December 01, 2013
To secular Indians, who hold that religion belongs to the private and personal space, two recent national events of three state agencies should be a matter of concern. The first one was the act of ISRO Chairman Dr K. Radhakrishnan performing pooja with the replica of the Mars Orbiter Mission at the Lord Venkateshwara Temple in Tirupati a day before the launch of the spacecraft from Sriharikota. The second one was the digging for gold by the Archaeological Department with support from the Geological Survey of India on the basis of a dream of a holy man.
Both the acts are against India’s secular Constitution and represent the feudal character of the state. In the public space, representatives of the state have to keep aside their personal religious beliefs and projects and adhere to conduct the affairs of the state through rationa-lity. How could a secular state tolerate the use of Hindu religious practices in the public space? Nehruvian secularism, that is a part of the Constitution, is an accepted practice in the country. The state in India is not Hindu and it is secular. Dr Radhakrishnan could have privately visited any temple in the country as a private citizen and none would have objected to it. We are a religious country and every person has a right to practise his/her religion and spirituality as an individual. But when a state employee publicly offers worship to his deity with the replica of the Mars Orbiter Mission, there are reasons to be alarmed. One must also be alarmed when people at the Space Centre perform coconut breaking and other religious rituals just before the mission launch. Traditions and beliefs seem to trump science and technology, even when it concerns launching a rocket into space.
We are a Secular Nation
Ours is a secular republic and the public worship of a deity belonging to one particular religion is negating this very basic tenet of our Consti-tution. The mission to Mars is a national mission and as far as the state is concerned, the state has no religion. It should have been purely a scientific launch. Every individual, when he works for the state, is expected to keep his personal beliefs and practices in his personal space. The act of the ISRO chief is in violation of Article 51(H) of the Indian Constitution which states that it is the duty of every citizen of the country to develop scientific temper and the spirit of inquiry and humanism. Worshipping a particular deity in public is not just against the Constitution but against the spirit of our secular country. Seeking divine blessings or visiting a religious place to practise one’s faith is a personal business. But to take the replica of the Mars mission to the temple is hardly a personal business. It is a public act.
In a secular country religion has no role in the affairs of conducting state affairs and the state doesn’t have a religion. Also the state (including all its institutions whether educational, scientific, industrial—all institutions connected to the state or run by public funds) should refrain from any sort of religious activity. This is not only blatant violation of secularism but expose open discrimination on grounds of religion. In this multi-religious country, there are people of different faiths—Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Sarnas, Buddhists, Jains—and many local tribal and ethnic religions. Within the Hindu faith there are different gods, goddesses and deities. Why should then prominence be given to one deity over others? This only proves the increasing voices of protest from different communities and social activists that India is becoming a Hindu state with ritualiste practices from the dominant group within that religion! And if this is the condition, it affects the very concept of “unity in diversity” and could gradually lead to the collapse of the secular Indian state.
Shoban Sarkar’s Dream
Swami Shoban Sarkar, a member of the Sant Samaj, the junior Minister for Agriculture and Food Processing, Sri Charan Das Mahant, and the two institutes of the Government of India— the Archaeological Survey of India and Geolo-gical Survey of India—have made a mockery of India’s secularism. Their coming together on a dream of Swami Shoban Sarkar and to begin digging for gold is a symphony of the absurd. Shobhan Sarkar may have dreamt of one thousand tonnes of gold under Dondiakhera. But the Archaeological Society of India, an institute of secular India, deciding to start digging for gold based on his dreams made even the Hindutva ideologue and the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, to say that the world was laughing at us. Can a secular state act on the dreams of seers and saints? Not only the world but even enlightened citizens of India were intrigued by the action of the ASI and GSI and the state. Why did the Central Government act on the dreams of a seer? Is it a part of the competitive communalism that the Congress party has been time and again accused of resorting to? In the prevailing culture of Hindutva is the Congress moving into soft Hindutva?
There are elements of feudalism and super-stition in all political parties. However, one did not expect the Central Government to stoop to such a low level in the art of governance. It is a known fact that Shoban Sarkar is a guru of Sri Charan Das Mahant, the Minister who hails from Chhattisgarh. The Baba had informed the Minister of the dream. In the normal course if a seer or a holy man had made a claim that a 1000-tonne gold deposit has been revealed in a dream in a specific place, it would have gone unnoticed. The enlightened citizens and the state would have made a mockery of it. Why did the state then order a survey by using the two premier bodies the ASI and GSI? Has it something to do with the Minister or the influence Shoban Sarkar yields over a section of the vote-banks in his area?
Mahant is the Chhattisgarh politician who had proclaimed his loyalty to the Congress President last year. He had even said that he would be willing to sweep the Congress office if Sonia Gandhi asks him to do so. As a devotee of the guru with blessings from the Congress higher-ups, he must have been instrumental for the conduct of the survey. Is the purpose of the survey to provide legitimacy to the secular image of the UPA? If an individual had a dream of a goldmine, he could have very well requested the permission of the state and done the exploration with his own resources, than make use of the taxpayers’ money. While every person has a right to dream, to ask the state to move into action in accordance with the dream is a mockery of a secular state.
The Role of Institutions
What is unfortunate is that no one even raised the question as to whether it is the role of these national organisations to search for gold or as institutions of the state they have other functions. These are specialised agencies and their prime work is to explore, preserve and maintain historical sites. These agencies have been politicised in the last two decades. They were active in the Ayodhya fiasco and helped the then government to manufacture facts about the Ram temple at Ayodhya. In the writing of history books, these bodies have provided legitimacy by consenting to manufactured facts during the NDA regime.
When most of our historical places are lying in a sorry state, why did the government use these bodies to provide legitimacy to the dreams of a Baba? How did these bodies accept to do the biddings of the politicians? Does it point to the lack of quality of leadership, lack of academic competence and lack of commitment in these bodies for the very purpose for which they were established? To respond to that question, one should have an insight into the politics of the UPA and its desire to retain power by using even religion to any extent when it believes that could serve its interest. It is sad that a party that professes secularism all the time has become so opportunistic.
Naturally, the media has converted the entire episode into an entertainment. What else is it than an entertainment? At a time when the media has failed to engage with substantial issues, the dream of the Swami helps the ordinary people to move into a dreamy world. Dreams take us to an imaginary world. Unable to cope with the stresses and strains of life, dreams can help one to escape from reality. The dream of the seer has become an imagination of the people through the media. Which citizen does not like to hear that the discovered gold would make India richer than Europe and America and the rupee would suddenly turn stronger than the US dollar and British pound? What India cannot achieve in real terms, the country likes to hear in the dreams of the seers. That perhaps would provide some artificial fodder to the angry citizens who are disgusted at the functioning of the state and its politicians.
In the process of yielding to the dream of a seer India has been damaged. Secularism has been attacked. The Indian state has a responsibility to respect Article 51 (h) of the Constitution which talks of ‘developing a spirit of inquiry, humanism and science’ in the country. With the promotion of a dream, instead of promoting reason, the state has provided impetus to irrationality and superstition. We cannot take our place as a developed and modern nation with the promotion of such dreams of a Baba. The country needs to make a decisive choice and shun the path of miracle men and women who exploit religion and to choose the path of science, technology, reason and development. The role of a secular state is to promote a spirit of inquiry and reason and not blind superstition. With the sants, swamis and Babas playing an active role in politics, we have already lost a sizeable space reserved for secularism. And now when the political parties directly promote religion, the dreams of holy men and religious rituals in the public domain, the secular space is further constricted.
Dr Ambrose Pinto SJ is the Principal of St. Aloysius Degree College, Bengaluru