The Secular Facade of Indian Politics

An India Today article quotes from the autobiography of Kuldip Nayar Beyond the lines: An autobiography (Source). Kuldip Nayar writes, “It was Sanjay Gandhi, known for his extra-constitutional methods, who suggested that some ‘Sant’ should be put up to challenge the Akali government. Both Sanjay and Zail Singh, particularly the latter, knew how the former Punjab chief minister Pratap Singh Kairon had fought the Akalis. He had built up Sant Fateh Singh against Master Tara Singh, the Akali leader, who had become a hard nut to crack. Zail Singh and Darbara Singh, who was a Congress Working Committee member and later became chief minister, selected two persons for Sanjay’s evaluation.

As Sanjay’s friend, Kamal Nath, recalled: “The first one we interviewed did not look a ‘courageous type’. Bhindranwale, strong in tone and tenor, seemed to fit the bill. We would give him money off and on, but we never thought he would turn into a terrorist.” Little did they realise at that time that they were creating a Frankenstein. Zail Singh too maintained contacts with Bhindranwale, although he denied this after he became President.”

Religious leaders playing from the laps of political leaders is not a new singularity in our country. However, when Rajiv Gandhi effectively overruled a Supreme Court judgment in Shah Bano case over minority appeasement to avoid the wrath of the community leaders and followers, it was perhaps the flipside with Rajiv Gandhi playing in the lap of religious leaders. It was not an ordinary mistake. It was the Government of India declaring to the world that this country was being run by religious fanaticism and dogmatic regression. The so called political clout was nothing but a stack of ash trays to be used by self-styled custodians of religious rights and freedom. More recently, Dr. Manmohan Singh famously claimed that the Muslim minority must have the first right on resources. In 2014 Assembly elections in Haryana, now rape convict Gurmeet Ram Rahim declared his support for BJP. I do not know the degree to which this vocal support affected the elections but an intelligent guess can be made after witnessing the organised violence unleashed by his men post his conviction in the rape case. It must be noted here that in 2014, Ram Rahim was already under investigation for the rape charges. The BJP had an opportunity to distance itself from him. It didn’t. Back in 2007, Ram Rahim had thrown his weight behind the Congress party in Punjab elections. Arvind Kejriwal has been another of his guests. The Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid Syed Ahmed Bukhari pledged his support to the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayavati in the recently held UP elections. Different parties have exploited Jama Masjid Imam’s standing amongst Muslims at different points of India’s political history and have distanced themselves according to convenience. Truly, there are no untouchables in politics. A political establishment wouldn’t want to be so foolish as to ignore about 6 crore (Ram Rahim) followers who are ready to kill and die at one call of their God.

India has been a land of spirituality. In time, several religions were born and a few travelled from foreign lands. What started as a system for self-realization and living a life approaching perfection, has today become a political tool. After all, when you see monks who are supposed to be the embodiments of sacrifice and renunciation hyperventilating in politics and reaching such heights as ministers and chief ministers, there is no running away from the obvious today. Religious leaders exploiting their massive followers base to join politics or extending their support to any political entity isn’t a surprise anymore. It is a symbiotic relationship. Water me now and I will water you once I grow up!

When the Art of Living Foundation of Sri Sri Ravishankar organised World Culture Festival in 2016, our Prime Minister graced the occasion and was seen sharing the stage with the helmer of the movement. When the National Green Tribunal didn’t seem very pleased with the alleged damage caused to Yamuna floodplains, Sri Sri delegated the blame to Delhi Government, Central Government, and the NGT itself for allowing the event to be organised. Now, do people of India deserve a response from the faces of the two governments present on the stage is for one to infer. While I don’t mean to underplay anyone’s intelligence here, being seen with such spiritual leaders generates a positivity around the person in question and fortifies his soft power. This soft power converts devotees and disciples into vote bank. Once you are comfortable with one master, you wouldn’t perhaps mind another one. Irrespective of the name of religion in question, political leaders have always wanted to be a stone’s throw away from all kinds of religious leaders.

If I am to believe that these are well meaning relationships between people in question and the religious leaders, there follows a question about the availability of my Pradhan Sevak for such events. Should he be rather doing something more productive concerning the development of his country and keep such meetings a private affair? Would BJP or any party for that matter welcome the support of an ordinary rape accused? I believe the Government handles enough data to decide its associations and affiliations. If Ram Rahim hadn’t been such a massively followed religious leader and just another rape accused under investigation, I wonder if our Prime Minister would have taken to twitter to congratulate his cleanliness drive efforts. This is a question that must be asked of the Government of India. You may throw that ‘innocent until proved guilty’ mantra at me here but you can’t extrapolate the mantra to ‘sleep-with until proved guilty.’ I wonder though that when we as voters are capable of voting in about 180 odd MPs with pending criminal cases to the Parliament, if there remains anything else to add to the word surprise. In all these years since the 42nd amendment to declare India a secular state, we have been seamlessly transforming into an antithesis of secularism. While we love to beat the drum of secularism, we have seldom practised it in letter or in spirit.

In a letter dated 27th September 1894 to Alasinga Perumal, Swami Vivekananda wrote, “. . . I am no politician or political agitator. I care only for the Spirit — when that is right everything will be righted by itself…. So you must warn the Calcutta people that no political significance be ever attached falsely to any of my writings or sayings. What nonsense I . . . I heard that Rev. Kali Charan Banerji in a lecture to Christian missionaries said that I was a political delegate. If it was said publicly, then publicly ask the Babu for me to write to any of the Calcutta papers and prove it, or else take back his foolish assertion. This is their trick! I have said a few harsh words in honest criticism of Christian governments in general, but that does not mean that I care for, or have any connection with politics or that sort of thing. Those who think it very grand to print extracts from those lectures and want to prove that I am a political preacher, to them I say, “Save me from my friends.”” No sooner than he had passed away, almost every shade of Indian political spectrum attempted to paint Swami Vivekananda with their own brush. Swami Vivekananda believed that it would take ages to bring religion into politics. It has however, not taken much time for the impostors of religion to enter politics. Politics on the other hand hides its love for pseudo-religion under the shroud of ‘secularism’.

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