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Secularism and India Inc
Priyadarsi Dutta

Na tatra yatra na'ham, na tatra yannmanyi, kimandammi banchami, sarvam sanbinmay tatam" (There is nowhere, where I am not, there is no where that is not within me, what more I am left to covet, when all pervades the entirety). Thus spake Acharya Vidyaranya Swami, the 14th Century Mathadheesh of Sringeri, shortly before he passed into Mahasamadhi. His last words represent the all encompassing catholicity of Sanatan Dharma that has tussle with none. True to his vow of mendicancy he had relinquished the long held post of Prime Minister of Vijayanagara, the legendary Hindu kingdom he was instrumental in establishing with Harihara and Bukka in AD 1336. The Sringeri monk Acharya Vidyaranya was provoked to tread a nationalistic path when Allauddin Khilji's commander Malik Kafur was cleaving into southern India, razing temple after temple and turning Hindu cities into killing fields.

With reference to Sankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati of Kanchi some people are today asserting that monks should restrict their activities to spirituality. These detractors are captives of an escapist interpretation of Hindu philosophy. Sublime as they might sound, they want to imply that since the soul is immortal, how does it matter if the body is hacked to pieces-will it make a difference to Lord Shiva if one amongst his million temples, viz Somnath, is sacked? But there is another interpretation that Jayedra Saraswati, perhaps the greatest living exponent of Sanksrit in India, drives home. Even though the body has no purpose without the soul, it is important since without the body as the medium the soul cannot be known.

Last year at a public function in New Delhi he had expressed his personal belief that Hindu culture being Sanatan (timeless) will survive despite all persecution by invaders or commotion from within. And yet, he added, we should be pragmatic on the ground level to ensure it is so. Hence while he expresses his predilection for Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas over the VHP, he does not dismiss either as communal. The VHP might be doing many idiotic things, but it represents the resolve that Hinduism henceforth will not lie low. And it is highly unfortunate that affiliates of a religion that specialises in breaking down temples, converting cathedrals and shrines in mosques, and demolishing archeological treasure are hailing the Supreme Court verdict over symbolic puja as the "victory of secularism".

The renewed secular jihad declared by the media in the wake of the Gujarat backlash accuses Hindutva of communalising the atmosphere in the country. Liberal intellectuals can afford to do so only because they are safe in a country whose frontiers are defended by a Hindu army. In an imaginary case scenario they could not have preached this secularism under the reigns of Allauddin Khilji, Giyasuddin Tughlak, Babur or Aurengzeb. They cannot do so even in Srinagar, let alone Islamabad or Dhaka for even though secularism is dear to them, life is dearer than secularism.

Was there something ironic when 57 innocent pilgrims were scorched to death inside the Sabarmati express, when the name Sabarmati had become synonymous with peace, non-violence and tolerance? On the other hand the carnage was actually a product of the political Gandhianism of minority appeasement that emanated from Sabarmati in te 1920s and 30s. 

As Naipaul observes, post-conversion, there is a tendency to obliterate the past. Secularism can come about when the religious faith of people are kept parallel. There is no need for them to meet in the typical East-West encounter of Indo-Anglican writing. To maintain a detente, some ground rules have to be accepted by those who wish to force their sectarian beliefs but do not have the numbers to do so.



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