his demise, he headed and spread the work of Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari, which is doing a yeoman’s service to the distanced and disadvantaged people of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya and Andaman Islands. Undeterred by the stately power of contextual Kerala intellectualism, he remained a centennial seer who looked beyond his life and times as he spoke and wrote for decades with dignity and respect towards those who disagreed with him, even derided him.

MULTI-DIMENSIONAL PERSONALITY

He was a multidimensional personality. A prodigious reader, he must have read thousands of titles in his mother tongue and English. A prolific writer, he has written over 20 books, in Malayalam and English. As a journalist, he ceaselessly wrote for decades, particularly columns in Yuva Bharati, a journal of Vivekananda Kendra which he edited. He was an elegant orator in both English and Malayalam and he spoke not to win the approval of his audience but to impart what he thought they should know.

He was an extraordinary, original thinker. He was wrongly regarded as a ‘right-wing’ thinker based on the popular division in the Indian discourse which draws its norms and labels from Western dictionary. What needs to be recalled when Parameswaran is not around is not his personal details, but the social thinking he expounded in the most difficult times in Kerala.

NEHRU GAVE UP, PARAMESWARAN DIDN’T

Parameswaran continued to expound his nationalist mission, which he had undertaken as his life mission, in the Left-dominated Kerala as the full-time Pracharak of the RSS. It was the same idea of Hindu nationalism which Swami Vivekananda had more than a century before propounded and triggered the freedom movement of India. That Swami Vivekananda’s thoughts inspired the Indian freedom movement was accepted by the leaders of the movement including Maharishi Aurobindo, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Pundit Nehru, Netaji Bose and Rajaji, to mention a few. Throughout out his life, Parameswaran expounded only the concept of Hindu nationalism of Swami Vivekananda, which Jawaharlal Nehru fully accepted in the mid-1930s, which most scholars on secularism either did not know or kept it suppressed despite knowing. Nehru wrote “A famous disciple of Ramakrishna was Swami Vivekananda, who very eloquently and forcibly preached the gospel of nationalism.... Vivekananda’s nationalism was Hindu nationalism, and it had its roots in the Hindu religion and culture. This was not in any way anti-Muslim or anti-anyone else...” [Jawaharlal Nehru, Glimpses of World History, Penguin Books New Delhi, 2004, p 437] Post-independence, however, Nehru moved away from Vivekananda’s nationalism but Parameswaran did not.

Nehru, who gave up Vivekananda, was celebrated as secular and those like Parameswaran who held on to Vivekananda were labelled un-secular. Parameswaran was finally vindicated by the Supreme Court in the Hindutva judgement in 1995. The court said that no meaning in the abstract can confine the terms `Hindu’, `Hindutva’ and `Hinduism’ to the narrow limits of religion alone, excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage and added that Hindutva is related more to the way of life of the people in the sub-continent. This idea of India as a cultural entity is for which Parameswaran lived and fought throughout his life. The secular parties clamoured for 20 years for the review of the Hindutva judgement, but, in 2016 a seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled that the judicial view that Hinduism is a way of life and constitutes the culture and heritage of India should stand and not reviewed. The mainline secular political discourse may still evade the undeniable fact that what Parameswaran was expounding as the idea and identity of India was finally accepted by the Supreme Court. Parameswaran, who had no personal desire even his lifetime, must have closed his eyes as a highly fulfilled man, for the idea of for which he had worked for decades had been legitimised by the Supreme Court.

NEITHER LEFT NOR RIGHT

The Indian philosophy of which Parameswaran was a product, distinguishes between spiritual and material spheres of thought. It does not know any Left or Right in thought. And, yet by formal label, he was perceived as a Right Wing thinker in Kerala, the land of the Left thinkers. Anyone who left out from among the Left in Kerala was, by definition, Right Wing. And by extension, Parameswaran was seen as conservative, and by further extension, as even un-secular and anti-secular. It is this automatic labelling, not truth, that defined Parameswaranji’s role in Kerala discourse which turned unidirectional because of political power. Parameswaran resisted and defied this unidirectional intellectualism of Kerala. The Indian thought system transcends the Western distinction between conservative and liberal, which is inadequate to comprehend Indian intellectuals.

Can the Western labels comprehend whether Swami Vivekananda, the spiritualist, was a conservative or liberal. The western materialist thought labels are inadequate to comprehend a spiritually oriented intellectuals like Parameswaran. He was neither Left, nor Right in his thinking. He was just nationalistic in polity that only saw people as either Left or Right. His potential as a thought giver to Kerala was not fully actualised because of the political label attached to a trans-political thinker that Parameswaran was.

KERALA NEEDS TO RECALL PARAMESWARAN

He got late recognition by awards including Padma awards. As he did not desire any award, he added merit to the awards, not the other way round. The quintessence of Parameswaran is for what he was less known outside. He was, within, a saint in white robes. It is that inner saintly element in him which made him pursue his mission undeterred for 70 long years without expecting anything in return, against all odds. One among the intellectual giants who had shaped contemporary Kerala in the past five decades, his demise removes from Kerala’s public discourse a towering example of such great men. Kerala, which has strayed away from its spiritual core and persisted with unspiritual materialism for too long, needs to recall Parameswaran to reboot itself for better future.

(This article appeared in Indian Express on February 10, 2020.)

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