Gandhi – A Religion of the Question: Ajay Skaria

[The following is the ‘Preface’ to AJAY SKARIA’s recent book, Unconditional Equality: Gandhi’s Religion of Resistance by Ajay Skaria. The preface raises interesting questions not only about Gandhi’s politics but also about the idea/s of secularism and religion in what we might call a postsecular world – a world that is, where the naive and uninterrogated binary between the two terms is constantly put into question. Also of interest to readers might be the attempt made by the author to read Gandhi’s writings as a long and ongoing struggle to articulate or ‘understand’ his own politics – a politics that Skaria claims is as much premised on equality among humans as it is on the equality of all being/s.]

Unconditional Equality by Ajay Skaria
Unconditional Equality by Ajay Skaria

Somewhere in the early 2000s, while preparing to teach Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s English translation of Hind Swaraj to my undergraduate class, a passage about history in the text intrigued me. Since I happened to have the Gujarati version of that text at hand, I consulted it. The divergence is striking. The Gujarati text criticizes “history” (the English word occurs in the Gujarati text) and contrasts  it to itihaas [usually translated as “history”]. The English text criticizes “history,” but in it there is no equivalent for itihaas; the contrast between history and itihaas is thus obscured. The gap between the Gujarati and English texts, I have since come to realize, is symptomatic of Gandhi’s struggles to think his politics. What this politics involves is by no means clear to him; perhaps he writes so prolifically and indefatigably (his collected works run to ninety-eight volumes in English) precisely in order to try and understand his own politics. This politics becomes even more intriguing when we attend not only to Gandhi as an author or “intending subject,” but to his writing.[1] By dwelling in and on the gaps (between Gujarati and English and also within each of these languages) in his writing, this book tries to draw out his politics.

For me, writing this book has been difficult also because of another gap—that between Gandhi’s insistence that there can be “no politics without religion” and the secular inheritance that I have, as far as I know, no desire to abandon. Gandhi repeatedly describes satyagraha (his most famous neologism, which he coins initially as a translation of “passive resistance”) as his “dharma” or “religion,” even as the religion that stays in all religions.[2] Symptomatic of my difficulty with this religious politics was my inability for long to even recognize it. When Vinay Lal first asked me in 2007 to write an essay on Gandhi’s religion for a volume he was planning on political Hinduism, I protested that I was not interested in this aspect of Gandhi. But with his characteristic persistence, Vinay did not accept my protests, and I ended up writing that essay, which became a precursor of this book.

In the process, my own understanding of dharma and religion as “concepts” has been transformed.[3]

Continue reading “Gandhi – A Religion of the Question: Ajay Skaria”

You are wrong Mr Prime Minister – It was not a fight, but plain murder : Sanjay Kumar

Guest Post by Sanjay Kumar 

In an election rally in Bihar on 8 October, country’s Prime Minister exhorted his audience with a homily pretty standard in India’s secular discourse. He asked Hindus and Muslims to decide whether they want to fight each other, or fight poverty together. His call against communal strife had come ten days after a Muslim man was lynched by a mob in Bisada, a village near the mofussil town of Dadri, 50 km from the national capital. There was no reference to events in Bisada in Mr Modi’s speech, yet ‘PM has spoken on Dadri lynching’ became the prime news on TV, and headline news in every newspaper the next day. If nations are imagined communities, then the media in the neo-liberal era imagines itself to be the prime mover and shaker of national imagination. And, when the ‘national leadership’ had remained silent on an important national news for more than a week, a subtle disquiet had indeed settled; as if, the story maker was not getting suitable yarn to complete the web and tie open leads. This may explain media’s eagerness to combine Mr Modi’s election rally remarks with Dadri lynching, about which he actually said nothing. Perhaps the media is expecting too much, and has a rather pompous self image. The women of Bisada had assaulted reporters and TV crews on 3 October, accusing them of presenting only one side of the story, bringing a bad name to their village and disrupting normal life. We have a Prime Minister who is pained even when a pup is killed under a motor car. Is not it unjust to expect him to express his anguish publicly every time some one is murdered in this  huge country of ours? The PM has declared many times that his one motivation and project is to build a strong and vibrant India. Should not his country men and women be content with the nation’s highest elected official using his exemplary social media skills for projecting a happy and confident mood. Would not shouting from the roof top on issues about which he is genuinely worried tarnish the very image he has been so painstakingly trying to build? Continue reading “You are wrong Mr Prime Minister – It was not a fight, but plain murder : Sanjay Kumar”

P.A.D.S. Statement on the killing of Prof MM Kalburgi – a sane voice against communalism and superstition

People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS)

Murder of another rational voice against communalism and superstition

The respected and loved Kannada scholar and writer MM Kalburgi was murdered by two unidentified men on August 30 at his home in Dharwad. The seventy seven year scholar was actively researching Vachanas literature of early Kannada and literature produced during the Adil Shahi period in Northern Karnataka. He was a source of wisdom for many students and scholars, and his killers gained access posing as students. He was also a vocal critic of religious superstitions and had been targeted by fundamentalists within his own Lingayat community and by Hindutva organisations. He had received many threats and his house had been attacked with stones and bottles. He was given police protection, which was withdrawn only days before his murder.

Professor Kalburgi’s cold-blooded murder has caused widespread shock and dismay in the literary and intellectual circles of Karnataka. Many protests involving ordinary citizens have been held in Bangalore and Dharwad. At least one Hindutva Bajrang dal activist has publicly welcomed the assassination, warned another rationalist of Karnataka, Prof KS Bhagwan of the same fate.

Prof Kalburgi’s killing comes after the murders of two other prominent critics of religious superstitions. Dr Narender Dabholkar was killed in 2013 in Pune. Trade Unionist and Communist Govind Pansare was killed in Kolhapur in February this year. There are uncanny similarities in the modus operandi of all three cases. It is likely that as in the earlier cases, the police will fail to solve Prof Kalburgi’s murder. Continue reading “P.A.D.S. Statement on the killing of Prof MM Kalburgi – a sane voice against communalism and superstition”

The Secular Stake- A Burden, or a Democratic Imperative? Sanjay Kumar

Guest Post by Sanjay Kumar

Mr Asaduddin Owaisi, the leader of MIM recently remarked in a media conclave that ‘Muslims are not coolies of secularism’. The statement made perfect sense for his politics. He is the leader a party that aims to mobilise voters on the basis of them being Muslim. The unprecedented success of Hindutva under Mr Modi in recent elections has upset many old electoral calculations, and opened new opportunities. Mr Owaisi is smelling a chance for the MIM to expand beyond its turf in Hyderabad, to regions where non-BJP parties have been getting the major chunk of Muslim votes with the slogan of secularism, seen principally as the promise of protection from riots. For Mr Owaisi, the remark serves multiple purposes. Average Muslim citizens are deeply disillusioned with a political process that has resulted in the utter marginalisation of their community.  For such voters, the statement is intended to clearly distinguish his party from the so-called secular non-BJP parties. It is calibrated to raise a doubt in their mind, why should only Muslims be expected to vote for such parties, when significant sections of the Hindus have sided with the communal BJP? It is also a preemptive answer to his political competitors and ideological critics, who are likely to accuse him of being communal.

Otherwise too, the secular discourse in India has largely become a minorities’ affair. It is said to be under threat when minorities are attacked. It is claimed to be flourishing when minorities rights are protected. A corollary belief among major sections of the so called majority community is that India  could have as well been non-secular if there were no minorities in the country, or if they are put in their place as the RSS political programme demands. Continue reading “The Secular Stake- A Burden, or a Democratic Imperative? Sanjay Kumar”

Statement on the Hate Crime in Pune: Concerned IT professionals

Circulated by Concerned IT professionals from Pune

We, the undersigned express our deep shock at the gruesome incident of hate crime reported in the city of Pune earlier this week. A 28 year old IT professional Shaikh Mohsin Sadiq was thrashed to death by a group of people suspected to be connected with a radical Hindu outfit called Hindu Rashtra Sena.

Mohsin was reportedly returning home after offering namaz at a mosque on Monday night when he found himself caught by the mob. As is the case in every hate crime, a skull cap on head and beard were enough for the killers to pounce on him with deadly intentions. The city was witnessing bandh and violent street protests by Shiv Sena, BJP and other radical Hindu organizations in the wake of Facebook post(s) with allegedly derogatory references to Shivaji and former Shiva Sena Chief Bal Thackeray. The assailants were apparently involved in similar protests when they spotted Mohsin on Monday night in Bankar colony in Hadapsar area of Pune.

One cannot help seeing this incident vis-à-vis forthcoming assembly elections in Maharashtra. As a run-up to the elections which are due in a few months, an attempt to polarize the masses on communal lines with the sheer intention of electoral gains, as we have seen elsewhere, seems to be on the cards. We appeal to the state government to thwart any such attempts with alacrity while ensuring safety to every citizen; we also appeal to the people of Maharashtra to not fall prey to such hideous designs and uphold the progressive tradition of the state that has seen peaceful co-existence of various sects, religions and cultural groups with no place for hatred.

While offering our deepest condolences to the bereaved family members and friends of Mohsin, we extend our heartfelt solidarity to each and every member of minorities/disadvantaged communities in struggle to preserve the values of democracy, secularism and justice.

Sd/—

Neeraj Kholiya

Dhanesh Birajdar

Bharatbhooshan Tiwari

Nitin Agarwal

Vinod Pillai

Kamesh

Gokul Panigrahi

Rajat Johari

Ujjwal Barapatre

Kshitij Patil

Sanind Shaikh

Akbar Ali

Prince Shelley

Mohamed Shazad

Shaikh Asfaque Hossain

Religion, Modernity and Politics – Some Reflections on ‘Secularism’

I am grateful to Ravi Sinha for his post responding to the question of religion and politics that arises out of the brief exchange between Subhash Gatade and myself on Subhash’s post some time ago. Much has happened since the first draft of this response was written and with the advent of Narendra Modi as prime minister, ‘secularism’ too is back in public debate with renewed vigour.

Meanwhile, with Shiv Visvanathan entering the debate, flogging the long dead secularist horse, sections of the liberal and left intelligentsia seem to have gone into a tizzy. Shiv’s argument merely restates in 2014 what political analysts like Ashis Nandy had been saying at least since the mid-1980s and it does so without its nuance. The long and short of this argument is that secularism is the creed of a deracinated English-speaking, West-oriented elite which cares little about the beliefs and ways of thinking and being of the majority of their compatriots. (See also Visvanathan’s piece in Economic and Political Weekly, May 31, 2014, on ‘Narendra Modi’s Symbolic War’)

Somewhere between the two poles of the fast-dwindling tribe of the Leftist gung-ho secularist and the breast-beating liberal, the possibility of a serious debate dies a quiet death. The 1980s-1990s debate on secularism had raised all the important questions about secularism and its problematic practice that Shiv Visvanathan’s piece raises but which, it seems bypassed a whole generation of Leftists who either still seem to find it scandalous to relate to religion or are suddenly discovering their alienation or worse, the virtues of religiosity. Needless to say, such a rediscovery, in the face of political adversity is not likely to be anything more than instrumental use of religion.

The issues in 2014 invite us to revisit and indeed, go beyond what the earlier debate allowed for. Continue reading “Religion, Modernity and Politics – Some Reflections on ‘Secularism’”

Statement on the Loksabha Elections, 2014: P.A.D.S.

Guest Post : P.A.D.S. (Peoples’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism) Statement on Elections

The Loksabha election results of 2014 surprised everyone. They are beyond the wildest dreams of even the most ardent BJP and Modi supporters, and worse than the worst scenarios imagined by  BJP’s political opponents. Even though these elections results are singularly stunning, phenomena like these have diverse reasons. A comprehensive understanding and meaningful response require that all these reasons be dispassionately explored and evaluated.

First, the votes behind these results. BJP polled 31% of votes. Never before has a party with so few votes won a mjority in national elections. Clearly, the first past the post system has benefited it disproportionately, more than any other ruling party in the past. This electoral system has amplified the BJP victory and made it look so impressive.  However, BJP’s electoral achievements in other domains must not be discounted. For the first time it managed to dislodge the Congress as the main party to represent Assam in the Lok Sabha. Fighting alone, it garnered 17% of votes in West Bengal and made determined bids in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In all states where it fought a straight battle with the Congress, its vote share was above or close to fity percent. It ran the most expensive and well organised campaign. Among all contestants, only it appeared determined to win and left no stone unturned to achieve its objective. It played the communal card astutely in UP and Bihar, with full paraphernalia of communal riots, started more than a year ago, and unabashed use of Hindu religious symbols. At other places it was the ‘development’.  The BJP victory is actually Mr Modi’s victory. For the first time since Mrs Indira Gandhi after  the 1971 and 1980 elections, a single person has come to acquire such a mandate at the national level.  These results show a significant shift of electoral politics to the right and marginalisation of non-communal forces. Continue reading “Statement on the Loksabha Elections, 2014: P.A.D.S.”