Q&A: RSS-affiliated Christian Padma awardee CI Issac on India’s ‘Hindu soul’, St Thomas, and more

Retired professor of History CI Issac also challenged the Syrian Christian narrative that St Thomas converted their upper-caste Hindu forefathers.

ByK A Shaji

Published Feb 02, 2023 | 10:00 AM Updated Nov 29, 2023 | 2:19 PM

CI Issac receiving Padma Shree from the President.

A young CI Issac, a practising Christian, joining the RSS-affiliated ABVP was a significant aberration in 1973. But conviction took Issac, then a degree student of NSS Hindu College in Changanassery, to the Hindutva ideology.

His joining the ABVP was perhaps the first sign of the making of an Indo-centric historian.

Hailing from Kottayam in Central Kerala, CI Issac bolstered his links with the RSS during the Emergency. His association, however, was beyond the comprehension of most of his fellow Christians, who then shared no common cause with the right-wing Hindu organisation.

As years passed by, they found a common cause: To counter political Islam in Kerala.

Interview with CI Issac, now honoured with a Padma Shri

The nation has honoured the 71-year-old historian —  now the vice chairman of Kerala-based RSS think-tank Bharatiya Vichara Kendram — with the Padma Shri.

CI Issac, former professor and head of the Department of History at CMS College, spoke to South First on his political beliefs, perception of religion, and more:

What is your take on Christians and Muslims in the country?

I have nothing against Christians and Muslims. But their attitude should not conflict with the nationality and cultural orientation of the country.

They must not harbour hatred or animosity towards Hindus who constitute the solid foundation of the country. If the BJP-RSS is pushing an anti-Muslim agenda, how are the Indian Union Muslim League and Jamaat-e-Islami still functioning in India and raising their voices against the nationalist forces?

I am always telling my Muslim and Christian friends to end their preconceived notions about the BJP-RSS. India has a Hindu culture and nationality. Once they start respecting it, there would not be any conflict.

You were part of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) sub-committee that submitted a report on the Moplah revolt (Mappila Lahala or Malabar rebellion of 1921), and, subsequently, 387 of those who participated in the revolt were removed from the list of freedom fighters.

I never recommended removing all Muslims who took part in the rebellion. We had clear guidelines. So we had to remove those who had engaged in rape, murder and burglary. How can we promote violence as a means of fighting colonialism? How can we justify forced religious conversions? Women must not be targeted and their dignity must be protected.


CI Issac

What attracted you to the RSS?

The attraction to RSS and Jan Sangh began at the age of 18. I was influenced by a powerful RSS leader of that time, Advocate MS Karunakaran, who later became a national leader of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh.

I hailed from a traditional Congress family but was convinced by the RSS ideology over the years. I started attending RSS shakhas at the age of 19 —  the lone Christian to attend shakhas from my region.

My family was broad-minded. So nobody objected. Not even my CSI (Church of South India) church.

There have been instances of Christians being targeted by RSS activists.

I have visited many parts of India where alleged RSS-BJP people had attacked Christians. They were not RSS-Christian conflicts. Across India, Dalits and tribespeople always remained in conflict with other segments of Hinduism.

Most of the Christians outside Kerala are converted Dalits or tribespeople. Despite their conversions, the conflicts with other segments of Hinduism continue. It has many reasons and should be addressed. But religious differences are not the reason. They are the continuation of existing conflicts, not new fights based on religious identities.

Do you still follow Christianity?

I still attend the Holy Mass every Sunday at the church. And I believe in Jesus Christ. My RSS ideology is not preventing it. The RSS has never interfered in my choices of worship. There is only one God. God has different manifestations.

Have you ever tried to teach your students the RSS interpretation of history?

I was part of the history faculty at CMS College in Kottayam for a long period. I never attempted to impose any ideology. I kept my politics always outside the campus. But I attempted to explain to my students the differences between Indo-centric history writing and Euro-centric history writing. Most of our problems are because of the existing Euro-centric history writing.

Why were you selected for the Padma award? Is it a reward for questioning the identities of Indian Muslims and Christians?

No. It has no connection with my RSS affiliation or my membership in the ICHR which took a stand against the Malabar rebellion. The recognition is for my services in the areas of Literature, History and Education. I have done my best in all these fields. I am a humble writer and educationist with an inclusive vision.


C I Issac

Any hatred towards communists?

Why should I hate them? They are losing their relevance across the globe. I am not responsible. Let them talk about their politics and regain their lost citadels.

What are your views on conversion?

I am not against voluntary conversions. Forced conversion is a sin.

The BBC recently telecast a two-series documentary on the 2002 Gujarat carnage.

The BBC was carried away by the organised propaganda of anti-Modi forces. What happened in Godhra was an unexpected tragedy. People were burnt alive.

Naturally, the friends, relatives and those in the neighbourhood reacted violently. The state was not responsible. Modi was not responsible. A state government has its limitations. What would be your reaction if your close relative is burnt alive?

Such a natural reaction had happened there. But unfortunately, it took gigantic proportions. It was unfortunate but unavoidable. The BJP and RSS were never directly involved in it. Sangh organisations are not inciting violence. I know it personally. They are not engaging in arms training as propagated by people like you in the mainstream media.

You hold a different view on St Thomas and his visit to India.

There is no proof to the narrative that St Thomas came to India in AD 52. There were Christians in Kerala even before AD 52. Traders brought Christianity here. They say St Thomas converted upper-caste Nairs and Namboodiris to Christianity. Namboodiris reached Kerala only in the ninth century. There is proof for it.

What about your Church?

I am a member of the Church of South India and it is not promoting conversion now. Colonial forces promoted conversions in India and conversion was a part of the colonial conspiracy to destroy Hindu nationalism. Hindu nationalism is the soul of India.

(The story was published with a wrong lead image and has been updated with a correct one.)