On “World Cultures” And Godmen
By Raja Swamy
14 March, 2016
Two events stand out in the last few days that tell us something about the character of the present government. Spokesmen for a government ministry stated bluntly that their ministry did not recruit a single Muslim “as per government policy.” The Modi administration had created a Ministry of Ayush (traditional medicine) in 2014, even as it slashed health budgets and raised the prices of essential drugs. Now this ministry is run under the stricture that no Muslim may be invited, recruited, trained or sent abroad. This is a testing ground for what is to unfold in the coming years as a Modi government led effort to literally build its “Hindu Rashtra” on the rubble of the Indian state. A second event centered on the godman Sri Sri Ravishankar's extravagant “World Culture Festival” held on the banks of the Jamuna in Delhi. Not only was the organization of this event notable for its devastation of whatever remains of the fragile ecology of the river, its eviction of farmers in order to make way for parking lots and pavilions, and its utter disconnect with the actual needs of the people, it also is notable for its attempt to hoodwink the world by creating the impression that an extremely influential Hindu “godman” close to Modi, is leading an inclusive, all-embracing convergence of “world cultures.” Yes they invited Robert Mugabe, Boutros Boutros Ghali (whose name appears on the program despite the fact that he passed away three weeks ago), and a bewilderingly heterogeneous array of political figures from around the world. Many of these folks backed out, citing among other things the lack of adequate security and protocol arrangements.
What is interesting about the selection of heterogeneous guests is the manner in which it loudly conveys a message of “inclusion” even as its obvious heterogeneity is more notable for its lack of any coherent common ground than it is for its diversity. How might the organizers explain the inclusion of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe alongside the Minister of Sports from Japan? What is the notion of “world culture” that is being promoted under the shadow of a government that explicitly states that it will not allow Muslims to be part of a central government ministry, a patently illegal act under the constitution no doubt, but a jarring reminder that Modi's friend, the nauseatingly underwhelming 2xSri, stands on slippery, muddy ground on the question of diversity and inclusion when he cannot and will not say a word about the unmistakable stench of Hindu supremacy enveloping India today. In fact one can easily see that this event is intended to create the impression that the current dispensation – Hindu supremacy – which 2xSri is heavily invested in, is welcoming of “world cultures.” Such a move was witnessed in the United States in 2003 when the RSS's American affiliates of the VHP-A (Vishwa Hindu Parishad – America) and HSC (Hindu Students Council) organized something they called the “Global Dharma Conference.” There they invited such a hodge podge of individuals – from Dalai Lama to the actress Goldie Hawn - creating the impression of “diversity,” and thereby promoting the myth that Hindu right organizations were “inclusive” of difference, even as they carefully ensured that the Hindu right and its message remained prominent. The BJP's Murli Manohar Joshi was the chief guest at that event, a veritable celebration of superficial similarities (what exactly is dharma?) and a tacit endorsement of exclusion – no Indian Muslims, Christians, Dalits, others are not part of the wooly notion of “Dharma” that these self-proclaimed representatives of India defend.
What “world cultures” and “dharma” in either case convey is the notion that a section of the parasitic upper castes who coalesce around godmen and spiritual gurus on the one hand, and harbor a staunchly supremacist politics of Brahmanism and Hindutva on the other, are attempting to subvert real questions of diversity and inclusion – questions made all the more urgent precisely as a result of this growing supremacist movement which threatens to further assault Indians of non-upper caste Hindu persuasions – by fronting a false chimera of inclusion and worldly communal amity. This is the ideological import of the so called “world cultures” event in Delhi. It is no wonder then that Modi, his entire cabinet, and a host of rightwing personalities attended the event, shared the dais with the godman, and poured praise on him. Modi called the event the "Kumbh Mela of culture," while his External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj anointed the godman “India's cultural ambassador,” declaring that “he is the symbol of our soft power.” The Home Minister Rajnath Singh went even further declaring that the event was a symbol of the country's “big heart and tolerant culture.” Unmistakably the event is pushing the fiction that India under the rightwing persuasion is exactly the opposite of what it really is. Given the predilection of India's infamous godmen and gurus to turn reality on its head, this is no surprise. What is astonishing is the extent to which seemingly liberal individuals like Vandana Shiva and Arvind Kejriwal abandoned any pretense of decency and shamelessly endorsed this horrid circus of upper caste, ruling class pomposity.
Raja Swamy is an anthropologist whose work focuses on the politics and economics of disaster reconstruction.