The recent controversy over
the RSS conducting training camps in Punjab has brought the issue of the
nation's defining ethos to the fore once again. As was only to be expected, the
vociferous proponents of the so-called 'composite culture' (an euphemism for the
cultural supremacy of Islam) observed a deafening silence in support of
Sikhism's pathological links with Hinduism, and the anti-Hindu chorus emanating
from some sections of the state's religio-political hierarchy was loud enough to
cause concern to discerning citizens.
Chief Minister Prakash Singh
Badal has made a valiant attempt to put Sikh, or rather Akali, particularism in
a national framework. But even apart from his legitimate concern with his own
political survival, Mr. Badal is intellectually ill equipped to grapple with the
fundamental and multi-faceted civilizational issues thrown up by the debate.
Indeed, the reported reluctance of some tribal communities to identify
themselves as 'Hindu' in the forthcoming census is also relevant in this
genesis of the present conflict lies in the horrible negation of the unique
Hindu civilization (sannatan dharma) at independence, when Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru
reversed the freedom struggle's unwritten consensus that the Hindu ethos would
be the emerging modern nation's foundational ethos. Nehru subverted the Hindu
political consciousness assiduously crafted by Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma
Gandhi, and Sardar Patel, and substituted the soulless communist ideology for
India's rich spiritual traditions. He de-legitimized the country's striving to
reclaim her ancient heritage and, on the pretext of promoting a 'scientific
temper,' sought to create a new nation divorced from her civilizational moorings
in the resultant spiritual vacuum. The false propaganda that Hinduism is only
one among the many religions of India, unworthy of special treatment, followed
as a natural corollary, along with the thesis that the distinct dharmas that
arose from her belly were 'revolts' against Hinduism, and hence separate,
hallmark of Marxism is monotheism, and the Hindu spirit, badly bruised from a
thousand year encounter with Islam, was ill-prepared for the new menace
unleashed by Mahatma Gandhi's anointed heir. The trouble with Marxism is that,
although conceived by a Jew, it is essentially a Gentile faith, with all the
failings of the Gentile versions of monotheism, and none of the virtues of the
original Jewish monotheism.
Nehru's Marxist monotheism made it possible for the other monotheistic faiths
to assault the Hindu tradition by claiming the right to convert adherents of a
'false' faith, and demanding that resisting Hindus practice 'tolerance.' I
do not blame either Gandhi or Patel for failing to adequately comprehend how
Nehru was emasculating India. They were both ideologically illiterate, and
remained untouched by any ideological fashion sweeping Britain during their
respective stints at the Inner Temple.
As such, it is quite
understandable that they should have mistaken the Stalin-style interventionist
state structure erected by Nehru as simply a 'wrong' economic policy, when the
reality was both deeply ideological and highly political. Indeed, it was Nehru's
great fortune that none of his critics ever fully realized exactly what was
going wrong in India. That is why the opposition to his rule could not be
convincingly articulated, and even stalwarts like C. Rajagopalachari and J.B.
Kripalani looked like churlish dropouts when they parted company with him.
I have, through letters on
this column, often been accused of trying to impose a Hindu dominion in the name
of the nation's foundational ethos. Nothing could be further from the truth,
though I concede that this perception may be partly due to a failure to
adequately define the essential genius of the sannatan dharma in terms that can
be understood by those who fear its rise to pre-eminence.
sannatan dharma does not describe itself in the seductive certitudes of
monotheistic faiths, and in fact cloaks itself in enigmatic parables. Yet if we
look for one distinct quality, it is that none of the religions born in India
has been monotheistic in nature. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, even the myriad
tribal cults adorning the land, all lay less emphasis on forms than on the
promotion of self-realization and consciousness. Indeed, it is my thesis that
India's unique spiritual genius emphatically rejects monotheism.
Hinduism is a subtle,
complex, multi-dimensional spiritual cosmos. Although it spawned a great and
powerful religion with profound philosophies and daring intellectual constructs,
it never ceased to be a 'way of life.' It never wholly identified with the
religious forms it gave birth to (Shaivism, Vaishnavism, et al), nor was it
subsumed by them. This is how it remains a living civilization: the individual
seeker is accommodated theoretically and actually. Even today a seeker may
reject the world of man and the world of formal religion, and pursue a solitary
salvation on the banks of the Ganges or in the Himalayan mists. None may
chastise him for deviance (for there is none), nor catechize him about the path
to take (for there are as many paths as there are seekers).
I may be wrong, but
available evidence suggests that India experimented with monotheism under
Emperor Ashoka who made Buddhism the state religion and even called a council to
codify the basic tenets of the dharma and exclude beliefs held to be
'heretical'. Zimmer has recorded dissenting views of monks at the codification.
It is worth pondering if the monotheist cast given by Ashoka was the reason for
Buddhism's decline in India, and the ungenerous, uncompassionate, uncompromising
nature of the faith in Sri Lanka, where it migrated via the emperor's good
Judaism, the original
monotheism, has little in common with the Gentile-Christian variant. The Jewish
covenant was with a God who was personal and exclusive to His people. From Moses
to Jesus, through centuries of persecution culminating in the holocaust, this
singular belief has sustained Jewish piety. Yet this
crucial limitation was emphatically rejected by Christians who claimed a mandate
to wreck mayhem on the world in order to bring it the 'light'. Notwithstanding
the rupture of the Catholic Church into a plethora of sects and denominations,
the monotheistic conviction in the superiority of its 'truth' has promoted
unmitigated hostility to other faiths, particularly non-monotheistic creeds.
Islam followed this hallowed tradition of forcing the 'true' path on kafirs.
The irony is that modern
religious scholarship on Christianity and Islam is inexorably establishing that
these faiths, supposedly based on a complete revelation to one prophet, are
actually syncretic traditions. That is, the religious forms and theology were
crafted onto a supposedly 'core' revelation. And since the first interpretation
and codification began at least a century after the death of the founder, there
is endless scope for disagreement about what was actually said, let alone what
it truly meant.
The history of monotheistic
faiths is witness to the truth that no single interpretation of 'truth,'
howsoever profound, suffices for all mankind, for all eternity. But history also
reveals that the search for spiritual bondage (through monotheistic certitudes)
can be as intoxicating as the search for spiritual freedom (through
self-realization). Ultimately, the faithful must charter their own course. Sikh
religious scholars, intellectuals and free thinkers will be giving thought to
the issue in the coming days. They would do well to accept that notwithstanding
the perceived compulsions of Punjab politics, the corpus of religious literature
that comprises the faith is undeniably syncretic. As such, Sikhism can only
enrich itself by maintaining a lifeline with the civilizational genius that has
spawned its unique expression.