Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Religious Hypocrisy and Political expression Part - II

Home Truths

In the land I come from, in Kerala, half-informed debates on public policies, regulations and laws were common place across any congregation above 2 people. During my younger days, matters of faith used to be a private matter. Personally too, I have always felt uncomfortable discussing attributes of one religion versus the other.  I have also been led to believe that religious tolerance and acceptance in the state of Kerala was much higher than the national average.

As much as I can remember, the fiercest rioting and arson in Kerala have happened on political agendas rather than anything overtly religious. Here again, it was the Communist parties with their militant trade union ideologies that always used to find itself at either ends in these clashes. However, unlike in many other parts of India it used to be the youth cadres of the Communist parties and RSS (and not BJP) which used to engage in these political battles especially in the northern belt of Kerala. (there are various theories linking the origin of the Communist movement to protect the trade interests of the Muslim merchants, but that is not my subject here)

Another aspect worth mentioning is that while all minority communities had their political representations either explicitly like in the form of Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) or tacitly like the Kerala Congress for Christians, I cannot remember any mainstream political party enjoying special patronage from the majority Hindus. (Though BJP used to contest elections, it never really received the political mandate from the Hindu community)
However, I see this trend changing and the lines blurring between political and religious ideologies. The impact of religious orientation influencing political expressions have entered these half-informed public debates like an uninvited participant. I see a worrisome trend of non-Hindus mostly occupying the anti BJP quadrant and Hindus moving closer to the BJP narrative, though by-and-large they are spread across all sides of the allegiance spectrum.

Why is this surprising (for me)?
In my narrow idealistic borough, I dreamt that every time we participate in a democratic process, we were getting closer to building a nation for 'Indians' and the aspirations that collectively define us. And in this quest for one-ness, all other considerations of religion, caste, colour and creed will be deprioritised.
Instead, we have fallen prey to a narrow political narrative that have taken us further away from a collective purpose and are hurtling us down a hellhole defined by our choice of region, religion and faith. Even after 69 years of formation of the Indian republic, we are far from forming an uniformly acceptable national identity. 
While religion has been the most destructive man-made force that has altered the course of world history, I have been too naive to ignore the oft repeated aphorism, "Those who believe that politics and religion do not mix, understand neither."(a bastardised quote that is  attributed to many, including Mahatma Gandhi)

There are passionate arguments trading accusations of one political party defining their political agendas by fostering issues based on caste, language, community, geographical and many such niches. But in the end I see all political parties equally culpable. By feeding on the insecurities of every section, faction and faith, the political establishment has defined a perpetual, vicious cycle of power broking hinged to each other.

Earlier there used to be a certain anathema for falling prey to this divisive agenda. No more!
Instead, in our unfathomable urgency to get noticed, loved and liked, we have become active participants in this socio-religious-political circus through Social Media platforms that provided us with a convenient gateway to exercise this political brinkmanship.
With data analytics and advanced psychographic profiling we got segmented into fickle, unknowing ambassadors of some political belief where we readily took positions in the political discourse, finally emptying us into a na├»ve "Us" v/s "Them" debate.

It is death knell now. With fringe elements and arm chair enthusiasts continuing to get manipulated by the narrative on faith and religion, it is fairly predictable how the end game will play out. By continuing our allegiances, we are only taking the extremes further away from any common ideal or purpose.

While the blame game continues, I still feel there is hope,

  • If we stop being hypocritical and accept what is right and call out what is wrong without being biased along stated positions and religious grounds

  • If we stop heckling for our part of the benefits and subsidies-pie defined by our ethnicities, religious or caste based identity

  • If we question our religious moorings and political beliefs knowing very well that they don’t have the answers

All these questions abound as I look forward to the UP poll results which are just a few days away.

Will the electorate vote for the politics of convenience/alliances, of religious appeasement or of short term benefits? Or will a new hero emerge who will lead our hope towards a collective consciousness?

Irrespective of the outcome, will you stop to introspect where your choices will lead us to.

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