Not all visitors who turned up inquiring the progress of my post eye-surgery recuperation refrained from expressing their angst on the abyss of untruth, myth and moral decadence that has befallen India under the current political dispensation. One of my former students, today a scholar from an Agricultural University brought in a pack of colourful pictures and laid them on my bed-side table saying, “A slap on the motor-mouths and cowards” who pose as leaders and guards in today’s India: Peacocks mating with gay abandon and cows fallen dead in garbage-pit with plastic bags full of nails oozing out of their mouths, the pics were self-explanatory rebuttal of the bizarre celibate-peacock and God-Mother-cow found only in India. The scary state of contemporary India where innocent citizens are harassed and lynched in the name of religion, divided as ‘natives’ vs aliens, high caste vs low caste, nationals vs anti-nationals, patriots vs turncoats et al can only make every honest Indian citizen cry out with Alan Paton, the renowned South African writer, “Cry, the Beloved Country”!
If “Cry, the Beloved Country” of Alan Paton evoked the then (late1940s) social conflicts between white and native South Africans just before apartheid, India under the current political regime is not different in tacitly sanctioning a system of discrimination based on religion, caste and community. That India, our beloved country, ever since the ascendency of religious fanaticism to her political throne is dangerously sliding into a kind of religious chaos and socio-political anarchy is there for all to see and no honest citizen can look the other way. Neither the ongoing buzz on the merits and demerits of caste-based presidential election nor the much hyped up half-baked new GST law can camouflage the hate crimes being perpetrated on the minorities and dalits in India; an Indian version of apartheid.
It’s a great shame that the caste system – which has been a bane on the Indian subcontinent and described by Ambedkar as a deterrent to social mobility that prevented technological and scientific advancement, caused famines and discouraged society from recognizing the civic respect that should be accorded all human beings and hence legally abolished in India way back in 1949, is still being endorsed to date; even to the disgusting level of playing caste-card in the election of the highest office of the Indian president!
India’s Rashtrapati Bhavan has, except a few times, been graced with illustrious titans of virtue and wisdom, scholarship and statesmanship, spiritual power and secular outlook, vision and wisdom, apolitical and impartial. They were enlightened citizens of India who refused to be mere rubber stamps, but guided the nation focusing on the welfare and security of every community Indian citizens. The immortal legacy left by our former presidents S. Radhakrishnan and APJ Abdul Kalam had captured the pan-Indian imagination. They were world-renowned statesmen and erudite Hindu scholars, who upheld the Rigvedic instruction, “Let noble thoughts come from everywhere to make us enlightened citizens”. For, from the time of the Rig Veda, India has been the home of different religions and the Indian genius adopted a policy of live and let live towards them. Indian religion never quite understood the idea of exclusive worship. Indian religious tradition admits all forms in which the single truth is reflected.
Never before has India stood in urgent need of presidents like Dr. Radhakrishnan and APJ Abdul Kalam as today. While the former taught that Hinduism represents an effort at comprehension and cooperation, the latter was an exemplar of plural India who transcending religious boundaries was a people’s president who represented the best of India's pluralist ethos. According to Radhakrishnan, Hinduism recognizes the diversity in man's approach towards, and realization of, the one Supreme Reality, the essence of religion consists in man's hold on what is eternal and immanent in all being, for the Hindu, every religion is true. Dr. Kalam’s reply way back in 2012 to a query by India Today’s Editorial Director M.J. Akbar while interviwing him on his book ‘Turning Points’ as to ‘why the so-called Muslim leaders in the north always had the feeling that he is not a practising Muslim?' has sent out an ever relevant message to the Indian Presidents of all times: “First of all, I am an Indian and try to be a good human being. People can call me XYZ, that's their freedom of expression. There is no conflict of any kind regarding my faith in Islam. I often visit temples and churches as well. God is everywhere”.
India is home to at least nine recognized religions. The major world- religions like Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism Zoroastrianism, Judaism and the Baha'i faith are being practised here. According to the 2011 census, 79.8% of the population of India practises Hinduism and 14.2% adheres to Islam, while the remaining 6% adheres to other religions (Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and various indigenous ethnically-bound faiths). Such a rich multi-religious country like India cannot be headed by a president blinded by a particular religion or caste. He/ she ought to be a believer in the immortal open-minded instructions, ''Aano bhadra krtavo yantu vishwatah'' ("Let noble thoughts come to me from all directions”-Rigveda,1.89.1) Let Dr. Kalam the 11th President of India who led the nation in his own way from the Rashtrapati Bhavan, using his high ceremonial office not to sit on a high pedestal as a particular religious loyalist, but a Mahatma Gandhi-like father figure who loves every Indian citizen as his/her own kith and kin be a role model for the future presidents of India.
As we wait in bated breath to welcome the new president of our beloved country, let’s hope that good sense will prevail at the election to the exalted position of Indian President.
Jai Hind!(Published on 10th July 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 28)