Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the father of the nation, did say that he is a Hindu; at the same time he went on to say that religion is a private matter for him. His greatest disciple Jawaharlal Nehru was a rationalist agnostic. He laid the foundations of secular India where the matters related to religion were supposed to be dealt with at social or personal level. Nearly six decades after the death of the first Prime Minster of India, matters have drifted beyond imagination. Nehru’s great grandson who began his political career with no signs of public display of religion, today is making a clear public display of his religiosity. Apart from stating that he is a janeudhari (wearing sacred thread), Shiv Bhakt to visiting temples by the dozen, he also took the pilgrimage to Mansarovar. The Congress’ Madhya Pradesh unit took out a “Ram Van Gaman Pad yatra” and is promising a gaushala (cow shed) in each panchayat. BJP spokespersons are questioning all these moves as if their monopoly in such matters is under threat.

The result is that there are critics labeling Congress politics as being soft Hindutva. These signs of the party of Gandhi and Nehru are disturbing at one level. Still, does it mean that the Congress is abandoning the path of secularism, the path outlined in our Constitution, of religion being a matter of people’s personal choices to be dealt with by individuals–communities on their own? Is Congress trying to walk the path which RSS–BJP have pursued to gain power, the path of political polarization of communities along religious lines, the path of divisive politics, the path of abandoning material issues while creating the haze of emotive ones like Ram Temple and Holy cow-beef?

After its defeat in the 2014 general elections, the A.K. Anthony Committee set up by the Congress gave the report that an important cause of defeat of the Congress was the popular perception that people looked upon it as a pro-Muslim party, which by implication meant that it was being regarded as being an anti-Hindu outfit. This came in the background of the tireless propaganda from the RSS–BJP stable that the Congress has been appeasing Muslims, Congress is pro-Muslim, etc. This propaganda has been mixed up with the lie that Jawaharlal Nehru was the descendant of a Muslim and that the Congress is not interested in taking care of interests of Hindus, and so on and so forth. The argument was also put forward that the Hindu BJP is on one side and godless secularists are on the other side.

If we want to go to the roots of this false propaganda, we will have to go back to many decades ago. When the Indian National Congress was formed, it represented rising India; this umbrella organisation of all Indians had members from all the communities of India. This got manifested in people like Pherozhshah Mehta, Badruddin Tyabaji becoming its initial presidents. Right from that time, communal elements, who were the progenitors of future Hindu Mahasabha–RSS ideology and who represented the interests of the Hindu landlords, started saying that the Congress is appeasing Muslims. After its founding, the RSS continued with this propaganda; it was the Hindu Mahasabha–RSS propaganda against the leaders of the Congress, especially Mahatma Gandhi, as being pro-Muslim that created the hatred that led Godse to kill the father of the Nation. Following the winning of independence, in keeping with the spirit of democracy, special policies were initiated to support the minorities, such as that they were permitted to have their own educational institutions. This along with Haj subsidy, which as such was a subsidy to Air India, acted as a potent weapon in the hands of the RSS parivar to propagate the falsehood of appeasement of minorities. This malicious propaganda got a further boost when the Congress, in a grave mistake, overturned the verdict of Supreme Court in the matter of Shah Bano and got the Parliament to pass the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. This opened the flood gates for the propaganda that  ‘appeasement of Muslims’ was being done by the Congress. This was a grave error of judgment, mostly forced by protests by the conservative Muslim elements against the Shah Bano judgment.

This has not been the only flaw in the Congress stand on secularism. It failed to take decisive and firm action in controlling riots and the accusations made by secular activists that the Congress has often acted in a biased manner against Muslims and Sikhs are correct. The Congress role in opening the gates of Babri mosque was another important political blunder, and it eventually led to the demolition of Babri Mosque, to which the Congress leadership remained a mute spectator. Clearly, its secularism had holes which could not halt the march of Hindutva and Hindu nationalism. It created the grounds for the rise of the RSS. Today, the Hindutva forces have become strong enough for the political discourse to be dictated by their politics, the politics of the RSS–BJP. Not only Congress, even Mamata Bannerjee has lately shown the tilt towards displaying such religiosity by sanctioning subsidised electricity for Durga Puja pandals and participating in the Ram Navami festival.

So, the question arises, can  the policies being pursued by Rahul Gandhi led Congress be termed as soft Hindutva? I would like to answer, definitely no. The unwanted tilt in display of religiosity is basically an attempt to undo the perception that has been created by the RSS–BJP of the Congress being pro-Muslim and undo the image of being godless secularists. Hindutva politics is based on Brahmanical hierarchy of caste and gender; it aims to gradually do away with secular democracy and bring in Hindu Rashtra. To combat this, what is needed is adoption of inclusive concept of Gandhi’s Hinduism, where values of pluralism and diversity have bigger importance. It is surely a sign of regressive times where Hindu nationalist discourse is overtaking the better of Indian nationalist ethos.

The RSS Parivar has been successful in setting the terms of debate, confining it to ‘Hindu RSS–BJP’ versus ‘pro Muslim, godless secularists’. The display of religiosity by the Congress is a reaction to this debate, but it actually means succumbing to the frame of debate set by the RSS–BJP. The real way it can be countered is by taking up the issues of the marginalised sections of the people, the majority of whom are Hindus, like the farmers, the oppressed castes and the victims of patriarchy, the women. The Congress took up the role of leading the freedom movement against British rule in yesteryears. It needs to assume a similar role in freeing the nation from the caste hierarchy, communalism and patriarchy now.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

Banning of books, opposing cricket team and singers from Pakistan is not very new in India. We had seen the banning of Satanic Verses, digging of cricket pitch in Wankhede stadium in Mumbai to oppose the Indo-Pak match, the disruption of the gazal program of Ghulam Ali in Mumbai amongst many others. The intensity of this intolerance has grown by leaps and bounds in the recent times. The music program which has been targeted this time is that of S M Krishna, the renowned Carnatic musician. His program was organized jointly by Airports Authority of India and SPIC MACAY. The organizers got the threatening messages as to how come they are organizing a program of an anti India person, an Urban Naxal, and a bigot who sang about Jesus and Allah!

As it was postponed by AAI, Krishna showed his availability for the program on that date, which Delhi’s ruling AAP party picked up to host. Program was well attended not only by music lovers but also by those who are opposed to the politics, which is trampling the liberal democratic ethos of the country. The attack on the Krishna concert, in a way, is the continuation of the politics which we have seen in the recent past. These attacks came in the form of ‘Award Wapasi’ (returning) which was the first major resistance to the intolerant acts which had led to the murders of Dr. Dabholkar, Com. Govind Pansare, M M Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh. Around this time beef lynching took its first victim in the form of Mohammad Akhlaq and that’s when Uday Prakash and then Nayantara Sahgal returned their well earned honors to be followed by nearly fifty other literary figures, film personalities and scientists.

During this period we also saw the attack on the dalit aspirations leading to the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula. On parallel level the attack on JNU was orchestrated. At JNU the masked men who shouted the slogans have not been caught while Kanhaiya Kumar and company was targeted. The word anti national was thrown up. The aim was very clear, it was to create and enemy image of those who are critical of this Government. Same way all those disagreeing with the ruling dispensation are being called as anti National and BJP’s well oiled troll army is the new form of aggressive foot soldiers adding on to the Bajrang Dal types. 

Krishna is an outstanding musician who has not only been contributing to the Carnatic music but has also voicing his opinion against the politics of sectarian nationalism and growing intolerance. In the true traditions of music he sings Gandhi’s favorite Bhajan (Vaishnav Jan to), sings about Jesus and Mohammad. As such music is essentially based on the prevalent cultures, which are not bound by any narrow boundaries. It is only from last few decades that creative artists are being questioned and targeted on the ground of religion. Whole of Indian culture has been an intermixing of traditions coming from different religions. The peak point of this has been seen in our medieval times in particular, when Hindus and Muslims both contributed. While the peak of this syncretism is expressed in Bhakti and Sufi traditions, our food habits, literature, art and architecture have all evolved through these interactions.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘Discovery of India’ underlines this aspect of our culture. As per him there are layers of culture intermixing and influencing each other. When cultures meet they interact and evolve into better forms. They have their own distinct signature even while changing themselves and that’s what is called, ‘salad bowl’. Some do believe in ‘melting pot’ model where the original distinctions get merged into a uniform whole. India is fairly unique in having these different components of ‘Salad bowl’ contributing to the richness of the land. While bhakti saints have an appeal cutting across religious boundaries, those visiting Sufi saint shrines are not just Muslims. In the field of literature the devotional songs of Rahim and Raskhan dedicated to Lord Shrikrishna are amazing. The Hindi film and television world is a living testimony to this interactive culture.

One cannot forget the brilliant Bhajans (devotional songs) sung by Mohammad Rafi, Man Tarpat Hari Darshna ko aaj (Baiju Bawara) or ‘Insaf ka mandir hai ye (Amar). There is a long list of these inter religious cultural expressions. The contributions of Ustad Bismillah Khan, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan match those of Ravi Shanker and Shiv Kumar Sharma to give just one example. In current times music maestro A R Rahman, on one side is composing ‘Piya Haji Ali’ and on the other is composing ‘Shantakaram Bhujanagshayanam’.

If Krishna is singing about Jesus and Mohammad, that is just so much natural and inspiring. This precisely is the core essence of creative artists. The bigots cannot see beyond their narrow prisms and cannot tolerate the natural interaction in the positive light. This is what the Taliban do, and this is what the Christian fundamentalists assert.

Taking a cue from the trolls succeeding in postponing AAI SPICMAY concert, other trolls are also showing their aggressive teeth. After the cancellation disguised as postponement another organizers planning to host the program in Mysuru Kuvempunagar have pulled out on similar grounds as they got a warning that hosting Krishna will be like denigrating Hindu Dharma!  One admires Krishna who in the face of these aggressive reactions is holding his ground and believes that music does not know borders of nation, region, religion or language. As per him music should soar across the world and captivate all humanity. Says he; “The troll army has the underlying patronage of people in power. I have been trolled for a long time for my social position, my perspectives on politics, and my disagreements with the BJP regime. I believe in every art form. Allah, Jesus and Ram make no difference. It is a multilingual and multi-religious country.” Salute to the brave soul, brave Indian!

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED