The Original National Vision: Service to Humanity
Modiji, speaking on Buddha Purnima, adopted a pompous pose when he claimed that all ideologies that originated in India were based on ‘humanity.’ Irrefutably true. His words seemed to echo Pandit Nehru’s “ Tryst with Destiny” speech which invited all Indians to place themselves at the service of the nation and the rest of humanity. That was the breadth of vision that our great national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindra Nath Tagore cultivated as they looked to the future.
The Original Vision Narrows
In recent years, this vision has been narrowing: from humanity to narrow nationalism, from nationalism to Hindu majoritarianism, thence to Hindutva exclusivism. The destinies of the nation have been fast moving into the hands of an obscurantist fringe that has been taking us down along uncertain lanes to an unpredictable future.
To begin with, when the Hindutva caucus replaced ‘Sanatana Dharma’ with a clannish ideology based on the self-interest of a select group that excludes others, the vision narrowed immensely. When it sought to impose its own definition of Hinduism, Indianness, and patriotism on others it did unforgivable injustice to the core religious ideals of their own ancestors. It was a diminishment of world-respected Hinduism, it was a downgrading of all the noble causes that our civilization stood for, it was mere ‘boy-scout interpretation’ of the great Indian cultural heritage. Girilal Jain called Hindutva’s eagerness to impose uniformity on the entire nation a ‘childhood disease’ of Hindu nationalism (Elst 477).
Nayantara Sahgal in her “A Hindu Speaks” laments the sharp narrowing of cultural and social interests at the national level, “Vast slices of our multi-religious, multi-cultural heritage—which includes literature, architecture, language, food, music, dance, dress and manners are being dishonoured and disowned, leaving us shrunk into a mono-culture which is not only not Hinduism, but the antitheses of all India has stood for, worked for, and safeguarded as a proud and cherished inheritance.” The greatest tragedy is that the most inspiring themes that ought to generate religious dynamism in the service of humanity are so manipulated as to promote the political interests of a sectarian clique.
Religion Manipulated to Serve Political Interests
Those that have been studying the ‘secularisation trend’ in the world notice a reaction today in different parts of the world. New energies are being generated which provide the dynamism we notice behind all the renewal movements in religions. Unfortunately it happens that there are astute politicians who know how to tap this energy and divert it to their own political ends. That is what L.K.Advani did at a decisive moment in India’s history. That is what Modi is doing. Charles Taylor says that the Indian cultural nationalists are doing exactly what Milosevic did in ex-Yugoslavia, manipulating religion for politics (A Secular Age, Harvard University Press, Pg. 515), when he led a movement that snuffed out thousands of lives and vandalized entire cultural heritages.
Shashi Taroor who takes pride in being a Hindu says he is embarrassed about the recent behaviour of some his co-religionists “I am not proud of my co-religionists attacking and destroying Muslim homes and shops. I am not proud of Hindus raping Muslim girls, or slitting the wombs of Muslim mothers. I am not proud of Hindu vegetarians who have roasted human beings alive and rejoiced over corpses. I am not proud of those who reduce the lofty metaphysical speculations of the Upanishads to the petty bigotry of their own sense of identity, which they assert in order to exclude, not to embrace, others” (Why I am a Hindu, Aleph Book Co Pg. 281) . And not a word of condemnation from the Party High Command or their RSS mentors.
Sham Election Strategies
Just before the elections, of course, there is a general exhortation for good behaviour. Modiji recommends responsible ways of talking and the avoidance of anything that can aggravate. Before the Judgement Day of elections, there begins a bit of sober thinking and restrained talking, recognition of Indian diversity, a realistic eagerness to bridge the emotional distances between regions and communities, and a humble admission that the Hindutva North alone is not the whole of India. After all, in the hard days, Hinduism was kept alive through initiatives from the South: Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhava, and others. And take care, you are canvassing for votes in Bengaluru which is the Silicon Valley of India, one of the five ‘innovation spots’ in the world, not in Gorakhpur whose infant mortality rate is higher than that of the poorest African countries. Refined manners matter.
Again, only when the election is near, does it suddenly dawn upon the minds of policy-makers that their victory will much depend on Dalit votes. There then begins a rush to Dalit homes from the part of distance-maintainers to have a meal together. Uma Bharati, of course. Even Yogi condescends, whose prime targets of police-encounters were Dalits. No matter whether the food was from a five-star hotel nearby and no matter whether there was a quiet Shudhikaran (purification) ritual after each meal, a ceremonial nearness is established, even if not real. Savitri Bai Phoole called it all a sham, because the high caste harassment of Dalits still goes on. Only the other day a Dalit labourer, Sita Ram near Bareilly, who refused to work for free, was forced to drink urine from a shoe, and beaten till he bled! He and his family are not safe in the village because he dared to complain. One hand of the BJP does not know what the other is doing.
Why not a “Freedom of Politics Act” to Prevent Force, Fraud and Inducement in Politics?
The voter is influenced not only by the ‘promises’ made during election campaigns but the ‘performance’ reported from the BJP ruled states: cow-related killings, the accumulation of cases against Dalits, the imposition of Sanskrit, veiled penetration of Hindi, humiliation of women, forced re-conversion of minorities (Ghar Wapsi), harassment for alleged violation of ‘Freedom of Religion Act’ norms.
It is under this light that some political observers have suggested the passing of a “Freedom of Politics Bill.” They argue, there is so much of ‘force, fraud and inducement’ in the buying of political loyalties, as was evident in the recent Northeastern elections, that it needs to be stopped. In Karnataka too, only a small proportion of the cash that moved around was intercepted. Something must be done before it comes to be accepted as normal.
Cultivated ‘Intellectual Poverty’
Why this erratic behaviour of Sangh Parivar politicians, some ask, why this measure of blatant corruption, why this immaturity, juvenile self-display, infantile flaunting of scientific ignorance, and puranic boast? Some claim that the newly elected members want to please the upper echelons of the Party leadership; others say they want to ingratiate themselves with their RSS mentors with the hope of promotion; others explain that these upstart leaders were used to talking only to admiring village crowds till recently....that they need now to be initiated into cultured audiences and responsible ways.
But a more convincing answer is found in Koenraad Elst’s “Decolonizing the Hindu Mind” (Rupa & Co, New Delhi, 2001): the ‘intellectual poverty’ of the Sangh Parivar, the debility of their critical think-tank (Elst 225-26).
Please note, Elst is a strong Hindu-sympathiser. He is critical of most educated Indians who, he says, only know how to list the evils in Hindu Society, and are blind to its cultural strengths. In fact his thesis itself is an effort to set things right. Even so, towards the end of his study he has to concede that the intellectual output of the Parivar is insignificant, and that their ability to gather and analyze information, formulate and publicize viewpoints is hardly visible (Elst 234-35). Golwalkar’s strictures against bookish pursuits, and consequent ‘anti-intellectual bias’ in the saffron household, accompany them all the way. No wonder that ‘mediocre minds’ occupy the higher echelons of the Hindutva cohorts. During a discussion that Elst once had with Balbir Poonj and Dina Nath Mishra on this topic, the latter swore that the Sangh Parivar provided the pitiable spectacle of a “big dinosaur with a small brain.” The Indian intellectual’s mission, Mishra asserted, was to put some brain into that dinosaur! (ibid. 234).
Sashi Tharoor only confirms the same view when he says, “The fact remains that the Modi regime has given free rein to the most ‘retrograde elements’ in Indian history, who are busy rewriting textbooks to glorify Hindu leaders” and whose only concerns are ancient science, love Jihad, and Ghar Wapsi (Taroor 268). Representatives of such elements are multiplying day by day. For example, the Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani proudly claimed that Narada Muni of ancient times had a giant google for gathering information from all over the world.
The Need to Shake off a Casteist Attitude
Not wanting to be outdone in making sensational statements, the Gujarat Speaker Rajendra Trivedi hailed Modi and Ambedkar as Brahmins, since they were learned people. Many were shocked at his casteist expression and called for a change of mentality. As we need to ‘decolonize the mind’ (think of young Gandhi trying to dress and act like an English man), we need to ‘de-Brahminize the mind’ too (rejecting the view that only a Brahmin can be enlightened and noble-minded). Would it have been a great honour for Mahatmaji to be acclaimed a perfect English man? Jignesh Mevani MLA was right in saying that, Trivedi being an RSS-disciple, would not know how to look at reality in another way. The pride is in being whatever you are!
Biplab Deb is far more innocent when he makes his prankish assertion that the Amazon is in Africa and that Hiuen Tsang was a journalist. In his tips to youth too he reaches up to the levels of Modiji, who, he claims, is his father. Biplab exhorts Tripura youth to emerge as great entrepreneurs, opening pan shops and milking cows to earn Rs 60/- a day. However, when Biplab said that Buddha walked all the way to Burma, Tibet and Japan, Buddhist scholars received a jolt, wondering how their research had not led them that far.
But Biplab Deb says, people don’t understand the inner meaning of what he has said. True! The trouble is that he himself may not be understanding what he says. Nani Palkhivala compares the Indian elite to a beast of burden carrying a sack of gold without understanding it (Elst 10). Elst felt distressed that most Hindutva spokespersons he knew were not rooted in genuine Indian culture (ibid. 9), that most RSS workers were totally ignorant of even Panini and Aryabhatta (ibid.11). Centuries ago Alberuni too discovered that Indian science was a goldmine buried under a rubbish heap of myths.
Ignoring of Real Issues
The tragedy is that such over-concern for puranic bombast is taking you away from the real issues that confront the nation. The non-acceptance of the Hindutva formula in the ‘southern hemisphere’ is one thing, but its total rejection by a significant section in the ‘northern hemisphere’ calls for national alertness. The fact that an ISIS flag should appear near the police station in Goalpara (Assam) gives you the jitters.
Taking down Jinnah’s portrait in Aligarh University or shaming Tipu Sultan in Karnataka does not establish your smartness, when a report that militant ranks are swelling in Kashmir shakes the nation. A perception is growing that Delhi has lost head and hearts, not only in the extreme South, but also in the extreme North.
Indian Culture Founded on Truth and Non-Violence
Modiji’s dialogue with Muslim energies is ‘surgical strike,’ with Chinese hard bargainers is ‘deficit trade.’ Complaints of military excesses and Human Rights violations in Kashmir are on the increase. Flattering the Army does not mean condoning inhumanity on fellow-citizens. Edmund Burke said long ago, no territory is ruled, that is being conquered all the time. Physical force is not the dominant norm of the Indian grammar. Only a leaden leadership can believe in the permanent use of the gun. Rahul Gandhi said in Karnataka, Indian culture is founded on truth and non-violence.
Heritages on Sale
Manmohan’s greatest fear is that democracy is in danger. He notices pessimism everywhere; collapse of law and order; atrocities against dalits, minorities, women; failure of the institutions of democracy, non-functioning of the Parliament; weakening of the economy.
We may add, selling off of cultural heritages. This is in keeping with the perception of Koenraad Elst who noticed: a Brahminic disregard for the genuinely valuable portions of their own culture. Curzon found precious historical remains in the country in the most neglected conditions when he decided to set up the Archaeological Department of India.
Modiji’s disregard for the Red Fort matches well with Yogiji’s disregard for Taj Mahal, which in turn fits in well with the Indian traditional disregard for history. We needed Fahien, Hiuen Tsang, Alberuni and Max Muller to tell us what our heritage was. We are happy enough to hand over this precious heritage to hired hands and shop keepers to protect ourselves against our own irrepressible inquisitiveness about our ‘real past.’ After all, Sushma Swaraj says, in Gita we have everything!
What our Tourist Department is interested around the Lal Qila are the ‘chai dukan’ of the PM and ‘pan duakan’ of the CM (Tripura)! With a cow-shelter in addition, the Hindutva heritage would be complete! Koenraad Elst does not seem to have been off the mark in his conclusions with regard to intellectual poverty of the Hindutva supremacists and mediocre minds that guide the destinies of millions.
(Published on 14th May 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 20)