A Cocktail of Irreligion
By Swami Agnivesh

Nothing expresses the sickness of our national life as much as the unholy alliance between what is loosely termed as religion and politics. As a result we are on the point of forgetting what religion and politics were meant to be. Both seem to be drunk with the poison of power. They have lost their true vocation, and become living contradictions.

Religion, which is meant to ennoble human beings by inculcating in them the values of love, truth, compassion, justice, service, etc., is now often used to drown their sanity and inhibit their compassion and sense of justice. Unimaginable cruelty and injustice are practised apparently for the sake of religion. Some people even believe that the best way to express devotion to their gods is by hating and killing their fellow human beings. It does not have to be argued that this has nothing to do with religion, but is a mockery of the divine in each one of us.

Politics is the art of maximizing people's wellbeing, which is also its spiritual vocation. So it has to be imbued with the values that religion teaches. It is for this reason that religion and politics cannot be divorced from each other. Whenever the commitment to people's welfare declines and politicians become parasites, they tend to use religion for purposes of legitimization without the willingness to abide by religious ideals and values. The managers of religion, famished as they are for power and glory, fall to the temptation of cultivating politicians, often unmindful of the cost involved. The result is that politicians use religious leaders who, in turn, use politicians. Between them they corrupt both religion and politics. So, in point of fact, what we see today is not the mixing of religion and politics but the skeletons of both rattling in a demonic dance of corruption and irreligion.

The temptation to communalize politics is unfortunately inherent in democracy which absolutizes electoral statistics. When a political party has nothing to offer by way of a dynamic economic programme or vibrant national vision, it is driven to the desperate remedy of exploiting the communal sentiments of the people to create vote banks. This cannot be done without the blessing and collusion of the religious leaders. For them to carry credibility with political leaders, it is imperative to create a façade of unity among their followers. This makes them play up both their vested interests and sense of insecurity, both of which are necessary to unite and mobilize people cheaply.

This is obvious in the case of the Sangh Parivar strategies. It is now common knowledge how the Ayodhya issue was used to create a committed vote bank for the BJP. Ironically, the Parivar would have been still nowhere but for Babri Masjid! But what has happened in this process is that politicians have arrogated to themselves the right to represent Hinduism and interpret the interests of the community. Small wonder, all that is valuable and sacred about the Vedic faith has been desecrated in this process. The misappropriation of the rituals and symbols of Hinduism by the Sangh Parivar, and the perpetration of heinous crimes under cover of religious revivalism, now threaten to alienate the coming generation from the Vedic faith. It is high time that those who care for this great spiritual tradition denounced in one voice this most regrettable abuse of religion. Like everything else, religion too will be judged by the people in terms of its fruits. If a religion can produce only poisonous fruits of crime, injustice, violence and exploitation, it stands in danger of being abhorred by people whose sense of justice and compassion cannot be drugged into insensitivity for too long.

The stark truth now confronts us that the keepers of religion only stand to lose everything from this unholy, unprincipled collusion with politicians. It is a simple truth of life and history that those who allow themselves to be used will be exploited and discarded. This is the bitter medicine that Badal is forcing down Tohra's throat in Punjab. During the heydays of Bhindrawale’s militancy, it was Tohra who allowed Akal Takht to be appropriated by the militants for sowing seeds of disharmony. Now protege Jathedar Ranjit Singh is getting into a similar mould. As far as Badal and Tohra are concerned, these two have a long history of mutual association in a context where the distinction between religion and politics was merely notional. What has been happening over these years is the slow poisoning of the ‘religious’ by the ‘political’. The situation may not be as bad in the Hindu fold, but we are not many miles off. We are already in a situation in which many associate Hinduism with the likes of Ashok Singhals, Vinay Katiyars, Bal Thakares etc., and not with the Shankaracharyas or other saner Hindu spiritual activists.

It does not help to paint a picture of this dismal development, unless it is to make amends for these failures. The moral and spiritual regeneration of the Hindu community is of utmost importance for the destiny of India, as they comprise the overwhelming majority of our citizens. A genuine spiritual revival, as against the crude religio-political gimmicks improvised from time to time, is a pre-condition for our national resurgence. That will be possible only when the people as a whole are nurtured in the true values of the Vedic faith.

The Vedic vision is essentially an earth-centred vision, and not a territorial ideology as some people in their misguided enthusiasm tend to represent it. If it were otherwise, Swami Vivekananda would not have talked of India fulfilling her destiny on the global stage. Swami Dayanand, the founder of Arya Samaj, gave a call for Krinvanto Vishmaryam, Let all the righteous people of the world, unite ! The Vedas unveil a dynamic and egalitarian society in which birth-based privileges or handicaps have no room or relevance. The true spiritual goal is the nurturing of "Aryas", the noble in spirit. In contrast we have today reached a state in which the "Aryas" and "Brhamins" behave like "Anaryas", being unmindful of truth, justice and compassion. In this they seek and obtain protection from the powers that be. We can no longer postpone recognizing that a religion that allows itself to be used as a cover-up for criminal practices or the fig leaf for vested interests cuts the very branch on which it sits. The need of the hour is not to divorce religion from politics. It is, instead, to re-discover true religion and harness its life-affirming values to the practice of politics to create an effective partnership for people's welfare with a pro-active bias for the poor and the oppressed.



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