Saturday, June 04, 2011

Freedom was won and our nation built by towering spiritual leaders

Enter the Godmen Malavika Sangghvi, Business Standard - Mumbai June 04, 2011, 0:17 IST
Here’s a trick question, the answer to which lies at the end of this column. An Indian spiritual leader said the following words. Can you guess who?
“I say, of the Congress, then, this, — that its aims are mistaken, that the spirit in which it proceeds towards their accomplishment is not a spirit of sincerity and whole-heartedness, and that the methods it has chosen are not the right methods, and the leaders in whom it trusts, not the right sort of men to be leaders; — in brief, that we are at present the blind led, if not by the blind, at any rate by the one-eyed.”

Whereas a shallow look at the role men of the robe have played in Indian public life may indicate that they have by and large been concerned with inner growth and social empowerment, if we look beyond the last few decades we will see that our Freedom was won and our nation built by towering spiritual leaders.
Sri Aurobindo was a freedom fighter, a revolutionary and a political activist jailed for his political views even while he embarked on his great spiritual journey. Swami Vivekananda concerned himself with not only inner growth and personal evolution but influenced political thought. (Gandhi was known to say that his whole life was an effort to bring into actions the ideas of Vivekananda.)
Rabindranath Tagore was known as much for his spiritualism as his political views. And of course, the greatness of Gandhi lay in the fact that in him politics and spirituality were synthesised to such a great degree that where one began and the other ended was never clear.
In this context, what Baba Ramdev is attempting to do deserves serious examination. I hold no brief for Ramdev; his views on most subjects, especially homosexuality, militate severely against mine.
But this does not mean that I dismiss him or his role in the coming weeks. The Indian public has thronged to his side and the spin masters in the Congress have realised that the Indian public, unlike that of other nations, has a unique relationship and reverence for spiritual activists that’s built into its DNA.
That so far our Godmen have been busy achieving nirvana from the backseats of their Rolls-Royces or gathering international devotees through their ever-increasing bag of tricks has been fortunate for our politicians who’ve till now only had to contend with each other and the growing despair and disillusionment of their electorate.
Now with the political initiation of the maniacally-twitching Baba and the launch of his party, there’s a serious new challenge. No surprise then in its leaders’ dashes to airports and their softly-softly approach to the TV evangelist.
Men of the robe have played substantive roles in nation-building in the past and there’s no reason they can’t again. What’s more, the great elephant in the room, unspoken of in these hyper politically-correct times is the Hindu card.
Anna Hazare and his cohorts (even Swami Agnivesh) just didn’t represent the Hindu card the way Ramdev seems to do. And with a ruling party accused of practicing pseudo-secularism and appeasing its Muslim vote bank, along with the double jeopardy of its chairperson being a Roman Catholic by birth, is it any wonder that Hindu leaders like Ramdev are given the import they are?
And by the way, that critique of the Congress was by Sri Aurobindo. Malavika Sangghvi is a Mumbai-based writer