POLITICAL HINDU: The “mixing politics with religion” challenge
ROAR of Ravi Dev
I have proposed the notion of “Hindu politics”, which immediately raises the “mixing politics with religion” objection. While Gandhi notably pointed out that those who say religion should not be mixed with politics, know neither politics nor religion, it is rather trite to point out that “Hinduism” has been defined as a RELIGION by our persecutors. It is now seen (even by its adherents) as such, and in the milieu we operate, it is dogmatically asserted that such a mixing is taboo. That environment, however, has been shaped by the archetypal religion- Christianity-which was “secularised” during the European Enlightenment. It therefore does not have to justify all its beliefs that are now pushed by supposedly neutral STATE institutions – political, social, cultural, economic etc.
The irony, of course, is that Hindus actually practice “Sanatan Dharma” - which is, by definition and performativity, “secular” in its deepest sense. But if Hindus were to enter politics or try to form a political front explicitly along its tenets, we would be denounced as ”fundamentalists”, “medieval” and backward. The Hindu’s major challenge is to demonstrate the secular nature and practices of Sanatan Dharma – to its own adherents, more than anyone else.
On a personal note, I can remember my reflexive recoil when I returned to the Caribbean in 1989 after my sojourn in New York, to enter politics as an “Indian”. A Trinidadian friend, who had studied at Benares Hindu University, asked me “Why not as a Hindu”? The recoil was not only caused by the thought of breaking the “religion-politics” taboo…but to do so with a religion that was seen as irremediably “backward”. Hindus had been conscripted by a “modernity” that was monopolized by the west.
I went on to eventually form what was the first explicitly “Indian” political party in Guyana – ROAR Guyana Movement, which was itself denounced as “racist” for challenging the norm of the nation-state that insists on one hegemonic culture – notwithstanding politicians paying lip service to “multiculturalism”. In the Caribbean the hegemonic culture is an African-European “Creole” melange undergirded by Christianity and Indian/Hindus are not accepted as legitimate contenders for power in any arena of national life.
But how can Hindus address this challenge? I believe we are at a historic juncture where the time is ripe for such a challenge by those of us who practice Sanatan Dharma. The liberal political project of democracy –which came out of the European Enlightenment struggle against Christian theocracy– is in crisis because its contradictions have been exposed by the demands of the values of that same democracy. I do not have to elaborate on this statement since the evidence abounds around us, and its proponents have been forced to assert themselves in defence of the beliefs of Christianity which provides the scaffolding for Liberalism and its stranglehold on “modernity”.
But this challenge was addressed over fifty years ago in Bharat by a practitioner of Sanatan Dharma, Deen Dayal Upadhya but was hidden under a bushel because of the dominance of Enlightenment prejudices in the ruling class of Bharat. In four simple lectures, he propounded his theses of “Integral Humanism”, which is based on our ancient insight that man cannot be sustained by bread alone: the four ends of human life – the chaturvidha purusharthas” of kama, artha, dharma and moksha - must all be given their due emphasis in undertakings at all levels of society.
From a standpoint of fulfilling the imperatives of democracy, Deen Dayalji’s theses show that the procedural aspect of the ballot – one man, one vote – is hollow when its substantive aspects, the development of the integral man, is ignored. The notion of the principles of “Dharma” guiding the physical needs (kama) and the psychological needs (artha) of man towards his ultimate fulfilment (moksha) can be basis of the Hindu secularisation of politics for the 21st century World Enlightenment.
We have to pick up the utterances of Rishi Deen Dayalji, and as he advised, interrogate the contributions of the European Enlightenment and also our own ancient teachings, then apply those that make sense to the new times, places and circumstances that confront the world.
“Modernity” which was ushered in and appropriated by the European Enlightenment would now be shared or even surpassed by a post-modern, indeed, Sanatan or eternal, world view.