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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 7 February 17, 2024

Playing Politics On Stage | L K Sharma

Saturday 17 February 2024


All India’s a stage upon which the performer plays many parts. “The play’s the thing/ Wherein I’ll catch mass consciousness”, intones the hero. Gesturing vigorously, he makes his words come alive, giving them the desired meaning. He appears in traditional attire, accompanied by priests and supported by a prominent prop, be it Puja Thali or Sengol, sceptre representing righteousness. Showing the symbol of virtue makes up for the lack of virtue in politics. Vedic chants provide appropriate audio feed.

The curtain rings down on a devotional scene to rise on a political scene. In a temple, the hero articulates noble thoughts. In the temple of democracy, he delivers a speech marked by mendacity. Had the two scripts been exchanged, the bewitched audience would have still got the combo message that Nehru was a bad man and that religion will survive if politics is injected into it!

The curtain lifts again to show the actor in a gorgeous costume walking stridently, waving to the crowds. He faces a teleprompter, mike, and sea of humanity. In the next scene, he sits in lone splendour touching a pile of official files. At times, he transports the spectators to a cave, or jungle or to a regal building abroad. The modulation of his voice alters as per the mask worn for the scene. Spectators are mesmerised as he tells a tale of hellish past and promises heavenly future. Such exciting curtain-up moments are all that the people have in their lives.

Politics is theatre. The leader who knows this lasts in the arena. Using politainment for mass communication, he reaches new heights in performative politics. With falsity as the core value of his politics, he serves pathos, avoiding logos and ethos.

We applauded a performer who entered miraculously. His exit will be a miracle because he will never be “sans teeth”! This show is not limited by the seven ages of man. The “strange eventful history” will never end and this vaulting monologue will go on. The multirole fighter will prove Shakespeare wrong.
Let us leave Shakespeare and come to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Appearing in an ever-new resplendent costume, he keeps winning applause day after day. Modi’s act got more powerful after he was consecrated as Dev-Raja (God-King) in Ayodhya and returned to New Delhi with a halo around his head.

The divine status was accorded to him by humans. A Ramjanmabhoomi Trust official declared that Modi is Lord Vishnu’s avatar. The first Modi Mandir in India has his idol of stone. The next one may come up in New Jersey. The Parliament of Hindu Gods must be preparing to welcome a new entrant!

The concept of God-King is rooted in Bharat’s indigenous tradition, intellectuals say. They used to say this about democracy! Their earlier view will be deleted from history following the demise of democracy. History is rewritten by the winner. “History is a fluid creature and easily contaminated.... authoritarian regimes edit and airbrush history books as the key to political legitimacy.... increasingly used to polarise society....” The recreated narratives about the Babri Mosque and the Ramjanmabhoomi Movement validate this view.

Modi has verily emerged as an object of veneration. L K Advani, once BJP’s top leader, hailed him as a chosen instrument for the Ayodhya event. “God’s instrument” is the term Modi uses for himself in his speeches, highlighting his connection with God. He hears the call of the Divine. A poster shows life-sized Modi escorting child Ram to the temple.

Modi believes in God but knows that God helps those who help themselves. He realises that in some parts of India, Lord Ram would not help him in the elections. So, there Modi sups with those who were called Ram’s enemies by his party.

Modi goes on the poll campaign with two kinds of speeches. One dwells on the Ram Temple and the somnolent Hindus getting reawakened by his touch. The other speech envisions a glorious future that he will usher in as Vikas Purush. Fortunately, this time BJP leader Uma Bharati will not call him Vinash Purush who brings destruction instead of development.

The Union Cabinet members join in the worship of the Mahamanav presiding over their meetings. They experience spiritual bliss “aatmic anand” flowing from Modi’s feat. They adopt a formal resolution calling Modi the Harbinger of a New Epoch who achieved what the Indian civilisation had dreamt of for 500 years!

This unusual Cabinet Resolution, a devout Hindu says, has the spirit of a Sanskrit prayer to Lord Ganesh! It makes him realise that he had been praying to a wrong God! The reverential resolution points to a New God! It makes one re-read the biography of the North Korean “Dear Leader”. Modi cannot be blamed if he has a fit of megalomania.

In his speech in Ayodhya, Modi talks of Kalachakra. Is it a reference to the Wheel of Time or to the intricate Buddhist tantric practice? The generation stage of this practice involves the visualisation of oneself as a deity within the context of a mandala. Some devotees think of Manav-Chakra, Sri Aurobindo’s forecast of the evolved Atimanav, and see the arrival of the Superman.

Modi is now called the “fifth Shankaracharya” because he took the prime position at the temple ceremony. This goes against a basic tenet of Hinduism that each person should follow his or own dharma, specific duty, and conduct. The Raja should follow his raj dharma and the priest or saint should do his religious duties. In the present scenario, religious leaders are making political statements and the Prime Minister is talking of the Divine. Modi has an unpleasant memory of having been reminded of raj dharma.

Modi mobilised the people by calling upon them to light diyas on January 22. This date was more significant than August 14, 1947, said a BJP leader. The ruling party wants the “return” of Ram to be remembered by the masses till the coming parliamentary elections. Modi thinks big. He says the day will be remembered for a thousand years. A time-capsule of the January 22 event may be buried deep in the ocean and planted on the moon to inform future historians that a new Treta Yug began in 2014.

Ayodhya’s transformation has impressed all, barring those whose houses were destroyed for widening the roads. Strangely, the demolition of small temples and mosques for the same purpose did not hurt any religious sentiments! The temple town now has an airport and luxury hotels. The Vatican will have to spruce itself to compete with the Hindu Vatican.

The Ayodhya spectacle was organised on a grand scale. The State deployed thousands of folk artistes to entertain the guests. Half a day’s holiday was declared by government offices on January 22. Devotional songs were played on the TV channels and through loudspeakers. Life-sized cut-outs of Modi were hung on the roadside poles. The shiny Ayodhya temple saw politicians, singers, dancers, decorators, celebrities, film stars, choreographers, saints, sportsmen, influencers, and billionaires. Masons and carpenters will be back to complete the temple. Their entry will defile the temple, the dissenting saints said.

Millions of saffron flags were waved with hostility towards “the other”. The Prime Minister’s wise words at the consecration were lost on the Ram devotees. Knowing what Modi stands for, they demonstrated fake religiosity on roads and in colonies. The local BJP leaders assured them of police inaction.

The wave of triumphalism led them to shout provocative slogans in front of Muslims in Mumbai and cause violent clashes. Elsewhere, a Ram devotee climbed atop a church and planted a saffron flag above the Cross. Some mosques attracted mobs shouting that every child must say Jai Shri Ram. A wag asked the Government to build more mosques because what the Ram devotees like most is to chant outside mosques!

A set pattern of organised lumpenisation and religious polarisation marks Indian democracy. Mobocracy is no longer a dirty word. Drowning in the rising sea of faith, Hindus admired the razzmatazz of the politico-religious carnival. They were struck by Modi’s sartorial elegance, his event management, and his effort to remain in front of the camera lens. Even while praying, he faced the camera, keeping the idol on his side. Ever respectful, Modi never shows his back to the camera.

Modi has energised his electoral base through a religious show but some unintended consequences may follow. After political Hindutva was unleashed 10 years ago, a wide gulf developed between liberal and conservative Hindus. The consecration divided even the devout Hindus. Some sarkari saints were corralled to counter the dissenting saints. Genuine religious scholars opposed the consecration in a half-built temple. Modi’s status in the ceremony was against the rituals prescribed in the sacred texts. They were offended by the entry of the camera into the sanctum-sanctorum to telecast the image of the Prime Minister.

Consolidation of Hindu votes is a key element of the BJP’s electoral strategy. But the rituals at the Ram Temple caused a rift among Hindus instead of uniting them. This division may do no harm to Modi since the traditionalists will not vote for a secular party but a bigger conflict between liberal and extremist Hindus is coming.

The Prime Minister has more than one reason to be satisfied with his achievement in Ayodhya. Modi tracks his internal enemies and saw Yogi Adityanath fast emerging as a rival Hindutva icon. By demonstrating his pre-eminence in the temple that got a publicity blitz, Modi cut the Yogi to size and ensured that the UP chief minster does not rob the Hindu Hriday Samrat crown from him. Even the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat praised Modi for his tapasya and may no longer look for Modi’s alternative.

Many say what is good for Modi, the politician, is not good for India. The roar of faith has sealed the people’s ears to the voices of reason. Not to shout Jai Shri Ram is an anti-national act. Posters on social media warned that those not going to Ayodhya on November 22 would “commit a sin”. A new Age of Superstitions has dawned. No Arya Samaj leader countered such warnings. Swami Agnivesh, who used to do this vehemently, is no more. Today, Dayanand Saraswati, Arya Samaj founder, would have been subjected to life-threatening trolling.

No one will dare to criticise Ram’s treatment of his wife which was a popular theme of feminist prose and poetry in Hindi. In the old India, noted poet Kamla Singhvi used to be applauded for reciting her poem on not forgiving Ram!

In this weird India, bizarre scenes are witnessed daily. Some feel embarrassed to see an airline parading its crew dressed as Ram, Laxman and Sita or the Government buses playing songs in praise of Lord Ram! Those opposed to Hindutva feel anguished about their religion’s pollution by politics, violent assertion of majoritarianism, oppression of a minority and progressive destruction of India’s secular Constitution. Many live in fear.

The governments focus on religious issues, doing little about poverty, hunger, ill-health, and education. A Government hospital in Delhi decides to close for half a day because of the ceremony in the distant town of Ayodhya! Faced with protests, it withdraws that order. Deprived Hindus tell the TV interviewers that they want jobs, hospitals, and schools, not temples. An old cartoon by R. K. Laxman shows the board of a Government-run “Temple and Mosque Construction Company”, with the common man outside asking when the nation will be built!

Th New India is not new for Europeans familiar with the rope-trick and snake-charmers. Observing the quest for personal power in India bordering on imperialism, one recalls Rudyard Kipling’s story and the film The Man Who Would Be King. Growing superstitions, tribalism and arrival of a new God in India reminds him of Kafiristan. Kipling wrote about two British rogue soldiers who take over Kafiristan whose tribe, mesmerised by the white skin, anoints one of them as God. The white Britisher is found out when he marries a tribal woman. Out of fright, she bites him and his bleeding face makes the tribe realise that he is no God but a mere mortal.

Modi has ensured that the Indian diaspora does not remain untouched by his magic. Th wave of triumphalism reached distant lands and some Am-Indians of New York took out a procession hailing Ram and shouting “Ayodhya to jhanki hai, Kashi, Mathura baaki hai”, telling Indians that they must do the same to the mosques in Kashi and Mathura.

Hindutva activists have already turned their attention to mosques in other towns. Hindus have “woken up” after centuries of sleep. An “unawakened” Hindu from Sonipat posted the photo of a mosque that was turned into a Hindu temple after the partition. God forbid, if Jains, Buddhists, or Muslims were to emerge to agitate against the turning of their places of worship into Hindu temples.

The official march towards establishing a Hindu Rashtra has an external aspect as the related violence shows growing religious intolerance in India. Foreign media carries critical reports and opinions, undermining the Prime Minister’s claim that India is becoming Vishwa Guru, the teacher of the world!

Modi’s policies have justified the creation of theocratic Pakistan. The liberal Pakistanis were hoping that secular India may one day inspire their rulers. Now they see that India has turned out to be like Pakistan! Pakistani poet Fahmida Riaz lamented this, telling Indians that you have turned out to be just like us, “Tum bilkul hum jaise nikle” (You turned out just like us).

India keeps losing one battle of ideas after another. First by becoming a Hindu Pakistan and then by distorting an ancient faith tradition and reshaping it as Abrahamic Hinduism!

Words of wisdom come from a Haryana villager. He says what a scholar would say: “Modiji, Hinduism continued to survive centuries of foreign rule because religion was not associated with the ruler. If it were associated with a Prime Minister or President or King, it would have died after his departure. So please keep it out of your politics!”

(Author: LK Sharma is a veteran Indian journalist)

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