A Cursory Look At The Government, Religion And Reason In Contemporary Times


Civilised society, in India, is failing in all counts and working hard to prove that all that is so far, even it is quite minimal, acquired as positive civilisational characters such as humanism, universalism and rationalism, in actuality, are meaningless. For todays religiously indoctrinated, being religious and ritualistic is what is being civilised; rest is all peripheral and non-essential. What brought this attitudinal change among Indians? This quick transition from being a secular society, for more than nearly 70 years, to that of desiring to be non-secular or religious is mostly to do with majoritarian political agenda than to do with religion as faith or as emotional necessity. In the last two decades the recoming of religion, as a political force, by logic has been putting pressure on Indian society to accept homogenous religion as a national essential. But this trend cannot be applied to all religions. This is the last decade has witnessed a re-marriage between religion and the government. However, there is a visible difference between Hinduism as a religion and hindutva as a communal political ideology. Though they reciprocate each other, in actuality, Hinduism doesn’t need hindutva either for its survival or for it flourishment if it is a religion that addresses the spiritual emotions of the worshipers. But hindutva’s political ambitions need Hindusm. This is has what blurred the distinction between Hindutva and Hinduism. Such a recoming of Hindutva did call for revival of competition between communal ideologies which India had experienced during colonial times. This competition is now happening between political parties which have based their foundations on religious identity and even the secular parties too are forced to participate in such a competition.

It seems to me, for almost all political forces in the country, in such a competitive communalism, the reason became unimportant and religion became essential. Giving priority to the religion might vary from party to party, but not a single political dispensation, whether it is in the government or in opposition, is capable of distancing itself from the religion. There are political parties emerged to address the interests of a religious minority. Yet, as a political proposition, they can still be non-religious. They can fight for various rights of the religious minority but they can’t be promoters of religion directly or indirectly. In fact, when individuals enter into the political sphere as servants of the secular multi-cultural democratic societies, they seize to be servant of his/her own religious community and also should stop being religious and ritualistic, in public, at least. A person who is a politician, in India, or anywhere in the world for that matter, is bound to be public person who consciously resists from supporting his/her religion over others in the constituency for whom he/she is also representative. Though that is the case by the logic of the constitution and that is how it should work practically as well, it might not be the case with many politicians. A Muslim would have a natural mistrust on Hindu politician who became his/her representative contesting on BJP ticket, vice versa. This mistrust is quite logical. This could either be vindicated or disproved in the way such a politician works. Obligated by the constitution, such an elected representative would have to treat everyone in his/her constituency equally in their work. But there is no guarantee. Many contemporary politicians, despite being aware of the fact that they are not private religious persons or doesn’t represent any particular religious community anymore, consciously involve in spreading hatred against the people of other religious community. We have elected representatives from local panchayat member to Prime Minister, who is openly doing it. Such a talk or action leads to their disqualification and it is punishable according to the law of the land. Yet, the nature of governments in most of BJP ruled states and in few states ruled by congress and other regional parties, the right-wing politicians and, to the very lesser extent, other communal party leaders too are hatred in communal hatred. In fact, while the government complacence allows the politicians to spit communal venom publicly, this encourages party cadres or communal organizations to involve in more communal crimes. From top to the bottom not many are punished for the communal crimes. Instead, they were praised as contributors to the good of (majority) community. Prime Minister praising the work of Santana Samantha which so far is believed to be the organization that had role in the assassination of Narendra Dhabolkar, Givind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi and Gauri lankesh is such an example. And National Thermal Power Corporation is allegedly offering jobs to the fifteen killers of Mahammad Aklaq are the finest examples. This is nothing but state sponsored crime. When such criminals are getting sympathy and patronage of the government, then it means that the government is no more a rational set up that protects law and order and provides justice according to the legal rational. When the functioning of the government is based on religious sentiments/emotions, rationalism would be treated as enemy and as well an enemy that is naturally antagonistic to its communal fundamentalism.

The fundamental difference between the right-wing governments at the centre and the states in the last two decades and secular governments at centre from 1947 to 2014 and some secular state governments, in the past and at present, is that while for the communal governments subscribing to religious fundamentalism as a fundamental political necessity, secular governments try their best to stick to the constitution despite the earlier is unjustifiably making inroads into the minds and hearts of innocent and ignorant people with poisonous ideologies which are against the very fundamental foundations of the modern constitutional democratic societies. However, the latter would not keep themselves away from the religion as the earlier has been using the religion as a tool of absorbing political power. The secular or the forced (obligated by the constitution) to be secular, slowly enter into the competition of using the religion as a political tool as a counter to the communal parties or enter into alliance with communal forces to benefit from them. This neither means that the secular submitted to the communal nor mean that the secular is strong enough to be secular. In India, most of the secular rulers are strong emotional Hindus. But they may not wish to subscribe to fascist Hindu ideology. There are allegedly secular governments run by deeply religious individuals as heads of the governments who come out publicly with rituals and religiosity as and when the situation conducive for them. This might work in two ways. One, they use it as the best political strategy to benefit from the existing majoritarian communal environment. Two, they use the state and its resources to satisfy their religious/ritual self. In this, his/her individual religious identity comes in hand to benefit from it and supporting Hinduism indirectly. Appeasement as a political tool becomes unnecessary insignificant because India is an undeclared Hindu nation. They being the rulers of the state where demographic majority is Hindus is enough. Moreover, a head of the state, deeply religious and ritualistic, would also use his/her authority to use the state and its resources to meet the religious/ritualistic obligations, allegedly, for personal gains but also would propagate the same, as an act, as a head of the state for the peace and prosperity of the people of the state. This is quite similar to that of the Vedic or theocratic state.

Once, the communal majoritarianism becomes unstoppable force, on the one had both the communal/secular heads of states pushes the rationality of the government and governance aside and prepares to enter into competition of benefiting from the religious sentiments/emotions of the masses. And the majority community use the congenial environment to redefine what national and national idealogies is. In this competitive communalism, all positive universal national philosophies such as etatism, rationalism, humanism, secularism, progressivism and socialism suitable to the multicultural modern societies becomes anti-national and all ‘philosophies’ belong to particular religious, ethnic and racial majority communities becomes national. Since the latter philosophies are primarily, build from the culture of one single community, their unsuitability to a multicultural modern nation is natural. And they are also bound to be inappropriate as they are borrowed from the ancient and medieval times which were once through the scrutiny of scientific rationalism and humanism dismissed as such.

If we observe what ‘philosophies’ are ruling the roost at the moment in India, we come to the conclusion that governments (at centre and in some states) are promoting religious sentimenalism, communalism, capitalism, majoritarianism, spiritualism, superstitions and communal hatred. None of these stand the scrutiny of the scientific rationalism or social rationalism. These are disastrous philosophies for any society in modern times. However, what is quite intriguing is the fact that modern societies proved that they to be protectors and promoters of the positive philosophies/ideology seem to surrender to the opposite ideologies when radical right-wing ideologies resurface. The history of the world proves that there is an inbuilt power, in the modern societies, is it at national and global level, to counter such forces. But if we look at India and United States of America such submission is seems to quite visible if not total.

Or is that, we are misunderstanding that modern societies are strong enough to counter religion and its misuses? This also may be true. After going through a cultural change for more than two centuries and after earning a tag of the world biggest democracy, if India could submit itself to the communal political forces, then it calls for the scrutiny of the India’s modernism and modernity. For me, though, reason, realism and humanism became dominant forces from Renaissance, counter to this is seems to be inbuilt in the society as nowhere in the world any society had went through a complete transformation from being irrational to the rational. Rational and irrational coexist even in the highly rationalised societies. There is no death for irrational. Neither India nor USA is exception. Perhaps, the rational do not want the irrational to die. Though Fredrick Nietzsche declared the death of God, it is nothing to do with death of religion or God. As long as distressed, depressed, gullible and helpless humans exist, religion and God would never die. In an invisible conspiracy, the rich, capitalists, Religious establishments, upper middle class intelligentsia make sure that the helpless and distressed exist as an essential force for the keeping the irrational alive. From time the organised religions have emerged, most of the religions, social institutions, governments and other such power structures expect large masses to be illiterate, poor, loyal, submissive, non-thinking and non-questioning categories. In this such a scheme, irrational including the religion would behave as rational. The power, exploitation, domination, discrimination and manipulation of the latter by the so called rational is dependent on the masses being is remained or keep them as non-thinking, through a conspiracy. Revolutions come when the non-thinking began to think. Therefore, keeping the subjects (both literate and illiterate masses) of the nation is essential for the government/s. To get more clarity on the affinity between governments in contemporary times, let us see its history.

Superstitions as a tool of Government

Debiprasad Chatopadhaya, expert on the history of science in ancient India and philosophy science, while trying to understand the social/cultural and political functions of the superstitions, he quoted Plato’s views who in his Republic and Laws how governments make conscious efforts to replace science with superstitions. Superstitious society would not need even military and police force, according to Plato. Plato’s concern was safety to the slaves. So in the development of the theory of slavery, Chatopadhaya quotes, Farington, historian of science, who argued that ‘the slave was not regarded as rational being. The master alone was capable of reasoning’. Plato, in his Republic divides the society into three categories: the golden men to rule a small minority, auxiliary, the class to be used as brute force to keep the slavery in control and the slaves. In Laws, Plato examined the possible alternative for replacing the cumbrous military and police and he found that in ancient Egypt the massive propaganda of superstitions among the working people did away the need for the elaborate police and military force, at least to the considerable extent. For his model of society, argues Chatopadhya, the younger generation is brought up by feeding them with deliberate lies. However, Plato believed that the importation of the Egyptian model into Greece would not be easy as it already had rationalist traditions. To brush science away, in his Sophist, Plato brought the Gods (the pious believers in superstitions) and Gaints (the Ionion philosophers/scientists) to the battle to dismiss as arrogant intelligent that reduces everything to reality.

Similar to Platos political theory, the Indian law givers were also came up with a political theory visualising social organisation of the society whether it was corresponding to the reality or not. It is the ideal society which they want. It was not imagined but real one taking shape in the Northern India on characteristics 1) authoritative, 2)  the social norms which were not the inventions of their own but borrowed from Brahamanas’ and 3) preservation of h the social norms proclaimed by the law givers. Such an ideal society desired by the Indian law-givers was designed to guarantee the privileges to dvijas(Brhamans, Kshtriyas and Visahays) and keep the large toiling masses, the sudras and to keep them reconciled with the  eternal servitude of their masters (dvijas). For this, developing an intense hostility towards free thinking and rationalism was essential. It was the superstition of a big scale, which blocks the science to the sudras as such thinking would also associate with materialistic outlook. By subduing the science to sacrificial lore, the ruling class would remove the sting out of science and create safety for them. Hence, for chatopadhaya, forces which operate against the science are not within it but outside of its origin motivated by the sociological factors such as class and group interests. However, in the post-Galilios modern society, the emergence of the bourgeoisie (capitalists) as the new ruling class which uses science to consolidate its power seem prove that hostility towards science would automatically evaporate.

It is true that the capitalism has reduced to the hostility between the ruling class and science. Yet, the problem here is capitalists as ruling class may not be hostile towards science as it the tool of wealth creation but capitalists as rulers have been against the scientific rationalism and free thinking as tools of assertion of rights in the hands of masses. Neither the capitalists ruling class nor the masses of the post-Galilo’s modern is society completely rational. What Chaptopahdya failed to see is that modern society is a mix of minority of ‘intelligent’ rulers and majority of innocent masses. Keep propagating superstitions and a lie among the latter is the political necessity for the rulers of the modern society. Moreover, unlike, Greece, India is poor in its rationalist traditions at any point in time in its history. India, to a large extent, has been a secular society. But it has not been a rational society. Its engagement with rationalism is quite minimal. Therefore, more than the pre-modern times, it is in the modern societies, the new ruling class would be interested in promoting superstitions as an essential political strategy to control the minds of the masses to create congenial environment to the wealth generation. Besides, Chatopadhaya also forgot to recognise the fact not all the capitalists be interested in being a ruler for whom science is equal to wealth. Not all of them are rationalists either. Most of them are religious/ritualistic than rational. Governing class and capitalist class need not be same in the modern society but they reciprocate and co-operate each other in keeping the masses in control. It is this cooperation between the government in the centre/ and in some state governments and capitalists, at present, which is successfully working against free thinking citizens (anti-communal state but pro-rationalism) and citizens opposing the exploitation of national resources by the capitalists. While the government (at least the today’s right-wing) sees the promotion of superstitions as national cultural necessity, the capitalism wants the large masses as economic illiterates. Therefore, even in the modern societies, the new ruling class in which one can find the upgradation of the upper class sudra, superstition is still a necessary tool of controlling masses. The upgraded sudra as a member of ruling class automatically disconnects him/herself from the social/cultural comradeship and adopts the ruling class characteristics without which it might be difficult to survive as capitalist.

In India, anti-superstition crusaders have always been seen with contempt. Political ideologies of congress and other regional parties may not see them as anti-state but the ideology of majoritarian communal right-wing parties like BJP did see their pro-science position as anti-nation as the Hindu superstitions are political essentials for BJP. This is what explains the assassination of rationalist’s Narendra Dhabolkar, Govinda Pansare, M. M. Kalburgi.  Many would be interested in asking as to why rationalism is unwanted and why rationalists are being seen as trouble makers in this country? Unfortunately, after charvakas, there were no episodes in the history of India where religion and reason brought to conflict. In the first half of the twentieth century, Jawaharlal Nehru, who himself is not a rationalist but an agnostist understood the importance of rationalism (Scientific Temper) which he wished to promote among the scientists if not among the general public. Sadly, Indian scientists unlike the western scientists never maintained the distance between reason and religion despite they engage with reason all the time. Nehru on the other hand could  promote rationalism as a national philosophy like Mustapa Kehamal Pasha in Turkey as he was afraid that India was just came out of communal holocaust and would not be ready for such kind of experiments. Simultaneously to Nehru, it was Periyar in Tamil Nadu, who promoted rationalism as an anti-religious and anti-caste philosophy and unlike Nehru he promoted it among the non-brahaman masses. Unfortunately, Periyar’s rationalist movement could not cross the borders of Tamil Nadu and in course of time it also lost its steam after his death. Therefore, it is the absence of critical engagement of scientists, intellectuals, and educated people with the reason and rationalism that is responsible for India to suffer from medievalism.

It is not limited to Tamil Nadu alone, hostility towards science and scientific thinking as a rational philosophy in built in all religious communities. Yet, if governments are serious about promoting rationalism in place of superstitions, the transformations are much quicker.  Anti-science attitude is inherently in built in every ruler. Very few kept away from religion publicly. But the re-coming of the Hindu radical ideology is facilitating the communial forces running the government to blur the line between and government.  Head of the state acting as representatives of a particular religious community is not new. But it has acquired aggressiveness off late. Mr. Adithyanath, a hindu sanysi, becoming the Chief Minister of Uttara Pradesh, symbolically, has eliminated the gap that has been successfully maintained not only between the religion and government but also between the faith and reason. From the day he was appointed as CM, he has been legislating on restricting freedom of minorities and grating liberty on superstitions. He has been busy working as a priest than as a Chief Minister. He has been investing the resources of the state on building the Ram Temple and Ram Statue. On Diawli he conducting the programme of lighting two lakh lamps at Sarayu River in Ayodhya and brought the actors in Ram and Sita attire by helicopter from Delhi.   the last three years, in the South India, we are seeing Nara Chandra Babu Naidu, Chief Minister, Andhra Pradesh and Kalvakuntla Chandrasekar Rao, Chief Minister of the newly created Telanaga as heads of the states have been in the news for the all the wrong reasons. After getting to office, they both have spent public money or remodelling some portions of the state secretrate building based on the suggestions of the vasthu experts.  This act blurred the necessary separation between the private religious self and public rational self. Telangana CM had  spent 7 crores on Chandi Yagam and CM Chandra Babu spent 400 crores on bhoomi pooja  and sprinkiled holy water on the land selected for the construction the Amaratvathi, the capital city of the new Andhra Pradesh

The executive and judiciary are not behind the race of being irrational. Starting with the President of India, Governors, Prime Ministers, Chief Judges, Magistrates, Ministers and other such higher level officials, most of who belong to the majoritarian culture are proving to be worst promoters of ignorance among masses. If they are individuals visiting temple, it would not have impact on the gullible. But as an individuals in position and power, their public display of religiosity works as an indirect justification for vulnerable humans.  Shankar Dayal Sharma, former President of India and K.S.L. Narasimhan, the Governor of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are the perfect examples of overt religiosity. He could be described as improper first citizen of the state with his public display of religiosity and a perfect administrator with his ability to deal with the crisis, his criticism on unethical medical practices, on higher education and corruption and so on. Often I feel that he is worse than Shankar Dayal Sharma who shuttled between New Delhi and Tirupathi.

Between the article 51 (h), of the Directive Principles of the Constitution of India which says that it is the government responsibility to promote scientific temper and promotion of superstitions, it is with great enthusiasm the central/state governments in India support the Hindu festivals, rituals and annual gathering and Puskarams. Governments provide infrastructural, logistical, transportation and informational assistance to the pilgrims during pilgrimages and puskarams and other such festivals conducted at the banks of the river and shrines locates in the sensitive ecological zone. The worshipers and piligrims pollute the rivers and environment with massive left outs used in the rituals, food waste, plastic bottles and other such harmful items. They, unfortunately, do not believe that it is their responsibility to project the river and environment from pollution. For them, the ritual is important than the river or ecology. The Ganga in Uttara Pradesh, Cavuery in Tamil Nadu and Karnatak, Godavari in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and Krishna in Andhra Pradesh are suffering from pollution from the Pushkaras. The governments, not matter which party is in power, are submitting to the sentiments of the majority mass religious sentimentalism.

The Tirumal Tirupathi Devastanma (TTD), the second richest temple after Vatican City has such a stature and status because of the contributions made by rich sinners and revenue generate from the flood of pilgrims most of who are helpless poor and middle class. Had this money is used for building lives, and then the money might have some value and purpose. But unfortunately most of the money is being used for building Vedic institutions: Vedic schools, college and universities. These institutions are proliferating in north Andhra which is one of worst regions in terms of development in Andhra Pradesh; Srikakulam is being blessed with a Vedic university. Perhaps, this University is the best solution to stop the migration of agriculture labour to distant areas in search daily work for which this district is known for.

Irrational Scientist

When we think of science, the first individual who comes into the picture is scientist. The emergence of the modern scientist in India was emerging from 19th century was may be similar to that of a scientist in Western Europe in terms of scientific knowledge. But they are nowhere near to the European scientist in terms of scientific temper. Unfortunately, for India, the modern scientist was, by historical and sociological, reasons was coming from the homes of those who are the custodians of the superstitions which are their life line. Therefore, they have become scientists in the laboratory but failed to become rationalists in public life. This comfortable compartmentalisation of the scientist into private religious self and public ‘rational self’ (only in the laboratory) is a biggest curse to the nation which social custom, traditions and cultural forms have never been subjected to serious scientific scrutiny. However, under the influence of the secular ideology of the Nehru and after, the scientists were, somehow, maintained the integrity between being a scientist and scientific rationalism. But with the raise of Bharathiya Janatha Party into power in North-Western India and till 2010 and in Karnataka after that has created a congenial environment to the scientist to be irrational.

Science and saffron (Hindu religion) would not go together and should not go together. Logically these two are antagonistic to each other. Faced with societal challenges, Catholic Church tried to eliminate this antagonism in its medieval schools and created new breed of Christian clerics who are capable of doing science and preaching religion. In India, Hindusim did not promote this combination as it was not challenged either by secular society or by scientific community. However, for ‘Indian scientists’, this contradiction between religion and reason is not problematic at all. They actually do not want to recognise the existence of such a contradiction. For me, these are the irrational scientists. There is another brand of scientists who have been coming out into open with the patronage of the BJP who despite being aware of the fact that the support they have been rendering support to the pseudo-science claims of the BJP and its affiliates which are interested in reviving the ancient Hindu science. These claims are just to make draw some political capital from ahistorical ‘science’. These might be called as saffron scientists.  Their number is increasing phenomenally from the day National Democratic Alliance head by BJP came to power in 2014. However, not all the scientists even if they are deeply religious are supporting pseudoscience. For example, Professor Mahan Maharaj, specialized in mathematics, despite wearing a Hindu priest like uniform, he is sounds better that normal scientist in India by saying that ‘science is his religion’. One would never know why he adopted a sanyasi like attire despite being strong on having scientific attitude. Yet, at least, he made his views clear public. He could not answer properly why he appears like hindu priest despite being a good in mathematician though. Therefore, this sort of ‘saffron dressed scientist’ is not problematic because he is not ‘saffron scientist’.

Moreover the cultivators of logic and reason i. e. Scientific, engineering and educated community are the deeply religious and ritualistic. Ironically, they are worse than the common humans who lack the ability of comprehending things. It is this irresponsible attitude of this supposes to be rational communities which are causing indescribable cultural agony to the innocent masses. It is the fact that Indian scientists are not scientific. Most of them, if not all, are deeply religious than logical and rational. Their social upbringing is incapacitating them to be rational/scientific. When we see a scientist worshipping at temple, it could be said that he/she lacks strength to be rational at personal level. But when a scientist or group of scientists are conducting rituals to satellite launch vehicles at Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), it is caste, communal, political and cultural. For Indian scientific community, being castiest, communal and cultural is quite natural.

After the departure overtly religious K. Radhakrishnan who shuttled between TTD, Tirupathi with prototype of satellite launch vehicles, present day dispensation has chosen a scientist Arul Saleen Kiran Kumar, who dance to its ideological tunes as the chief of ISRO. From what is reported in news on what he said it is very clear that neither he totally is dancing to the tunes of the ideological bosses nor he is interested in cheating his own conscience as modern day scientist. On onside he says that ancient texts on science should not be dismissed, on the other he says science as it is known today of recent origin. No trained historian, working on the history of science in ancient India so far dismissed any ancient texts that are on science in ancient India as insignificant. But ancient texts a historian takes for studying the history of science are different from the texts (Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Brahman Sutra, the Srimad Bhagavatam and the Mahabharata) which he is suggesting. He seems to have no idea on what were the claims on ancient science and technology made by his ideological bosses. However, he seems to have balanced opinion on exploitative modern technology. Unfortunately, it is this balanced view of technology based development that is totally absent in the policy of the present day dispensation.

So far, India did not worry about the growing religiosity, superstitions and ritualism. But it cannot be ignored anymore as they are become perfect tools for self destruction of the nation. It is high time, for the civil society to take note on the necessity of scientific rationalism as the only option to counter both the communal and to de-communalise the communalised. If not, the superstitions would become the new national norm which would replace the constitution of India.

Dr. Y. Srinivasa Rao (Srisri),M.A,Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Department of History, Bharathidasan University.


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