By Om Prakash Dwivedi
In recent years, ‘Ram’ has gained global recognition in the international political sphere. India’s 77th Independence Day was also witness to this. When was the last time one heard a ‘Jai Sia Ram’ slogan at the University of Cambridge, UK?
At the ‘Ram Katha event’ organised by India’s spiritual preacher, Murari Bapu, the British PM, Rishi Sunak, surprised everyone by starting his talk with ‘Jai Sia Ram’. In response, Sunak was greeted with cheers and slogans of ‘Jai Sia Ram’ emanating from all corners of the lecture hall. This runs the risk of being counted as ‘democratic backsliding’ if one were to go by the liberal terminology.
However, Sunank, quickly added, ‘I am proud to be British, proud to be Hindu’, thus affirming his allegiance towards the British nation while also underlining his apparent devotion to Hinduism.
Not shy to demonstrate his staunch belief in Hinduism, Sunak declared,
‘I am proud that a golden Ganesha sits gleefully on my desk at 10 Drowning Street.’
Sunak’s act may invite disparaging responses from the public and media, at least he has the audacity and honesty to admit his religious practices overtly at a time when many ‘self-declared atheists’ have been seen performing ceremonies at religious places secretly. The height of hypocrisy only to gain political mileage has been the underlying spirit of our flawed notion of secularism.
Likewise, the nature of modern-day democracy is such that one needs to put on a mask to play conveniently between religion and secularism. Perhaps, Sunak chose a different path and, in so doing, refused to dance to the tunes of pseudo-liberals.
Commenting on these quasi-preachers, recently, India’s leading foreign policy maker, Vijay Chauthaiwala launched a broadside against this selective amnesia exhibited by many liberals. Chauthaiwala lamented the way a ‘member of a political dynasty automatically qualifies to be a liberal… only because they are linked to a dynasty in power genetically or by wedlock.’
Whether a state representative can showcase their religious inclination has always been a contentious issue. Of course, religion and politics should not be mixed is the common argument, and rightly so. But how do we see the colonialists’ coercing their religion in different parts of the world under the garb of civilising mission politics? Or, how do we see the rampant, ongoing exercises of manipulative and, at times, coercive, religious conversions? And still, what about the foreign funding generously granted to stoke and spread one’s own agenda under the name of philanthropic exercises?
Imagine any Indian PM projecting his/her religious beliefs on a public platform like Sunak did. The media would quickly declare that figure a fascist, intolerant, authoritarian, and even a ‘bhakt’, as evident in our social media parlance. There exists a long tension between religion and politics but so has also been the tussle between democracy and liberalism.
One must never forget that it was religion that led to the establishment of the world’s largest and ugliest colonial empire because religion was used as a transaction and not a tool of engagement. The latter has been the defining feature of Indian democracy. During the recent visit of PM Modi to Australia, the Australian counterpart eulogised him and added, ‘You have brought the spirit of the world’s biggest democracy to Australia’.
Indian democracy has thrived because it upholds and promotes religious freedom. Whenever we are in a dilemma to choose between ‘preyas’ (power) and ‘sreyas’ (peace), we have always opted for the latter. At the 76th United Nations General Assembly, PM Modi reinforced this civilisational rendition. He highlighted that “India is not just the oldest democracy but also the mother of democracy.”
Political acts and philanthropy hardly go together. The long, bloody history of colonialism, slavery, and terrorism only reiterates this truth. If religion can be imbibed with spirituality in our political life that may help us a world of good. It may lead us from discord and strife to accord and peace at many levels in our quotidian life.
The world needs peace and unity, precisely the reason why religion should never be a divisive instrument, it should rather unite people as has been the ultimate destination of all religions, different though they may appear to our human eyes.
Contributing Author: Om Prakash Dwivedi tweets @opdwivedi82 His interests lie in the field of postcolonial theory.
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