On the record: Intolerance has grown… I don’t see any difference between one political party and another, says rationalist KS Bhagwanhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/on-the-record-intolerance-has-grown-i-dont-see-any-difference-between-one-political-party-and-another-says-rationalist-ks-bhagwan/

On the record: Intolerance has grown… I don’t see any difference between one political party and another, says rationalist KS Bhagwan

K.S. Bhagwan, a rationalist and retired English professor from Maharaja’s College in Mysore, talks to Udit Misra about the death threat he received from a Bajrang Dal functionary in the wake of M.M. Kalburgi’s murder.

Why do you think you have been targeted?
It is difficult to guess because there are so many such outfits. There is no way to say for sure and I do not want to mislead the public. So one should wait for the police to clarify first. But it must be said that these people are fundamentalists and narrow-minded. They do not support scientific inquiry. And this is a dangerous trend. Intolerance has grown in the past few years.

Why do you think that has happened?
Speaking of Karnataka, I can say that during the 1980s and 1990s we had very strong organisations such as the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti and the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha. These mass organisations stood for democratic values and scientific enquiry. However, both of them have splintered into several factions and hence lost their influence.The weakening of such organisations, which inculcated an atmosphere of debate and reason, is one of the key reasons why fundamentalism is rising.

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Is it a countrywide phenomenon in your opinion? If so, why?
Yes, it is. Fundamentalists seem to have gained confidence since Narendra Modi took over as prime minister. They think his government will safeguard their interests. But I feel that our prime minister is a very honourable man, a very sensible man. After all, when the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said that the Gita is India’s national book, the prime minister intervened to correct her and said that the Constitution is India’s national book.

What is the nature of this fundamentalism? Is it essentially about one religion versus the other?
Of course, there is a communal angle. No less a person than of Mahatma Gandhi’s stature was assassinated. So there is something quite wrong with the Indian psyche when it comes to the religious question.

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However, it is very difficult to isolate and discuss the issue. In our society, sometimes it is the caste divide and sometimes communalism that manifests in fundamentalism. It is all mixed up. Indeed, a serious problem is the clash between caste divisions and democracy. The two systems are antithetical. While democracy essentially stands for equal rights and opportunities, the system of castes militates against it.

You talked about a perception, however misplaced, such fundamentalists may have about Modi’s government. Do you think this fundamentalism is limited to one political party alone?
I don’t see any difference between one political party and another. I don’t want to politicise the issue. But law should be applied strictly if someone is found guilty.

A common refrain in such matters is that people’s religious sentiments are hurt. What do you make of that?
Swami Vivekanand criticised all religions, including Hinduism. In fact, he criticised Hinduism far more than even B.R. Ambedkar. But neither he nor his guru, Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, discriminated among people. The idea that religion is unscientific is incorrect and flows from a flawed understanding of what religion is. Vivekanand said that true religion is science itself. He called it “spiritual sadhna”. Paramhamsa’s gospel is the best book on spirituality. But 95 per cent of people hardly understand these things — they hardly know religion. They only follow rituals and superstitions. The essential point is that one should be honest about religion. A spiritual person doesn’t discriminate among people.

What do you think you have said or written that may have disturbed people?
I believe no right thinking person would question my work. I always invite people who disagree with me to come and debate with me. Either I will get convinced or I will convince you.

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