Religion is generally understood as a vertical relationship with the deity, and inspired by it, a horizontal relation with the rest of humanity and also the universe.
People may resort to religion or religious practices just to do obeisance to that Super Being. Many others worship him or her for seeking favours for oneself, one’s family or others. These may be innocent acts in so far as they are well intentioned.
But, the trouble starts when people use religion as a tool for selfish needs. It could be to propagate one’s ideology of a particular group, caste or community. Some use religion or call upon deities to invoke curses on others. Some do it to impress upon others that they are more religious than others. Many do it to polish their business prospects.
There is one particular tribe that uses religion in the most nauseating way possible. That is the political tribe across the spectrum. It has to do with all political parties except, apparently, the Marxist variety.
Particularly in India, this phenomenon of politicians resorting to religious gimmicks in the most pharisaic way is very manifest. I call it pharisaic because their visits to temples, churches, mosques or religious shrines are ill-motivated. They want to impress upon people that, by that act, they acknowledge the importance of that religion, but, of course, with hidden agenda. They would want to pander to the emotional chord of onlookers by letting them know how devoted they are to the religion of those onlookers or of a particular community. Most often this is a sheer vote-catching exercise. It is a most hypocritical act because the actor may not have an iota of faith in the deity before whom he or she does obeisance. Like a flame attracts moths, the gullible get attracted to such politicians. These politicians are no better than Bollywood actors whose scintillating celluloid performance has little to do with their private lives.
Come election time, we see politicians of all hues visiting temples, caves, or shrines only to catch people’s attention. Such an act has no content of genuine devotion. It borders on the theatrical and is used as a bait to hoodwink the spectators. The stupidest thing is when they arrange camera shots in particular angles to glamorize their poses before the deity as if it is a catwalk like performance for all the world to behold.
Why do politicians mess with religion? The only explanation I can find is that they seek to use religion for political purposes to get extra mileage to propagate their political ideology. It is a window-dressing gimmick without any spiritual content. Such exercise can often have communal overtones and implications too. Especially when a party attempts to function under the tutelage of communal organisations, the communal compulsions can use even unconventional and unconstitutional methods to achieve its end. We have seen blood spilled on streets by street-smart, and often hired mercenary devotees. The nation often goes into a vortex of pain, anger, and confusion on witnessing communal peddlers gate-crashing into people’s homes, bedrooms and kitchens to create terror. We come to know many such attempts where religious ideology underlines political ideology. Their followers may get brainwashed with illogical and emotional arguments which can translate into even aggression.
The most surprising thing is that our elected leaders take oath as legislators under the Constitution but thereafter indulge in unconstitutional acts. There is no place in our Constitution giving licence to any faction or community to function under the banner of a religious or communal party. If there were such a provision, the danger would have been that some party or other would turn the nation into a theocratic state. One only hopes and prays that such a drastic eventuality may not fall upon the nation.
Coming to the politicians using religion as a tool, the first thing, to start with, is to call a moratorium on political personages going into religious shrines to mimic devotees. They may go to such places in their personal capacity to express their private devotion to the deity or deities. There should be no political propaganda-motivated acts at shrines by political personalities. Let religion be religion, meaning that it should not be used as tool for political purposes.
Why should the government or political parties vie with one another for building or restoring temples or holy shrines of any religion? If the government supports such actions with funds, let it be done on an equal basis for all religious communities, but without any strings attached like state control on religious administrative matters.
Let governments and political parties keep out of religious premises for the sake of peace, Constitutional propriety and secular principles.
(Published on 24th June 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 26)