Politics and caste appeasing go hand in hand, like bread and butter. It has been this way since the inception of our “secular” nation, and will likely remain so for decades to come. However, as the 2019 Lok Sabha elections draw nearer, a new wave of caste politics seems to be emerging in India.
You’d think that with state assembly elections on our heads, political parties would be attacking each other for manifesto loopholes and false promises. But, no. If you have been following national news, even a little, you’ll know about the recent drama surrounding Rahul Gandhi’s gotra.
Politician after politician jumped on the bandwagon, each trying to prove their “genius” logic. With all this gimmick not reaching any near end, it makes one wonder. What’s in a caste? Well, ask our beloved politicians!
Secular parties? Think again.
A dictionary would loosely define ‘secular’ as that ‘which is not linked/connected to any religious or spiritual matters’. It doesn’t take an extraordinary brain to figure out just how secular our present-day political parties are, be it the Centre-governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or the Indian National Congress.
Being a political leader of whatever stature, a person still holds the liberty to practice or follow whatever religion they deem fit, born into it or not. However, striking a balance between personal beliefs and political propaganda is very crucial. It is disappointing, then, to see just how many times leaders in the country stoop down in this game of “What’s your gotra?” and “I am the biggest devotee”.
Is it religious qualification we shall be considering before casting our votes, or actual governance agendas?
The games of religion
In the rundown to assembly elections, the nation’s attention got drawn to the party-president of Indian National Congress. Rahul Gandhi visiting temple after temple across different states was hard to miss, after all. Gandhi calls himself a “Shiv bhakt”. Nothing wrong in that, right? Except that his visits increased with an unusual pace as the election days neared, as BJP pointed out in no time.
Calling Gandhi’s temple visits a “fancy dress Hindutva”, BJP was quick to debunk Gandhi’s newly-formed religious image. “To mislead the Hindus, he is sporting a “janeu” over the shirt. We demand that ‘janeudhari’ Rahul Gandhi clarify which ‘gotra’ does he belong to”, said Sambit Patra, the national spokesperson of BJP.
You have to give it to him for the display of wits and meticulous thinking, right? He also went on to speak about how the people have started referring to Gandhi as “Vatican gotra ka brahmin”. Why the Vatican, you ask? Oh, because his mother, Sonia Gandhi is Italian by birth.
It wasn’t just BJP who swung itself into a one-sided battle of religion. Rahul Gandhi was quick to reiterate. According to the priest in a Pushkar temple Gandhi visited in November, the latter told him his “gotra is Dattatreya. Dattatreya’s are Kauls and Kauls are Kashmiri Brahmins”.
Why is this problematic?
There is no denying that Rahul Gandhi’s election-time temple visits do have a political agenda behind them. Shashi Tharoor mentioned in his talk at the Times LitFest 2018, Gandhi’s religion-driven visits are not a form of “cynical opportunism”. According to Tharoor, it was BJP that had launched into a war of “true Hindus and faithless secularists”.
“..in a country where religiosity is deep, if the debate is framed that way, the secularist will always lose. So we decided that it was time for us to avow our faith, but to do so within a framework of inclusiveness and acceptance of other faiths”, said Tharoor. The argumentative point was to explain why the party president had suddenly decided to publicise his faith.
Now, jumping to why this entire battle of religion is problematic. Of course, it does no tangible real harm to the country, just a few leaders fighting over religion- that’s how it has always been. If only it was that simple.
In truth, it is scary to witness the way our politicians have decided to behave in the wake of elections. Keeping aside all the actual problems and issues, we have instead decided to debate over who knows more about one religion, or who holds a stronger claim. And, the worst part? They are doing it only because they know it will work.
A look in the mirror
One chief reaction to Gandhi’s newly revealed gotra was by the Union Science and Technology Minister, Harsh Vardhan, ironically. In a detailed tweet, Vardhan wrote, “Jawaharlal Nehru’s gotra was ‘Dattatreya’ because he was Brahmin. His sons would have inherited his gotra. However, Indira Gandhi can’t transfer her father’s gotra to her son. Thus, Rajiv Gandhi, being a son of a Parsi (Feroz Gandhi), can’t have Dattatreya gotra.” On a first glance, it might confuse some readers. But, the crux of the tweet was proving how Gandhi isn’t from the Dattatreya gotra, as claimed by him.
Sushma Swaraj, the Foreign Minister of our country also slammed the Congress chief after the latter questioned Modi on Hindutva. “Our PM says he is a Hindu but he doesn’t understand foundation of Hinduism. What kind of a Hindu is he?”- Rahul Gandhi had said. Roughly translating, this is what Swaraj retorted back with-
“God forbid such a day should come that we’ll have to understand the meaning of being a Hindu from him.”
My problem isn’t confined to one specific party. It is with how instead of focusing on the real issues, they have jumped into this meaningless bickering. Standing on a pedestal of being national leaders, should personal knowledge or competition of religion be given the first priority? Certainly not. A nation that talks about being a superpower cannot do so when the issues our politicians pick up are from centuries ago.
Do you want to gain votes from the public? Start visiting places of religious value.
Want to prove your superiority over another party? Start to target the loopholes in their religious preaching. Simple enough. But, does that look like the action plan of a 21st-century secular party? Well, food for thought!
Let us know what you think in the comment section below!