As the general election fever that would decide the future direction and government of India is rampant, it is very relevant to revisit the topic of religion in politics. Religion and politics do not mix. The only person that I know succeeded in combining religion and politics was Mahatma Gandhi. That is because he was scrupulously non-violent in words and deeds. He lived by the conviction that non-violence was perfect love. His life was his message. He had the welfare of everyone including his opponents in his mind. He proclaimed India would not be free and well until the least in India would be free and have the basic needs met. He did not have nepotism or family interests in his mind. He was selfless and eschewed all forms of power. Chief among the principles that guided his life was purity of intention. In great contrast to his tolerant, all-inclusive religion of humanity, politics with principles, and good will toward all is the concerted mud-slinging by politicians of all parties, shameless opportunism, and wide-spread self-promotion, verbal and physical abuse to the point of murder and elimination of inconvenient opponents. What is unacceptable for any enlightened person is a stand taken by the most important officer of a very prominent party in Kerala that he was conscientious in using a very nasty verbal abuse in characterizing a politician whose change of loyalty did not suit him. What is most disappointing is the fact that truth is the casualty in all this practice of dirty politics. What is most disconcerting though is the open entry of religion or caste into politics. It is well-known that politicians in ingenious ways fostered vote banks or blocks, and that they sought the blessings of religious leaders such as bishops or caste leaders of prominent organizations such as NSS (Nair Service Society) and SNDP ( Sri Narayana Dharma Pariplalana yogam).
What is more intriguing currently is the opportunistic, unprincipled, and impulsive alliance of High Range Protection Agency (HRPA), led by a Catholic priest and supported by his bishop, with the Communist Party of India, Marxist (CPM). They are strange bed fellows, to say the least. The Catholic community in the constituency is greatly divided. The CPM has not done anything constructive in that they walked out of the all party conference called by the chief minister of Kerala to deal with the Kasturi Rangan Report related to Ecologically Sensitive Area in the Western Ghats. The committee appointed by the chief minister did a good job, and came up with recommendations that met the demands of HRPA and others affected, and have been in principle approved by the Central Government. This has been communicated to all in writing. It is true that the final approval has to wait because of the logistics of a general election. I do not think anybody could have done any better under the circumstances. It is also important to note that a priest in the Archdiocese of Trivandrum has been suspended for standing as a candidate in the general election. I strongly believe that religious leaders need to stick to spiritual guidance and serve all instead of getting into the fray of already vicious and mean-spirited partisan politics, and muddy the water further.
A brief note on the prime ministerial candidates is in order. Both candidates do not project an image of a mature democracy. Narendra Modi has not come clean from the Gujarat riots caused by the inter-communal violence. His right hand man is under inquiry by Uttar Pradesh police for alleged hate speech related to caste revenge in a very volatile inter-communal violence setting. His party appears to be guided by religious elements with hidden agenda. Rahul Gandhi is an in-experienced young man whose popularity and eligibility can be mainly attributed to the fact that he belongs to a family dynasty that gave three prime ministers. And democratic India does not need any dynasty. India is rich in leadership, and deserves better than these two. But that means India has to grow in democratic principles based on equality, truth, justice, fairness, merits, pluralism, and competence.
Swami Snehananda Jyoti / April 9, 2014