Trading is for profit. Organized religion has also become a “for-profit” business. This is because organized religion and political agendas feed off each other. The religion of politics thrives when it has a symbiotic relationship with the politics of religion.
The politics of organized religion aim to increase its footprint, not necessarily by propagating its moral principles but by appealing to a person’s lowest instincts, especially fear of alleged threats to their faith. This makes the followers of this religion prey to causes remote from reality. Such emotional appeals make people anxious and vulnerable to propaganda. The religion of politics, for electoral advantage, supports this narrative. It helps to unite the community of a particular belief across caste and other fault lines. Those who belong to the minority community cannot benefit from such a symbiotic relationship because those in power cannot gain electoral advantage from such alleged threats.
Organized religious majorities have much to gain when those in power fuel the agendas of that faith. They then enter the corridors of power and begin, first by participating, then by setting national agendas. Such a parasitic relationship is corrosive to democratic structures.
In India, organized majority currents were visible even before 1947. They sought to assert themselves during our struggle for freedom. After Independence, these forces suffered a setback with the assassination of Gandhiji in January 1948. The RSS was subsequently banned because, contrary to its principles, it allegedly urged violence and engaged in violent activities. The ban imposed in February 1948 was lifted in July 1949. The Bharatiya Jan Sangh, formed in October 1951, passionately espoused the cause of the Hindu right but without much electoral success. It was assimilated into the BJP which was formed in April 1980. With the assassination of Indira Gandhi in October 1984 and new Lok Sabha elections, the BJP’s presence in the Lok Sabha was a measly two MPs. It was subsequently that new seeds of the unholy alliance between organized majority faith and politics in India were sown when a BJP supremo launched a Rath Yatra in September 1990 to educate the people about the Ayodhya movement. . This has translated into dramatic dividends for the BJP.
After tasting blood, the lines between state and religion have blurred somewhat under a BJP dispensation. With the rise to power of Narendra Modi, the state unabashedly began to propagate majority religious agendas, with several government initiatives aligning themselves with these plans. Courts have also prioritized matters such as “triple talaq” over those that were much more urgent. The Lynch crowds had a field day with little to fear from law and order officials. The police hesitated to take action against the accused. Instead, they sometimes imposed cases on victims. Organizations like the ABVP, Bajrang Dal and a host of others have gone wild with the certainty that they will gain state protection for their provocative and often illegal actions. From baiting members of the minority community to overt acts of violence, with the state reluctant to prosecute, these spoilers believed they could act with impunity. The BJP leadership has also openly mocked the minority community. From ‘abba jaan’ to references to ‘shamshaan and kabristan’ and ‘goli maro…’, all of these beards have become points of reference in public discourse. Major players in the mainstream media and social media platforms who are said to be funded and armed by savvy technocrats and ‘bhakts’ give impetus to such divisive statements that vitiate the atmosphere. The objective is to communitize questions of faith.
Having succeeded in its evangelical zeal, the Modi government strategically appointed soft bureaucrats to key positions to do government bidding, helping it push forward its divisive agenda. Key constitutional posts are awarded either to “like-minded” people or those committed to its agenda. The RSS has found its place in the sun as its fundamental goals continue to translate into action. The Hindutva agenda is slowly but surely coming true. Textbooks are modified according to the political priorities of the school. Heroes of the past are buried and historical facts reinterpreted to serve the political priorities of the establishment. Historical monuments are bleached with a cloak of modernity or erased by stripping the past of its heritage.
It has also served the rise of a culture, whose architecture is to dominate, to fuel nationalism as the embodiment of virtue, a nationalism that encapsulates elements of the majority cultural agenda that seeks obedience. From this narrative emerges the concept of “us versus them”. This in turn fuels the nationalist fervor of conformity. Thus, the refrain is that the only way to make the nation strong is to make the majority culture prevail, which has become exclusive. Violence by word and sometimes action becomes a legitimate instrument to ensure the unity and forward movement of the nation, because dissent, they say, tends to block progress. Asking questions and organizing peaceful demonstrations to seek answers are seen as anti-national activities.
Organized religion working in tandem with the state results in a concentration of power in the hands of a few, as they are seen to represent the collective wisdom of the majority. The distribution of largesse to a privileged few becomes the norm without anyone questioning it. When state power and national wealth belong to a select few, then totalitarian structures emerge.
Organized religion pays little respect to the values of religion. He likes the trappings of power and all that goes with it.
History has witnessed that whenever state and church authorities have acted in unison, it has led to violent results. The state’s hunger for territory and wealth worked in tandem with the fervor of religion to expand its footprint. This is what we are witnessing today.
Senior lawyer, Congress leader and member of Rajya Sabha