Religion in India has for long been held hostage by a host of agencies and institutions for a variety of reasons. Most obvious among these agencies that have subjected religion to serve their ends are the political parties in India. Each political party in India with varying degree is culpable of invoking religious sentiments of people, particularly in times of elections. In spite of all tall claims of adhering to secularism by all political parties in India, the hard truth is that no political party has escaped the temptation to rope in religion and religious issues to further their political intent.
The constitution of India defines India as a secular democratic country in which all religious communities are given space to profess, practice and propagate their religion. However, social and political developments in India in the past few decades have shown that this constitutional provision is observed more in drawing room discussions and seminar rooms, and lately in Television studios, rather than on ground. Or it may even be closer to the truth if I were to say that the constitution defined secularism is visible more in its violation rather than in its observance, especially in relation to the religious minorities in India.
This is an unfortunate situation, to say the least. And this situation is largely brought about by political parties in India that know the religious vulnerability of average Indians. Anything religious sells in India, and therefore cashing in on this vulnerability of people, institutions and organizations including political parties play to the gallery without paying attention to the possible consequences. Many a time, we are witnesses to the brazen attempts of political class to create a chasm between religious communities in India by hurling baseless allegations and even inciting people into physical violence. It appears that if one belongs to certain organizations and political ideologies that dominate the socio-political landscape of India, one can get away with any mayhem that one creates. A classic example is the recent malicious assault on Swami Agnivesh, a devout follower and promoter of Arya Samaj way of living the Hindu faith. Whether or not you agree with him, Swami Agnivesh has been championing to eradicate several social evils existing amidst us such as child labour, bonded labour, child marriage, among others. One wonders for which of his acts of social reformation he was targeted. What is so despicable is the invocation of lord Ram, revered as a maryadapurush, in order to justify their acts of uncouth behaviour of assaulting a senior citizen and a respected religious person.
It is also equally if not more distressing to see some of the religious leaders joining the religious-political juggernaut that has come to characterize the contemporary India. The so called god men and women are but extension of certain ideological and political establishments. This becomes more than clear from their public utterances and discourses. Sad to say that such religious personnel have lowered the religious guard to such abysmal levels, giving it a bad name. Religious leaders possess an identity of their own derived from their spiritual enlightenment; they do not and I would suggest, should not look for endorsement from the political classes. As a matter of fact, the religious leaders should bring in sobering effect in the political classes indulging in fair and foul means for social mobilization for political gain.
The unholy nexus between the political class and religious leadership has created a situation where religion has been made to be a handmaiden of political ambitions. Religion seems to have lost its independence and is at the service of political classes and their machinations. Although the Election Commission of India has specifically debarred political parties from using religion or religious symbols in soliciting political support, one can see at every election, be that the national, state or regional bodies, they would circuitously bring in religion.
In some cases though, they show no qualms in openly appealing to religion and religious heads for political support. Appealing to religious heads of different religions has now become the new normal. The recently held Karnataka assembly election showed this disturbing trend of politicians of various hues lining up to meet and pay their obeisance to religious leaders with a hope that they would be able to sway the votes of their followers. In some cases the politicians’ game plan works but in some others it boomerangs.
It is high time that we rescue religion from the clutches of non-religious intent and dubious organizations. For, far too long religious has been used as a contentious issue creating unsavoury situation in our country: communal riots have been the bane of our country, thousands of Indians have been trampled under the weight of communalism, property worth multi-million dollars have been wasted, and an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and even hostility is created and sustained.
Religion must not be used for contentious purposes; it must be a unifying factor in society. And for that, it must be at the service of noble religious and social causes that have since long been its forte. Religion is always invoked by the faithful in all significant moments of their life, and it is a source of solace to human longings, not just in their life on earth but even beyond it. These sacred treasures of religion can only be safeguarded by its enlightened leaders and not others who have little regard for such lofty matters of human heart. Let religion be light in the darkness, and not a raging fire that engulfs all in its surroundings. The latter unfortunately happens far too often in India – a classic case of wanton misuse of religion. It is time for religion to reclaim its rightful place in society – a respectful place at that.
(firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 27th August 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 35)