November 20, 2018

When Nehru Insisted Government Couldn't Back Religious Conference | Atul Bhardwaj

The Wire

Flashback: When Nehru Insisted Government Couldn't Back Religious Conference

The controversy surrounding the event led to an exchange of letters between Prime Minister Nehru and President Rajendra Prasad.
Flashback: When Nehru Insisted Government Couldn't Back Religious Conference

Atul Bhardwaj


Note: This article was first published on March 10, 2016 and is being republished on November 14, 2018, Jawaharlal Nehru’s birth anniversary.

The upcoming Art of Living cultural festival in Delhi is not the first time that right-wingers within the Indian polity are embarrassing the Indian state. A similar situation developed in 1957 when the Vishva Dharma Sammelan (world conference of all religions) was organised in Delhi on November 17-18, 1957. The controversy surrounding the event led to an exchange of letters between Prime Minister Nehru and President Rajendra Prasad.

The difference between then and now is that in 1957 it was left to the prime minister to remind everyone that the event was a private one which the government would not be able to sponsor, whereas in 2016, it is the president who has decided to stay away while the government has provided the cash-rich organisers with a grant of Rs 2.25 crore to underwrite the festival’s expenses, not to speak of a carte blanche to use the Yamuna river bed.

Back in 1957, the Ministry of External Affairs was completely unaware of the world conference till the West German chargé d’affaires asked about it. The German diplomat contacted MEA because he was confused about whether the international event was sponsored by the Indian government or was a private affair. The German embassy had received an invitation from the organisers that expected the German delegates attending the conference to bear their cost individually or through the German government. The German chargé d’affaires felt that such a request should have come from the Indian embassy in Bonn rather than a private body.

The problem was caused by the organising committee approaching foreign embassies in New Delhi and Indian missions abroad without keeping the MEA in the picture. The state of confusion was aggravated by the fact that the invitation letter declared that the president of India was to inaugurate the conference and the vice president was to deliver the presidential address.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s letter to Rajendra Prasad

MEA officials were deeply embarrassed and suggested the government clearly declare it to be a private conference. When the matter reached Nehru, he wrote to the president and vice President on August 24, 1957 stating that the conference had be treated as a private affair. In his letter to President Rajendra Prasad, Nehru stated: “It is rather unfortunate that all this was done without any reference to us and we do not quite know what to say to the foreign missions who ask us about this conference.”

The involvement of Rajendra Prasad began on 23 and 24 June 1957, when the managing committee of the conference held a preparatory meeting at Rashtrapati Bhavan which was briefly attended by him. Vice President S. Radhakrishnan was also invited for this meeting but he declined. However, he agreed to speak but not preside at the conference.

The chief sponsor of the All India Religious Conference was Jain “Munni” Sushil Kumarji. The organisation was presided over by Kaka Kelekar, a member of parliament and Jaswant Singh Nahar was its secretary. In November 1955, the All Religions Conference was held at Ujjain in 1955 and at Bhilwara, Madhya Pradesh in 1956.

The delegates to the world conference came from Germany, France, England, USA, Israel, Switzerland and the erstwhile USSR and East Pakistan. The Hungarian and Georgian Orthodox churches were also represented at the conference. Prior to reaching Delhi, many of the Western delegates attended the 15th World Vegetarian Congress, India, held in Mumbai. The stated aim of the conference was to establish Ahimsak Samaj, a society that was guided by principles of peace and love. The private event was eventually inaugurated by President Rajendra Prasad, where the main discourse veered around the spread of atom bombs and atheism in the world.

Atul Bhardwaj is an ICSSR Senior Fellow at the Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi

India: The attack on Nirankaris - Perils of mixing religion and politics

The Economic Times
November 20, 2018

Perils of mixing religion and politics

The attack on Nirankaris is a crime that must be investigated to identify and punish the culprits. At the same time, it is a sharp reminder that politics that plays fast and loose with constitutional morality threatens schism. BJP in Kerala, leading the charge against the Supreme Court order championing constitutional morality, and Congress, playing along, would do well to appreciate the point, and draw back.

On November 18, three people were killed and over 20 injured in a grenade attack on a Nirankari assembly near Amritsar. It disinters memories of attacks launched by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’s fanatics, supported by the then-Akali government, through 1978-80. This peaked with the killing of Nirankari chief Gurbachan Singh in 1980, Khalistani terror, Operation Bluestar and the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984.

At its core is a tussle for religious legitimacy between Nirankaris, who believe in a living spiritual head, and Sikhs, who believe in only 10 gurus and an 11th one embodied in the Guru Granth Sahib. Through 2015-17, there were over 100 incidents of desecration of the Granth in Punjab. These were blamed on Punjab’s agrarian and environmental crises, unemployment and drug epidemic. It led to an electoral rout for the Akalis in 2017.

That Sikh-Nirankari conflict persists 40 years after it began, religious texts are defiled, and suspicion of foreign powers meddling in troubled waters refuses to die, shows one thing. Issues that should be addressed through judicial and constitutional principles crop up as strategy in toxic political games. The blame for Sunday’s attack is being randomly assigned to ‘neo-Khalistanis’, Pakistani jihadists, Kashmiri separatists and unidentified ‘terrorists’. It needs investigation and prosecution, not political grandstanding.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.

India: The choice in Sabarimala is clear: It’s ethno-religious political entrepreneurs vs social reform

The Indian Express
November 20, 2018

No room for liberal doubt
The choice in Sabarimala is clear: It’s ethno-religious political entrepreneurs vs social reform

by Christophe Jaffrelot | Updated:

India’s liberals who are torn by dilemmas because of the intricacies of the Sabarimala affair may factor in three historical-constitutional variables in order to look at the present situation with a clearer perspective.
First, reformers have always had to face opposition when they stood against socio-religious traditions. Rammohan Roy, the first Indian reformer of the modern era, had to fight conservatives for abolishing Sati. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, who fought for the remarriage of Hindu widows “died a disappointed man”, according to Surendranath Banerjea (1848-1925), who even considered in 1925 that “the lot of the Hindu widow today remains very much the same as it was 50 years ago”. Mahatma Gandhi had to put moral pressure on the members of his own ashram, even of his own family, to persuade them to fight untouchability — a battle even he did not take to its logical conclusion. Reformers are lonely figures. On the resilience of social conservatism at the expense of reformism, see last year’s special issues of Studies in Indian Politics.

Second, some liberals who are uncertain about the right attitude in the Sabarimala case assume that the people’s opposition is spontaneous, while it largely results from the instrumentalisation of traditions by ideologues. Historically, one needs to distinguish pure conservatives — who believed in sanatan dharma, like Madan Mohan Malaviya or Swami Karpatriji, from traditionalists who defended ancient practices in the terms of identity politics, like Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Tilak’s worldview is well reflected in the controversy around the Age of Consent Bill — a bone of contention similar to the Sabarimala affair. At the end of the 19th century, western India debated the issue of legislating on the age of consent for consummation of marriages. While reformers including Jyotirao Phule were in favour of a law to abolish child marriage, Vishwanath Narayan Mandlik and Tilak were not — for two different reasons. The former, like the Sanatanists, considered that child marriage should continue because the shastras allowed such practices. Tilak offered a different perspective. On one hand, he argued in 1881 that “every son of Aryavarta must toil hard to see this custom eradicated”; on the other, he refused any change to tradition: “We would not like that Government should have anything to do with regulating our social customs or ways of living, even supposing that the Act of Government will be a very beneficial and suitable measure.”

Tilak should have been torn, but he preferred to mobilise “the people” against a reform he approved of, in order to promote his political agenda. Tilakism marks the entry of national-populism on the Indian public scene as he’s the first one to openly use religion in politics. One of the Kesari’s editorials, in 1896, reads: “Why should we not be able to convert religious festivals into political mass rallies?” The Tilakites tried to transform the erstwhile privately-organised Ganesh festival into an ethno-nationalist celebration, as another editorial of the Kesari admitted: “Religious thoughts and devotion may be possible even in solitude, yet demonstration and éclat are essential to the awakening of the masses. Through this nationalist appeal, the worship of Ganapati spread from the family circles to the public square.” Note, the masses have to be not followed, they have to be “awakened”; their sensibilities do not come first, they have to be shaped in the course of ethno-religious mobilisations.

Today, the Sangh Parivar is applying the same techniques in the Sabarimala affair as evident from what the BJP Kerala state unit chief, P S Sreedharan Pillai, declared recently, according to the tapes which were leaked to the media: “Sabarimala is a golden opportunity. It is an issue. Settling the Sabarimala issue in a straight line is not possible. We put forward an agenda and everyone else surrendered to it leaving only us and our enemies, the government and its parties.”

Pillai also said that the BJP planned the whole protest when the temple was opened last month: “Our BJP secretaries had gone to a (decided) place and carried out what they were supposed to do successfully. When Sreejith IPS went to Sabarimala with two women, it was a Yuva Morcha leader who assembled devotees and stopped them. The outside world doesn’t know all this.” The nation does not need to know the background because a people’s mobilisation needs to appear spontaneous.

Third, besides politicising a religious issue, Hindutva forces have openly opposed a decision of the Supreme Court. The party in office, usually, observes a separation of powers and the rule of law. Not in this case. According to the leaked tapes, when the head priest of Sabarimala asked Pillai whether locking the sanctum sanctorum to prevent young women from entering would be “contempt of court”, he responded in the negative. He claimed, “if the court decides to take contempt of court action, then it would be against us first”. He also told him that he would not be alone, “there would be thousands of people”. The manner in which Pillai poised the masses against the judiciary is typical of populism.

Sabarimala is not the only case in point. Recently, the Sangh Parivar has also criticised the attitude of the SC in the Ayodhya case. Last month, the Akhil Bharatiya Sant Samiti (ABSS) convention, that asked the Modi government to pass a law to build the Ram Mandir, also attacked the judiciary as “full of anti-temple people”, according to one of the speakers. RSS general secretary Bhaiyyaji Joshi regretted that the Ram Mandir was not a priority for the SC, stating that “Hindus are feeling insulted” at a press conference.

In both the Sabarimala and Ayodhya cases, what is at stake is the prestige and authority of the SC vis-à-vis entrepreneurs in identity politics who use traditions in order to mobilise and polarise — a member of the ABSS convention warned that “no one can stop communal riots”.

If the SC judgement cannot be implemented, it will not only be a victory for ethno-religious political entrepreneurs at the expense of social reform, but also a defeat for the rule of law. When such signals were sent to street demonstrators in neighbouring countries, those who were prompt to take the law into their hands in the name of religion were emboldened. So, where is the dilemma here?

November 18, 2018

India: Let’s not dance to the tune of Hindu martial music | SA Aiyar

The Times of India, November 18, 2018

Music should respect no borders of nation, region, religion or language. It should soar across the world and captivate all humanity. I am aghast that a Delhi concert, sponsored by Spic Macay and the Airports Authority of India (AAI), had to be “postponed” after Hindu fanatics warned against the participation of Carnatic music maestro T M Krishna.

His sin is that he has often included Christian and Muslim themes in his music. That is actually the sort of inclusiveness that has always marked Indian music, and indeed all Indian culture. Alas, the fanatics had so much clout with the ruling BJP that the sponsors had to back down. This was cultural barbarism.

Jawaharlal Nehru would have been outraged by such barbarism. But no outrage flowed from Rahul Gandhi and his gutless Congress cohorts, who have abandoned Nehruvian secularism for a soft Hindutva that smells like the leftovers of a BJP meal. Fortunately, the Aam Aadmi Party, which rules Delhi state, came to the rescue by providing an alternative concert platform for Krishna.

Hindu fanatics have cowed many artists. But not Krishna. He says, “The troll army has the underlying patronage of people in power. I have been trolled for a long time for my social position, my perspectives on politics, and my disagreements with the BJP regime. I believe in every art form. Allah, Jesus and Ram make no difference. It is a multilingual and multi-religious country.” Bravo!

After the latest ruckus, he tweeted, “Considering the vile comments and threats issued by many on social media regarding Carnatic compositions on Jesus, I announce here that I will be releasing one Carnatic song every month on Jesus or Allah.” All musicians and artists need to applaud this stance, in contrast to the pathetic BJP whitewash attempted by dancer Sonal Mansingh (who, not entirely coincidentally, was earlier nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the BJP government).

Hindustani music has many glorious roots, many sources of inspiration. The sitar is a modern version of the Persian setar (a three-stringed instrument), the sarod originated in the Afghan rubab, and the harmonium came from the European accordion. That does not make them Muslim or Christian or foreign. They are part and parcel of Hindustani music. Bismillah Khan and Amjad Ali Khan are as essential to Hindustani music as Ravi Shankar or Hari Prasad Chaurasia: their religions are irrelevant.

North Indians may not be aware of the remarkable absorptive capacity of southern Carnatic music. Classical music is often viewed as traditional and resistant to change. But the violin, introduced during the British Raj, has become so integral to Carnatic music that its followers would be outraged at the suggestion that it is alien.

Far from objecting, South Indian audiences cheered when Uppalapu Srinivas began using the mandolin to play Carnatic music. Indeed, he attained fame with the nickname Mandolin Srinivas. Today, Kadri Gopalnath is the foremost exponent of Carnatic music on the saxophone. Unlike Hindutva barbarians, these musicians know that music and musical instruments have no borders.

The bhajan may be called Hindu religious music. But Muslims have sung many of the greatest bhajans. Mohammed Rafi was among the greatest bhajan singers of all time. Probably the most famous bhajan in film history is O Duniya ke Rakhwale from Baiju Bawra. The music was composed by Naushad Ali, the lyrics were penned by Shakeel Badayuni and the song sung by Rafi. These three Muslims created a bhajan dearly beloved by Hindus, because music knows no boundaries.

My favourite bhajan of the 1950s is Insaaf ka Mandir Hai, from the film Amar. Here again, the music was by Naushad, the lyrics by Shakeel Badayuni and the singing by Rafi. In addition, the film was produced by Mehboob Khan, and its three main actors were all Muslims — Dilip Kumar (aka Yusuf Khan), Madhubala (aka Mumtaz Jehan Dehlavi) and Nimmi (aka Nawab Banoo). Did this detract in the slightest from the quality of the bhajan? No, it was a triumphant demonstration that music conquers all barriers.

The barbarians want us all to dance to the tune of Hindu martial music. Well, the most nationalistic musical event featuring the armed forces bands is the Beating Retreat ceremony every year on January 29 at Vijay Chowk in New Delhi. Every year, the bands play Sare Jahan se Achha, penned by Iqbal. They also play Abide with Me, which was Gandhiji’s favourite Christian hymn. The message is clear: patriotism and music should have nothing to do with religion.

November 17, 2018

India: David Frawley RSS’s favourite western intellectual

David Frawley is the American hippy who became RSS’s favourite western intellectual
Kaveree Bamzai 17 November, 2018


November 16, 2018

Invoking Lord Ram in Battlefield

Invoking Lord Ram on Electoral Battlefield Ram Puniyani As General elections 2019 are approaching different political parties are raising issues according to their deeper agenda, and according to what they perceive will appeal to the voters. There are some parties which thrive on polarization as it pays electoral dividends to their fortunes. The efforts to throw up such issues as a prelude to electoral battle are very much visible now. As elections’ shadows are falling on the social thinking, last few months have seen the revival of Ram Temple issue. Mr. Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of RSS called upon the ruling BJP to bring the law through parliament to make Ram Temple at disputed site, despite it being pending in the Court. As if, on the cue all other affiliates of RSS started raising the same issue. The VHP organized its Sant sammelan which expressed its restlessness about Ram Temple not having been built so far. RSS spokesperson gave a sort of warning that if Government does not comply it will revive the agitation for the same. It is very interesting that the RSS combine had been watching its government induced ill effects in most of the fields, economic, social, defense, foreign affairs and what have you. So far Ram temple issue was on the back burner. With elections round the corner, it is being flung on the society which is in the grip of economic hardships. Society is also in the throes of divisions brought in due to heightening of the issues like love jihad, chanting of Bharat Mata ki jai, putting ‘anti national’ label for those disagreeing with its policies and to cap it all its subtle encouragement of lynching’s and floggings in the name of holy cow and beef. BJP came to power in 2014 on the plank of Acche din, depositing 15 lakhs in everybody’s account due to recovery of black money stashed broad, ending of corruption and guarding the nation’s wealth through the PM, who promised to be a good Chowkidar. While there was undercurrent of divisive communal politics, the primary focus was on the economic issues, promise of good governance, promise of a foreign policy with better dignity for the country, promise of massive employments and reduction of prices of commodities, particularly that of petrol. Four and a half years down the line we witness, rise in prices of commodities, petrol diesel prices shooting through roof with unemployment rising and posing one of the major challenges to the society. The so called surgical strike was proffered as sign of the strong policy towards the neighbor, Pakistan. The reality is that the number of casualties on the border has risen; the lives of our soldiers being killed on the border are gradually rising. In the matters of foreign policy our neighbors are keeping us at arm’s length in matters of collaboration on different issues. Economy has suffered a severe jolt as the thoughtless demonetization not only lead to the loss of life of over hundred people, printing of new notes cost a fortune to our economy, while the claims that it will lead to black money free economy turned out to be fake as 99.3% of circulating currency came back to the bank. It led to the loss of employments of lakhs of workers in farm sectors and small scale industries. The GST implementation was so tardy that traders are most uncomfortable now. Petrol-diesel price rise has been horrifying and adding to the existing woes of the large sections of society. While some rich- Corporate have made merry by making a great escape from the country with thousands of crores of our wealth others of their tribe have increased their fortunes tremendously during this period. The poor farmers are in pain due to worsening agrarian scenario. With this balance sheet at four and a half years, it might have become clear to BJP and its parent organization RSS that appeal of the types made in 2014 will bite the dust in elections. So it is back on its time tested formula of religious polarization. One recalls that BJP built up it political prowess around Ram Temple issue. Advani’s Rath yatra, which left the trails of blood also laid the foundation for BJP’s electoral rise. Since then it has been the biggest trick in the electoral trade of this communal party, which revives this issues every time it faces the elections. So in that sense Bhagwat giving a call for the legislation for Ram Temple through the act of parliament, and his associates making various emotive noises is just an attempt to distract the popular attention from the all round failure of this government in fulfilling any of its promises. Adding on to the issue of Lord Ram, another game has begun that of change of names of places. It aims to erase the names of Muslim origin. This is more to target the present Muslim community rather than aiming at any cultural attainment. Every other BJP leader is coming up with a suggestion for name change. Probably the RSS combine is taking a leaf out from the communalists of Pakistan, who also erased all names which signified the mixed nature of our culture, the syncretism which has been the spinal cord of our society. Adding on to the emotive-divisive issues, they also have picked up the issues of Sabrimala, entry of women between the age group of 10-50 in the temple. After initially welcoming the Supreme Court verdict permitting women of all groups to enter the temple, now BJP stalwarts are out to repeat the Ayodhya experiment. Mr. Yeddyyurappa, the former Chief Minister of Karnataka is out on a Rath yatra, al la Advani to ‘save Sabarimala from women’s entry’. These issues well reflect the core agenda of RSS, the agenda revolving around emotive issues and as an accompaniment the pro corporate stance at the cost of the interests of the common people of the society. This is a derailment of our democracy so to say!

India: The Hindu vs Hindutva battle is meaningless in shaping our politics

Spare me the good Hindu: The Hindu vs Hindutva battle is meaningless in shaping our politics
Hartosh Singh Bal

06 July 2018

Unless we claim that true Hinduism is folk religion, to be found not in, but away, from the great traditions of Hinduism, we are left to conclude that it is those who are most Hindu who are the most avid supporters of Hindutva. PTI

During a speech at the India Today Conclave in March this year, Sonia Gandhi said, “The BJP has managed to—I don’t say brainwash because that is a rude word, but it has managed to convince people, to persuade people that the Congress party is a Muslim party.” The speech was an attempt to defend the Congress’s need to project Rahul Gandhi’s new-found love for temples.

Two months earlier, an India Today story, in a cover package titled, “Hindu vs Hindutva,” noted, “While the appropriation of Hindu identity by the ‘Hindutva’ politics of the Sangh Parivar has … helped propel the NDA government to power … recent months have seen an unprecedented attempt by ‘liberal’ political forces to reclaim the lost ground. From Rahul Gandhi’s temple tour on the Gujarat campaign trail to Rajinikanth’s manifesto of ‘spiritual politics’ and Siddaramaiah’s war of words with Yogi Adityanath or the latest posters depicting the PM as Ravana in Amethi—the battle of ‘Hindu versus Hindutva’ has been joined.” Other commentators have carried forward the argument—in a March story in The Print, its chairman and editor-in-chief, Shekhar Gupta, claimed that the BJP’s hold over the country “cannot change until those with claims to secularism and minority votes reset their politics.” He further wrote, “They have zero hope if they can’t bring a critical mass of the majority back.”

This argument is wrong on many levels, and it ends up concealing its real implications.

To begin with, the argument commits the sin of endorsing the very disease it claims to fight. It relegates over 220 million people—including Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, who would on their own constitute the fifth-most populous country on earth—to the role of mere onlookers in a tussle between Hindus over Hindutva. Such a formulation of the present-day politics implicitly concedes the core argument of Hindutva—that those who are not part of the Hindu majority are lesser citizens—and foregoes the equality granted under the Constitution. It implies that they live here only through the forbearance of the Hindus, not because they have the same rights as any Hindu in India.

Though it begins with a claim that seems reasonable—the need to persuade Hindus they are well represented irrespective of whether the BJP or the Congress is in power—the argument ends in absurdity. Why should any such argument stop at Hindus—should not all Indians should feel that they are well represented irrespective of whether the BJP or the Congress is in power? But we already know this is not the case. Muslims, and most Indian minorities in general, are not represented at all when the BJP is in power. The logical inference in this seems to be that the cure for the BJP’s marginalisation of the Muslims is to make the Congress more Hindu—apparently the only way to make Hindus feel secure is to ensure that neither the Congress nor the BJP is seen as representing Muslims. [ . . . ]