Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Ignoring religion in politics is a mistake - III

The best example of someone using religion in politics is Gandhi. All his activities including politics were governed by the spirit of religion. 'You must watch my life, how I live, eat, sit, talk, behave in general - The sum total of all those in me is my religion.' He said that if religion is concerned with practical life, it is also concerned with politics. Religion, morality and ethics, for him, are closely interwoven. Similarly, politics was nothing but a major instrument of service to the people totally free from all games of power politics. Gandhi realized that he couldn't do even social work without politics.

Gandhi looked on religion in terms of experience rather than ritual practice. His perception of religion was not in any way connected with denominational religion. He finds major religious traditions giving people the moral material to frame their choices as they go about their daily lives. He does not accept the idea of a single 'best' tradition and maintains that each religious tradition speaks in its way of the shared experiences and problems faced by people living in that community.

He didn’t believe in just talk about religion but kept reminding people that actions speak louder than words. Things had to be done rather than merely contemplated. The exclusive cultivation of inwardness leads one to neglect the practical aspects of life which does not necessarily have a beneficial effect on society. He therefore does not advocate a retreat into the ‘cave of the heart’ like Indian holy men but the power of religion to move hearts must be used to bring people together when a course of action is being planned.

He re-interpreted Hinduism so drastically that it is not recognizable to many Hindus. Hinduism, for Gandhi, was not exclusive, but a broad and inclusive faith, a tolerant and open-minded religion, accommodating the best in other religions. He was ready to detect the same insight in men of  different faiths so he says, 'Khan Saheb Abdul Gaffar Khan derives his belief in non-violence from the Koran.' He retained his eclectic view on religion throughout his life. Here are a few quotes to show where he stood on religion:
  • Hind Swaraj - Religions are different roads converging to the same point. What does it matter if we take different roads as long as we reach the same goal? In reality, there are as many religions as there are individuals.
  • Speech in September 1927 - I believe that all the great religions of the world are true more or less. I say “more or less” because I believe that everything that the human hand touches, by reason of the very fact that human beings are imperfect, becomes imperfect. 
  • Before March 12, 1940 - I do not regard God as a person. Truth for me is God . . . God is an Idea.   
  • The Story of My Experiments with Truth - ..my devotion to Truth has drawn me into the field of politics; and I can say without the slightest hesitation, and yet in all humility, that those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.”
  • October 1927, Young India - I do not believe in people telling others of their faith, especially with a view to conversion. Faith does not admit of telling. It has to be lived and then it becomes self-propagating. 
  • September 1946"If I were a dictator, religion and state would be separate. I swear by my religion. I will die for it. But it is my personal affair. The state has nothing to do with it. The state would look after your secular welfare, health, communications, foreign relations, currency and so on, but not your or my religion. That is everybody's personal concern!" 
The heart can cause passions that can result in a course of action that can cause trouble. But to say that religion always causes conflict is an overstatement. All religions, even the most tolerant ones, can be used or misused and can include as well as exclude. After Independence and Gandhi's removal from the political scene (much to the relief of who Ashis Nandy calls the 'moderns', who were wedded to secular statecraft), the intelligentsia abandoned the field of religion as something that the poor, illiterate villagers pursued.

In the absence of the tolerant, inclusive interpretation of religion that Gandhi had provided, various regressive and exclusive versions of religion sprang up in the public sphere. By the 1980s these forces had become dominant and started speaking on behalf of all their co-religionists. This was easy since there were no competing ideas in the marketplace of religion. The few noises that the intelligentsia made giving an alternative interpretation of religion seemed merely reactive.

In his essay An Anti-secularist Manifesto, Ashis Nandy writes about these regressive forces: ‘Instead of making religious use of politics, they make political use of religion, turning it into an instrument of political mobilization within a psephocratic model – a model in which elections and elected ‘kings’ dominate the system.’ Instead of being a means of expressing cultural values, religion has become a legitimate instrument for perusing personal and group self-interest. Instead of private faith and public agnosticism, what has become dominant is public faith and private agnosticism.

Gandhi once said that 'religions are only as good or as bad as their professors make them out to be'. Hence Raimundo Panikkar said - 'the separation between religion and politics is lethal and their identification suicidal'.

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