Religion and Politics

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By Ananya S Guha

When politics is mingled with religion, nothing could be more dangerous than this, in a country like India. This is because that religionists who are fanatical are bound to come in the picture. Politics and religion should be studiously kept out in a secular country. Religion, is essentially private, but when religious bodies get interfering to talk about political matters and make interventions there, this is not only unjust, it can lead to bloody situations. I am saying this because over the years this has been happening in the country.

Sant Bhrindanwale was encouraged by politicians, but when it was necessary to search the Golden Temple, which had become a hunting ground for militants, the exercise in fact back fired and led to riotous things, including the grisly murder of our then Prime Minister. Secondly look at what happened in Assam, it was given a religious ethnic colouring right from the beginning, and fanatics seized the opportunity to create fear and pandemonium among the people of North East India, residing elsewhere.

In that manner one must be really fair to the Leftist Parties, who clearly but firmly dissociated the two and came down with a heavy hand on trouble makers who were hell bent to create trouble in the name of religion. On the aftermath of the Babri Masjid riots, in 1992, Jyoti Basu made it certain that West Bengal was largely free from the mayhem, which affected the rest of the country. The Leftist parties have a clear mandate against fanaticism of this kind, and they make pretty sure, that it is left out of party politics.

Politics and religion, spells danger against eclectic forces operating in the whole world. The Islamic West divide, is largely due to interventionist politics of the US in Islamic countries, appearing as saviour of Nations. Once that thinking is in, then stereo types assault the world, and there are clear divisive forces, anti West, pro Islamic etc. In the process we have seen Afganistan and Iraq as clear cases of violence torn countries, where living every moment is not only a ghastly experience, but is the trauma of living day in and day out in the shadows of putrid violence, where a person may be killed any time.

Children especially encounter fear, morbidity and trauma in their lives. Even if they come out of such an experience, they cannot be the same, and may later on be perpetrators of violence themselves. Nothing could be more tragic and ghastly than this.

In India in Godhra and Gujarat the same was the case, religion intruding into politics at the behest of politicians, or those religious ideologues, who have been influenced by the politics of hatred against particular religious communities. This calls for a ban on politicians who have anything to do with religious bodies, and the reverse. At least that would be the first step to keep at bay inimical forces commingling the two for reasons of sheer hatred, and nothing else.

We have to fine tune dichotomies of religion, what is called culture and politics. Intermingling three can have dangerous overtones or undertones and very often these are exploited by leaders both political and spiritual. Religion is essentially very private and a matter of the heart. Making it too public or too organized can have dangerous consequences. In a secular country there is the freedom to practice any religion or to adopt it, but it must remain both essentially and quintessentially private. The moment public leaders talk about religion in order to whip sentiments then there can be chaos or disharmony. The point is how do we keep religion essentially a quiet affair devoid of public trappings and a matter of spiritual solace or rest. The same happens to culture. Religion and culture again are separate entities. The fact that Tagore’s compositions are the national anthems of two countries and one of them a Muslim country is an indication of how religion and culture can go untouched without commingling the two. Many a time we talk about Hindu culture when we in fact mean Hinduism per se. What we actually mean is that Hinduism is perhaps more a philosophy, a way of life than an organized religion. The intermix of religion and politics is dangerous for any professedly secular nation. Vote banks should not make their interference here, nor should the body politic of a nation be entangled with religious questions or issues which are covertly or for that matter overtly political.

Religion, politics and that entity called culture which in turn is a complex issue are largely apolitical. Let us leave it at that.

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