9th Anniversary Special
The crisis the country is facing today has a most respectable genesis; it is intricately linked to the history of the movement for Independence
BY ASHOK MITRA
To be less than blunt will be altogether pointless. The crisis the country is facing has a most respectable genesis; it is intricately linked to the history of the movement for independence. Mahatma Gandhi, whom we love to describe as the Father of the Nation, was the indisputable leader of that movement in the early decades of the last century. He was in search of a paradigm which could capture the imagination of the innocent, illiterate, ill-fed, ill–clad masses and inspire them to be active participants in the great endeavour to liberate the nation from foreign subjection. Religiosity, he concluded, held the answer.
His ceaseless pontification has a single message: freedom would bring back the Ram Rajya of Puranic times; in Ram Rajya, justice and fairplay prevailed in all seasons, nobody exploited anybody else and people lived happily together under the benign rule of Lord Rama. Whether Lord Rama’s treatment of his consort, Sita was impeccably correct was an issue that was conveniently brushed aside. Rama was the embodiment of all virtues, and once the country was rid of foreign rule, equity and manna would begin to drop from heaven.
The dream of Ram Rajya, the just kingdom, was the incitement Gandhiji provided his people. The paradigm, however, was sectarian to begin with. It was a Hindu paradigm; to the innocent masses, who overwhelmingly belonged to the Hindu community, the liberated land would be another Ram Rajya all right, but one the denominational identity of which could hardly remain vague. The Ram Rajya was a Hindu concept, post–liberation India would ipso facto be a Hindu domain.
The other communities were excluded. The problem lay with the Gandhian model. A subterranean attitude of the mind was simultaneously pervasive after all: we have made a gift of Pakistan to the Muslims; the rest of the great Indian subcontinent naturally belongs to us, the Hindus. It did not matter what the sophisticated thin stratum at the top thought or felt; for the nation’s multitude, the imagery of India was that of a basically Hindu land. That imagery has not weakened in the course of the past half a century and more.
The sojourn from Gandhiji’s Ram Rajya to the Ram Rajya of the Ram Rajya Parishad and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad was therefore not particularly arduous. The Parishad could claim to be the sincerest followers of the Gandhian path. And it should not be much of a surprise that the medieval savagery the country has witnessed this year had Gandhiji’s very own Gujarat as its venue. The current thought of a considerable number of Gujarati Hindus bears traces of Gandhiji’s ideological baggage. What is true for Gujarat is equally true for the rest of the country. It is not for nothing that the offspring of such eminent Congress leaders as Pandit Govind Vallabh Pant and Lal Bahadur Shastri are distinguished members of the top hierarchy of Bhartiya Janata Party leadership.
The poison tree that has impeccable roots has made nonsense of the Indian Constitution’s secular pretensions. Jawaharlal Nehru, free India’s first prime minister, was unable to conceal his emotions in those heady days: no fooling, he was going to preside over a secular India. Nehru had a noble mind. Unfortunately, it was also a flawed mind. A secular republic, Nehru thought, is one whose government tends to be equally sympathetic to all religions and communities. He would accordingly hop from temple to temple and satisfy his secular conscience by visiting mosques, gurdwaras, churches and synagogues with equal gusto. Since the number of Hindu temples in the country far exceeded the number of religious sites identifiable with other faiths, it was his visits to the Hindu institutions which caught the attention of the media and therefore of the general public.
The malady spread, and with rapidity, following Nehru’s departure from the scene. India Gandhi’s persona was an enigma: she was a modern woman par excellence; however, she had a religious streak in her, laced with strong superstitious beliefs. Sadhus and fakes of the Hindu denomination were constantly visible in her neighbourhood. Her elder son, who too became prime minister, was born of a Parsi father and wedded to a Catholic wife.
Democracy is a mug’s game though, and one must flaunt one’s denominational credentials if the prime object is the garnering of votes. Photographs exist of the young prime minister of India bowing down, bare bodied, before Hindu priests while visiting holy Hindu temples and seeking benediction. These pictures were regularly flashed across newspaper pages. The subconscious Hindu mind, nestling in the bodies of millions of honest, innocent Indians, could not but take the hint.
Soon the electronic media was drawn in. The great Puranic epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, were serialised for years on end under government auspices on the Doordarshan screen. The Hindu epics were government–sponsored epics; by inference, the government had to be Hindu. For a few weeks, as a balancing stratagem, those in authority with some leftover conscience tried to run a serial on Tipu Sultan. That proved to be extremely disappointing and was abandoned pronto.
The Republic of India continued to be nominally secular, but it was Hindu secular. Hindu secularism defined itself as one which does not mind the powers that be to patronise occasionally other denominations as well. There is a catch though: others are tolerated, Hindus are the dominant entity.
The rest of the grisly story is easily summed up. The practice of Vast Pug persists in all construction activities in the public sector. A boat, built in a government workshop and owned by a government company, cannot be floated into the waters without the crushing of a coconut. Hindu totems choke public offices. You should not be surprised to find incense burning before the picture of a Hindu deity when you step into the lift in a government building or take a ride in a government car.
Secularism has lost its way. It has come to be defined as a state of existence where the government is equally chummy, at least on paper, with all religions; in reality, it is much more chummy with Hindu ascriptions. The awareness that genuine secularism is something else — a condition of being where the State is equi-distant from all religions, is indifferent to all of them and keeps all of them at arm’s length — has in the present circumstances, ceased to exist.
Competitive democracy, besides, has its own rules and an infectious disease is an infectious disease. For his sins, the present writer was once a minister in a state government which was immensely proud of its Left radical credentials. One of his most shameful memories of that tenure concerns a cabinet decision to declare a public holiday on the occasion of a solar eclipse; some eminent astrologers had predicted the end of the world on that day and the state government did not want to go against the general sentiments of the people: is it not a reasonable proposition that, on the last day of human existence, one should be in the midst of one’s near and dear ones and not be attending office?
It is going to be a long, long haul before the parameters of this society could be totally overhauled. And that will remain a very dim possibility as long as the present political establishment, infested by crooks and hypocrites and devoid of all scruples and moral compunctions, monopolises the proceedings.
(The writer, a columnist was formerly minister in the Left Front government in West Bengal).
Copyrights © 2002, Sabrang Communications & Publishing Pvt. Ltd.