Sunday, November 01, 2015

Vox populi when religion takes over the secular public space

Voting and democracy require responsible voters and responsible politicians.  The old country and the adopted country alike seem to be regressing in these! :(

The patchwork quilt that India has been ever since it was created as an independent country by the departing White supremacists, forging an "Indian" identity has been a difficult task.  Religions, languages, castes, history, and everything else together presented one huge challenge.  In such a situation, perhaps the worst development ever was the Indian voters electing to power a party and its leaders who always flexed their Hindu muscles.

The open "Hindutva" in the secular public space has put religious minorities on the alert.  The cold-blooded murders of thinkers who wrote against religion, especially Hinduism--even though they were not from the "other" religions--has not only made the minorities worry about their place in the country's quilt, but has also catalyzed the intellectuals to returning the government bestowed honors.

The latest to speak about all these is one of my favorite musicians right from my younger days in the old country:
Sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan on Sunday said writers and artistes, who returned their awards “are not mad” but pained at the situation in the country, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi should rein in people responsible for it
An honoree himself, the Ustad is "watching the situation":
They are also concerned with the present situation, therefore they are returning their awards. We have freedom of expression. It seems that there is something wrong somewhere.
Meanwhile, the founder of one of India's most visible companies behind the IT revolution there, Narayana Murthy, whose name could not be any clearer that it is Hindu, is worried:
A country can only make economic progress when there is no strife, no fear, and when the majority community stops oppressing the minority community. It doesn't matter which govt is in power,
Businesses usually do not care about human rights and morals as long as they can make profits.  But, they begin to shift uneasily in their seats when they sense that the business climate is being negatively affected.
Narayana Murthy is the lone voice from Corporate India who has expressed his concern over rising intolerance in the country.
On Friday, Moody’s Analytics, a research arm of the Moody’s group, had advised Prime Minister Narendra Modi to keep party members in check, or risk losing the government’s domestic and global credibility.
Meanwhile, from across India's borders comes this commentary:
Prime Minister Modi has failed to discourage and punish extremists and guard India's great democratic values. ...Pakistan does not have a success story to teach India how to grapple with religious intolerance. Nonetheless, India can still learn from Pakistan where we experimented with mixing religion and politics. And, in a nutshell, it sucks! People do have the right to believe that their religion is awesome but that awesomeness should not come at the cost of someone else's freedoms. India will remain a great model for the rest of the world as long as it stays a democratic, pluralistic and secular society. With no religion, should India, or any other country, trade precious values like democracy, tolerance and individual freedoms.
But, hey, unlike Pakistan's military dictatorship under Zia ul-Haq which led that country's transformation into a theocracy, it was India's voters who elected Modi and his toadies.  I think this makes India's ugly turn even worse.  However, it is not late to get back on to the secular track.  There is hope that the majority Hindu will act on the understanding that "Vaishnav people are those who":
Feel the pain of others, Help those who are in misery.


gils said...

In my three decades of living in this country never have a govt been this much criticized for fringe elements action. For conspiracy buffs this is right up their alley if one consider for a fact that all ..let me repeat.. Every single one of the incidents reported are in states where the opposition is in power. Personally I feel the center is in classic catch 22 where if they intervene people cry bloody murder of democracy and over riding of states power by center. If they want the states to act it's colored secular. This govt sucks big time with their economic policy which till now has been restricted to photo ops with MNC's on their own turf. But that doesn't win votes here. It's really silly and is bordering ridicule that people are returning their awards which does nt just shame that institution leave alone ensuring bad name for the country wasting all the effort put in the photo ops but doesn't make any sense. In the name of questioning the silence of those intellectuals I don't want to trivialize those deaths. But again these people who barely sneezed when so many riots and attacks where made in past several decade .. Happily enjoying the patronage from the previous govts.. Could only be crying now for more attention. Needless to say their books are dusted off and are on show case now. Indian secularism is a subject in study itself which sadly no one wants to study but everyone is a master.

Ramesh said...

As you know, I don't comment on your posts on Modi, but I have to rant against your depiction of India as "the patchwork quilt that India has been ever since it was created as an independent country by the departing White supremacists, forging an "Indian" identity has been a difficult task."

Sorry my friend - the Indian identity eluded you, but is strongly in me. The identity that has been forged in India is a miracle, the likes of which does not exist anywhere in the world and is something for many other countries that are falling apart to emulate.

Sriram Khé said...

"Indian secularism is a subject in study itself" ... exactly. If only a lot more of us systematically studied and thought through it. My real wake up call to thinking about Indian secularism was when the Akali Dal and Bhindranwale appeared in my news radar during my high school years. Prior to that I had only heard from my relatives about the Shiv Sena in Bombay. But, it was one thing to hear from somebody about something in the past, and another to follow events in real time, so to speak. So, yes, religion in the political space is, unfortunately, not anything new in India. I have complained about it forever--I have been consistent, except for a brief period when I went off the track during a phase of youthful chasing of a mirage :(
It is in such contexts that I think that the one mistake that Gandhi did was mix his shrewd political instincts with his spiritual quests, which is how he brought religion(s) into the freedom struggle. Had he not mixed the two ...

As for an "Indian" identity ... hmmm ... there is a difference between a well-defined national identity versus a country with a population that has enormous diversity--the quilt that I referred to. I am always in awe of India's quilt. Perhaps the awesomeness was best illustrated when a foreign-born Roman Catholic stepped aside which then led to a Sikh becoming the prime minister, who was sworn in by a Muslim, all in a country where 80% of the population is Hindu. The nutcases in the US are far too many (and they own too many guns too) and will make sure that something like this never ever happens in the US. Even now, well through Obama's second term, we have more than a quarter of the country convinced that he is a Muslim who was born somewhere and that he is a traitor! But, such an appreciation of the quilt does not mean that in the years that I lived in India I felt in my bones a fundamental sense of "Indian."

gils said...

The issue is that of appreciation vs appeasement. The Right wingers claim under appreciated for despite being 3/4th of the total population they still co exist alongside various minorities who, even in countries where they form the entire lot are ill treated. Anyone who proposes this angle is seen to be appeasing towards the hard Right. But this very premise of the fat right is far too wrong. Why should the remaining 1/4th be compared against any foreigner while they are as much a citizen of this great country. Our people should realize this point pretty soon. After nearly three decades a govt with good majority is at the center. If they couldn't use it becausr of petty politics irresponsible media or by their own design nothing would be more unfortunate than that.

gils said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

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