Sunday, 23 December 2007

A Victory based on Filmi Histrionics

So the voters of Gujarat have proved wrong the old adage that "you can fool some people all the time and all the people some of the time, but not all the people all the time." They have been cleverly manipulated into electing a man who may well have been behind the riots of 2002. His victory is not dissimilar to that of another demagogue who was supported by the business class in his country and eventually led it to defeat and ruin some twelve years later. In fact, Adolf Hitler too was a media manipulator and orator who pushed the Germans into World War II, talking of a hundred year reich and gave them a defeated, broken, divided and humiliated nation some six years later. One hopes that Modi will not do the same to Gujarat, if not to India. The fear is that the BJP might decide to follow the Modi model elsewhere in India,ignoring the fact that what might work in a prospering state with a large number of high-caste voters and a small minority population might not work elsewhere in India.

The other problem I have with the BJP and Narendra Modi is the response one gets from the average Hindu, whose relationship with his/her religion might extend to no more than a visit to the local temple, the recitation of a few shlokas, a blind adherence to faith and an equally blind belief in the greatness of "Hindu" (read ancient) India. They remind me a lot of Alberuni’s description of the Indians he met--they believe that no country is greater than theirs, no gods are greater and no knowledge is greater than theirs. If we have this attitude when we are yet on the path to development, how will we be able to develop further?

If we are to be truly honest, so-called "Hindu" India was largely Jain and Buddhist--Brahmanical Hinduism lost its popularity with the spread of agriculture, as opposed to the herding society described in the Vedas. Hinduism underwent a great transformation during that period, losing many of its Vedic elements and acquiring many pre-Vedic elements, such as mother goddess worship, and also elements not even mentioned in the Vedas, such as the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and the Manusmriti, the bane of women and the lower castes. Many of the worst excesses of Hinduism, such as the prohibition against travelling beyond the seven seas, came about in the early medieval period, when trade with the Roman Empire dried up due to the Hun invasions in North India and Europe. Buddhism and Jainism, which defied the Vedas, could only be defeated by the adherents of Advaitavada--those who acknowledged that all atmas are also part of Parmatma (all-soul), which theoretically meant that differences of caste or sex were unimportant if one was truly devoted to the gods.

Much of what is best about Hinduism came about through its interaction with Islam and modern European thought. I’m referring to the Bhakti movement, which sought to go beyond temples and rituals and priests to create a personal relationship between devotees and the gods they worshipped. I’m also referring to the Brahmo Samaj of Rammohan Roy, which fought against Sati, Iswarchandra Vidyasagar who fought for widow remarriage and Swami Vivekananda, who dreamt of a religion that would unite the Advaitavada of Hinduism with the egalitarianism of Islam--"a Hindu head on an Islamic body" is how Swamiji put it. His guru, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, had lived as a Brahmin, a Muslim and a woman and experienced Parmatma in all three guises.

This is what the "Hindus" of today seem to forget. They claim to be marginalized and ignored in a country where they are the majority. It’s a little like an 800-pound gorilla claiming that it is being terrorised by mice! They fail to realize that fear is often used to win votes--and this fear may have no basis in reality. At one time, grannies would tell kids to go to sleep, else the buddha baba would come get them. Now, politicians tell the people to vote for them, else face terrorist attacks. President Bush has done it in the US and it appears that the BJP, although it fears the 123 agreement as a threat to India’s nuclear ambitions, is quite ready to follow his example in its election strategy.

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