Politics

Furore Over Sermon for MLAs Shows How Combustible Religion and Politics Can Be

But misdirected criticism helps BJP take the edge off the charge of undermining democracy.

Jain Samaj lodged police complaints against Tehseen Poonawala and Vishal Dadlani for their tweets about the Jain monk who spoke at the Haryana assembly. Credit: Facebook

Jain Samaj lodged police complaints against Tehseen Poonawala and Vishal Dadlani for their tweets about the Jain monk who spoke at the Haryana assembly. Credit: Facebook

The lodging of an online complaint by the Jain Samaj against Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) activist Vishal Dadlani and columnist, model and Congress supporter Tehseen Poonawala for their allegedly “offensive” tweets about Jain preacher Tarun Sagar, who addressed the Haryana assembly on August 26, may have taken some sheen away from the issue they wanted to raise, but it has definitely not been able to silence the critics of the move. A large number of people still feel that religion should not have too much of a say in the politics of the country.

While Dadlani and Poonawala’s sharp tweets may haunt them for some time to come, the strongest reaction on the issue has been from the Haryana state unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or the CPI(M). In a politically mature manner, the unit criticised the Jain monk’s discourse in the assembly – objecting to the speech’s content and stating that this was not the first time a religious preacher has been allowed to give a sermon at the assembly.

CPI(M) raises objections

Jain monk Tarun Sagar speaking to the Haryana assembly. Credit: Twitter

Jain monk Tarun Sagar speaking to the Haryana assembly. Credit: Twitter

Demonstrating how criticism should be objective rather than personal, Surendra Singh, the state secretary of CPI(M) questioned Sagar’s statement that it was essential for religion to have a hold over politics and that religion is the man while politics is his wife, who accepts the limits set by him.

“This statement not only smacks of male chauvinism, it is also anti-women and against the constitution of the country,” said Singh, who did not even name the Jain preacher in his statement, but only attacked him for his words.

Elaborating on the subject, Singh said the Indian constitution separates religion and politics and does not accept discrimination in the name of sex, religion, caste, language and so on. He demanded the Haryana government issue a clarification on the issue.

Singh also stated that the event symbolised the BJP’s attempt to make its communal agenda acceptable to the public. The CPI(M) leader also took on the other political parties in the Haryana assembly saying that the leaders of the Congress, Indian National Lok Dal (INDL) and the Bahujan Samaj Party did not object to the programme. Incidentally, Kiran Chaudhary, Congress’ leader of opposition and INLD leader Zakir Hussain had welcomed Sagar to the assembly.

Singh expressed surprise that these parties did not oppose holding this event and in fact, they supported it. “This just shows their opportunistic character and ideological decline, which is one of the reasons why [the] BJP has come up so far,” he said.

He further said that assemblies were not the place for religious leaders. His remarks seemed to echo the sentiments of a large group of countrymen who were left aghast by the importance given to religion over politics in a democratic state and especially the manner in which the religious preacher was allowed to address the house – from a podium that was higher than the seats of the governor, chief minister and MLAs. “If the solutions to the problems of the society could have been obtained through religious discourses, then these problems would not have arisen at all”, Singh said, adding that “social problems were on a rise” despite an increase in the number of channels now showing religious programmes.

Singh also cautioned that the BJP was moving at a pace more rapid than the Congress by allowing foreign capital to exploit the country’s resources and loot public institutions. He said the saffron party is using religion as a garb to establish a political order in which it can function without hindrance. Singh warned people that India should not be allowed to convert into a dictatorial nation like Pakistan.

Furore over tweets

Meanwhile, Dadlani’s personal attack on the Jain saint for his participation in the event has caused immense harm to the music composer’s political aspirations, who was considered a close confidante of Kejriwal and first entered the political limelight in 2011 during the India Against Corruption agitation at Ramlila Maidan. In July, he was again seen sitting with Kejriwal in his office during the #TalktoAK programme.

After announcing his decision to leave the party on Saturday, Dadlani tweeted on Sunday that he has not been thrown out of AAP but decided to renounce politics to apologise to the Jains for the hurt he caused them.

However, Dadlani repeatedly insisted that while he was apologising for his remarks, he believed that one should “get religion out of politics for India’s sake”. Several people objected to Dadlani’s offensive tweet saying it was in bad taste. However, many also retweeted it.

Though Dadlani later deleted the tweet, the image remained in circulation. It showed the Jain saint delivering the sermon in the Haryana assembly on August 26. The title put above the image by Dadlani read “Monkery of Democracy : Monk giving religious sermon in Vidhan Sabha”. He further wrote: “If you voted for these people you are responsible for this absurd nonsense” and added two hashtags: “No #AchcheDin, just #NoKachcheDin”

While the message drew instant derision on Twitter, Dadlani initially defended the tweet by apologising but also saying there was no place for religion in politics. However, he realised the damage he had caused himself when Kejriwal tweeted that those showing disrespect to the Jain saint should stop.

As for Poonawala, he was named in the complaint for tweeting ,“Why is this ‘naked’ man ‘holy’ even if he walks ‘nude’ in the state assembly while a woman would be termed a slut”. Poonawala, who describes himself as a ‘political trendwatcher’ and features a picture with President Pranab Mukherjee on his Twitter page, also issued a number of follow-up tweets to defend his argument that religion and politics should not be mixed.

 

Dadlani and Poonawala’s manner of protest has been reported to the Delhi police. If it were not for their words, the focus would have been on the core issue that they sought to raise.