It is for the ‘experts’ to reflect on the outcome of the coming elections. And it is for the over-confident television anchors to celebrate Narendra Modi’s ‘charisma’, and repeatedly assert how ‘incompetent’ Rahul Gandhi is to combat the massive organisation that Amit Shah – driven by his ‘superman’ qualities – has built.
However, as an ordinary mortal, I am certain of one thing. The BJP has done severe damage to the spirit of Hinduism. It has trivialised and distorted the meaning of being a Hindu. Yes, when I hear the toxic words (filled with stimulant Hinduism and associated condemnation of Islam) disseminated through Modi’s or Shah’s speeches, or when I see the ugliness implicit in mob lynching and cow vigilantism, I feel ashamed. Yes, I am a Hindu. But then, it becomes exceedingly difficult to bear this sort of degeneration of my religion.
Some ‘secular’ friends might say that I am romanticisng Hinduism because, for them, as an organised religion, it is bound to be problematic. Hence, it is futile to expect anything radical or life-affirming from it. Well, I do admit that like any other institutionalised religion – Islam or Christianity – Hinduism too has many flaws.
For instance, we are now aware of the tradition of a ruthlessly hierarchical patriarchal Brahminism. Even if you are not an Ambedkarite, it is difficult to overlook the damage it has caused to our culture by degrading, humilating and marginalising a large section of fellow humans.
Likewise, the ugliness of the priestcraft and the burden of ritualism have often obstructed the creative flow of human consciousness. Furthermore, the newly emergent celebrity babas – a product of the neo-liberal economy – have devalued the spirit of religiosity by transforming it into a marketable product for instant enlightenment.
Seeing a possibility
However, I also see a possibility in Hinduism – the way a Muslim sees beyond Talibanism or a Christian loves to see Christ not in the ornamentalism of the Vatican, but in the ethics of love and care.
Its epics constantly remind me of the dharma of life, the interplay of good and evil, the dynamics of tamas, rajas and sattwa, and the riddle of human existence. Its Upanishads take me to the realm of sublime prayers: a longing for the transcendental – the way Rabindranath Tagore composed his enchanting songs.
Likewise, sages like Ramakrishna and Raman Maharshi arouse meditative calmness, love and ecstasy, and the likes of Vivekananda and Gandhi inspire us to unite the three yogas – love, knowledge and action. With this tradition of Hinduism, all the walls of separation are broken. Gautam Buddha and Narayan Guru, Surdas and Mira, Nizamuddin Auliya and Mother Teresa, Tagore and Nehru, and Lokayat and Vedanta: nothing is alien; it is an ocean that absorbs everything.
The BJP is the anti-thesis
Yes, I have no hesitation in saying that the BJP is an anti-thesis of this spiritually enriched, poetic and elastic Hinduism. Instead, it has reduced Hinduism into a sword of hatred; it has killed the spiritual ecstasy; and it has reduced religion into a mere uniform. It stimulates the gross sentiments, activates the mob mentality, and replaces the poetry of the inner quest by some sort of brute instincts: the declaration of war against the ‘enemy’. It is negative, destructive and demonic.
From Vivekananda’s ‘practical Vedanta’ to Savarkar’s militarised Hindutva, from Yagnavalkya’s conversation with Maitreyi to Uma Bharti’s speeches: this is the transformation in the culture of Hinduism that the BJP has caused. It has really made us low.
Sometimes, as I read the tales of Ramakrishna (representing the blend of the Vedantic wisdom and the metaphors derived from the everydayness of the world), and then watch the likes of Yogi Adityanath on the television channel, I begin to cry. The degeneration shatters me. Or, for that matter, when I think of Gandhi at Noakhali, and then observe Modi’s dramaturgical performance and indulgence with toxic words, I feel that it is a bad time for Hinduism.
This sort of Hinduism, with its militaristic nationalism, loud patriotism and aggressive postures, convinces me that it is anti-spiritual; it is immoral; and it is against love and wisdom. In this Hinduism there is no Shankara helping us to overcome the illusory maya; there is no Sri Aurobindo speaking of the ‘life divine’; instead, there is Sakshi Maharaj, or the story of Ganesha’s ‘plastic surgery’.
For how long do we hear only about ‘alien Muslim invaders’, ‘Kashmiri terrorists’, ‘immoral communists’ and ‘Gandhian cowards’? For how long do we celebrate the likes of Nathuram Godse? For how long do we assert our religion by hating others? For how long do we accept this corruption of Hinduism?
We have to decide. Let Hinduism be saved from its self-proclaimed protectors. Can it be an issue in the coming elections?
Avijit Pathak is a professor of sociology at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.