Catholicizing Politics


Immediately after registering its thumping great victory in Delhi elections, Aam Aadmi Party set out to make quick forays into the ideological terrain of its sworn enemy, BJP. Subsequent to oath taking ceremony of CM, Kejrewal and his Council of Ministers, it opened up its own account of political Catholicism to make one more significant entry in its wholesale ledger of publicity stunts. Not caring two hoots about the solid Muslim support garnered unwittingly but immensely in his kitty by the hate speeches of the BJP leaders, the Chief Minister began distancing his Party and government from the minorities by his overt and covert religiousity and open avowals of concern for upholding bhakti in the Delhi region.

Much to the dismay of his Muslim/Christian supporters and in utter violation of Constitutional provisions, Kejrewal in his capacity as CM began, thus, not only chanting the Hunuman Chalisa but also visiting the temples to lift up the devotional worship of Lord Hunuman by offering sesame oil lamps to the diety. He also arranged for holding Sunddar Kanda recitals at various places of Delhi and asked his Party workers to recite other shlokas in praise of Lord Hunuman in their respective areas.

For further bolstering his popularity through image-building as a typical Hindu bhakat, he manages to remain always in news, making frenetic burst of emotions and noise about his beliefs and achievements. To remain relevant and counted in the race for gaining public applause, he did not even hesitate to join the dominant chours of holding Tabligee Jammat tacitly responsible for spreading Covid in Delhi. He continues doing such publicity gimmicks to placate majoritarian psyche with the sole purpose of weaning the voters away from the BJP. The latest in the series of his symbolic gestures of feeding the religious susceptibilities of the majority voters is- besides sponsoring free yatras for senior Hindu citizens-the lessons on “Deshbhakti” which he introduced in the curriculum of Delhi schools to mould children in patriotic order and inculcate in them nationalistic feelings that overwhelm their parents and elders, motivating them to: scream loudly “jai Shri Ram”; hoist religious flags outside public buildings, monuments and worship places of their adversaries; and forcibly shut down the shops of Muslim eateries on Hindu festivals after subjecting their owners to communal slurs and abuses. The trend has diffused down the streets of Mumbai where a branch of State Bank of India has prohibited the entry in “Burkha, scarf inside the branch premises.”

To pay special attention to the majority feelings, the CM made elaborate arrangements to celebrate this year’s Diwali officially in a manner that surpassed even that of UP CM, Yogi Adityanath. His government held special Diwali Puja which was televised live with its functionaries singing hymns and performing devotional prayers in colourful attires. Having no parallel in the recent history, the event indeed impressed the viewers immensely.

Taking cue from AAP, some famous Indian politicians have also jumped on the bandwagon of the growing “national” fervour. They try their best to tickle the vanity of voters by politicizing religion, and appeasing their own constituencies which have already slipped away from their hands due to the socio-religio-politico “revolution” that has completely inundated the Indian abods to dye their residents in Saffron colours, transforming them into staunchest supporters of the present dispensation and active campaigners for the resurrection of Vedic thought, ancient ethos and beliefs.

While Kejrewal is trying through official channels to achieve his goals by his sworn affirmations that he would uphold bhakti, these “liberal” politicians are peddling their new avatar of concern for the glorious ancient past and ethos through their books of which “Hindu Civilization” (Pavan Verma) and “Why I Am a Hindu” (Shashi Tharoor) are the latest editions. Kejrewal’s catches are, however, temporary in nature, bound to recede into oblivion after the end of his government. But the books authored by the politicians have the potential to serve as a permanent record of their unfounded assertions, pretensions and stratagems. Hence this humble attempt to put the record straight with the help of facts of the real lived history.

Among the authors of a plethora of books, dedicated to the discovering of “nationalism” in ancient history and connecting it with present times are mostly those who till the other day were staunch believers in Ganga-Jumni Tehzeeb. Essentially public intellectuals, they were counted among the top ranking progressive thinkers of their respective Parties. But unfortunately enough the electoral success of RSS-BJP combine in last two general elections consecutively has stirred, nay unnerved them so savagely that they are desperately trying to get ahead in the electoral fray by mollifying the majority conscience through their half-baked, chauvinistic discourses on the Civilizational stockpile of ancient times. While writing these books in utmost haste, they have drawn far-fetched conclusions which will surely help them personally to fulfill their political ambitions but at the cost of nailing finally whatever little is left of the once cherished Indian Tehzeeb. They are too subjective to affect deeply and adversely the socio-historic reality that stands already exposed to wrongful interpretations and too much catholization at many levels. Use of religion and history for political purposes by ruthless distortion of facts by these authors not only constricts the scope of their books but also abets actively the trend of distortions in vogue to build a narrative of hate the other. They add to the prevailing phenomenon of othering the minorities and strengthen negative attitudes and stereotyped beliefs about those who are differentiated from the majority on the basis of faith and phoney history.

Deficient in scholarship and historicity, these books suffer from intellectual bankruptcy, ambiguity and falsehoods. They build an imaginary India overwhelmed with high quotient of phantom nationalism which has never existed even notionally in the scriptures or ancient and medieval history of the Subcontinent.

India was never the India as it is portrayed now by the authors. It had no templates for nationalism and no yearning for unity and collectivity. It was just a congeries of Empires-conspicuous being those of Palas, Rashtrakutas and Gurjaras-Pratiharaas- and small independent kingdoms with sharply contrasting cultures, beliefs and attitudes. It was neither a unified geographic or political entity, nor had a single Civilizational focus before the arrival of the British. Southern side, with its multiple imperial powers– notably the Chalukya, Chola, Pallava, Chera, Pandyan–was totally different from the Northern side. So was the western part differently evolved and located from the eastern part. Each part presented but a distinct history of its divergent evolution, experiences, aptitudes and belief systems. The lineages of their separate ancestry and their growing in disparate environments and social ecologies with contradictory and antagonistic cultural patterns made their tempers increasingly incompatible and embroiled them in long drawn wars.

The history of these Empires and Kingdoms covers a great span of time, presenting different milieu with a huge number of dynastic powers in the forefront who fought constantly amongst themselves and against the invaders from north, east, west or south so fiercely as not to allow the concept of Indian Union to strike roots . The people of these regions had nothing to share in common excepting cross swords which made their union impossible and disintegration and decadence increasingly possible.

Even the territories of the Delhi Sultanate did not extend beyond Palm. Delhi Sultanate: az Deli ta Palam is a common refrain among a multitude of Persian Sources of the time. Then there were other powerful, prosperous and independent Sultanates like those of Deccan and Bengal whose sway extended far and wide. They had annexed large territories to these Sultanates with a huge army that comprised Africans and Ethiopians besides indigenous people. In his monumental Tarikh, Firishta (the noted medieval Chronicler) has given a detailed account of various Sultanates/ dynasties of the medieval subcontinent. He writes that the Bengal Sultanate alone employed 80,000 aliens mostly Abyssinians in various departments at different levels and capacities.

The very limits of these Sultanates, Kingdoms and Empires clearly show, thus, the actual state of affairs obtaining then in ancient and medieval times.

The nature of the socio-political structure of the pre-Colonial India changed dramatically with the advent of Mughals. But even they could not succeed in promoting the idea of one India despite their extensive territorial expansion up to the South. Had India been as it is projected in these books, the handful of Sultans of Khalji, Tughluq, Slave, Suri and Mughal dynasties would have not then succeeded successively in conquering a “vast united” and powerful entity so quickly and easily in one go. Nor would have North fought against South or Rajputs against Marthas and vice versa. The British too made themselves omnipresent in India because of its fragmented society and the presence of multiple entities. And it was for the promotion of their trade and commerce that they connected whole India through a network of communications and railways and unknowingly paved the way for the emergence of the concept of nationalism in response to these changes.

In these narratives Indian Civilization emerges as “Hindu civilization” which according to Pavan Verma has no “parallel in the world for the sheer robustness of its cerebration, and the creative output that is its consequences”. The Muslims appear as the other; the progeny of the invaders who looted/destroyed temples and stood like a bulwark against the progress of the Hindus, and, ‘conspired to subjugate them through Sufism’, giving, thereby, an impression that Sufism was actually a concerted and deep-rooted conspiracy that sprouted in India to trick Hindus into subjugation.

Then these books hold the Muslims solely responsible for separatism and Partition. Their institutions, especially Deoband and Aligarh are portrayed as harbingers of separate electorate and Muslim League’s resolution of 1940 for the creation of Pakistan. They fail to bring to light the crucial role the hard liners in the Congress and Hindu Mahasabha played in the creation of Pakistan which fact is substantially recognized by none other than BJP ideologue, late Jaswant Singh in his book, Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence.

Equally dangerous is their vociferous support for the restoration of Hinduism in its pure, past form and with the images of gods and goddess and their traditional weaponary (sheshter) to kill the evil. Their advocacy of strengthening the commitment and attachment of its adherents to its traditions is fraught with the consequences of compelling the mob to revive the old superstitions and nasty customs like Devedasi, Sati, etc, which India was able to eradicate with great effort and energy.

Dr. Ahad is an author, historian and columnist


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