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Mainstream, VOL LX No 4, New Delhi, January 15, 2022

Modi Against Kashi | Radhakanta Barik

Friday 14 January 2022

by Prof Radhakanta Barik*

The temple in Kashi drew many political leaders from Gandhi to Modi. Gandhi went there and branded it as the dirtiest place which did shock his Hindu conscience. He spoke out honestly and sent a message that God lives in a clean place. Gandhi went with young Jagjivan Ram in a car which got attacked by the priests of the temple but Gandhi retorted back: you are a scared lot, as you are so many but could not kill me. This message was clear as Gandhi took the Dalits into the temple, on grounds that Dalits stand on an equal plane with the others, and this changed the political map of India. Ambedkar went to nearby Kashi and found Buddha who delivered his first sermon here. Buddha walked hundreds of kilometers from Gaya on foot to Kashi and gave his lessons on peace. Here Modi went to the temple in Kashi and took a dip in the river Ganga and brought his binary politics of Aurangzeb vs Shivaji which is not surely religious or reformist agenda of Gandhi to Ambedkar but his destructive politics of making Hinduism a farce rather than a religion. His dip in the river Ganga is the final dip by him in the political ocean of India, the BJP is a sinking boat in UP politics and Indian politics. Kashi stands for pluralism in Indian culture which was ignored by Modi while speaking on the occasion of the inauguration of the temple corridor. It has a strong tradition of Kabir who questioned the going to four Dhams while one can have a darshan of all Dhams in his heart. This brings an enlargement of the soul that can perceive the gods in Hinduism. Kabir tradition is still a living tradition. Kabir questioned the obscurantism in Hinduism which does not get the support from Modi and his followers.

Kashi is the place of saint Ravidas who speaks of love and kindness against the caste system. The saint draws every year millions of people who are Dalits. People speak of feelings of piety and create songs in the name of saint-poet Ravidas. His place draws huge crowds bigger than Kashi Vishwanath but Modi does not speak of them. He has not learned from Ravidas a bhakti poet who is a product of Islamic influence over other religions. His hatred for Islam will come down by reading Ravidas and praising his songs.

Kashi remains in the center of the Bhojpuri language world which is a soft-spoken language and it has rich folk songs. It mesmerized the leading Urdu and Hindi writers Premchand and Rahi Masoom Raza. One visits the houses of Kurmis and Mauryas in the villages of Banaras and one finds the photograph of Premchand who inspires them to be reformists. He wrote stories about them. Adha Sher Geun explains the sufferings of Kurmis in the hands of money lenders. Rahi Masoom Raza writes his famous novel Adha Gaun full of Bhojpuri idioms and slang. He did not know any other language like Arabic or Urdu as a young boy. Later he came to know the language of Urdu and Hindi and demanded that Urdu be written in Devanagari. His understanding of the Mahabharata made him write the script for BR Chopra’s serial which made him famous. His understanding of time as eternal comes from his rural background. This syncretic culture of combining Bhojpuri and Urdu makes the language richer and complex. Lack of understanding of the culture here makes Modi show his ignorance of Popular Hinduism.

Kashi turned into an intellectual place where people came from different parts of the country and Nepal. They came to the place for pursuing classical music and classical literature. Bengal had a close bond with Kashi. It is shown in the first film made by Satyajit Ray in his trilogy where the poor Brahmin family after losing their daughter goes back to Kashi, not Calcutta. Most of the classical singers and instrumentalists come to the place for pursuing their works. Ravi Shankar wanted to build a school for Sitar here. Some of the leading singers hail from here. All these classical singers speak of love and brotherhood which does not negate the local traditions. They sing Kabir to Ravi Das. The famous Shahnai player Bismilla Khan was a part of the temple tradition in Kashi. Such a syncretic tradition cannot be subverted by Modi’s appeal to Hindutva.

Kashi turned into a literary place as the foundation of modern Hindi literature took place here. Writing modern plays, novels and stories started here. It turned into a prominent literary place in India. These writers write in a simple style by integrating the Bhojpuri into their scheme of thinking. A critic like Namvar Singh gave a new dimension to literary criticism belonging to the place. Kashinath Singh in his novel Kashi Ka Ashi which symbolizes the eighty ghats of the river Ganga which stands for small literary streams of the town. Modi developed one ghat nearer to the temple by forgetting all eighty ghats which stand for his selfishness.

Kashi remains the attractive place for modern intellectuals of India. The opening of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in a Brahminic framework created opportunities and difficulties here. The first Vice-Chancellor (VC) Malvaiya wanted to have brilliant students to be admitted into his university, but he could not help them in getting hostel seats. This is the story of Jagjivan Ram a prominent leader of India during the national movement and post-independent politics. This discrimination of Dalits and marginal continued till the 1990s till a South Indian VC from Andhra came down here who dismantled the caste discrimination in the hostels. This discrimination spread to rural Kashi where the backwards and Dalits dominate the rural scene but could not get modern education. In an interview with a villager, just twenty kilometers from Kashi one finds the horrific stories related to education. In their village there was school teacher belonging to Brahmin caste and once the Brahmin landlord came to the school and found all the children engaged in learning and he got furious and threw the teacher out of the school but no action was taken against the landlord. Modi’s politics at the temple is justifying caste discrimination indirectly.

Brahmanic conservatism has been destroyed with the rise of Dalits and backwards. One finds the rise of an industrialist class from Dalits. After three generations of reservation in jobs, their grandchildren have invested their energies in industrial development without the support of the state. Traditionally the Sari industry was in the hands of weavers of the Muslim community but the import of cheap raw materials from China has affected them but they have adjusted to a new situation and growing every day. Backwards like Kurmi and Maurya have taken over to capitalist agriculture without the inputs from the state. This transformed the rural and urban Kashi which is not being liked by the Brahmins and the Thakurs which get the backing of the BJP. Banaras today stands in terms of multi-dimensional poverty Index as compared with the developed districts of the South.

Inauguration of the corridor has not encouraged the local people depending on the Kashi temple such as the florists, priests, and others who supply something for the temple to earn their livelihoods. The Boatman and florists and priests have not got impressed with the creation of the corridor and they are skeptical of the present inauguration by Modi and they criticize the move as communal as the election to the state assembly is approaching.

A Brahmin who visits the Vishwanath temple on regular basis has given a statement to the press that jobs and industry are going to play an important role in the coming election rather than a temple. They are impressed with the statement by Modi such as Aurangzeb vs Shivaji. Aurangzeb was a religious and pious person which Modi is not. He is much more powerful than Aurangzeb as modern institutions like the army, judiciary, and CAG, and bureaucracy are under his thumb. Shivaji’s rule in Eastern India is the most controversial as he charged a higher amount of rent on farmers than the Moghul rule. Furthermore, his people started plundering the cities located in the belt. Mothers started singing a lullaby that Bergies are coming which scared babies and they slept.

By speaking such language Modi has increased the temperature of the political environment of UP but has an inability to change the balance of forces tilted against the Yogi government. His former economic advisor Arvind Subramanian’s article with Abhishek Anand (Indian Express December 3.21) tells the truth behind the poor management of welfare policies of the Yogi government. By looking at the figures related to child stunting metrics he finds the UP is ahead of other states in India. Niti Aayog made a study of UP under the multi-dimensional Index of poverty finds that most of the poorest districts lie in UP. Three districts in UP have a poverty ratio of nearly 70% and more. Saraswati (74.38), Bahraich (71.88), and Balrampur (69.45) stand with the highest percentages of poor in these districts of India. One of them Balrampur a Brahmin-dominated district that drew Atal Bihari Vajpayee to contest election for the first time in the 1950s. This brings out the domination of caste and economic and educational poverty in UP. Social oppression by the caste Hindus and economic backwardness have a correlation that cannot be ignored.

Modi has stood in the election from Kashi twice without bringing any economic benefits to the state of UP makes people sad and angry. As no new industry has come to the district and only one industry the railways came here during the Kamalpati Tripathy tenure as the railway minister belonging to Kashi. This makes the people of UP angry about two terms of Modi which has not brought Kyoto to Kashi which could have developed whole the Kashi all its cultural-religious institutions. But developing a corridor in the Kashi temple creates his divisive strategy of Hindu vs Muslim —a scary one. The conflict between Hindu Muslims is not being appreciated people of Kashi. A priest in an old temple refused to identify a bomb blast in the temple by Muslim terrorists. This explains the mass psychology of people including Hindu priests who want the prosperity of their region surely not communalisation of the district or state.

The way Modi speaks ’us vs them’ in terms of Aurangzeb vs Shivaji brings out his binary language of political mobilization. Temple and Masjid standing together sysmbolises unity among people of Kashi which inspired Gandhi about his famous prayer Iswar Allah Tere nam

But a reading of Kashi’s pluralist culture takes Modi to another level of communal mobilisation which creates fear in the minds of people of Kashi and UP. Conflict may lead to death of two brothers who fought and died recently in the village over a piece of land. In this village, nobody knew that two brothers belong to two different parents and all thought that they belonged to single parents. Such close bond among them creates conflicts over a piece of land gifted by somebody to his elder brother made both of them furious and by fighting on the lanes of the village they succumbed to death. This is a lesson to Modi and his party regarding raising the issue of Hindu-Muslim in politics of UP over the Mandir vs Masjid.

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