As someone who believes, albeit a little hopelessly these days, that there will one day be an Indian renaissance, I lose hope when the Sadhvi Pragya-type Hindu looms up before me. People like her and Yogi Adityanath represent the very opposite of the truly magnificent idea of the Sanatan Dharma.
The Sanatan Dharma is the only idea of religion that does not insist that it alone has all the answers and it alone has the single messenger and the single message from God. But, this is so sophisticated an idea of religion that it is often misinterpreted by religious and ritualistic Hindus. Especially Hindus whose faith rises out of a foundation of hate.
In a more enlightened time, Sadhvi Pragya would not have been allowed to ‘preach religion’, leave alone be a member of the Lok Sabha. So to give her a ticket to enter public life is puzzling and wrong. I am no fan of Digvijaya Singh but I hope he wins Bhopal so that she can be sent back to jail or obscurity or whichever poisonous little ashram she emerged from. Speaking of Digvijaya Singh, though, it is not possible to write another word without acknowledging that it is his kind of ‘secularism’ that has given birth to the slimy Hindutva lowlifes we see too much of these days. Only someone brought up with the Congress party’s deformed idea of secularism could have released a book whose title said that 26/11 was an RSS conspiracy.
This is still no excuse for Narendra Modi allowing people charged with terrorism to become candidates for the Lok Sabha. Sadhvi Pragya is the worst example of poisonous, hate-infused Hindutva, but she is not the only one. There are too many of her kind already in politics and Parliament. In the past five years they have spouted hatred and venom against Muslims, and the Prime Minister has not said a word of condemnation. He has spoken out against lynchings only twice, and that was when Hindutva vigilantes attacked Dalits and not Muslims.
These days I am routinely reviled for having supported Modi in this column. I believe I owe an explanation. My primary reason was because I was sick of the Imperial Dynasty and the democratic feudalism they spawned as their fundamental ideology. Feudalism is bad even if it is democratic feudalism. This peculiarly Indian genre of democracy has been very bad for India. It has turned Parliament into an exclusive sort of diners club that closes its doors to anyone who does not have membership by birth. So when Modi came along, it seemed as if he would allow the fresh winds of real democracy to drift into that hated enclave we call Lutyens Delhi.
There were two other reasons why I supported him. I believed that he would take India in an economic direction that would make the State withdraw gradually from the arena of commerce. He said himself in his last campaign that he did not believe that government had any business to be in business, and I believed him.
The last reason why I supported him was because I believe that an Indian renaissance is not just possible but necessary. This entails taking the best ideas from our ancient past and weaving them into an idea of modernity that would enable us to do what Japan has done brilliantly. The Japanese retained their identity and culture while embracing the important things that modernity offers.
In India, the failure to reform colonial education continues to produce Indians so colonised that they have no idea of what it means to be Indian.
So they use aggressive nationalism as a substitute without realising that there has to be much more to a new idea of India than playing the national anthem in cinemas, holding mass yoga sessions in public places and shouting Vande Mataram.
Instead of a renaissance, what we have seen happen in the past five years is the rise of a very ugly religiosity that is the direct reason for people like Sadhvi Pragya and Yogi Adityanath. These are people who know nothing about the religion their saffron robes represent. What is worse is that they have absolutely no idea of the civilisation that once gave India the world’s first universities and libraries. It was a civilisation that also produced the most profound and modern idea of religion, but religion was not all that it was about.
This ancient idea of Indian civilisation is best understood today by the Dalai Lama. And, he interprets it for the world as Tibetan Buddhism but always acknowledging that his knowledge comes from India. It is worst understood by the semi-literate sadhus and sadhvis that today we see too much of. They will end up destroying all chances of an Indian renaissance.
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh.
The column appeared in print under the headline: ‘Enough with these sadhvis’