This question assumes relevance of the Himalayan proportion as we find ourselves mired in a politics of hate and murderous prejudices. The present generation might be led into inferring that it all started with the demolition of the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992, following which the inevitable schism and hate between the Hindus and the Muslims had to reach a point of no return, thanks also to the marriage of convenience between vote-bank-centric politicians and self-styled religious gurus. But a closer look at the history of the country’s freedom struggle informs one of a different story. Be it the role played by outfits such as the Hindu Mahasabha in channelling the lost Hinduist tiol discourse – long held to ransom by barbaric invasions by the Mughals and the British – or the poisonous politics of ‘minorities’ consolidation that eventually had a secularist-turned-fatic in MK Jinh clamour in the full fury of hate against the religious majority, the Hindus, for a separate state for Muslims, religion had been conspicuous by its strong presence, rather than its absence, even during those turbulent times of tiolistic upheaval against the British Raaj. And that strand has continued, much to the detriment of the tion. The question, nevertheless, has remained as to whether religion, as it is construed and practised, is all that cancerous at all when it comes to its blend with politics. There are two schools of thought. One believes that a truly secular state – premised on the Western notion of secularism such as the one followed in France – must remain absolutely detached from anything religious; that is, the two cannot – and ought not to – jell for a liberal and scientifically enlightened democratic system of thoughts and actions to prevail. The other school clings to the belief that politics sans religion is sans morality too, that such politics degenerates in the long run and creates monsters out of men who have inherent divinity in them. This debate is arguably the most important one today, even as we talk of being modern and at the crest of the 21st-century wave of globalization and free-market economy, and thus tend to gloss over the role of religion in politics otherwise.
But perhaps we need to visit the political philosophy of the saint who gave us this priceless freedom of ours, with its attendant fruits of democracy and a free society, and try to read his mind as he zestfully favoured a divine but pragmatic union of religion and politics. The Father of the tion had this to say famously: “Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.” This is a big statement. This is otherwise a slap on those who trumpet their atheism or agnosticism as they dabble in politics, especially the Left (who are atheists as they say). So what is religion in the Gandhian worldview? It is nothing but spirituality, which is essentially about man’s inner quest, inner engineering as Jaggi Vasudev of the Isha Foundation, Coimbatore has coined in his intertiol bestseller. To Gandhiji – who the genius in Albert Einstein wondered if “such a man could ever walk on earth” – religion was an inner journey, the journey to one’s inner universe of truth and justice, the journey to love and compassion beyond man-made divides, the journey to a realm beyond the rrowness of tiolism in its jingoistic form, which even the star of Indian poetry, Rabindrath Tagore, had called for. Tagore was an intertiolist, much before the dawn of what we now glorify as ‘globalization’. Gandhiji was no less. In fact, as quoted in Mahatma Gandhi by Romain Rolland, Gandhiji says, “If I seem to take part in politics, it is only because politics today encircles us like the coils of a ske from which one cannot get out no matter how one tries. I wish to wrestle with the ske (emphasis added)… By religion I do not mean formal religion or customary religion, but that religion which brings us face to face with our Maker.” Now, how many of our politicians would understand what Gandhiji had in mind when he spoke of the need of religion in politics? What the Mahatma talked of is not religion as our politicians and so-called religious gurus would blissfully interpret as; indeed, he talked of spirituality – man’s quest for love, compassion, peace and progress beyond the rrow and stifling confines of hate, envy, prejudice, and day-to-day politics of utter mud and murkiness.
In fact, for the Father of the tion, even sanitation was a spiritual work in progress! Unbelievable as it may sound, one just needs to hear this out, as HG Alexander quotes Gandhiji in The Indian Ferment thus: “In my own humble opinion, we needlessly divide life into watertight compartments, religious and other; whereas if a man has true religion in him, it must show itself in the smallest details of life. To me sanitation in a community like ours is based upon common spiritual effort (emphasis added). The slightest irregularity in sanitary, social, and political life is a sign of spiritual poverty (emphasis added).”
That was then the spiritual vision of the Mahatma who gave us freedom from the diabolic clutch of British imperialism but, unfortutely, had to kowtow to the fatical zeal of Jinh whose Pakistan today is one of the most condemned countries in the world, thanks to Jinh’s misreading of religion as a devise to divide people. Here in India, we must stand tall and proud of having to have religion as a way of life – political, social, and economic – because in India, as our ancient and timeless Vedas and Upanishads say aloud, religion must remain a way of enlightened life in all spheres, full of love, compassion, and fellow feeling, which is nothing but spirituality in marvellous practice. We can shine thus.