The other day, Rajnath Singh, launching a Ratha Yathra from India Gate, said he wanted India to become the ‘guru of the nations,’ ‘World Guru.’ He was only echoing Modiji. Hindutva mighty men are restlessly craving for world recognition while grovelling before cow-sheds to keep alive the blind passions that give them votes. It is a difficult balancing act: to preserve a respectable world image at one level and keep fanning the flames of fanaticism at another.
A $15,000 Suit
Pankaj Mishra in his recent book “Age of Anger” sees Hindutva heroes desperately claiming cultural distinctiveness and moral superiority (Mishra compares Modi to Khomeini) precisely because they have lost what was most valuable in their heritage and are militantly clinging to mere trappings. One does know whether to admire the Indian Prime Minister when he appears on the international scene “draped in $15,000 Savile Row suit with personalized pin stripes” or to sympathize with his efforts to make a mark (Mishra 158-59). Garments cannot add to one’s personality, for sure. In this respect, Confucius was wise in when he said, “I am not worried that nobody knows me; I seek to become fit to be known” (Analects 4.14).
Hindutva spokespersons are proud of India being the fifth economic power in the world, of Maharashtra emerging as a three-trillion economy, of our defence-budget soaring. However, they do not have a word of anxiety about leaping inequality, of 1% siphoning off 73% of national earnings; about the fact that we are falling behind even the humblest African countries in Human Development Index, child mortality, underweight children; about the sense of insecurity among UP Muslims, the plight of the Dalits before Gujarat police, the woes of the farmers in MP, the political tricks of godmen in Haryana, the threat to tribal land in Jharkhand, or the sex ratio decline in the Hindutva states of Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand.
The Biggest Party-Headquarters in the World
In the face of all this, Amit Shah was unembarrassed to boast that the headquarters the BJP had built was the biggest party-headquarters in the world (1.70 lakh sq. ft.); that it was completed in 18 months. This Saffron Fort (not the Red Fort) belongs to a party that has been in power only three years...showing that nothing is impossible to a Bania Government. When crony-capitalism combines with Kamadhenu-capitalism (politicians-businessmen-godmen) anything can happen. After all, Nirav Modi, who was seen with the PM at Davos, was a fund-collecting partner for the BJP. We cannot then outright reject the allegation of Uddhav Thackeray who said that the BJP has been helping their business allies to rob the country. Amit Shah indeed has a few lessons to learn from his CPM rivals. Recently he was fighting an electoral battle with Manik Sarkar, 4-times the CM of Tripura, who moves around on rickshaws and has a meagre sum of Rs. 3,930.16 in the bank.
An Eagerness to Boast has Gone into BJP DNA
An eagerness to boast has gone too early into the DNA of the Ruling Party. Bharat Mahan! That is their slogan. We as minorities too are very proud of our nation; and we want our country to rise to further greatness. But it should be a common effort, a united venture. There should be no exclusion of the weaker communities, no marginalization of the minorities, no demeaning of dalits and tribals, no complexes about past grievances. Romain Rolland quotes Vivekananda saying, “Know this for certain, that no great work can be done by the body one limb of which is paralysed” (Rolland 136). That great religious leader was not embarrassed to admit, “Our aristocratic ancestors went on treading the common masses underfoot…poor people nearly forgot that they were human beings…millions are starving today…For centuries people have been taught theories of degradation…till they have nearly become animals” (Rolland 90-91). And he exclaimed as though in despair, “India’s doom was sealed the very day they invented the word “Mleccha” and stopped from communion with others” (Rolland 60).
Vivekananda: History Must be Objective, Scientific
Amazingly, Vivekananda did not suffer from any of the complexes that today’s Hindutva leaders suffer from, wanting to distort history for self-glorification, undervaluing the contribution of Orientologists, accusing them of having been imperialists, marginalizing even Radhakrishnan saying he had no lived experience of the Religion he described. In fact Vivekananda had deep respect for Max Muller who defended the Indian civilization against colonialists and evangelicals alike (Rolland 101). In studying the history of India, Vivekananda wanted precision, exactitude, and scientific criticism (Rolland 18), an attitude which is totally alien to our Hindutva friends today. The quality of our history-writing and scientific research has sunk to the depths, and can no more win respect in the world. Vivekananda considered it self-demeaning to “vegetate on the past,” what was needed was “to do better” (Rolland 130). Arnold Toynbee too refers to the ‘worship of the past’ typical of nations that are on the way to decline. Unfortunately these idiocies can reach fanatical levels. Vivekananda would say, “If there were no fanaticism in the world, it would make much more progress than it does now” (Rolland 166).
The Cow-fad has Turned Pathological
Swamiji would have severe words for those who seek to drown the Indian masses beneath a mass of obscurantist practices, magic, stories, fabricated fables, deceptive myths, unverified histories, senseless self-glorifications, irrationalities. “I disagree with all those who are giving their superstitions back to my people” (Rolland 253). In fact, the cow-fad has gone to a pathological extent today. We wish that some International Agency speaks for the right order things, and may be, humiliate us. We remember the child who cried, “The king is really naked,” when all the courtiers were exalting his glamorous garment. We stand in need of this type of humiliation today, when we hear that UP having the lowest health levels in the country, possibly in the world, will spend Rs.98.5 crore for cow shelter, aside from 100 crore for National Cattle Health and Disease Control Programme, and the 770 mobile cattle hospitals already functioning.
Gurucharan Das says Savarkar opposed Cow worship. These are Savarkar’s own words, “If Hindutva is sustained on a cow’s legs, it will come crushing down at the slightest sign of a crisis.” We fear that that is what is going to happen. In absolute contempt, someone has suggested that the next BRICS meeting should be held in a cow-shelter, constructed tastefully under Amit Shah’s guidance, so that the “muddy stench of stagnant waters” (these are Vivekananda’s own words, Rolland 17) of a defunct civilization may awaken people to reality. Let cow-tourism expose visitors to the “shallowness” of the culture that the Hindutva philosophers are trying to propagate among their people today.
Modi said the other day, that ‘changing with time’ is our strength. This precisely is the strength that is lacking in our society. It is for that that our future remains uncertain. Armed forces are facing a shortage of 60,000 recruits, of which 27,000 would be needed by the Air Force. This sounds odd in a country of millions of unemployed young people. Adam Smith spoke of an “Invisible Hand” in Economics, we notice an invisible hand in India’s politics...leading things in uncertain ways.
True World Gurus: Persons Who Thought Responsibly like Buddha, Asoka, Gandhi
We do not need the Hindutva warriors to teach us patriotism or to be proud of our heritage. It belongs to all of us even if the representatives of the dominant group want to exclude those who will not shout “Jai Ram!” In fact it belongs to the world. Anything well said anywhere in the world belongs to me, said Tagore. So with our heritage. It is a part of world heritage. The young tribal boy from Eastern India called Gautama who renounced ‘violence and greed’ in response to Aryan ‘violence and greed’ as their hordes pressed Eastwards became a “World Guru.” He is called Buddha today and belongs to all. He rejected shallowness in religion, taught depth, and called for non-exclusive relationships among all communities.
As Arjuna set himself to “think” with a sense of responsibility of the consequences of violence before a disastrous war, Asoka “thought” over with a sense of responsibility for having caused the death of a hundred thousand people in Kalinga after the war. When he repented and changed his mind, the world changed with him. He said his sole concern was the welfare of the world. Indeed he became a “World Guru.” But today, we have moved into an era when people who think responsibly seem to be vanishing from public life, and those who dare to do get eliminated.
And yet, the message of nonviolence (Ahimsa) of Buddha and Asoka was taken up by someone from the west coast who made it his life-programme and stunned the world in recent times, earning the name Mahatma. He became a Guru unto the nations. Yes, world-winning is not achieved through humiliating the humble and impoverishing the poor, but breaking down walls, building bridges and bringing people together in a common endeavour. A dramatized diplomatic hug differs from embracing diverse communities, cultures, points of view, and value systems. It differs from buying political loyalties, using the judiciary to marginalize opponents, making the educational system and media serve one’s crude ideology, provoking neighbouring countries, and paving the way to “militarize Hindudom” (of Savarkar). No, we don’t need Hindutva strategies to make India great.
India’s Greatness will Survive Demonetizations and Demonizations
In 1786 writing a Preface to a translation of the Gita for Warren Hastings, Henry David Thoreau said, “The writers of the Indian philosophies will survive, when the British dominion of India shall long have ceased to exist, and the sources which it yielded of wealth and power are lost to remembrance.” He also referred to Shakuntala.
No, we don’t need the Hindutva forces to make the world take note of India. Indian heritage will long survive Modiji’s demonetization and demonization of others: of Nehru who set the nation firmly on the path of democracy and respect for each other, of Congress that won for us independence, of minorities that helped our very respected majority community to preserve a cosmopolitan outlook. Indeed, India will continue to grow to greatness as long we are able to agree that it is not money alone that counts, but co-belongingness.
Minority Communities Go on the Defensive
There is only one great danger that I see under today’s pressure. Moderate voices are going to grow silent, areas of agreement shrink. In Christian circles, Inculturation efforts are going to take the back seat; as in Muslim circles, integration efforts will miss the motivation that they need to keep going. The minority-phobia of the dominant community is already putting the weaker communities on the defensive. Their talents and energies perforce are going to be at the service of self-defence rather than at the service of the larger society/economy. The meagre resources they have will be spent on security measures and legal battles. Their mental resources, creative ideas, and inventive genius...all these are going to run waste. The Indian economy is bound to dip even before it attempts to raise its head a wee bit, no matter how many millionaires make their way into ‘Forbes Magazine.’
We are certain that the anti-cow-slaughter activities were aimed at undermining the livelihood of the minority members and dalits who depended on a humble cow-related economy. Just as the cow-code imposing thugs were unskilled-unemployed Saffron youth, so too, the victims of cow-violence were/are untrained jobless young people. The untalented-untrained youth constitute the core of the radical groups of all persuasions—in the East as well as in the West. The arms industry is assiduously looking for markets, and its distributors open the door to violence. Violence invites violence, and disaster leads to disaster. Neither Yogi’s 1200 police encounters, nor his use of paramilitary forces, nor the skill of the anti-Maoist squads, nor even Rawat’s surgical strikes, can silence unhappiness led to the highest.
A Higher Motive Alone can Persuade
Today we search for a higher motivation than we can see amidst the stir around. Amartya Sen was deeply impressed by these words of the Upanishads, “What will you do with that, that does not make you immortal?” That set him thinking about the need to go beyond the compulsions of immediate economic needs and think more deeply of the importance of ‘human development’...that won him the Nobel Prize.
Nirmala Sitaraman, when questioned about her elevation to become the Defence Minister of India, hastened to attribute it to “Cosmic Grace.” Uma Bharati admitted on the occasion of a Christmas some years ago, “Every time I see the white garb of a Christian priest, I feel thrilled; and every time I see the great steeple with the cross my heart feels elevated.” Truth will speak for itself. Occasionally heart opens and the truth comes forth.
Buddha said, he didn’t come to found a religion but to teach about the truth. Surprisingly a Person of Deep Reflection on the Judaean Hills standing in court before the highest authority in the land said something similar “For this was I born, and for this came I into the world, to bear witness to the truth” (Jn 18:37). And truth shall prevail, if only we shall not turn away from it as Pilate did.
Pankaj Mishra, Age of Anger, Penguin, London, 2017
Romain Rolland, The Life of Vivekananda, Advaita Ashrama, New Delhi, 2015
(Published on 05th March 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 10)