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The Struggle For The Soul Of India

The Struggle For The Soul Of India

A Call for Return to Decency, Civility in Public Life

Many see in the election of Zusana Caputova as the President of Slovakia a rebuke to the corrupt political order of the day that has been gaining ground worldwide. They see it as a call for a return to decency. Boorish attack on opponents had become the fashion of the day. Usually, the community that could be called the “other” (in Slovakia, Jews; in India, minorities) was targeted.   Zusana stands for ‘civility in public life.’ Anyone who does that today, straightaway gains dignity; it has grown so rare. She insists on transparency in government and the right use of institutions.

A Return to the Spirit of the Constitution

At the deeper level of the human psyche, there is a longing today for persons of dignity, politicians of stature, leaders who can hold up noble ideals before a society. It was in response to this longing, although quite unconsciously, that Rahul Gandhi described the present election as the “Battle is for the Soul of India,” not for gaining power or victory. In a few words, it will mean: a return to the spirit of inclusion, pluralism, secularism, equality, freedom; a spirit of mutual acceptance... mutually stimulating joy in each other’s presence. This is the “spirit” of the Constitution that will give us a new hope for constructing a proud future together.  

This effort is linked with the native genius of the Indian civilization that has to be brought back to life. The original Indian religiosity that gave birth to this spirit has nothing to do with wanting to humiliate neighbouring nations or teaching a lesson to weaker communities. It is endowed, rather, with intense “concern for the other,” which Buddha incarnated; it is Compassion, KARUNA.

Mamata Banerjee says “My religion is humanity.” Such a notion has depth, it has hidden dimensions. Roberto Calasso, an Italian philosopher, described the Indian civilization in this manner: It is a civilization in which the invisible prevail over the visible (Allen 56). Adityanath Yogi was not totally wrong when he refused to take pride even in the most glorious physical monument we have (in his case, Taj Mahal), but prided in Gita.   India’s glory is the depth of her thought, the width and diversity of her search. Sanskrit means “perfect”.

Fierce Loyalty to One’s Own Community is Not Nationalism, It Is ETHNOCENTRISM

Here is where we feel sad that our Hindutva friends are missing the core point. Aggressive loyalty to one’s community’s collective self-interest cannot be described as Religion. It is fanaticism. We see too much of it nowadays. Fierce loyalty to one’s community cannot be called nationalism, it is “Ethnocentrism.” This has been our national weakness: inward looking communities, each content within its own fold. We need not be surprised that the Dominant Community also has the same weakness. However, their self-love cannot be projected as nationalism, must less patriotism.

During the colonial rule, living under heavy pressure with similar disadvantages, a certain amount of solidarity developed among various exclusive communities (castes, ethnic groups), which our Freedom Fighters sought to strengthen. The reluctance of the British to leave India and the lengthening of the struggle against them deepened the solidarity.

But the weaker communities had their own anxiety. Ambedkar feared lest, once the equalizing weight of the British authority was removed, Indian society would return to its traditional lopsided social order, the dominant groups taking advantage of the weaker. In fact, that is what is happening today.

Periyar in Tamil Nadu feared lest, the Congress-led Government of the future, controlled largely by the Hindi dominant areas, would ignore the concerns of the Dravidian South. Several decades of discussions, debates (not excluding threats), and assurances passed before some measure of confidence was restored. A certain degree of anxiety still remains; and BJP, heavily loaded with its “Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan” programme, finds it hard to cross the Vindhyas.

The hill tribes of the Northeast dreaded the day when they would have to live under the unpredictable leadership of the Delhi potentates, who, they feared would swallow up their identity and their culture. This threat still overhangs their future. Today it is more likely to happen with the use of money than of muscle. And there are many victims too!

All these fears are proving fully justified, when we look at the present scenario with the idealism of the Founding Fathers gone and Ethnocentrism of the dominant community fully asserting itself. Hindutvawadis are least qualified to teach true nationalism to others; for, they have none. What they have is Ethnocentrism, ending up in eccentricity: Togadia, Sudarshan, Singhal, Yogi!

Historic Reasons for Fear

As the Hindutva think-tank would like to re-write the history of India with their own interpretation of events and expressing their own sentiments, the weaker groups, suppressed communities, and near extinct societies would like to narrate the historic injustices they have suffered. Those driven to mountain heights and forest fastnesses have their own untold stories, undescribed experiences and bloodcurdling tales to tell.

Though the Mahabharata and Ramayana were composed by the non-Aryan Vyasa and Valmiki, they had to tell the tales in such a way to please their masters at whose mercy they were. But perceptive readers of the epic narrations see below the heroes of the winning races, the devastation caused on the sub-continent’s peoples during the Aryan expansion: vanaras co-opted, dasyus subjugated, asuras driven to the extremes, rakshasas wiped out, kiratas eliminated or absorbed. In simple language, the indigenous people defeated, enslaved, scattered, absorbed, some annihilated.

Neutral historians provide facts and describe things as a matter of fact. Charles Allen, in his book “Coromandel” (Little Brown, London, 2017), presents the findings of Thomas Newbold: “the burnt bones of enormous Rakshasas (natives)” killed during the Mahabharata period, also holocausts of rishis , clearly bearing testimony to the clashes that took place between the Brahminical settlers and indigenous people (Allen 25). We admire the rishis who renounced the world and went into the forest to pray. There were others who moved ahead of the Kshatriya commanding forces to pave the way for the Aryan expansion.

Eastward and Southward Thrust of the Aryans

The Eastward expansion was resisted by the Buddhist Mauryas; which, however, collapsed with the rise of the Guptas. The Southward expansion was spearheaded by Rishi Agastya who is praised for “civilising” the society South of the Vindhyas (Allen 27). He brought the Sanskrit language with him and placed the Aryan gods above the indigenous deities. Some of these were gradually interpreted as being incarnations of the great Aryan gods. This was done to Buddha as well to the great chagrin of Buddhist believers. To actual Buddhists, appropriation of their Founder is gross unfairness to their community. The same thing is being done to the deities, shrines and holy places of the indigenous people in the Northeast these days. Indeed, “Winners Take All.”

In fact, the Ramayana is a celebratory memory of the Aryan conquest of the South, with the collusion of the simple-minded indigenous communities, the vanaras of Hanuman.   The Parasurama figure in Mahabharata is more aggressive than Rishi Agastya. He is presented as having rid the world of all Kshatriyas twenty-one times over, and offered aswamedha sacrifice. Brahmananda Purana tells how Parasurama claimed back the present area of Kerala from the high seas, from Gokarana to Kanyakumari, and how he distributed the land to the Brahmins from the North. Since the Kshatriyas (the local rulers) had already been killed, the Brahmins took over as masters, reducing the rest of society to the level of shudras/casteless people (Ibid 263).

Ancient Stories Come Alive in Our Own Days

Consequences were terrible on non-Brahminic classes. Allen describes the Brahminic order as it prevailed in South India till our own days: “Nor could the underclass carry umbrellas, wear footwear, send their children to school, drink from the public wells, wear new clothes without first making them soiled, put up gates and walls round their house or use tiles on their roofs.” Two persons of different castes had to keep the correct distance from each other, 6 to 72 paces according to the rank of the two persons concerned. The Dalit Pulayas had to cover their mouth with their hands when speaking to a person of higher caste, remain bowed, not to speak in first person. This was the order that was traditionally handed down. In more recent times, they could seek exemption from these rules paying taxes (Ibid 282).The Brahminic order were the beneficiaries.

As we said earlier, re-writing of history can expose facts that one group or the other resent. While the Muslim atrocity against the Hindus seem exciting tales to the Hindutva activists, the Hindu suppression the Buddhist and Jain religious orders and appropriation of their temples and monasteries would be very painful to those affected. It is unanimously agreed by most knowledgeable scholars that Sabarimala was a Buddhist shrine. Even today, the 3 million pilgrims who gather there annually chant the song “Saranam,” as though echoing the traditional Buddhist prayer Buddham Saranam Gachami (Ibid 106-07).  

John Samuel of the Institute of Asian Studies once claimed that he had found more than 150 Buddhist statues or their broken pieces in close proximity to several present day Hindu temples. Very many Buddhist shrines had become Hindu temples (Ibid 220). The reputed Puri temple originally housed a tribal deity before it became a Buddhist shrine and later a Hindu temple (Ibid 221). Our Ayodhya contenders may have to hand over hundreds of Hindu shrines and sacred places to Buddhist, Jain and tribal communities, if history is made to decide issues.

Sensitive Handling of Painful Realities

We may re-write history, but we cannot undo what has been done centuries ago, or even recently. However, we can deal with such matters with sensitivity. Therein lies our Indian genius that is captured in the “spirit” of the Constitution that we sought to describe. But at present we seem to be moving in the opposite direction. First we cultivate a hatred for our neighbouring Muslim nation, then the Muslims in India, then ethnic groups that differ from us, other parties who criticise us. Then we take our hatred to our rivals within our party itself, finally against anyone who stands against my personal ambition.

L. K. Advani recently emphasized that his party had never disowned anyone who differed with them in opinion. The fact is that he finds himself disowned, as also Jaswant Singh, Yaswant Sinha, Murli Manohar Joshi, Arun Shourie, Sumitra Mahajan. They are victims of an ideology and value-system that they themselves had created.

Stalin or Mao eliminated their opponents. In fact, Communist dictators were first against ‘class-enemies,’ then against ‘competitor-enemies,’ then against ‘colleague-enemies,’ finally against “intimate-collaborator-enemies!”   Moditva seems to be moving fast in that direction.

As for Advani’s criticism, people have questioned his moral authority to speak of diversity and pluralism, having brought into existence and strengthened an ideology that believes in the ‘ethnocentric ownership’ of the nation by the Hindutva High Command. Having disowned ‘others’, now he himself feels disowned.

Congress has alleged that the Modi-Shah duo have been specializing in “demeaning politics.” The virus has caught on; not the ‘Muslim League virus’ as Yogi delights in saying, but the “Insensitivity Virus” that demeans human beings, hurts social sensitivities. How else would you explain the remark of Kanwal Tanauj, the Aurangabad Magistrate,   speaking of Swachh Bharat, “Sell your wife if you do not have money to build a toilet” ? That is Swachh Bharat for you! There have been consequences. In World Happiness Report India has sunk to the 140th of 156 nations, after Pakistan and Bangladesh.   Finland stands first.

Barbarization of the Nation

The scholar Kancha Ilaiah alleges, “The BJP is converting India into a primitive nation.”   They are recycling superstition into a religion, and mob-lynching into a community-devotion. More barbarization is ahead.   What do you think of a Prime Minister that claims that ancient India made the grafting of an elephant head possible, referring to Ganesha? Of Ramesh Pokhrial, an ex-CM of Uttarakhand, who said that in the second century BC sage Kanada had conducted a nuclear test? Of those scientists who despise the findings of Newton, Darwin and Einstein? Of the contention that no matter how polluted Ganga is, it remains holy? The British paper “Guardian” laments that no Indian scientist has come forward to challenge such ridiculous positions. On the contrary, the RSS seems still convinced that mysterious “Cowpathy” will provide the panacea for all ailments.  

In reference to the forthcoming elections, some 200 scientists came together to stand for those who would preserve the “scientific temper” mentioned in the Constitution (51A). They denounced those who lynch, divide, create fear, and marginalize. They saw a strong “connection between regressive ideological politics and the loss of scientific temper in public discourse.” They called for the rejection of “lumpen-based populism,” and those who promote “inequality, intimidation, discrimination, and unreason.” Quoting Tagore, they prayed for a nation “Where the mind is without fear.”

“Outsourcing” of Anger

To admit the honest truth, most political figures, no matter what party they belong to, are merely self-interested. Eighty-three percent of the MPs are crorepatis; more precisely 430 of them, with average assets worth Rs. 14.72 crores. They are willing to shift parties the moment they see an advantage. Contrary to the order that Advani emphasized, their commitment first is to their own interest, then to their party. The nation comes last of all. In the same way, their anger against their opponent is merely ideological, most of them appropriating the anger of their ideological masters, the VHP wrath-builders.   It is not the Buddha that inspires these Indians, but Rama presented in his “heroic pose, with a bow and an arrow” in his hands. Ten outgoing MPs have murder charges against them.

However, most of them would prefer to “outsource their anger,” making use of OBCs, dalits and tribals to do what would get them into trouble with the Law; which means, the breaking and marring of things, the eradication of opponents and elimination of   proofs. Some strategy called “Revenge Made Easy” works its way out.   So it happens that petty local quarrels turn into Crusades, mostly against Muslims, Kashmiris, Pakistanis, “Terrorists.”  

Abbe Dubois, in his own days, had found that the Brahmins resented the Muslims most of all. Nor did he fail to notice that the Vaishnavites and Saivites could come to blows. Yoga meditation and the chanting of ‘Shanti’ did not keep them from violence when their long-term interests were threatened.   When caste-identities and privilege claims are in peril, the Dominant Groups have always found hidden energies to affirm their pretensions: Pushyamitra with military intervention against the Mauryas, Shankaracharya with militant eloquence against the Buddhists. History provides painful memories to every community; in India, most of all to the Buddhists.

People Look for Consistency

With Rahul’s Nyay proposals stirring voters, BJP has criticized populism and emotion-led voting, though they have been rousing emotions against “others” all the time. They have been consistently cultivating collective anger. With all the other schemes failing, what they count on most for the elections is ‘jingoism.’ Yogi said in Hyderabad that Modiji used bullets against ‘terrorists’ (Muslims), unlike the Congress that fed them with biryani. At Ghaziabad he glorified “Modiji’s sena,” as though Modi would take over the army if in the election he failed! No wonder, Sakshi Maharaj, the BJP veteran, exclaimed, “This is the last election in the country.” For one thing, the BJP has been consistent in their majoritarianism, authoritarianism, jingoism, ethnocentrism, exclusive mores, aggressive postures, support for the lumpenisation of the streets, lynching ethos, one-man leadership.

Is the Opposition clear about where they stand? Secular Mamata Banerjee has been building temples and sponsoring pujas. Priyanka goes on a Ganga trip from Allahabad to Varanasi, displaying her seriousness about Hindu devotions. The temple-hopping Rahul has been to the Kailas. The trouble with Soft Hindutva is that it can go Hard any time under political compulsions, e.g. Congress has passed most of the Freedom of Religion Bills. Then again, Congress has given tickets to many defectors, implying that they have no clear ideological conviction for which they stand. Before elections, what people want to see is consistency. Can we trust them, they ask. This is what they are asking of every Party. It is a real “Struggle for the Soul of India.”

Capacity to Generate a Change

Whatever be your stand, a change for the better is possible. This is the hundredth year after the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in which 370 to 1000 people may have died. Meghnad Desai has written to the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, asking for a formal apology. In 2010 David Cameron had apologized to Northern Ireland for the “Bloody Sunday” massacre of 1972.   Meantime Rwanda is keeping the twenty-fifth anniversary of the genocide that killed 800,000 people. The Tutsis who form the minority lost the bigger numbers. Amidst tears and sobs and bitter memories, Paul Kagame, the President said, the country has become “a family once again.” Rwanda will mourn for a hundred days.

A change is possible for everyone. When things go wrong around us, we need to keep serenity of mind. It is reported that several British MPs are currently doing a “Mindfulness Course” in order to face the agitated atmosphere created by the painful Brexit discussions. The Course consists in cultivating an “open quality of mind” and remaining serenely alert.  Probably that is what we ought to do before the elections.  The values of the Constitution may have sunk to the subconscious of the Indian electorate. But the society that gave them birth will surely surprise the world once again by their native wisdom. Amazingly, what Pope Francis said in Rabat (Morocco) seems to be extremely relevant in this context. He said, what counts are not number and spaces, but the “capacity to generate change and to awaken wonder and compassion.”  We are stunned by the depth of this thought: mann-parivartan, KARUNA!

(Published on 15th April 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 16)