Sunday / July 21.




By Amulya Ganguli


Narendra Modi may have his own reasons for flaunting his Hindu background, but to rope in visiting dignitaries subscribing to other religions to his own displays of faith is odd, to say the least. The sight, therefore, of the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, participating in the Hindu ritual of offering aarti or obeisance to Mother Ganga in Modi’s company was without precedent in the world of diplomacy.


It is not known what was said in the tour schedule about this form of worship which must have been cleared by the Japanese before the visit. It is possible that Shinzo Abe presumed that he will merely be a witness to a puja like any other tourist. But to stand on the bank of the river as mantras are chanted and various invocations made was something which rarely constitutes a part of an official itinerary.


One wonders how Modi will react if he is asked during one of his foreign trips to take part formally in a religious ceremony with all its paraphernalia in, say, a Christian or a Muslim country. For a man who refused to wear a skull cap because of its Islamic symbolism, the invitation to a foreign guest to imitate a Hindu for a while is curious.


For the average Hindu onlooker, also reared in the Catholic traditions of the faith, there may not have been anything unusual in a foreigner offering prayers in a Hindu religious ceremony. After all, Hindus have no hesitation in offering prayers in churches or mosques or gurdwaras. But the same attitude may not be a feature of other societies.


Modi, of course, has his own political reasons for advertising his devotion in Varanasi. Since the holy city is his constituency, he apparently believes that such displays of piety will help him to retain his base of support.


He probably also wants to reassure the RSS, the BJP’s friend, philosopher and guide, that he remains a pracharak (preacher) at heart despite the intensive courting of the West in search of investment.


He must be conscious as well of the need to make amends since he hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations which the saffron brotherhood has from the first Hindu ruler in 800 years, as the late Ashok Singhal of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad called him.


Moreover, since the BJP has been going easy on voicing its reverence for the cow ever since the Dadri lynching – some of its members like defence minister Manohar Parrikar are even saying that eating beef is a matter of “individual opinion” – praying to  the Ganga remains one of the few options to highlight the party’s Hindu credentials.


The need to do so is all the greater at a time when a Union minister, Nitin Gadkari, advises all and sundry to ignore the firebrand BJP MP, Sakshi Maharaj, who believes that the Mahatma’s killer, Nathuram Godse, is a patriot and that the madrasas or schools for Muslim children produce terrorists.


Since the construction of the Ram temple is no longer high on the BJP’s agenda, and the ideals of Hindutva or cultural nationalism – one nation, one people, one culture – are not articulated as forcefully as in the days of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement, there is apparently a need to demonstrate the party’s Hindu piety in some other way.


Apart from the saffron brotherhood’s internal compulsions, Modi undoubtedly wants to demonstrate how different his party is from the Congress with its penchant for secularism which, in the eyes of the Sangh Parivar and the so-called Internet Hindus, is tantamount to being anti-Hindu. “Sickular” is their word for it.


It is obvious that no Congress government or, for that matter, any other “secular” government like the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar or the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha, would have dreamed of asking a foreigner, whether high-profile or not, of offering prayers like a Hindu at a much-publicized event.


Such playacting would go against the distinction which government is expected to observe between the “church” and the state, the raison d’etre of secularism.


The BJP, on the other hand, consciously wants to violate this principle to emphasize that India is a Hindu country where the norms of Hinduism – at least those formulated by the parivar – will be made to prevail over and above those of other religions.


These norms can extend to invocations to Hindu deities – the Ganga, Saraswati – and to dietary preferences like vegetarianism. The objections of the minorities or liberals who are unwilling to impose these religion-specific stipulations on a multicultural country will be brushed aside. Modi’s innate majoritarianism also makes it easy for him to play the pious Hindu without any qualms.


Considering, however, that he told parliament that the Constitution is the only holy book in his view, paying lip service to the document will raise doubts about his sincerity. The imperative, therefore, of treating Hinduism as one among the 12 religions observed in India, as Modi recently reminded parliament while talking about the country’s pluralism, is undeniable, especially where foreigners are involved.


India’s multicultural tenets are a model for the rest of the world where living together is concerned. They should not be casually flouted. (IPA Service)