Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Pilgrimage into the Future via the Past (Visit to Nagpur and Pune in 2012)

Swami Bodhananda

Four ideas are competing for India's soul - The Gandhian, the Hindutva, the Secularists and the Romantics. Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave and  Anna Hazare belong to the Gandhian tribe; while RSS, BJP, VHP, Shiv Sena and a whole gang of swamis and gurus and their organizations champion the Hindutva, the feckless secularists include a wide spectrum of opportunists like the congress, caste based parties like BSP, SP, RJD, religion based parties AKali Dal and Muslim League, regional parties like DMK, AIDMK, TDP, BJD, TMC, western minded middle class, academia, media; and the Romantics include Communist revolutionaries of all hues, environmentalists, human right activists and the  NGOs that are supported by international charities.

I, in my humble effort to work out a vision for India in the context of the global village, undertook a journey through the heart of India, Nagpur and Pune, visiting a host of institutions representing the above streams of thought. The journey was between March 26 and 31, 2012. We were three in our group- besides me, Dr. Sangeetha Menon, Professor, Consciousness Studies, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore; Dr. Gopal Singh, who along with his wife Kamala, runs a charitable school for poor girls in the village of Shivapuri, near Varanasi. This unique pilgrimage took us to Indian Revenue Service Academy, Ramtek Temple, Paunar Ashram, Wardha Ashram, Ambedkar Deeksha Bhumi and RSS headquarters- all in Nagpur; Papal Seminary and Aga Khan Palace in Pune and  Raelgaon Siddhi Village, in Maharashtra. And the pilgrimage culminated with an hour long meeting with anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare.

The 160 or so IRS trainees were bright but tired and indifferent and some of them told me that they were there because they couldn't get into the prestigious IAS, IFS or IPS. But they also knew that there was power, money and influence, though not much glamour, in being a tax officer and such mundane thoughts comforted them. My lecture was on the theme 'Ethics in Public Service'. Some trainees took active interest in the follow up discussion. They were all concerned with falling standards of ethics in public life, but were more worried about their career prospects. Human resource development without supporting value based institutions would be a waste in well intentioned efforts. These young bright trainees may not grow up in their life and career as great icons of ethical and compassionate behaviour, but I could see a youthful wish in them to be one of that kind if the system allows them.  The dean of the academy, a passionate, well meaning, disciplinarian, sounded frustrated, and finds his solace in spiritual practices.  The ambiance of the place was calm and soothing, ancient trees brooding over gloomy buildings, built in Mughal style to protect the inhabitants from the dry tropical heat.

Our next destination was the Paunar Ashram, on the bank of Dhaam river, the final resting place of Acharya Vinoba Bhave, where he spent in relative silence the last 12 years of his eventful life. Vinoba lived for 87 years and died fasting after a mild heart attack. 'Let me drop the body, before the body drops me' he was rumoured to have said. Vinoba, who appeared on the cover of Time Magazine, who won the first Magsaysay Award (1958), was recipient of the highest Indian award Bharat Ratna, was a frail man, suffering from chronic stomach ulcer and diarrhea and who lived mostly on honey, yogurt and milk.

Presently few old women associates of Vinoba live in the ashram. They grow their food and maintain a gosala with lovely looking healthy cows and calves. The head of the community is a pleasant and resourceful lady running listlessly hither and thither. Another very old lady suffering from slight dementia repeated the same sentence about Vinoba and seemed stuck in some forgotten past.  Another lady appeared feisty in a couldn't care less mode, and she it was told walked all over India alone. An Indian looking Japanese lady flitted in and out apparently indifferent but curious about the new visitors.  A lost tribe stuck in a time warp. Or may be living in a futuristic environmentally friendly community!

Vinoba was a Sanskrit scholar and well versed in Hindu scriptures. And he instantly connected with the villagers with his simple oratory peppered with anecdotes, stories and practical wisdom. Vinoba was a silent worker assisting Gandhi in India's freedom struggle as a 'satyagrahi'. He was also part of Gandhi's fight against untouchability. Vinoba found his true calling in the Bhudan Movement ( Bhudan Yagna) which he started in 1951. The idea was to bring a bloodless revolution in the farm sector by effecting redistribution of agricultural land in India. The inspiration came from a land lord in Telangana who donated 100 acres of land to Vinoba to be distributed among destitute dalit untouchables. Telangana was in the paroxysm of a violent land grab movement by the landless tenants instigated by the undivided Indian Communist party. Indian Government was clueless and world powers feared another violent revolution in the making. Vinoba was convinced that violence was not the right method for land re-distribution; though he believed that collective ownership of village land by panchayats and right of cultivation allotted according the number of members in a family were the only way to bring peace and prosperity to India's 700,000 poverty stricken villages.  The land lord's voluntary act of giving up land opened a new window of insight in Vinoba's alert sagely mind.  He saw the Bhudan Yagna in vivid colours in his inner eye. Land like water, air, and sunshine should be free for all, he declared.

Vinoba was tireless. He would walk every day 10 --15 miles from village to next village begging for land in the name of God and the poor of India. In 13 years he covered 20,000 miles and collected 1.5 million acres of land, far short of his dream of collecting 5 million acres. And most of the land he got was barren and uncultivable, while some land had no clear titles. Finally there was only 50,000 acres of fertile land that could be distributed. But who will ensure that deserving landless alone will get the land, for Vinoba didn't believe in cumbersome administration and organizations. He went wherever the wind took him striking roots nowhere. Not an ideal mind set for organized sustained work. The Sarva Seva Sangh that he organized was constituted of possessionless, passive idealists. They were innocent of the ways of the world. And when the SSS under Jayaprakash Narain, who made jivadan to the Bhudan Yagna,  took to the streets in 1974,  Vinoba severed all connections with it. If dreams were horses we all would have been riders. By 1965 the much acclaimed Bhudan movement collapsed and a sulking Vinoba retreated to Paunar ashram.

Unbeknown to him, Vinoba played a big role in defeating the communist movement in India. He touched the hearts of pious villagers and their passive impulses and the seeds of violence could not sprout in the indolent soil of India.

Vinoba was the disembodied soul of India, very alluring, but ghostly. 
Our next stop was Sevagram-Wardha Ashram. Mahatma Gandhi set up this ashram in 1936 in three hundred acres of land gifted to him by an admiring business man. Gandhi lived here till 1946. This ashram was much more lively than Paunar and school girls giggled perched on mud plastered verandas. A Tamilian ashramite, Sankar, middle aged and wiry, took us around, till it was time for his spinning chore. He narrated to us, his eyes glowing under a prominent forehead, the philosophy and life style of Gandhi and his followers. Shri. Jha from Bihar, the secretary of the ashram, was friendly and loquacious, critical of everything under the sun, and pretending to possess the ultimate answers to all human and social problems. One irredeemable irritating habit of Gandhians is the unabashed claim of omniscience. They are free from self doubt, curiosity and inquisitiveness. Why should they, for didn't Gandhi offer answers to all possible questions and wasn't he sort of last prophet? Gandhi himself lived with nagging self doubt and was ready to admit his mistakes and was open minded in thinking as a truth seeker. Gandhi also had abiding values which he wouldn't compromise on opportunistic considerations and short term benefits. Gandhism and Gandhians do not often do justice to Gandhi. 

When Gandhi first set foot on this village, 8 miles from Wardha, it was a snake infested wooded settlement of thousand people. He asked and got permission from the villagers to settle down there and built the first hut, 20 feet by 15 feet,  mud and cow dung plastered and hay thatched at the cost of then 100 rupees. Gandhi and his 20 followers, both genders, cooked, ate and slept in that cramped space. Sankar told me that even Nehru, when he was visiting, had to do all the chores and sleep in the same hut where the rest slept. Later Gandhi, Kasturba, Mira Behan and Mahadev Desai got separate huts. A Sanskrit scholar stricken with leprosy also stayed in the ashram. Gandhi was a stickler for discipline, and he established his unquestioned personal authority by demolishing all structures and hierarchies and making his punishing self discipline as the ultimate standard. Gandhi was an anarchist, a radical rebel and an unimpeachable dictator. In his Hind Swaraj, a political document that he wrote on  a sea  voyage from England to South Africa, in 1908, the 39 year old Gandhi denounced parliamentary democracy and all gifts of modern civilization like railways, telegraphs, post offices, police and army, and the profession of law and medicine. Gandhi exhorted his followers to live a life of voluntary poverty, living by manual labour, and not going beyond where their hands and legs can reach. He did not see any need for lawyers and doctors, police and army, prisons, schools and hospitals, markets and banking and elections and Parliament in such a society.   He called that system of self organizing communities as swaraj/ramraj, a life of self sufficiency and blissfully living in the bare spirit.

Gandhi's 'nayi talim' project, an education system that prepares students for leading a self sufficient village life,  --growing  food, spinning for cloth, cooking simple meals, getting just enough reading and writing skills-- though an effective political weapon against the cultural domination of the British colonialists was found impractical, out dated, and unsuitable for modern life and was totally and scornfully rejected by Gandhi's sworn followers who ascended to political power in free India. The Nayitalim School that Gandhi established in Sevagram Ashram flourished for a while but is almost dysfunctional now. Tagore's Santiniketan that caters to middle class cultural sensitivities is more successful and functional even today.

Gandhi led a busy ashram life engaged in village and dalit uplift programs. However he had a hot line with the Viceroy though he had resigned from the congress and active politics. Gandhi’s routine was: morning sun bath followed by body massage then cooking, spinning, nursing the sick and lifting night soil from the village. Gandhi was such a magnet that ordinary Indians as well as politicians and dignitaries made a beeline to this remote village to take counsel from him. Gandhi was the living soul of India and the conscience keeper of the world. 'Gandhi is too good to live, India will be free to pursue her destiny without him, therefore he must die' was the chilling argument of Nathuram Godse who assassinated Gandhi.

India though worships Gandhi and the Indian Republic takes its spiritual inspiration from the Mahatma, Indians have abandoned Gandhi in their socio-political and economic thinking and organizing. That is the irony of Gandhi's teaching: its enduring value makes it impractical and irrelevant in the daily life of people and nations. Gandhi today is only a reference point on ethical issues and in matters of social justice. Gandhi represented freedom of being and socially useful disciplined doing. India is one in being, but many in doing. Only a sanyasi can touch the soul of India, a person of action, a general or business man or politician become divisive and sectarian. Gandhi perfected the art of action in actionless-ness. Gandhi is a mighty peak to be gazed at and admired from a distance. Indians have no more value for Gandhi, but the world is discovering Gandhi's value and his values.  Gandhi was a world citizen who happened to be an Indian, his fight for India's freedom was  just a footnote to his struggles for personal freedom-freedom from want and freedom to want. Gandhi's freedom was freedom for all based on justice for all-sarvodaya. Today Sevagram looked just a dishevelled nest with the bird flown away.

I made it a point to visit Ambedkar's Deeksha Bhumi to imbibe the spirit of Ambedkar and cleanse myself from the sin of untouchability practiced by my forefathers. The rise of Abedkar and his position in the Indian Republic is amble evidence that an intelligent hard working individual can break through social barriers and climb higher echelons of power and influence in the Hindu society. Ambedkar had some initial advantages being the son (14th) of a British army personal. He could study in good schools though he had to go through the indignity of sitting separate from upper caste Hindu class mates. But such experiences only hardened his determination to excel in studies. He acquired two doctorates, one in philosophy from Columbia University, New York and the other in Economics from London along with a barrister degree in law.

By the time Ambedkar, coated-booted-suited, returned in 1924, at the age of 33, India was in ferment and Gandhi was in the helm of affairs. The new democratic and egalitarian values that he imbibed from the west fired Ambedkar's imagination and made his hurt much more intolerable and resentment acute. Gandhi's anti-untouchability movement looked comical and cosmetic without substance and condescending to Ambedkar, who rejected the reference ‘harijan', children of god, to Dalits. 'Are not others children of god? Are they devil’s children' asked Ambedkar rhetorically and often embarrassing those who used the term. Ambedkar organized Dalits and fought for the right of temple entry and access to public wells and educational institutions. He was pessimistic about a change of heart in the upper caste Hindus. He burnt copies of Manusmriti, (partly in an act of juvenile desperation and partly to force a confrontation,) which canonical text according to him provided the ideological justification for caste discrimination. I shudder to think of such an act today, as fundamentalists roam freely with their suicide bombs and fatwas. On the contrary the upper caste Hindus gladly accepted Ambedkar as the chairman of the constitution drafting committee and the Indian Constitution is a lasting monument for Hindu adaptability and resilience. Ambedkar found no future for Dalits in the Hindu fold and famously declared," I was born a Hindu over which I had no control, but I shall not die a Hindu”. That promise he fulfilled by converting into Buddhism along with 50,000 followers on the Buddha Poornima Day on October 14, 1954. Ambedkar’s views on Hindu orthodoxy were similar to that of Buddha. He rejected caste divisions and caste based discrimination, the conception of God in the human form, elaborate rituals and Brahmin religious dominance. Religious, political and social leaders like Dayananda Sarasvati, Rajaram Mohan Roy and Jawaharlal Nehru did the same on those issues.

At heart Ambedkar loved Hinduism and India (his wife was from the upper caste Brahmin community) and it was that secret respect that made Ambedkar give up his demand for a separate electorate for Dalits and settle for reserved seats for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, included in the 9th schedule of the constitution for affirmative state action.  Gandhi fasted against the Ramsay Mc Donald Communal Award 1932, granting separate electorates for each minority- Dalits, Sikhs, Christians and Muslims. Though the award was in consonance with Ambedkar's demand, he changed his stand under intense pressure and settled for reserved seats for Dalits according the Poona Pact that he had with fasting Gandhi. Ambedkar acted with responsibility and foresight, unlike the stubborn and short sighted Muhammad Ali Jinnah who fought for and won a separate homeland for Muslims whose disastrous consequences we still suffer. Ambedkar was made the law minister in the first Nehru cabinet, but resigned after disagreements on the proposed Hindu Code Bill in 1951. Ambedkar died peacefully in sleep on Oct. 14, 1956.

Today we find Ambedkar statues in every nook and corner of India. Ambedkar followers are in power in many states and Dalits have representation in all government institutions at par with their proportion in the population.  It was Ambedkar's vision, sense of justice and knowledge of history, law and economics that saved India from disintegration and anarchy. I consider Ambedkar an incarnation of Vyasa, the fisher women's son, who laid the foundation of Hinduism as we know it today. Grateful Indians would remember Ambedkar as one of the founding fathers of modern India along with Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and Rajagopalachari.  

The Deeksha Bumi monument was built in the shape of a stupa and Ambedkar's ashes are kept there. Thousands of people, mainly Dalits, visit the place as a center of pilgrimage. Ambedkar is today revered like a Bodhisattva by the Dalits. The masses replace one god with another god, but there will always be a god figure to relate to and pray and make sense of this chaotic and apparently senseless world.
The RSS head quarters we visited next was a total disappointment. I was expecting an imposing building with volunteers in khakki and topi running around, in unsmiling goose steps. What I saw was shabby blocks of buildings added one to other without any design. The playground in front and a dilapidated wall and gate indicated that a palace once stood in this place. There were not many people in the building. The secretary who talked with us was incurious and was only interested in blurting out what he was supposed to know and say. He was uncomfortable when I tried to engage in a discussion. The Hegdewar Museum was quite informative and was a reminder of the suffering our forefathers underwent in their struggle against the British. Later they took us to their new building complex- an L shaped series of large bare rooms. The common toilets were stinking. Kitchen was filthy and I saw a few women squatting on the floor cutting vegetables. The Samadhi being built for Hegdewar, the Sangh founder, was imposing but lacked taste. Guru Golvalker's final resting place in the same compound was nondescript. The auditorium on the side of the Samadhi was huge, but again unkempt and disorderly. This complex conformed to what I have seen in pictures but felt like a giant without sensibility or humour. The tall young man who was the care taker of the complex was sincere, simple and active, but without self doubt and reflection.  

There is no wonder why the RSS is lost and clueless. The Rashtriya Svayam Svak Sangh (RSS) and the Communist Party of China (CPC) were founded on the same year 1928, but CPC revolutionised China and made that ungovernable nation into the envy of the world in 85 years where as the RSS is still dreaming the lotus eater's dream. RSS puzzlingly remained impotent when their protégé BJP got power in 1997 and their clever pretext was that they were only a cultural organization. RSS lacked a socio-geo-political and economic strategy for India.   But that doesn't make RSS irrelevant. They are a resource that India can draw upon in severe crisis situations. They will remain like a bacterium in India's body politic--active when India is weak, passive otherwise.  RSS can also be a drag, their reactionary ways some times threatening creative expressions, scientific pursuits and socio-political innovations. India has no option but to live with this grand old lady in its household.  

From Nagpur we flew to Pune. There we stayed in a Jesuit Monastery. Fr. Kuruvilla picked us from the airport. This facility is called Papal Seminary and is 60 years old. About 800 novices study there for their degree in theology and philosophy. Later they will fan out to preach and serve people. What attracted me were their altars which are adaptations of Hindu motifs. Christ on the cross is overshadowed by paintings symbolising five elements as the source of everything. Christ was also depicted like little Krishna lying on a peepal leaf sucking his toe. But here unimaginatively the Christ shown is a big man not a baby. I appreciate Christians trying hard to adapt to Hindu customs, practices, symbols and motifs. But the whole thing looked as unappealing as a crow trying to be a peacock.  To immerse into the spirit of India Christians will have to change their world view and motivation for being religious. Later the father who spoke in the mass tried to compare Christianity with eastern religions and passionately but unconvincingly tried to prove its superiority.  Evangelical religions are like big corporations--they sell Christ. Fr. Kuruvilla was a fine gentleman- Secretly admiring liberal Hinduism and publically professing Christian dogma.  After being here I was convinced that we all are co passengers, dreaming different dreams and telling different stories. Some say it better, some are impressed hearing it and others don't bother.

The vast grounds of the Aga Khan palace that we visited that evening told us the story of past glory and grief. The building was slowly deteriorating though was declared as a national monument.  Gandhi lost his wife Kasturba and close aid Mahadev Desai while they were incarcerated there. We visited their modest cremation sites in one corner of the sprawling grounds. Gandhi's grief was still felt palpable in the room where they were imprisoned and Kasturba breathed her last.  

A visit to Raelgoan Siddhi  was a dream come true for Gopal Singh who was a great admirer of Anna Hazare, the anti corruption crusader of India. Hazare lived in a two room facility in a temple complex which he renovated after retiring from the army and settling in his native village. The village at that time had 2000 residents. Due to lack of adequate rain fall the villagers could not cultivate their land and instead lived on bootlegging. The first thing Anna did was to conserve rain water by building 20 check dams in the rivulet that became a torrential flow in the rain. The water conserved was then directed to a huge well, 60 feet deep and wide, that was dug with voluntary village labour. Thus he ensured round the clock supply of water to villagers. Then he started a reforestation program planting thousands of trees in the village. A nursery was started for fruit tree saplings. The school he started has more than 1000 students now. Children from nearby towns and villages study in this model school. One of the revolutionary transformations that Anna brought in this village was total prohibition. Nobody in this village make, sell or consume liquor. Nor do village shops sell tobacco, cigarettes or bidi. Presently the village is self sufficient in grain, vegetables and milk and they even export these items. Anna also runs an institute for training villagers in water conservation and afforestation. Anna, the elder brother, has become a legend in the village and a national hero.

Gopal Singh and I had a one hour discussion with Anna. He was not in good health after a recent fast. His dream is to influence people's choice of representatives in 400 parliamentary constituencies. And such an enlightened parliament alone will enact stringent anti-corruption laws. He plans to travel all over India and talk to people. He will decide on a concrete plan of action after this tour. Anna sounded slightly dejected and disillusioned, but his spirit was alive and flaming. 'It is all in the hands of God. I am only an instrument, His will be done' said Anna as an afterthought. 

I think the days of puritan politics the like of Anna's is over. It is true that Internet savvy young middle class professionals crowded around Anna while he was fasting in Delhi. But none of them shared his world view, where God, tradition and patriarchal authority ruled, where consumerism was taboo, and simple, self sufficient village life was exalted. Anna has no training in running a company, a municipality or a research laboratory. Anna's success in transforming a small village doesn't equip him to understand the complexities of modern world. Anna and his crusade are bound to fail. Because he is not a stake holder in the system that he opposes, and he will remain forever a maverick outsider. I am more interested in the Maoists who are radicalizing tribal communities, gradually bringing them into the mainstream discourse, into the global village.

An interesting encounter which I watched on a CD was between one Dr. Zakir Naik and Sri. Sri. Ravi Sankar. This dialogue took place in Palace ground Bangalore in front a huge audience. The topic was, “Concept of God in Islam and Hinduism, according to their respective scriptures”.  

Dr. Zakir was a well read bully, aggressive, insensitive, pretentious and non reflective. He had no self doubt and thought he knew all the answers. He had amazing command over facts and figures and phenomenal memory of the corpus of his selective reading. He was tall, bearded and bespectacled. His pockmarked square face accentuated his belligerent nature. Being a medical doctor he had better grip on scientific data.

Sri Ravi Sankar was ill trained in scriptures and ill prepared with arguments and wore an amused smile on his moonlike face throughout the debate. He knew from the very start that he was no match either in information or in debating skills with Dr.Naik.  But surprisingly, in spite of these disadvantages, he held his ground, mostly because Dr. Naik was intolerably boorish. Though he could not sway the crowd, composed mostly of Muslims, Sri Sankar’s ardent followers were not disappointed. He spoke about love, religious harmony and mutual respect. He couldn’t offer any effective rebuttal to Naik’s claim for superior knowledge and interpretation of Hindu scriptures. He sang and quoted a line or two from Kabir and Rumi. Dr. Naik ridiculed his claim of loving all and reminded him that the real test of true love is the willingness to admonish when your beloved is on the wrong path. And according to Dr. Naik any path other than Islam is wrong. Hitting Ravi Sankar under the belt Dr. Naik, tongue in cheek, declared that the Koran taught real ‘art of living’. There was no ripple of protest from Sankar against this appropriation of his patented product. He simply stated what he had to say which he learnt by rote and kept smiling, claiming that he was a convert form head based reason to heart based love. No scripture, no concept of God and no Hinduism mattered to Sri Sri Ravi Sankar.

Dr. Zakir Naik, a trained Islamic Scholar preacher and a non practicing medical graduate, opened the debate by stating that a Muslim is one who has found peace in submitting to Allah. Allah can be known only through the words of Koran and Mohammad was the last prophet. God has said the last word and will no more speak. Allah is omniscient and omnipotent but not omnipresent. Allah is neither male nor female nor neuter. Allah has no plural. Hence God is no synonym for Allah. “Everything is Allah’s” but “everything is not Allah”. Naik took a long breath clinching his argument for Allah. Quoting profusely from Vedas and Bhavishy Purana, Naik reinforced his thesis against image worship. ‘Na tasya pratima asti’/He has no equal’, he triumphantly pulled out a passage from the Vedas to buttress his argument. Interpreting Bhavishya Purana in an interesting way he showed that even Hindu scriptures talked about the last prophet Mohammad. His whole performance turned out to be a boyish gymnastics in histrionics, cleverly playing to the gallery.

Against Zakir’s Allah Ravisankar should have presented Vedanta’s Brahman. There should have been a debate on the epistemology of revelation and the Sashtras and the exclusivity of Mohammad’s experience. But Ravisankar had no training for such a calling and he looked helpless. An inclusivist representation has to marshal greater arguing skills than an exclusivist representation. Pious statements like ‘all are one’ and ‘love all’ will not give much mileage in a theological debate.  It is high time that Hindus reinvented the old skill of debating on the lines of purvapaksha and siddhanta. 

I found two different styles in the debate- one aggressive and verbose, other passive and pseudo. One had force and the other resilience. One punched hard and the other dodged, though slightly bruised. Dr. Naik forced Sri. Ravi Sankar to admit that his book, ‘Common Threads’ was full of conceptual and factual mistakes, after which he proclaimed that his book interpreting Hinduism and Islam was devoid of mistakes.

It was a mismatch between a lion and a fox- at the end both survived.
Following are random thoughts of a public intellectual:
“Gandhi was confrontational; Gandhi was active; Gandhi became a commodity and brand name; Gandhi saw that industrial expansion was unsustainable; Gandhi embodies truth and lived it; Gandhi ahimsa was not just non-harming, Gandhi brought down empires and systems; Truth based on sustainability and non-consumerism is to be embodied; Himsa is a wider category and has to include animals, women and aborigines and vegetarianism; Gandhi was a eco-feminist; 5 times more land to feed non-vegetarians than vegetarians; Genocide include cultural genocide not just human genocide; colonizing project—give food, clothes, education and medical help but rob the recipients of their cultural heritage; Gandhi lashed out at Christian missionaries; differences of cultures are not to be erased but celebrated; universe is built on diversity, we are not here to homogenize; difference anxiety-psychological condition that leads to slavery, apartheid, genocide, conversion; different anxiety from superiority colonizes and inferiority become colonized; Gandhi gave up English clothes making a statement about who he was and was happy and proud about who he was; difference without apologies; Gandhi was against sameness, sameness in whose terms-sameness is a form of colonization; Gandhi was authentic; Gandhi used non-translatable Sanskrit words-like svadharma, svaraj; svadeshi, satyagraha, ramarajya, nayitalim, samaj, panchayat etc.; Gandhi refused to be domesticated; advaita encourages inaction, escapism, passivity; freedom from religious homogeneity; Ishta devata, pluralism; Nehru mimicked the west; guru from Nehru’s India migrated to the west with their yoga and meditation;  Gandhi in power would have been an anachronism; Gandhi’s work was bottom up; illegal aliens, I have no silver bullet, think out of the box, Gandhi was a pragmatist and considering the configuration of the chess board he pleaded for Hindu-Muslim unity; Falun Goan; western secularists have no abiding values”.
“The key point is that Gandhi was an authentic Indian who refused to be appropriated, co-opted and digested. Gandhi fought against not the westerns, but against western materialism, mindless exploitation, heartless colonialism and godless atheism, against the whole western civilization. Gandhi expressed his key ideas in Indian/Sanskrit categories”

Gandhi embodied truth and non-violence, but rebelled against injustice and inequality, by refusing to be a part of the exploitative system, which he accomplished by reducing his needs and meeting his meagre requirements by physical labour. Gandhi’s svadeshi is living locally and svaraj is making a livelihood by one’s labour, Gandhi’s nonviolence was not employing violence against injustice, but not cooperating with the unjust system, by not being part of the market economy. Instead of retaliation, the practitioner of satyagraha takes unjust violence upon self without showing anger or resistance.  The previous description misses the point. Gandhi has an important point, but it has to be worked out economically, politically and militarily. Individually Gandhi can be followed, but the nation cannot. Gandhi should not be a national leader, he has to be a world leader; no nation can follow him, but the world cannot ignore Gandhi. This does not mean Gandhi’s death is justified; Gandhi in death has become immortal and the conscience keeper of the world.

Nehru did the right thing in not following Gandhi in economics and science, but in all other areas Nehru spoke the language of Gandhi.
Indians are different from Europeans and Americans; Dharma traditions are different from Abrahamic traditions; India is free, but Indian mind is still colonized; India has to assert its difference to decolonize and find her true destiny; Difference is good and the way of nature and is to be celebrated; Difference is to be respected; Abrahamic religions because of their exclusive claims to truth cannot respect other religions; Dharmic tradition being pluralistic accepts that there are different ways of approaching truth and hence more respectful of difference. The key word in this narrative is difference, colonization, respect, decolonization, appropriation, digestion, categories and identity. There is a critique of the history centric narrative of the Semitic religions and appreciation for the embodied experience based narratives of dharma traditions.

No Indian will dispute the assertion that India has to assert her unique identity and manifest her destiny on her terms. But, the question is, how?
Many streams over centuries have joined to make the larger Indian identity of today. The Vedic, the Dravidian and the Tibetean. Then the Islamic and the British. Presently Akhanda Bharat has 1000 million Hindus, 500 million Muslims, 100 million Budhists,  25 million  Christians, 20 million Sikhs and 16 million Jains. The influence of modern secular scientific humanist thinking  is evident in academia. The modern India will emerge from this potpourri. A combination of Vyasa, Chanakya and Akbar will have to midwife the birth of this new India.

Swami Bodhananda
15 October 2012

[the visit was in February 2012]

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