The End of India

Cautionary treatise, wake-up call
Roopinder Singh

The End of India
by Khushwant Singh. Penguin, New Delhi. Pages 163. Rs 200.


THIS is a serious book by Khushwant Singh, who has otherwise been known during the last few decades as someone who writes on matters of the heart—love, lust and more. But what happens when Khushwant Singh writes from the heart? A sombre lamentation of the state of affairs of the nation ensues from the one who is famous as the “man in a bulb”.


The End of India by Khushwant Singh

The End of India by Khushwant Singh

The End of India sounds alarmist but this is one book that should not be judged by its cover. There are just four chapters, and even though two of them use material published earlier, they still make for a good read. In his introduction, Khushwant Singh says: “Far from becoming mahaan, India is going to the dogs, and unless a miracle saves us, the country will break up. It will not be Pakistan or any foreign power that will destroy us; we will commit harakiri.” This more or less sets the tone of the book which is a deeply introspective, agonised account-cum-analysis. It is easy to pick fault with the style, or his recycling some of his own published material, but the content is powerful and this issue needs to have the spotlight fixed, which the author’s name ensures.


In writing The Case of Gujarat, Khushwant Singh draws from his own experience in 1947 and 1984, when he was an affected party. He visited Gujarat in 1970, five months after the 1969 riots in Ahmedabad. He calls it the first triumph of the RSS in Gujarat. His first-person account of the trip through the land of Gandhi and its divisions as seen in the interaction, or rather the lack of it, among ordinary people who were either vitriolic in their speech, or eloquently silent, is a journey in which the logical progression is the changing of the capital Ahmedabad’s name to Amdavad (thereby dropping the name of the founder of the city, Ahmed) on the milestones on the main highway that he noticed only during a subsequent visit in 1998. Is what happened in Gujarat something remote today? Only if you want to sweep under the carpet an open, bleeding wound that will surely turn gangrenous if left untreated. One expected more analysis of the recent happenings and their impact, but even the three decade-old experiences leave one with a strong sense of déja vü.


He does not see the demon of communalism in saffron only, as the title The Sangh and its Demons might suggest, but has pointed out that all religions have and will continue to have bigots who give the founders of their religion and their teachings a bad name, but his basic focus remains on the “Hinduisation of Indian Politics”. Khushwant Singh points out that India did not declare itself a Hindu state, even though all its neighbours became religious states—Pakistan became Islamic: Sri Lanka and Burma, Buddhist; and Nepal, Hindu. He credits Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad for choosing to pursue a “greater ideal, a modern secular state where all religious communities would enjoy equal rights.” He rightly lambasts the RSS and the BJP for their role in communalising the Indian polity and points out that the Congress too soiled its hands in the 1984 anti-Sikh killings. His extract from an earlier article on the RSS’s Guru Golwalkar in The Illustrated Weekly of India is a good illustration of how Golwalkar left a positive impact by his personality and mannerisms on Khushwant Singh, even as the latter did not like his agenda one wee bit. Overall, Khushwant Singh’s assertion that religion and politics do not go together and must be kept apart at all cost will find wide support, especially given the experience in the sub-continent.


Partition shaped Khushwant Singh’s mind and his destiny and, in fact, his first literary landmark was the book “Train to Pakistan,” which won the Grove Press Award in 1954. When he talks of Communalism—An Old Problem, his account has personal details that make it poignant. He cites Punjab as an example of the vicissitudes that communities living together went through at various points of time, suffering tremendously because of communalism and yet being able to get over their differences for extended periods. However, this is a problem that unfortunately transcends ages and civilisations, and any attempt to paper over differences is but a transitory illusion.


It would thus be logical that only reason would help in breaking illusions. Khushwant Singh outlines some rational steps like learning to live with communalism, stopping the misuse of official media, restricting religious activities to religious places only, active policing, proactive role of the judicial system, in case of a breakdown of the law and order machinery, but most of all, the idea of secularism, the Nehruvian variety which respects all religions has to be embraced wholeheartedly.


As one reads this treatise, one wishes for a more detailed work backed by adequate research, rather than an impressionistic account as this book tends to be. However, it is a cautionary tale which forces the reader to wake up from an indifferent stupor. It does set one thinking and will prompt one to look within—the most effective and difficult method of combating bigotry of any kind. As Khushwant Singh says: “The worst enemy of every religion is the fanatic who professes to follow it and tries to impose his view of his faith on others. People do not judge religions by what their prophets preached or how they lived but by the way their followers practice them.” How true!

This review was published in The Tribune on April 20, 2003

You may also be interested in reading reviews of:

In The Name of the Father by Rahul Singh 2004

The Illustrated History of the Sikhs by Khushwant Singh 2005