Ahmedabad: Since Wednesday afternoon when news broke that Rahul Gandhi’s name (along with that of Ahmed Patel) had been entered on the register meant for non-Hindus visiting Somnath temple, the dominating chatter here has been about the Congress vice-president – is he a Hindu, is he a ‘janeu-dhari’ Hindu or is he a charlatan pretending to be what he is not in order to influence voters in Gujarat?
The term ‘innocent politician’ is an oxymoron; the two words, ‘innocent’ and ‘politician’, do not go together, at least not in India where all politicians are deemed to be guilty of political cynicism until proven innocent. So, barring Congress supporters, none is willing to give Rahul the benefit of doubt over his faith.
In an ideal world politics would be free of religion and the religious identity of politicians would be irrelevant for voters exercising their electoral choice. But we do not live in an ideal world; we live in a deeply and overtly religious country. This would be largely true for most democracies – in the US, in Europe and closer home, in Nepal and Sri Lanka, to cite a few examples.
Mahatma Gandhi believed “politics bereft of religion are absolute dirt” and that without religion, the idea of polity is quite unimaginable. Gandhi’s reference was not to a politician’s faith of convenience (what Nitish Kumar eloquently described as “politics of tilak and topi”) but to religion as a moral force.
At the same time, unless raked up by an individual in public life, his or her faith does not become a matter of public debate and scrutiny. Till Rahul Gandhi declared “I am a Shiv Bhakt”, nobody really cared bhakti for which god or goddess appealed to him the most. But having made his public declaration of faith, he cannot claim immunity from scrutiny and skepticism.
It would be perfectly in order for Gujaratis to ask whether his being a ‘Shiv Bhakt’ has anything to do with the fact that Somnath occupies a special place in the popular imagination in Gujarat. Had he chosen to do course-correction and abandoned the Muslim card before the UP election, would he have declared that he’s a ‘Ram Bhakt’?
A politician who visits temples (or any place of worship) regularly does not attract either comment or criticism beyond the clichéd arguments by the dwindling tribe of ‘secularists’ who have always imagined India to be what it is not. When a politician takes to visiting temples, as Rahul has done during the Gujarat election campaign, it attracts both comment and criticism.
There is nothing wrong if Rahul Gandhi’s name is entered on the register for non-Hindus at Somnath temple. He does not have to be a Hindu to either visit a temple or hold public office. But he does have to be honest – being untruthful about one’s faith reflects the absence of integrity in that person.
Or let’s presume that the entry was by mistake and Rahul is indeed a Hindu, what should have been his or his spokesperson’s response? It should have been a brief, one sentence assertion of faith – ‘Rahul Gandhi is as much a Hindu as millions of other Hindus’. That would reflect a certain maturity and appreciation of the basic precepts of Sanatan Dharma.
Instead, the Congress spokesman has responded by saying that not only is Rahul a Hindu, he is a ‘janeu-dhari’ Hindu. Implicit in this declaration is that only a twice-born Hindu is a true Hindu; that Nehru-Gandhi dynasts are not one and the same as the masses; that Rahul is entitled to an exalted status by virtue of birth; and, that those who believe they are destined to rule India are at the top of the caste pyramid, everybody else is way down the hierarchy.
Nothing can be more offensive and risible than this.
(Kanchan Gupta is Commissioning Editor & Commentator, ABP News. Columnist. Blogger. He tweets @KanchanGupta)
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