Whither Hindu moral leadership?

Gadfly

Swami Chinmayanand

Over the last month, Swami Chinmayanand, a septuagenarian former Union minister and new age Hindu religious leader, was charged of raping a law student in Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh. The man has a menacing reputation and vice-like grip over the town. (Dear reader, just imagine how gutsy the accuser and her family must be!)

Chinmayanand is an allegory for Shahjahanpur, which is an allegory for UP, which is an allegory for much that has gone wrong with India. The case is distressing, for such occurrences are routine for the nowhere-to-go common people of the northern plains. But in other ways, it begs questions over the moral reckoning of Hinduism in North India. Where is its leadership?

Over the last two decades, there have been many cases of babassants, seers, new-age Hindu (and of other religions) gurus, who have been accused and punished for sexual and other crimes. The ‘fake baba’ is now cliché in many parts of the northern plains.

Responding to current mortifications, the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad (ABAP), the top body arching over 13 major Hindu orders in the North, has called for a stocktaking meet. (The ABAP often brings out lists of seers and babas it considers as charlatans.)

Two heads have argued for seers to stick to their sanyasi and religious roles only; another idolises Yogi Adityanath who continues with his duties as mahant while being UP chief minister; one wants temples to be covered by CCTV cameras; another wants a review of the status that some seers enjoy.

The head of the ABAP has termed the recent happenings as an outcome of an “age of distractions” for Hindu leaders. There is already some paradox emerging from their considerations. Nonetheless, why have these questions come so late? And, what is the common northern believer to do?

The inner variations within what is called ‘Hinduism’ boggle the mind. It has regional, caste-wise, linguistic and ethnic divergences. It is elastic at one level, and is pliable to manipulation: certainly, in the North, which is more unequal than other parts of India. Being a baba who can cobble crowds and command ‘bhakts’ can get one a ticket into politics from most parties. Again, this is not untrue for other parts of India, but the numbers of so-called new-age cultists getting into politics is greater there.

Who are the disciples of a Chinmayanand or Asaram Bapu? What has drawn them to these ‘preachers’? Many new-age cultists aren’t Sanskrit luminaries. They connect with common North Indians in an idiom they understand. Notwithstanding scriptural sanction, the sacred Hindu texts are abstruse to common North Indians who may not have the training to appreciate them. So, historically, they moved away from canonical forms of Hinduism, to embrace its ‘simpler’ versions. Caste and caste discrimination are perhaps moot points in grasping this shift.

But the question remains over who takes responsibility for what has happened in Shahjahanpur. It’s an irony for caste Hindus: They play the Hindu unity card when it looks good (like when the prime minister goes abroad) and back out or keep quiet when their faith gets into trouble when a Chinmayanand or Asaram happen.

Where is the view of the more established pontiffs of the Hindu religious temples over all this? The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh likes to think it’s the protector of “Hindu culture”. Well, why have the corridors of power in Nagpur kept quiet over who passes for a ‘swami’ these days?

Only last week, after some years of lynching over beef, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat criticised not the act itself so much as the criticism of it, conveniently calling ‘lynching’ an “alien construct”. On issues ranging from ‘beef lynching’ to almost every new-age spiritual leader who has been convicted or accused of heinous criminality, not much sound has emerged from the stentorian faithful of the RSS, self-appointed guardians of the Hindu faith. It contrasts with their aim to fashion a unitary Hinduism. If they can’t tackle matters of dubious men misleading their faith, what leadership can they provide? 

 

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