Religion and politics: India

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Bhindranwale, Ram Rahim, fatwas, Bommai case

Dhananjay Mahapatra, Bhindranwale to Ram Rahim: India singed by cocktail of politics & religion, August 28, 2017: The Times of India 

 The Molotov cocktail of politics and religion has been the bane of Indian democracy . Our Consti dian democracy . Our Constitution expressly bars mixing of politics with religion. But politicians have successfully dodged the constitutional mandate to hobnob with religious leaders for narrow vote bank gains. When powerful politicians and bureaucrats patronise preachers, healers and sectarian leaders, these ordinary mortals start masquerading as `godmen', gain a halo of invincibility and become megalomaniacs.

Followers of a Baba convicted of rape, Ram Rahim, whipping up violence leading to many deaths is a warning of this heady yet destructive cocktail that has been periodically denting rule of law.The Manohar Lal Khattar headed BJP government failed to deal with the situation due to its reverential treatment of the controversial Baba-turned-film actor.

Ram Rahim is only the latest symptom of a chronic disease that had been ailing Indian polity since ages. The British nurtured Muslim League and advocated religion-based separate electorate to whip up communal passion that divided the country and tore apart communal harmony . Mahatma Gandhi's heroic efforts failed to mend the tattered secular fabric.

Murderous communal mobs that roamed both sides of the India-Pakistan border had the tacit support of local politicians. A disillusioned Gandhi became a deeply disappointed man.

Four decades ago, the Aka lis swept Congress out of power in Punjab. State Congress leader Zail Singh and Sanjay Gandhi nurtured Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to break up the Akalis. The book `Amritsar ­ Mrs Gandhi's Last Battle (1985)' by Mark Tully and Satish Jacob gives vivid details of this religion-politics cocktail.

When a Bhindranwaleled jatha attacked Nirankari Guru Baba Gurbachan Singh and the resultant mayhem killed 12 Sikhs and three Nirankaris, “the Congress pub licity machine projected Bhindranwale as the hero of the attack on Nirankari convention“, says the book.

In the 1980 general elections, “Bhindranwale campaigned actively for the Congress in three constituencies.His name was already so influential that two of the candidates printed posters saying `Bhindranwale supports me'. One of the candidates was the Hindu R L Bhatia who was the president of Punjab Congress party ,“ it says.

The fire caused by the potent politics-religion mix often singes the one who prepares the explosive mixture. `Operation Blue Star' and assassination of Indira Gandhi are prime reminders of this. But history keeps repeating itself because politicians find the vote bank route to power more profitable than the loss caused to the nation.

Time will not spare Khattar or BJP of the consequences of the government's ineptitude, which appeared deliberate, in dealing with goons following Ram Rahim's conviction. Khattar will soon realise the meaning of a Biblical proverb -“As you sow so shall you reap“.

The trial judge and the Punjab and Haryana High Court deserve a salute for their attempts to preserve rule of law. But what can the judiciary do when the gov ernment is hand-in-glove with criminals? Politicians of Khattar's ilk must read the SC judg ment in S R Bommai case [1994 (3) SCC 1] to understand what our Constitution says on religion and politics.

“One cannot conceive of a democratic form of gov ernment with out the political parties. They are part of the political sys tem and constitutional scheme. Nay, they are inte gral to the governance of a democratic society. If the Constitution requires the state to be secular in thought and action, the same require ment attaches to political parties as well. The Constitu tion does not recognise, it does not permit, mixing reli gion and state power. Both must be kept apart. That is the constitutional injunction,“the judgment said.

“Introducing religion into politics is to introduce an impermissible element into the body politic and an imbalance in our constitutional system... Under our Constitution, no party or organisation can simultaneously be a political and a religious party. It has to be either,“ it added.

India has a long history of Congress routinely getting favourable fatwas from Muslim clerics on the eve of elections asking the community to vote for the party . BJP and Shiv Sena have used Hindutva as a tool to counter this.

They were countered by Indian Union Muslim League and All India Majlise-Ittehadul Muslimeen in their areas of influence.

Amid appeasement, its counter and sectarian politics, power-hungry vultures have had a field day in prey ing on secularism and harmony. No one cares for what the SC had said in the Ramesh Yeshwant Prabhoo verdict, or the `Hindutva judgment' [1996 (1) SCC 130], which had again prohibited mixing religion with appeal for votes.

In the Bommai case, the SC had said, “If a political party espousing a particular religion comes to power, that religion tends to become, in practice, the official religion.All other religions come to acquire a secondary status, at any rate, a less favourable position. This would be plainly antithetical to Article 14 to 16, 25 and the entire constitutional scheme.“

We certainly hope politicians will learn a bit -from the events surrounding Bhindranwale to Ram Rahim -about the dangers the country faces when they deliberately mix politics with religion.

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