Holy Garb: Profane Agenda
By Ram Puniyani
20 February, 2009
What do spiritual leaders talk when they meet? One thought it may be the matters pertaining to the ‘other world’ that is the focus of their attention, away from the profane World, which is the matter of concern for ordinary people. One thought they may be deliberating on the issues of moral values of the religion. But it seems that is not the case. Recently when many of them met in Mumbai they showed that the saffron garb is the mere exterior, this color of renunciation and piety, is no representative of their political core. On the top of that they use saffron color to hide their sectarian ideas and narrow politics in the name of religion. The only difference in their case being that their politics is couched in the language of religion. That their ideas are full ‘Hate’ for others, unlike the values Hinduism which teaches us Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam (whole World is my family). This got revealed once more.
Recently many a chiefs of Akharas and other assorted Saints came together at the First Conference of Dharma Raksha Manch (29th Jan 2009) in Mumbai. They were brought together by Vishwa Hindu Parishad, apparently for the agenda was Combating terrorism. They called for dropping the word secular from Indian constitution and replacing it with word religious. They Ram Temple, Malegaon blasts, terrorism, and amongst other things and demanded that they need Manu’s parliament and not Christ’s. They drew attention to terrorism breeding in Madrassa, and hit out at media for using the term Hindu terrorism. Finally Beginning Mid Feb. (2009) they plan to take out series of yatras (religious marches) covering large parts of the country, with the call for ending Jihad.
Who are these assorted Holy seers, coming together on the call of Vishwa Hindu Parishad? VHP itself is the creation of RSS in the mid sixties. Initiative was taken by RSS chief and his close lieutenant to get different established mutt’s to form VHP. It primarily became a religious wing of RSS, involving the Hindu achrayas etc, and attracted especially traders, affluent processionals and those who did not want to openly associate with RSS, as at that time RSS stood fully discredited in people’s eyes due to its association with Nathuram Godse, who killed Mahatma Gandhi.
VHP got involved in the identity issues strengthening the conservative politics and Ram temple became its central rallying point. Along with this it called for Dharma Sansad (religious parliament) where they stated that in the matters religious, in this case Ram Temple, the decision of saints is above the judgement of the courts. Place of Lord’s birth became a matter not of History but of faith, and who else can decide these issues than these custodians of faith.
This congregation of holy seers has taken place long after their earlier meetings around Ram Temple issue. It seems it is their next innings where the focus is also on terrorism apart from its earlier concerns. At the same time they are reiterating that Indian Constitution is not welcome; let’s go back to Manu Smriti. In a way there is nothing new in this. The RSS politics has always been against the Indian Constitution, against the values of secularism, democracy as these stand by Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Right from the time Constituent Assembly was formed, RSS opposed the same, saying that ‘we’ already have the best of Constitutions in the form of Manu Smirit so why a new Constitution. It was backed by eulogies for Lord Manu by the RSS ideologue M.S. Golwalkar, who also at the same time has heaped immense praise on the methods of Hitler. Later K.Surshan also openly called for scrapping of Indian constitution and bringing Manu Smriti
While the saints are overtly for the subjugation of Muslims and Christians, at the same time their agenda is to push back the concept of equality for dalit, Adivasis and women. Interestingly RSS came up as a reaction to social changes of caste and gender during the freedom movement. Our national movement stood not only for freedom but also for the transformation of caste and gender towards equality. Barring some exceptions the concept of democracy and secularism go hand in hand. Freedom movement was the epitome of these political and social processes, leading to the emergence of secular India. Today RSS has many mouths to speak and many fora to articulate its agenda. VHP is the crude version of expressing its agenda while BJP, due to electoral compulsions, puts the same agenda in more subtle ways.
The VHP agenda is quite striking in combing the Holy language with profane goals. It will totally ignore the problems of ‘this World’; the problems related to survival and Human rights and will harp on identity issues. This brings in a politics which targets the ‘external enemies’, Muslims; Christians, and intimidates internal sectors, dalits; Adivasis and women, of society. Its call for doing away with the word secular is nothing new in that sense. Its demand to do away with secular word and secular ethos shows that their Holiness is restricted to the appearance, while they want to maintain their social hegemony through political means. Secularism is not against religion. The best of religious people like Maulana Abul Kalam and Mahatma Gandhi had been secular to the core. They knew the boundary line very well. Also they used the moral values of religion to create bonds of fraternity (community) amongst the people of different religions. There were others who created Hate against the other community, and that too in the name of religion. One can cite the parallel and opposite roles of Muslim League on one side and Hindu Mahasabha-RSS on the other.
The seers, respected because of their Holy garb are misusing their appearance at the service of sectarian politics, they are playing the role of handmaidens of the divisive politics. Secularism precisely means that secular, this-worldly, issues should be the base of politics. So the genuine religious person like Gandhi could distinguish between the moral values of religion which should be adopted in life while shunning the identity related issues from political life, "In India, for whose fashioning I have worked all my life, every man enjoys equality of status, whatever his religion is. The state is bound to be wholly secular." It is a matter of shame and disgust the identity of a religion is being used to pursue the political goals of an organization, supplementing the goals a communal political party by appealing in the name of religion.
At the same time to further demonize the Muslims it is taking up the issue of terrorism in lop sided manner. The slogan end of Jihad is a way to hide the anti Muslim agenda. There is an attempt to put the blame on Islam and Muslims for terrorism, which is totally false. A political phenomenon is being presented as the one related to religion. So Islamic terrorism word is acceptable to them! All terrorist are Muslims formulation is acceptable to them. But how dare you use the word Hindu terrorism if Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Swami Dayanand Pande and their ilk is involved in acts of terror? In this meet, overseen by RSS representatives, lot of anger was expressed for the Maharashtra ATS for starting investigations against Sadhvi and Company.
The timing of the meet and the planned Yatras is more then striking. As we await elections, the VHP is trying to revive Ram Temple as an issue and will also be talking of terrorism; about Afzal Guru and will be reprimanding the state for ‘torturing’ Pragya Thakur. As a matter of fact VHP and this motley crowd of saints is an adjunct to the electoral goals of BJP. It articulates emotive things which BJP will not be able to do because of election commission and the media watch.
Of all the techniques evolved by RSS, the use of these Holy men for political goals may be the worst insult of the Hindu religion. While these Holy seers infinite in number, many of them have succeeded in building up their own five star Empires, there are others who are sitting on the top of already established mutts. What unites them through VHP is the politics of status quo, the opposition to democracy. We had saints, who talked against caste system and social evils. We had Kabir, Chokha Mela, Tukaram and the lot who stood for the problems of the poor, and now we have a breed, whose agenda is to undermine the prevalent social evils of dowry, female infanticide, bride burning, atrocities on dalits and Adivasis. Their goal is to keep talking about the spirituality and religiosity which is so different from the concerns taken up by the likes of Gandhi and the whole the genre of Saints of Bhakti tradition in India. One hope the people of India can see this clever game of communal politics and differentiate the grain from the chaff.
Links to other articles
Who Inherits Gandhi’s Mantle?
2. Loving to Hate: Valentine Day and Sectarian Politics