The Sugriva Syndrome – Bharavi

Narendra Modi

Man Sitting Under Tree IconOne may rightfully ask what the BJP has done so far … in terms of providing long-denied and unexceptionable rights to Hindu citizens of a purportedly democratic and egalitarian modern nation. – Bharavi

During the recently concluded elections in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was found to be appealing to the electorate to end their ‘vanavas’ (forest exile) of 14 years.[1]  The ‘exile of  14 years’ is, obviously, a reference to Rama’s exile at the insistence of his step-mother Kaikeyi, at the end of which he made a triumphant return to Ayodhya with his wife and brother. Now that the BJP is safely in power in India’s most populous state as well as at the national level, the Hindu constituency that made this possible should make sure that this ‘return of the exiles’ does not end up resembling the results of another vanavas, also in the Ramayana.    

Rama, exiled in the forest and his wife abducted, was moving southward with his brother Lakshmana to recover her. He met Hanuman, who led him to Sugriva—brother and inveterate enemy of Vali, king of the Vanaras of Kishkindha. Owing to an unfortunate misunderstanding between the brothers, Vali had driven away Sugriva into the forests, and had also taken Sugriva’s wife Ruma for himself. Long story short, Rama and Sugriva had a quid pro quo.  Rama was to kill Vali and restore Sugriva to his kingdom. In return, Sugriva would help him, as King of the Vanaras of Kishkindha, to recover Sita.  

Rama carried out his part of the bargain, risking his reputation as a fair and just kshatriya, and Sugriva was crowned king. Soon after Sugriva’s coronation, he gave himself up to sensual pleasures, understandable in one who had been in exile as a fugitive from the royal palace for years. At this stage, Hanuman presciently warned Sugriva that he should consider making good his promise to Rama. His remarks are most noteworthy and relevant to the current situation:  “One must be punctual in achieving the objectives of one’s close friends. If Rama were to eventually prod you to action consider it a lapse on your part regardless of what you do thereafter.”   

To his credit, Sugriva summoned his Vanara warriors from near and far, under pain of death for delay. However, as luck would have it, the monsoons began soon after, rendering all tracks impassable and army movements impossible. There was nothing to do but wait. But then, even after the rainy season ended, Sugriva wasn’t showing any signs of movement on Rama’s case.  It took an irate Lakshmana to storm his castle when Sugriva was in the midst of revelry in the depths of his harem to remind him of his unfulfilled promise. Of course, things started moving after that and Rama did recover Sita with Sugriva’s help.

In its earlier avatars, the BJP kept pointing to the Common Minimum Program and similar compulsions of coalition ‘dharma.’ This was taken to mean that the party would not be able to back any initiatives regarding ‘contentious  issues’ such as the full integration or Jammu and Kashmir state with the Indian republic by the abolition of Article 370, the building of the temple of Rama at Ayodhya or legislating a uniform civil code.  Three years ago, on May 26, 2014 Narendra Modi assumed office as the Prime Minister of India, with the BJP achieving a simple majority of its own, though still as part of the National Democratic Alliance. Not unexpectedly, the insistent demand from the party’s core supporters is to pay attention to those contentious issues that couldn’t be touched earlier.   

Before asking for the moon, as it were, these supporters should first examine what the BJP has done about consequential, but non-contentious issues. The clear front-runner among such issues is the historical problem of the misapplication of Article 30 of the Indian Constitution that guarantees religious and linguistic minorities the right to autonomously manage their own educational and religious institutions.  There is nothing wrong with this. However, there is no explicit statement providing similar rights to the majority Hindus. This has provided a legal loophole that has made Hindu religious establishments, temples, educational institutions, trusts etc. the target of state governments and politicians avid for easy money and a penchant for generously distributing temple collections and assets among their special interest groups. Hindu religious institutions have thus been subjected to asymmetric and chronic adverse discrimination ever since independence under a ‘native’ dispensation. The state of temples in Tamil Nadu and the siphoning off of their assets and lands is but one symptom of an all-India epidemic, whose end result can only be the death of temples and Hindu institutions by a thousand cuts.[2]

More recently, Hindus have been understandably riled by the effects of the Right to Education Act (2009) on Hindu schools and educational institutions.[3] The ‘minorities’ on the other hand, simply threw the constitution on the government’s face, specifically the provisions of this act citing Art. 30, and claimed exemption.[4] No such courtesy was available to the Hindus whose schools were sitting ducks, resulting in the closure of many ‘non-minority’ schools all over the country. Thus, the effective denial of the right to administer their own educational and religious institutions amounts to a chronic systemic bias against Hindus in India, and will continue to have adverse effects for a long time to come, regardless of the party in power at the centre.  

And, pray (pardon the pun), what has the BJP done about this terrible injustice? Specifically, nothing, nada, zilch.  Leave alone do anything about it, it does not even talk about it. Allowing Hindus the same rights as minorities, we might naïvely think, would be a much easier thing for a government to do, compared with the backlash that is feared upon say, the abolition of Article 370 that gives a separate status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. An interesting case is that of the Congress government in the state of Himachal Pradesh that is trying to ‘monetize’ gold deposited in the state’s temples by devotees over ages, by the simple expedient of melting it to make medallions for sale. Predictably, the idea of using these funds for ‘public welfare,’ an obscene euphemism in this age of kleptocratic democracies, is also found keeping obligatory company with this charade.[5] But BJP supporters eager to blame the Congress, please cease and desist. The Congress state government is merely implementing national policy mooted by the BJP-anointed prime minister Narendra Modi.[6] Again predictably, there is no similar suggestion to  ‘remonetize’ vast swathes of real estate ‘lying idle’ in the possession of say, the Indian Catholic Church,[7] by selling those to housing developers or mall-builders.  Better still, these parcels of land could be freely distributed among the ‘poor and needy‘ that are the stated recipients of the munificent Church’s solicitude as an integral part of its apostolic mission. Of course, that was merely a rhetorical suggestion, for we know from their actual record that the Churches’ ‘vow of poverty’ holds as much (holy) water as their ‘vow of celibacy.’[8]         

In this context, one may rightfully ask what the BJP has done so far, not in terms of withdrawing minority privileges (like ending the Haj subsidy or legislating a Uniform Civil Code), but in terms of providing long-denied and unexceptionable rights to Hindu citizens of a purportedly democratic and egalitarian modern nation, allegedly fast transforming into a ‘developed’ nation, all thanks to the Midas touch of its mercantile administrators.     

So, while Sugriva’s lapse was a sin of omission, for which he made up later, the BJP seems determined to indulge in sins of both omission and commission that portend grave long-term consequences for dharmic society. Winning elections has apparently become a full-time job for the BJP.  

In an instance of poetic irony, Sugriva advised Rama against accepting Vibhishana (Ravana’s estranged brother) as a supplicant and an ally, as the Rakshasas are intrinsically undependable. Of course, the Vanara king was spectacularly wrong about that, as Vibhishana was able to provide crucial advice and aid during critical stages of the war with Ravana. Sugriva would have had better luck had he advised Rama against favoring the Jai-Shree-Ram-chanting BJP. Where is that Sugriva when you really need him?   

We may therefore conclude that Rama’s run of bad luck hasn’t ended. He and his much-derided and electorally exploited followers are still waiting for signs of commitment to some relatively innocuous dharmic cause from those they propelled to the portals of power nearly three decades ago. That’s partly Rama’s own fault—he was always such a sentimental sucker for sob-stories peddled by people in physical or political wilderness. Ms. Sushma Swaraj would doubtless agree, for she presciently (but honestly) termed him a ‘cashed cheque’ for her party way back in 1996,[9] and was more recently (2016) spotted in dutiful attendance as a representative of the ostensibly ‘right-wing Hindu nationalist government’ holding court at the Vatican, on the momentous occasion of the canonization of Teresa of Albania.

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj & Pope Francis (Sept. 2016)
Notes

  1. See:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRY9R9hOUZs
  2. See, for example:  http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/freeing-temples-from-state-control/article5594132.ece
  3. See:  https://swarajyamag.com/politics/strict-implementation-of-rte-by-devendra-fadnavis-will-destroy-hindu-run-budget-schools
  4. In 2014, the Supreme Court of India ruled that “…the 2009 Act insofar as it applies to minority schools, aided or unaided, covered under clause (1) of Article 30 of the Constitution A is ultra vires the Constitution.”  Plain English:  If you apply the RTE act of 2009 to minority schools, it is a violation of Article 30 clause (1). http://indiatoday.intoday.in/education/story/sc-rte-act-not-applicable-to-minority-schools/1/359483.html 
  5. See:  http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/himachal-govt-makes-fresh-bid-to-persuade-temples-to-melt-gold/story-UlzgCxsHLeEwaH1klJegrL.html
  6. See:  http://in.reuters.com/article/india-gold-modi-monetisation-idINKCN0ST1IY20151104
  7. See:  http://www.moneycontrol.com/news/business/personal-finance-business/guess-who-indias-largest-landowners-are-1129773.html
  8. For example, it took a Karnataka High Court order to restrain the holy greed for land displayed by the Church of South India, worthy successor to the Church of England, of East India Company fame.  See: http://mattersindia.com/2016/04/church-fails-to-prove-ownership-of-land/.  Since there is also much wheeling and real-estate dealing within the holy precincts, Mr. Philip Matthew, a Bengaluru-based journalist issued a clarion call for a law to protect the assets of the church (See: http://www.ucanindia.in/news/law-needed-to-safeguard-church-properties/17945/daily).  Unsurprisingly, he couldn’t resist proclaiming in passing that:  “The Church properties and assets belong to a wider Christian community in the country and not to a handful of present-day selfish leaders and profiteers in the churches.” Intolerant and unwashed Hindus may please note: Churches are the fixed deposits of the Christian community alone, but Hindu temples are emphatically and irrevocably joint expense accounts for all human beings, regardless of ‘caste, creed, color, sex or religion.’  Public welfare!  
  9. See:  http://koenraadelst.bharatvani.org/books/bjp/section5.html
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