Politics, the new religion

Politics, the new religion

Till recently the problem was that politics prostituted religion. The unholy alliance between the two has a long and laughable history. That is now passé. So, let it go.

Fresh from the mint is its evolutionary successor: politics-as-religion. Like the tiger, once a harmless creature, becoming a man-eater. It used to express loyalty to the master, licking his foot. One day, the skin broke. Blooded oozed. The tiger tasted it. Made a fantastic discovery: the master's blood is preferable to the master. The rest is history.

Any idea why religions fought worse than wild animals among themselves? It was all about truth! Each religion claimed its exclusive monopoly. If my version is the ultimate truth - on which my bread and butter rest - then your version has to be untrue. To you too, it is likewise. If you alone are right, I have to shut shop, which I don't want to.

Politics had not behaved like this for a long time, and was like a domesticated tiger, content to lick the master's glowing and glorified back. Then, all of a sudden, it drew blood. You can, if you like, put a date to that bloody turning point.

Never before did we have, in respect of politics, the notion of heresy, which was exclusive to religions. Today, the political establishment is more vigilant against heresy - any instance of thinking at variance to the official line - light years away! You need to do no more than show common courtesy to a member of the opposite camp, say a kind word, to raise the hackles. 'Heresy' is a word of Latin origin, and it only means, "I choose".

Choosing for oneself presupposes thinking for oneself, which is no ordinary crime. Some individuals, you know, show the temerity and impudence to do so - anachronistic remnants like Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and the rest - rather than swallow what is packaged and provided for their ready consumption. Congressmen used to tell me how careful they had to be about who they were seen with. The High Command! Sharad Yadav was slow in adjusting to the tectonic shift in JD(U). See how he has been eradicated! The political Inquisition pronounces the verdict, "traitors", "anti-national", and so on.

Media is the temple of politics as religion. No religious ritual in the past has ever attained comparable intensity and visibility. Every day, the ritual is performed, with the largest assembly of worshippers attending. Issues are brought up. Mouth-pieces, branded with party Imprimatur, set the sets ablaze by their exclusive claims and dogmatic assertions. The whole truth regarding an issue can rest only with one party, and each and every party is that party! It is like saying there is only one, true, eternal god. And that god is in my custody.

Kashmir - the Gaza of Indian politics - is the Armageddon of religion as politics. Who can know the truth about the K-issue? Who has the right or authority to decode this mystery? Destiny has, it seems, willed its exclusive proprietorship to BJP. Any averments or interventions made by any other party, or neutral individuals, is heresy; unless it is in perfect sync with the official line.

Advocating autonomy - circumscribed freedom of choice - is heretical, whether or not it is envisaged in the Constitution. Can a religion survive, unless all thought processes are homogenised, centrally controlled and alertly patrolled against heresy-breeding freedom of thought?

Inter-religious marriages were, till recently, mostly a religious issue. Now, it is a hot item on the agenda of politics-as-religion. Religions preached love, but kept it bound hand and foot. That, for a good reason. Love is the seed of freedom. And freedom is dangerous. Freedom needs to be kept in chains, therefore, for the sake of freedom. God is the fountainhead of freedom, right? But did god really have to play a perverse mischief, by writing this anarchic principle of love into human hearts?

Imagine a man loving a woman at variance with the lines drawn. Unthinkable! If god paved the way for such a mistake, shouldn't we, wiser by far, forestall the harm stemming from god's immaturity? So, in politics-as-religion, the new law is "Do anything but love one another. And if love you must, make sure that it runs strictly along caste-and-religion tracks."

Only religions - never politics - claimed the right to intrude into the private life of individuals: what they should or should not eat, what trade they should practise or spurn, which place, and what manner, of worship they should pursue, and so on. Adieu to all that. All that will now be decided by the high priests of politics-as-religion.

Politics-as-religion thrives on man becoming god. God said, "Let there be light!" There was light. The PM said, let there be new currencies! New currencies came into being. Like in the divine context, it was willed without forethought. "Let there be…" and there it was. The scene pulsates with absolute power.

As former PM Manmohan Singh said, this has no parallel in human history. Why should it? Are we not into a brave new world? Understandably, the Modi grandeur got under Singh's skin because he would not have thought, even in his wildest fantasy, that such absolute power existed in politics. But Manmohan was wrong. He is still stuck at religion and politics. He needs to move on…

The idea of secularism has been under ridicule for a while, thanks to L K Advani (wonder why he says nothing these days). Advani subjected secularism only to sectarian derision. It won't be long before secularism morphs into a national heresy. It is heresy vis-a-vis politics-as-religion. It could be heading for a plight analogous to that of religious heresies in the pre-modern world.

Hinduism was a climate favourable to Indian secularism. As we move into the post-Hinduism scheme of things, we could be in for a few predictable surprises; and that, in the near future.

(The writer is former principal, St Stephen's College, Delhi)

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