Rajendra Pal Gautam was, until he resigned a week or so ago, a minister in the Delhi Cabinet. He follows the Buddhist faith.
He was present at a recent oath-taking ceremony where thousands of citizens decided to enter the Buddhist religion by reciting the 22-point vow necessary for initiation into Buddhism. That vow includes renouncing the worship of the pantheon of gods held sacred by Sanatan Hindus.
The theological and social reasons as to why such an oath is taken by those wishing to enter the Buddhist faith are elaborately set out in a book by Kancha Ilaiah, titled Why I am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Cultue, and Political Economy (1996).
B.R. Ambedkar, chairman of the drafting committee of the constitution, had taken the same vow when he chose to leave the Hindu fold in the last year of his life, 1956, along with some 6,00,000 fellow Indians.
But of course, we hear that a case under stern sections of the law has been registered against Gautam for “dishonouring Hindu gods and hurting Hindu sentiments”.
That the constitution of India guarantees the citizen the freedom to “profess, practice, and propagate” her religious faith is entirely lost sight of in this new assault on the covenant which Narendra Modi once called his “only holy book”
Brahminical Hinduism passes off the Buddha as yet another avatar of the god, Vishnu, who forms one of the three of the triumvirate Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, even as the ruling BJP has always remained very sympathetic to the Tibetans and the Dalai Lama who call themselves Buddhist.
Historically, however, Buddhists recall the atrocities committed on them by Brahmins, one reason why Buddhism born in India, had to take residence in neighbouring countries.
Such, however, is India’s current zeitgeist that not only has Gautam resigned from the cabinet as a political necessity, keeping the forthcoming assembly elections in mind, but his boss, the chief minister of the Union territory of Delhi, has felt obliged to make the loudest protestations yet of his being a devoted Hanuman bhakt – indeed, a sort of avatar of Lord Krishna also to boot because he was born, he says on the auspicious day the god Krishna was born, noting that he would slay the contemporary version of the god’s evil uncle, Kans, as the god had done.
This is a troubling instance of how politics in India has taken on the shape of religious crusades.
He further went on to cap his speech with full-throated invocations of the slogan “Jai Shri Ram”– a sort of political hallmark of the Hindutva right wing.
There has been no protest yet by the AAP party in regard to the case lodged against the poor erstwhile minister for simply expressing his constitutional right.
On the very same day, another mass gathering was addressed by an MP of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Parvesh Verma.
In that address, he can be heard saying that the only way to fix “them” (euphemism for Muslims) was to boycott the community in toto – not to transact business with them by buying from their shops/vendors, and to deny all avenues of labour to their members seeking work.
Such a call may remind some students of the history of how Jews were ostracised in Nazi Germany.
However, for once, the government in charge of policing and prosecution in the Union territory of Delhi (namely, the Modi government) thought it fit to institute a case against the gathering for unauthorised assembly under the innocuous Section 188 of CrPC.
The honourable member of parliament who has sworn by the constitution of India never to discriminate between citizens/communities on the basis of caste, creed, religion, ethnicity, gender, language, etc., has not been arraigned under any provision of the law.
In other words, the politician who merely followed his constitutional right finds himself an accused under severe provisions of a misapplied law, and the other who incited a mass gathering to sectarian hate and bigotry finds himself a free man, at least till the time of writing.
We may recall how, in the wake of the riots in northeast Delhi, another scion of the right-wing, a minister to boot, had incited a crowd to yell “shoot the traitors” but remains scot-free to this day.
The instances cited in this piece are of course merely two or three among a plethora of similarly discriminatory exercises of state power, but perhaps underscore the appropriation of India’s institutional mechanisms more starkly than many.
India is now alas a Manichaean state: there are the good, and there are the evil ones; the good are those who offer allegiance to the right wing in any shape or form, as satraps of any one of the hydra-headed governmental or non-governmental organisations. The evil ones are those who hold views and beliefs different from or are critical of the right wing.
The state exists to protect and not-too-subtly patronise the first, and to hound and “fix” the latter.
A substantial “rising” middle-class opinion thinks this arrangement is most suited to the glory of the realm. What else is there to say?
Badri Raina taught at Delhi University. This originally appeared in the Wire