August 02, 2020
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Swearing By Intangibles

It was Advani's new concept, to bring religion into politics. Confusion has since reigned on what the Hindu religion has become.

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Swearing By Intangibles
illustration by Jayachandran
Swearing By Intangibles
"The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning and evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched." —Henry David Thoreau, 1854.

People have asked us many times why we moved back to India, after living in America for over 20 years, when we had everything going for us. My answer has always been, "For the most important things in the world: the intangibles." It is not something that can be measured or seen or touched. But I do believe the intangibles are the most important factors that influence our lives. Not spoken of but always, always felt. And despite the perennial chaos, recurrent disasters, ubiquitous corruption, frustrating injustices, stereotypical thinking, living in India has been an unregrettable, energising challenge. My belief is that we often take the most important decisions of our lives based on intangibles.

And, often, it is the intangibles that influence behaviour. What is it that makes a mob, fired by what they believe is Hindutva, kill their own countrymen? L.K. Advani has never said that Muslims should be cleansed out of India. He has said that Muslims should accept Hindutva as their own and live like Indians. By this we would then understand that Hindutva means a nationalism that must over-ride religious loyalties. But the most important intangible has been understood by Hindu fundamentalists, which is, any person of a different belief than your own is mob fodder. I do support L.K. Advani in that there is a need for a rejuvenation of nationalism. But unless he categorically states that it does not mean killing your own countrymen of other religions, the intangible is understood and takes over. Advani said in an interview that he dreams of a country "which guarantees justice to all, and one in which there is peace and harmony". Advani goes on to quote Swami Vivekananda who conceived of a country "respected in the world, even in spiritual terms. He used the words 'spiritual socialism' to describe this vision." Yet, Hindutva today has connotations of militant, aggressive, intolerant behaviour. Many have quoted the Vedas and Upanishads to prove that such behaviour is not Hindutva. But let me quote from a 1989 Supreme Court judgement given by Justice J.S. Verma on the Meaning of Hindutva and Hinduism. Verma wrote: "Considering the terms Hinduism or Hindutva per se as depicting hostility, enmity or intolerance towards other religious faiths or professing communalism, proceeds from an improper appreciation and perception of the true meaning of these expressions. The mischief resulting from the misuse of the terms by anyone in his speech has to be checked.... It is indeed unfortunate, if in spite of the liberal and tolerant features of Hinduism recognised in judicial decisions, these terms are misused by anyone during the elections to gain any unfair political advantage. Fundamentalism of any colour or kind must be curbed with a heavy hand to preserve and promote the secular creed of the nation. Any misuse of these terms must, therefore, be dealt with strictly." Verma goes on to say, "The Hindu is inclined to revere the divine in every manifestation, whatever it may be, and is doctrinally tolerant, leaving others whatever creed and worship suits them best. Few religious ideas are considered to be finally irreconcilable. Hinduism is, then, both a civilisation and a conglomerate of religions, with neither a beginning, a founder, nor a cult of authority, hierarchy, or organisation." Note: "DOCTRINALLY TOLERANT". This doctrine of tolerance should be as revered by Hindus as jehad is by Islamic fundamentalists. Hindus must fight for this doctrine. Not with cudgels and trishuls, but by lobbying and votes.

Advani's rath yatra had brought the BJP into power in 1999 riding on a wave of Hindutva.This year the BJP's dismal performance in the state elections showed that particular wave was withering. And much like an aging Bollywood actor tries to revitalise his career by acting a young lover dancing around trees, the BJP has miscalculated and thinks it's time to do a repeat.

Hindus were always seen as passive, turning the other cheek, and their self-image was at an all-time low as they saw special concessions being given to minorities while they were sidelined. Advani touched that chord of insecurity and the normally ambivalent Hindus became trishul-carrying firebrands. He pulled them out of the closet, gave the cause a name and the chariot sped to victory. It was a new concept, to bring religion to politics and confusion has reigned since on what the Hindu religion has become.

Today the dialectic between the past and future informs our lives. Perhaps this was the time for Advani, just as he had pulled Hindu fundamentalists out of the closet, to pull the secularists out. Figure this: right after the kar sevaks are murdered, Advani flies to Gujarat, gives fiery, angry speeches all over the state that the guilty will be brought to book and given the harshest possible punishment under law. He ensures this is implemented immediately. He makes it a point to protect the Muslims in Gujarat. He not only gets the BJP a surprising Muslim votebank, he pulls the "secular" rug out from under the Congress. The BJP gets the support of the Hindus for the quick, tough action taken against the murderers of the kar sevaks. The BJP missed an opportunity to turn religion-based votebank politics on its head.

It is time now for those against communal murders to emerge from the closets and be seen as a votebank important enough for politicians to take seriously. And those who speak of Hindutva must make clear that it does not include murder and intolerance. Or is it that they do believe in ethnic cleansing and it has their acquiescence?

Krishna said to Arjuna: "Whoever offers to Me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water, that offering of love, of the pure of heart I accept."

He did not mention a temple in a particular spot.
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