Let ‘dharma’ be your anchor, Mr PM

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has not acted a day too soon to assert the majesty of his office vis-a-vis his party and associated groups, and assure citizens, particularly minorities, that his Government will be responsive to their legitimate concerns. In a masterly statement, he has called for national reconciliation on Ayodhya and dissociated his party and regime from recent unsavoury incidents involving Christians. For a regime hitherto remarkable for its inability to set and pursue its own goals, this affirmation, coupled with the resonance emanating from the simultaneous Cabinet expansion, should mark the end of the creeping paralysis that held the administration in a vice-like grip over the past few months.

In his affable and unassuming manner, the Prime Minister has evolved a new idiom of politics, which writers like myself believe is imperative if he is to be true to the moral underpinnings of this troubled nation, and not de-legitimize the mandate that put him in office. Thus, shunning abrasive rhetoric, he has asserted his Government’s commitment to dharma (symbolized by restoration of the sanctity of the Ram Janmabhoomi), and despite painful reversals in the recent Assembly polls, reiterated the BJP’s commitment to the country’s civilisational ethos. For a man maligned as both indecisive and ill-at-ease with his party’s most celebrated agenda, this is no small act of innovation and courage.

In this vein, Mr Vajpayee has condemned recent acts of violence on Christians, promised action against the guilty, and clarified that his Government and party have no hand in them. The Prime Minister has wisely said that ours is a land in which all faiths enjoy respect, “Sarva panth sambhav”, not merely because of legal rights enshrined in a modern-day Constitution, but because of our millennia-old national culture. It is a distinction our minority brethren, nourished as they are nowadays on a diet of separate identity and reverse apartheid, would do well to appreciate.

The Prime Minister has said nothing new. Yet his statement displays remarkable sagacity as, for the first time, a leader of his sta­tus has politely though publicly maintained that “every citizen has the fullest freedom to practice his beliefs so long as they do not in­terfere with another person’s right to do the same. Strengthening communal harmony and the secular fabric of India is the respon­sibility of all” (italics mine, The Pioneer, December 6, 1998). Mr Vajpayee has thus stat­ed that minorities too, must conduct them­selves with restraint.

He has also, for the first time since Independence, averred that citizens’ right to practice their beliefs is limited by the similar rights of other citizens, and is not absolute. Writers like myself have consistently held that the depressed, backward sections that are fre­quently targeted by monotheistic faiths are vic­tims of an assault on their dignity and self-respect. Their very identity is abused and denied under the protection mistakenly provided by the secular state.

The founding fathers pro­vided freedom to practice and propagate one’s faith in the his­toric context of Partition, in which a sizeable Muslim com­munity remained in India and feared for its safety, culture, and religious freedom. Unfortunately, on account of the electoral compulsions of our early rulers and their dependence on minority votes, we have since been put through a double bind. First, Jawaharlal Nehru floated the bogey of majority communalism to keep the naturally dominant com­munity disempowered. Then, freedom of re­ligion – the right to make an informed choice about one’s personal religion and the right of a community to propagate the tenets of its faith among the believers – became perversely equated with the right to proselytize.

Today, anyone who dares to call conversions a human rights violation and an infringement of the freedom of religion of another person(s), runs the risk of abuse. Yet, in the international arena, following stout resistance by the Russian Orthodox Church to the raiding of its flock by rival Christian churches, a realization is dawning that there may be some mer­it in this argument. Indeed, as the world com­munity introspects on the merits and short­comings of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on its 50th anniversary, schol­ars and religious leaders are debating if there should also be a “right not to be propagated to by another faith”. India’s secular intelli­gentsia, that loves to ape the west, should note this development.

My point is that while all religions derive from a universal Truth, they are not equal, as is claimed by secular intellectuals. Paramhansa Yogananda observed that all re­ligions do not derive equally from the same level of divine insight. The argument that all religions are equal (that is, vir­tually the same) is a ruse to weaken Hindu pride in the Sanatan dharma and enfeeble their resistance to mass con­versions. It is also very one-­sided, applicable only to Hindus, as neither Muslims nor Christians extend the courtesy of equality to pagan, idolatrous Hinduism.

This should bring home to all concerned about the nation’s future exactly what India stands to lose in terms of its civilisational heritage if we can with equa­nimity countenance the notion of Sonia Gandhi as Prime Minister, It is not just that this will give missionaries, middlemen and corrupt Congressmen a free rein. India’s moral fibre and ethos will be completely sapped; its very essence lost to secularism, scientific tem­per, globalization, and the vulgar compulsions of the ballot box. A pointer of things to come can be seen in the proposal to reserve 10 per cent of party posts for minorities, for despite their reservation, Congressmen have reacted with silence.

Having manfully asserted himself for dharma, the Prime Minister needs to pay attention to artha (the health of the economy). He should remember that Hindus place artha prior to dharma. It was the sustained denial of the le­gitimacy of both dharma and artha under socialism that caused a reaction under the ban­ner of dharma. But this does not mean a negation of artha in the Hindu view, as seen by the powerful reaction to the prices of vegetables in the recent polls.

In this connection, the Prime Minister has done well to reiterate his Government’s commitment to the Insurance Regulatory Bill, dis­regarding objections from his party’s associate groups. Although the RSS and its filial bod­ies have a right to their opinions, their in­temperate statements damage the regime, as rightly pointed out by Commerce Minister Ramakrishna Hegde. Cabinet decisions can­not be overturned by a diktat from the Swadeshi Jagran Manch.

Mr Vajpayee can spare himself great em­barrassment if he improves coordination be­tween his Government, party, and associates, as well as allies. It is a sad spectacle to see one or other ally publicly claiming ignorance over decisions like a Cabinet expansion. Whatever the initial problems with some al­lies, today the Government has survived the adverse impact of the Assembly polls because its allies stood firm. They deserve respect.

They must also have a voice in the estab­lishment of bodies like the National Security Council among others, where appointments made by the Prime Minister’s Office have alarmed the Government’s well-wishers. There is also a need to know why men like Rahul Bajaj, who gave the BJP legitimacy when it was seeking corporate sector en­dorsement was ignored when the Economic Advisory Committees were set up. I will con­clude on the note that BJP leaders are con­soling themselves over the Assembly revers­es with the sop that the voting pattern shows a trend towards two-party rule. They would do well to bear in mind that a single percentage swing can turn this mythical bipolarity into one-party dominance.

The Pioneer, 8 December 1998

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