The greatest tragedy of Indian politics is that the BJP is allowed to set the agenda. All political parties are forced to follow it with the result that the Opposition has become irrelevant.
Nobody would personally object to Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi taking a holy dip at the Sangam, where the Ganga and the Yamuna join the mythical Saraswati. What is striking is the need she felt to advertise her religious faith in a country which is till today, notionally, secular.
Her great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru was an agnostic, if not an atheist, and he did not feel the need to trace his ancestry to claim that he was a Brahmin of Kashmiri origin. In fact, in his Will and Testament, Nehru wanted his body to be cremated and his ashes sprinkled in the rivers, for cultural, rather than religious, reasons.
He never ran after religious leaders, Hindu, Muslim or Christian. Even when he allowed American evangelist Billy Graham to call on him, it was more out of courtesy, than to gain any insight into his cult following in the West.
Alas, his daughter Indira Gandhi was, like British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a believer in such esoteric things that she had an in-house Yoga expert who believed in gun-running, while peddling spiritualism.
Priyanka Gandhi’s brother Rahul Gandhi’s campaign in the last Gujarat Assembly election was noted more for the visits he made to the temples in the state than for taking on the might of both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Did the temple visits succeed in changing the mindset of the Gujaratis who identify themselves with the duo to the point that they are willing to forgive them for their many acts of foolishness.
Their father, the late Rajiv Gandhi, tried to compete with the BJP when, in one Lok Sabha election, he started his campaign from Ayodhya with Arun Govil, the actor who played Ram’s role in Ramananad Sagar’s mega-serial Ramayana, standing beside him on the stage. It is a different matter that if he had not been assassinated in Tamil Nadu, the Congress would not have returned to power under the leadership of PV Narasimha Rao.
The point is that soft Hindutva is not an alternative to hard Hindutva. It is not the Congress alone which has been imitating the BJP. Kadakampally Surendran is the CPM’s minister for temples in Kerala. The other day he regretted his government’s action which was to implement the Supreme Court’s order to let women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala temple.
He was forced to regret the government action for fear that the CPM would lose the votes of some Hindus. Come to think of it, this was one state where a political leader had the guts to say that one centre of superstition was gone when the Sabarimala temple was destroyed in a fire. The CPM had a leader by the name AK Gopalan, who exhorted the Hindus to join the Red Sena, instead of wasting money to go to Sabarimala.
Incidentally, the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala was initially welcomed by the RSS and the BJP’s lone MLA in Kerala, Shri O. Rajagopal. If Kadakampally Surendran has changed his stance, it is an admission by his party that more than the rule of law, it was the rule of religious thugs that mattered to it.
Logically speaking, the LDF government should now submit a new affidavit in the Supreme Court to say that what some call as matters of faith are inviolable and sacrosanct in a state which prided in the social reformation of the kind Sree Narayana Guru promoted.
Why single out only the CPM. In West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is facing an unprecedented challenge from the BJP. The ruling party at the Centre has unabashedly been using its money and muscle power to wrest the state from the TMC. I would not be surprised if the BJP eventually rules the roost in West Bengal.
Be that as it may, Mamata Banerjee did not crown herself with glory when she claimed that she was a Brahmin and did not, therefore, have to be taught the Hindu dharma. Her comment is absolutely Brahminical. She turned comical when she recited the Chandi Path to prove her Brahminical ancestry.
Alas, it evoked a tit for tat from her political rival Suvendu Adhikari that she quoted the wrong stanzas. For starters, the Chandi Path is one of the most ancient and complete systems of mantra worship of the divine mother goddess in the Hindu tradition. It comes from Chapters 81 to 93 of the Markandeya Purana, one of the greatest spiritual treasures of Hindu spirituality.
The people of West Bengal had chosen her in successive elections, not because she was a Brahmin. Or because she could recite the Chandi Path. She was elected because, in their perception, she was a leader who could identify with the common people and lead the state to greater glory.
They did not want the TMC Brahmin to replace the Marxist Brahmins. Banerjee should have picked holes in the arguments of the BJP and capitalised on its failure to fulfil its electoral promises, especially on controlling price rise and bringing back the Indian money allegedly stashed away in foreign banks which would have fetched every Indian at least Rs 15 lakh.
Now, people will judge her on her knowledge of the Chandi Path. What a pathetic fall for a leader who could have en-cashed on her simplicity — wearing a Rs 200-worth chappal and a Rs 300-worth sari. Now, she will be dubbed a secular Brahmin, who lost her way while fighting the demons from Gujarat. No, she is not the only Chief Minister to fall in the trap of the BJP.
In Delhi, we have Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party, whose Budget for the year 2021-22 had too much of a dash of patriotism. His finance minister Manish Sisodia has earmarked Rs 45 crore to set up 500 national flags. While the BJP is threatening to saffronise education, introducing Hindu religious texts in madrasas and the like, the Delhi government wants every student to be patriotic.
Whoever had said that patriotism is the last resort of the scoundrel was not wide of the mark. The government wants to set up a separate board of education to do away with the monopoly that the CBSE enjoys in the national capital. Nobody knows how the new board will be different from the CBSE except that patriotism will be taught from the nursery to the plus two stage.
Millions of people took part in the freedom struggle not because patriotism was taught at schools but because there were leaders with a vision like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. In the Cellular Jails in Andamans, hundreds of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims perished, not because they were taught patriotism at schools. There were also the likes of Savarkar who wrote apology after apology and came out of the jail to take part, allegedly, in the conspiracy to assassinate Gandhi.
There were also leaders whose sense of patriotism lay in licking the boots of the British. India has fought many wars with Pakistan and China and every time the people rose up as one man to support the government. They did so not because they were taught patriotism but because patriotism is in the blood of the people of India, irrespective of caste and creed.
The AAP won the elections last mainly because of the solid support it received from a large section of the Hindus, Muslims, Christians and migrants. They did not vote for Kejriwal because he is a devotee of Hanuman and can recite Hanuman Chalisa.
He has now made a promise that once the Ram Mandir is built at Ayodhya, he will organise free pilgrimage to the senior citizens of Delhi to visit the temple there. For the majority of Hindus, Ram lives in their hearts and not in any temple. In fact, there are few temples for Ram in this country where there are millions of temples for Hanuman.
Kejriwal has been dragging politics to the gutter level. He is one who did nothing when the minorities were targeted in the Northeast of Delhi. He also thought it politically risky to visit those women protesting against the Citizenship law. But he wants to send senior citizens to Ayodhya at state cost. By the way, pilgrimage loses its meaning when it is without an element of self-sacrifice.
There are some Congressmen who feel disappointed with Rahul Gandhi. Congressmen are one species who expect their leader to get votes so that they can become ministers, MPs and MLAs. The BJP is here to stay for many years. They are unlike the Congress in that they will use any means to defeat their rivals. Elections do not matter to the BJP as it can buy MLAs and form governments as in Meghalaya, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.
So when some Congress leaders assembled at Jammu to plan their next course of action, they sported a turban, the colour of which would not have gone unnoticed. They chose saffron. Why? Is this how they are going to bring about greater democracy in the grand old party and end dynasty?
There was one leader in that group. He was former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. When the BJP government passed an anti-cow slaughter Bill under which man slaughter is a lesser crime than cow slaughter, Hooda walked across the aisle in the State Assembly to hug the BJP Chief Minister. How is Hooda different from Khattar?
Hooda knows that the anti-cow slaughter law has hit the farmer hard as he no longer can sell his barren cattle but he does not have the guts to call Khattar’s bluff. All the political parties know that what Amit Shah did in Kashmir by converting the state into a Union Territory is against the Constitution. But none of them has the courage to question it, let alone question the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution.
In Madhya Pradesh, former Congress Chief Minister Kamal Nath thinks that it is great politics when he admits into the party a person who built a temple to perpetuate the memory of Nathuram Godse who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. Kamal Nath thinks that by imitating the BJP, he can get back to power in the state, which the party lost because he was not willing to come to terms with the younger lot in the Congress.
What the Opposition leaders do not realise is that even today, despite the BJP controlling the Centre and most states, a large majority of the people are opposed to its politics of hatred. They felt shaken when UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath claimed that India did not get international recognition and respect because of its secularism but none of the Opposition leaders had the guts to question him.
They should have questioned his right to speak against the tenets of the Constitution and yet remain in power. It is ages since Mulayam Singh Yadav or his son or Mayawati have spoken a word against the anti-democratic stance of the Chief Minister.
They are all trying to prove that they are better Hindus than the BJP Hindus in the false belief that this will fetch them votes. When the contest is between fake Hindutva and real Hindutva, the people will choose the latter for the former. This has been proved in successive elections.
The people expect the Opposition to set the national agenda based on the values enshrined in the Constitution, arguably one of the greatest texts of its kind in the world. They want the BJP to follow it and not the vice versa. Alas, such a situation seems to be aeons away! That is India’s tragedy.