HOW AYODHYA HAS IMPACTED SOCIAL AND POLITICAL DISCOURSE: TURNING POINTS (POST BABRI DEMOLITION)

AS WE SAW IN PREVIOUS PART, IMMENSE PRESSURE ON RAJIV GANDHI PUSHED HIM TO MISHANDLE THINGS. HE TRIED HIS HANDS WITH MAJORITY MAJORITY BUT THE ULTIMATE BENEFICIARY WAS THE BJP THAT, FROM TWO SEATS IN 1984 LOK SABHA POLLS, WENT ON TO WIN 85 SEATS IN 1989 AND 119 SEATS IN 1991.

FOR REASONS THAT LIE IN INDIA’S PLURALITY AND THUS IN SENSITIVITIES OF THE MAJORITY AS WELL AS THE MINORITY COMMUNITIES, THE APEX COURT DIDN’T TAKE NOTICE OF THE CONTEMPT PETITIONS FILED AFTER THE BABRI DEMOLITION EVEN IF THE THEN CHIEF JUSTICE OF INDIA, JUSTICE M N VENKATACHALIAH, HAD SAID THAT THE DEMOLITION WAS THE MOST BLATANT CONTEMPT EVER COMMITTED. KALYAN SINGH AND VIJAYARAJE SCINDIA HAD GIVEN WRITTEN UNDERTAKING IN THE SUPREME COURT THAT KAR SEVAKS WOULD NOT TOUCH THE BABRI MASJID.

LEGAL JURISPRUDENCE IS TECHNICAL AS WELL AS INTERPRETATIONAL. THAT’S WHY WE HEAR THE PHRASE, ‘ON YOUR FINE SENSE OF JUDGMENT’ BY THE LAWYERS WHEN THEY SUM THEIR ARGUMENT IN ANY CASE. THE INTERPRETATIONAL NATURE OF OUR CONSTITUTION AND THE LEGAL SYSTEM DOES GIVE THE JUDGES THE DISCRETION TO INTERPRET LAWS WITHIN THE CONSTITUTIONAL NORMS. AND THEY HAVE DONE WELL. THE COURT’S HESITATION IN AYODHYA CASE CAN BE GAUGED FROM THE FACT IT IS PART OF THE LEGAL JURISPRUDENCE TO SEE WHAT EFFECT A PARTICULAR JUDGMENT CAN HAVE ON THE SOCIETY AS A WHOLE AND THEY TRY TO KEEP AS MUCH RESTRAINT AS POSSIBLE.

TO CONTINUE..

©SantoshChaubey

HOW AYODHYA HAS IMPACTED SOCIAL AND POLITICAL DISCOURSE: TURNING POINTS (PRE BABRI DEMOLITION)

Ayodhya has changed the political discourse of the country with events unfolding since 1949, after India started its journey as an independent sovereign nation on August 15, 1947. India began as a democratic country with socialist ethos at its core and the word ‘secular’ was rightly added to further the spirit.

But our lawmakers have failed us, right from 1947. Socialist and secular are all encompassing words that signify and qualify every other word that has become essential to our political discourse today, i.e., nationalism and even Hindutva. Nationalism had to be an extension of our socialist and secular ethos. Hindutva had to be nothing more than a way of life practiced by the majority in the country which gave equal respect to all other ‘ways of life’.

But we have messed it all up and as a results, the words that should define the spirit of our diverse society, have become mere tools to maintain political goalposts. Socialism, secularism, nationalism, Hindutva, all have come to define different goalposts in a society that is still trying to make sense that where it intended to go when it began its journey 70 years ago.

And Ayodhya has played a central role in this narrative. And the events that shaped this narrative are:

DECEMBER 22, 1949 – RAMLALLA IDOL PLACED: Ending over 400 years of status-quo. The history says, though then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was furious at placing of the idol in the disputed structure, he was never alert enough to visit Ayodhya even once.

19 FEBRUARY 1981, MEENAKSHIPURAM CONVERSIONS: A Tamil Nadu village, Meenakshipuram, saw a mass conversion, and was renamed as Rahmat Nagar. It was the beginning of the ascendance of majority appeasement politics in the country as opposed to minority appeasement that dominated the politics of the country till then. Talks of Ayodhya and Ram Janmabhoomi to be taken in a mission mode began here.

1984 – THE SHAH BANO CASE: The way Rajiv Gandhi surrendered before the compulsions of minority appeasement and overturned a Supreme Court ruling on a social malaise that was affecting millions of Muslim women, it further sent out a message that government was ready to go to any extent to save its votebanks. It also sent a powerful message that the government that was so appeasement centric that it could overturn a historic decision of the top court of the land, could never be friendly to the interests of the majority. And there were many takers of it.

FEBRUARY 1, 1986, ORDER TO UNLOCK THE GATES: Though a local court ordered it, the governments, at centre and in Uttar Pradesh, were so complicit that they never thought to challenge it in a higher court. Instead, the padlock was immediately opened after the judge’s order who quoted his religious experiences while delivering the judgement. It was in stark comparison to Rajiv Gandhi’s stand on the Shah Bano case. That was pure minority appeasement. But the stand taken here tells us that Rajiv had started feeling the pressure of a parallel political movement taking shape that was adopting majority appeasement and had chosen the most direct tool to reach out to the masses – religion. Rajiv’s stand also tells us he might have seen that it was going to be the future’s political currency and therefore, let’s try hands there.

1989 – UNRAVELLING OF THE BOFORS SCAM: A pure political development that added to various sorts of pressures increasing day by day on Rajiv Gandhi and his government.

1989 ELECTIONS – PRESSURE OF MISHANDLING SRILANKA: A foreign policy fiasco that further dented the credibility of Rajiv Gandhi.

1989 SHILANYAS OF TEMPLE BY VHP: It is said that, both the Congress government in Uttar Pradesh and at centre, could have stopped it. But when see that Rajiv Gandhi began his poll campaign for the 1989 Lok Sabha polls from Faizabad, we can easily find why they didn’t take proper legal interest to stall the VHP’s plans.

1989-91 – VP SINGH’S JAN MORCHA AND MANDAL POLITICS: VP Singh had left Congress on the issue of the Bofors scam but the pressure on him to save his coalition government pushed him to latch on to something that would again derail the Indian ship. He chose to branch out his majority appeasement politics by trying to divide the majority society into different higher and lower castes, through the Mandal proposals, that we now know as India’s caste based reservation system. Though VP Singh could not reap its benefits, we, as a society, are still cursed to weather its bad effects when we find that caste-equations and not development define the core agenda of the parties.

ANTI-MANDAL VIOLENCE AND PRESSURE ON VP SINGH: Implementation of the Mandal proposals led to widespread demonstrations and violence. It increased pressure on the VP Singh government to the extent that he had to go soft on Ayodhya, another important element of the majority appeasement politics.

SEPTEMBER 25, 1990: ADVANI KICKS OFF HIS RATHYATRA – THE MANDAL SPIN: The BJP cleverly used the deepening Ayodhya sentiments and the anti-Mandal protests to its advantage. It could make voters believe that it was their right representative in these circumstances. The electoral gains made by the BJP supported it. The party that could win just two seats in the previous Lok Sabha polls in 1984, won 85 seats in 1989.

OCTOBER 30, 1990: Police firing on kar sevaks in Ayodhya led to five deaths. Mulayam Singh Yadav was Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister. Another 15 kar sevaks were killed in police firing on November 2. Mulayam’s acts sent out a message that he was all about minority appeasement or as his political opponents could make people believe, at least those who did not vote for Mulayam and the 2017 UP assembly polls tell us that the sentiment has got stronger.

1991: The BJP’s first big political foray in the mainstream. It came to power in five states – Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh. It was the beginning of the emergence of a political alternative in India that would make Congress like a regional party in 25 years, as the Congress’ situation is now. And this emergence was built on majority politics, opposed to Congress’ minority politics.

DEC 6, 1992: Babri demolition and the aftermath – the riots of December 1992 that engulfed the country. The Bombay riots of December 1992 and January 1993 and subsequent serial blasts in India’s financial capital that killed scores. The majority Vs minority started becoming central to the political discourse in the country.

©SantoshChaubey

FIVE POINTS THAT INDICATE CONGRESS IS ACTUALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR BABRI-RAMJANMABHOOMI MESS

1. JAWAHAR LAL NEHRU: RAM LALLA IDOL WAS PLACE INSIDE BABRI MASJID ON THE INTERVENING NIGHT OF DEC 22-23, 1949. HE IS PRIMARILY BLAMED FOR NOT REALIZING THE POTENTIAL THREAT THAT THE ISSUE WOULD BECOME, THUS ADOPTING A SOFT APPROACH. IT IS SAID THAT NEHRU COULD NEVER FIND TIME TO VISIT AYODHYA FOR THE ISSUE THAT SHOWS HE COULD NEVER FIND IT POTENT ENOUGH TO MAKE A PRIORITY.

2. INDIRA GANDHI: IT IS SAID THAT SHE TOOK THE DECISION TO OPEN THE BABRI MASJID LOCKS. MANY INCLUDE AG NOORANI SAY THAT. THE ANALYSTS OPINE THAT IT WAS A CONSIOUS STRATEGY OF HER HINDU CARD POLITICS. PV NARASIMHA RAO, IN HIS BOOK ‘AYODHYA: 6 DEC 1992’ WRITES THAT ‘INDIRA GANDHI HAD ASKED TO PREPARE VARIOUS PLANS FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF AYODHYA’. ALSO IT IS DURING INDIRA GANDHI’S TENURE THAT THE BABRI-RAM JAMNABHOOMI ISSUE TOOK POLITICAL CONTOURS FROM BEING A LARGELY RELIGIOUS ISSUE.

3. RAJIV GANDHI: OPENED THE LOCKS ON FEB 1, 1986. POLITICAL COMPULSIONS FORCED HIM TO PLAY THE HINDU CARD. HE OPENED THE PADLOCK AMID THE GLEAMING CAMERA LENSES TO SEND OUT THE MESSAGE. THOUGH HE WAS ARMED WITH A DISTRICT MEGISTRATE ORDER, HIS GOVERNMENT NEVER THOUGHT TO APPEAL AGAINST IT.

4. RAJIV GANDHI: ALLOWED THE RAM TEMPLE SHILANYAS BY THE VISHWA HINDU PARISHAD TO HAPPEN ON NOV 9, 1989, AGAIN A CONSCIOUS PLOY OF HINDU CARD POLITICS. HE WAS PRIME MINISTER TILL DECEMBER 2 BUT COULDN’T FIND LEGAL WAYS TO DERAIL OR STOP THE LIKES OF THE VHP.

5. PV NARASIMHA RAO: HE IS BLAMED FOR FAILING TO PREVENT BABRI DEMOLITION ON DEC 6, 1992. RAO IS BLAMED FOR CONSCIOUSLY IGNORING THE SIGNALS THAT A DEMOLITION WAS CERTAIN. HE DECIDED TO GO BY THE WORDS OF KALYAN SINGH WHO HAD TAKEN A VOW TO THE BUILD THE RAM TEMPLE IN AYODHYA THAN PEOPLE LIKE JYOTI BASU, ARJUN SINGH AND HIS OWN UNION HOME SECRETARY. FORMER PM VP SINGH BLAMED HIM FOR CRIMINAL NEGLIGENE. ANOTHER FORMER PM CHANDRA SHEKHAR BLAMED HIM FOR ‘DELIBERATE DERELICTION OF DUTY’.

DETAILED RESEARCH BASED ARTICLE TO FOLLOW.

©SantoshChaubey

MOTHER TERESA: WIKIPEDIA GOOF UP OR SOMEONE’S ILL INTENT?

Mother Teresa will be canonized tomorrow at the Canonization Mass held by the Vatican. The Mass is scheduled to begin at 10:30 AM local time (2 PM Indian time). Over 100,000 people are expected to participate. According to Mother Teresa’s official website, different programmes towards the Sainthood of Mother Teresa will be organized for a week that began on September 1. The whole world, especially Mother Teresa’s followers and India is looking forward to witness this moment because India has been Mother’s land of Karma. Prime minister had mentioned it is in his monthly radio address Mann Ki Baat and an Indian delegation led by foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, that included Mamata Banarjee and Arvind Kejriwal, will represent India during the ceremony.

But if there are many who see a saint in Mother Teresa, there is a section that has made it the primary task to tarnish Mother Teresa’s image. They have written books. They keep on giving interviews and addresses that present Mother Teresa as some dogmatic religious fanatic whose main concern was religious mission and Catholicism spread and her humanitarian work just a façade for it. They raise fingers on absence on the financial accountability of her organization, Missionaries of Charity. They question poor and unhygienic practices being adopted in the houses for the dying started by her and now run by her order.

Yesterday, while looking for some information on Mother Teresa, I came across a strange development. The links that the Google search returned with had the Wikipedia page on Mother Teresa at top and, as happens, its summary was given in the corner. As we can see in this screenshot taken yesterday (September 2, 2016), that Mother Teresa was from Spain and she born and died there in the 16th Century. The screenshot says, quoting Wikipedia, that Mother Teresa was born on March 28, 2016 in Spain’s Gotarrendura and she died on October 4, 2016 in Alba de Tormes, again in Spain. But the initial three lines of the article is about Mother Teresa from Calcutta only who was born in Skopje, Macedonia, then part of the Ottoman Empire.

Mother Teresa was born on August 26, 1910 in Skopje and died on September 5, 1997 in Calcutta, India.

To continue..

Mother Teresa Wiki Sep3

Mother Teresa Wiki

©SantoshChaubey

MOTHER TERESA AND THE ENDLESS CONTROVERSIES OF CANONISATION AT THE VATICAN

The article originally appeared on DailyO.

In the last 50 years, from the days of Pope Paul VI that began in 1963, the Vatican has given the world some 640 saints, more than dozen a year.

Pope John Paul II, who was pope for more than 26 years, from 1978 to 2005, in fact made more saints that all previous popes together, over 480, since the papal supremacy in declaring sainthood for someone was officially established in the 16th Century. Pope Benedict who was pope for some eight years and who renounced papacy, leaving the office in 2013, had presided over 45 canonizations while the current pope, Francis, has already added 28 names to the canon of the recognized saints.

One of the canonizations by him is of the Martyrs of Otranto, 813 inhabitants of the Italian city Otranto who were massacred in 1480 after they refused to convert to Islam. If we count by the individual names, then Pope Francis has surpassed even Pope John Paul II. While Mother Teresa’s canonization mass is scheduled for September 4, 7 more will be elevated to the status of sainthood on October 16.

Almost of them have been catholic priests or adherents of Catholicism like Mother Teresa was, a staunch Catholic with orthodox values especially on women rights, abortion, contraception, divorce with her rigid views on how to treat the poor in her homes for the dying. Much of Mother Teresa’s criticism is directed by these values along with the questions raised on the financial accountability of her order.

But what sets Mother Teresa apart from the other saints or those who have been conferred with the sainthood, that the whole canon of modern saints doesn’t give you a name as big a humanitarian soul as Mother Teresa was. In fact, we can say Mother Teresa has been the most popular catholic throughout the world since she took the centre-stage with the global spread of her humanitarian organization, the Missionaries of Charity. For her service to the poor and destitute, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, a recognition that no pope has received so far. So, at least we can say the Vatican is going to honour humanity this time by canonizing someone who not only worked for the church, but also for the people of all faiths from across the world.

The religious nature of canonization has seen many controversies.

Pope Francis had canonized Junioperra Serra, an 18th Century missionary from Spain who migrated to America, in 2015. Serra has left behind him a fractured legacy of conversion and torture and large scale protests were held by the Native Americans against his canonization. According to the claims of Native American organizations, Serra’s mission killed some 90 percent of Native Californians at that time.

Italian Padre Pio (1887-1968) who was canonized by John Paul II in 2002 was described as ignorant and psychopath by many and it was a widely held belief that his order of monks was busy in exploiting financial gains by displaying Pio’s stigmata and comparing it to the Crucifixion marks of Jesus Christ. Due to these controversies, the Vatican was initially against Padre Pio but, under the compulsions that only they can explain, the later popes dismissed all allegations against Padre Pio.

Probably the most famous canonization controversy is of Pope Pius IX (1792-1878), the last pope to rule over the Papal States before they fell to the Italian army. He was pope for over 31 years and is now reviled for his dogmatic views, his hatred for modernism and his fad on the supremacy of the papal teachings. He called Jews dogs and is notorious for abducting an six year old Jewish boy only because he was secretly baptized by a Roman Catholic maid. Attempts to beatify him, the first step towards the canonization process, failed many times due to widespread criticism and protests. But the formidable Pope John Paul II beatified him in 2000. Let’s see when and by whom he is canonized.

In fact, Pope Pius IX was a compromise replacement for Pope Pius XII (1876-1958), another controversial pope whose canonization has been vehemently opposed for not doing enough on the Holocaust, the massacre carried out by Germany and its allied nations in the Second World War. The conduct of his papacy has been widely criticized. Though the process to canonize him was started in 1965, he is yet to be beatified.

Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac of Croatia (1898-1960) was another controversial candidate who was beatified by John Paul II. He was beatified in 1998 but his canonization is still due. John Paul II described him as a martyr of faith as he had led Croatian church in the Second World War. His wartime records and affiliations have been questioned and Jews and Serbs say he did not criticize their massacre during the war the way he should have. He, in fact, supported the Independent Croatia that came into being with support from Adolf Hitler’s Germany.

These are some of the most talked about canonization controversies. The whole list is long. But the Vatican remains unaffected, unmoved. Because for the Vatian, “being the martyr/proponent of faith” has always been the primary criteria to declare someone a saint. Pope John Paul II, while beatifying Cardinal Stepinac, had said, “Beatifying a son of the church does not celebrate particular historic choices that he has made, but rather points him out for imitation and for veneration for his virtue (read adherence to church and faith here).” It is rare that the Vatican canonization process finds some who has also been a crusader of humanity that Mother Teresa was.

©SantoshChaubey

FUMING AT SENDING GOVERNEMENT DELEGATION TO VATICAN FOR MOTHER TERESA’S CANONIZATION! WHY?

Reports say, after Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), now Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS) has expressed its displeasure on the Government of India decision to send a high party delegation to the Vatican City to participate in Mother Teresa’s Canonization Mass on September 4 when she will be declared a saint formally.

Going by the past rhetoric of these organizations, it is not unexpected. What was pleasant was how Narendra Modi summed up the emotion of the masses on the issue during his monthly radio address to the nation, “Mann Ki Baat” on August 28.

He rightly described how a person of Albanian origin, with no knowledge of English, adopted India and made its destitute people mission of her life. When he said that a high level delegation led by the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj would represent India in Vatican, it was an expression of the wishes of the majority of Indians, unlike those few who still see “good and bad” defined by the demarcation of the religious lines.

Like VHP’s Surendra Jain rushed to criticize Narendra Modi on his knowledge of history and how a “Mother Teresa sainthood” would hasten proselytization. Even RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has concluded that though Mother Teresa’s work was good, it was not selfless. While delivering a lectures last year, in February 2015, Bhagwat linked Mother Teresa’s work with conversion, saying it was her primary motive. Bhagwat’s remarks had come at a time when Narendra Modi was busy in initiatives to heal and win back Christians’ confidence after a series of church attacks that later proved non-religious in nature.

Here are two things that we should go by.

Mother Teresa’s work was termed selfish when she devoted her whole life in the service of the poorest of the poor. When she left the world, she left an institution to serve the people. She didn’t keep anything for her, living a simple and austere life. When her work is called selfish, it really pains us, who see a motherly figure in her. Shouldn’t we stop seeing the extent of the kindness of greats from a religious eye?

Conversion? Why its fear is still instilled in us? Why our opinion leaders and politicians still try such loaded words?

How can 13.8 crore Muslims and 2.4 crore Christians be a threat to convert 82.7 crore Hindus to their fold?

There is famous saying in Hinduism – and I believe it should be there in almost every religion, if religions evolve to organize and better human lives – that you cannot think of worshipping God when you are hungry and the survival crisis is the sole question haunting you. That is the story of majority of Indians. The first duty of our opinion leaders and politicians should be to feed them first, to lift their lives out of survival hell.

Where our systems failed, people like Mother Teresa filled the gap. And yet it was not enough. India has more than 3 million registered non-governmental organizations. “The government, with restrain on resources, alone cannot reach to all in a country like India with widespread poverty and illiteracy” was the basic idea that allowed such a large number of NGOs in the country – so that they can go to the spaces where the government cannot.

The second thing that again reinforces the feeling that whenever there is a crisis on religious/community lines in the society, it is fuelled by motivated interests, is that none of incidents of church attacks last year were found religiously motivated. There was a great hue and cry and the whole political lot as well as evangelical institutions, from India and abroad, were propagating something like Christianity was in some imminent danger in India, especially after a Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) led government was the incharge of affairs in India whose ideological mentor RSS has always been suspicious of the motives of the Christian missionaries working in India, something that even reflected in the Mohan Bhagwat statement mentioned above.

But nothing happened. India as secure for Hindus, as for Muslims, Christians and other faiths.

To continue..

©SantoshChaubey

GOD DIDN’T SAY YOU ARE A WOMAN AND THEREFORE DON’T COME TO ME. WE DID.

God is for everyone. God is of everyone. That is the ideal position but something that has been a deep rooted ‘glass ceiling’ phenomenon universally, in almost every religion with different hues, in every society, in every country, including India.

We worship women. In Hinduism, Goddess Shakti is revered like the supreme deity. And it doesn’t end here. I am sure every religion has its own female deities. Yet we deny women the basic right – the right to equality in the places of worship.

And that’s why the court decisions like the one on the Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai yesterday or the Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmadnagar in April this year allowing women’s entry in the inner sanctum, so far barred for women, are important – away from the debates of such demands being being a mere publicity stunt – like we saw in Trupti Desai led movement that resulted in Shani Shingnapur verdict – or away from the political lethargy we see when the political class refuses to budge from its position keeping equations of the votebank politics in mind and it ultimately comes to the courts, the top custodian of our Constitution.

Court verdicts like these pull our attention to this very important discrimination prevailing in our society that we have so subtly legitimized – again in the name of religion – and have efficiently co-opted women to perpetuate such practices – out of fear psychosis – or emotional bondage – or cultural blackmail. You will find a major cross section of women advocating the women entry ban, be it Shani Shingnapur or Haji Ali. When women activists were planning to storm the Shani Shingnapur temple, women of the Shingnapur village and the nearby villages were preparing to stop them and a multi-layered security around the sanctum sanctorum.

Our scriptures say God is for everyone. They say He knows what is in our conscious and He comes to everyone. They say our faith is as important for God as God is for us. The Bombay High Court while delivering the order observed, “It cannot be said that the said prohibition `is an essential and integral part of Islam’ and fundamental to follow the religious belief; and if taking away that part of the practice, would result in a fundamental change in the character of that religion or its belief.” The High Court further summed up the spirit in its verdict, “There is nothing in any of the verses which shows, that Islam does not permit entry of women at all, into a Dargah/Mosque and that their entry was sinful in Islam.” (From the BombayHigh Court’s verdict)

When we worship our deities of both genders with equal faith and devotion, why do we discriminate between their devotees based on their genders? Why men fear women presence in innermost religious circles? That brings us to this point that religion is one of the most primitive tools to maintain male domination/hegemony in the society.

The court’s verdict on Shani Shingnapur was a slap in the face of orthodox Hinduism the same way as the yesterday’s is on Muslim fundamentalists, especially when women were allowed entry in Haji Ali’s inner sanctum till 2011-12. Haji Ali or Shani Shingnapur, they say the practice to deny women their basic rights in the religious places is not restricted to any particular religion. In fact, women have been historically denied their religious rights – and the problem is acute in religions like Islam or Hinduism or in different tribal sects. There are many taboos humiliating and restricting women rights in our society and this is one of them – a practice that has been made socially acceptable even if it is fundamentally wrong.

©SantoshChaubey

THE KOLLAM QUESTIONS

THE QUESTIONS

Are we religious or are we ‘religious zealots’, the fanatics, who don’t care even for other lives?

Was it a man-made accident or a massacre? When a ‘man-made common sense’ said bursting firecrackers was dangerous when there were thousands of people around, what made those so-called custodians of Hinduism go ahead with the recipe of disaster?

Are temples failing to fulfill the very purpose they are built for – bringing your soul nearer to God?

The supposed journey of faith in life – from the ritualistic worship practices to the higher spiritual connects – are temples snapping the cord here by putting more emphasis on pomp and show, on materialism?

Shouldn’t temples be the places inspiring you to see that next step in your life when you don’t need a temple to be with God?

Over 30 crore deities are a way of life in Hinduism – giving easy access to faith – and the chance to transcend to that higher spiritual realm – but what about manipulations of faith like this – something that happened at Kollam’s Puttingal temple in Kerala?

If grand buildings and premises wouldn’t be there, would it deter devotees from visiting a temple? Suppose, if we had the ‘Dwarkamai’ as Sai Baba had left – preserved in its pristine form – would it make any difference? After all, that doesn’t prevent you from developing the dependent infrastructure with changing times.

High and mighty temples, aren’t they fundamentally flawed then – with practices like VIP queues, gender discrimination and multi-crore buildings – where you can find all but spirituality that a drenched soul desperately seeks?

This tendency to shower your power in any possible way – from gunshots in wedding processions – to sacrificing animals in temples – to displaying fireworks in weddings and in temples – isn’t it a social malaise?

And how deeply ingrained is this? Kerala chief minister Oomen Chandy said the government could not ban the practice of firecrackers exhibition in temples. Even after this massive tragedy, no strict action like putting a blanket ban on firecrackers/fireworks is expected from the all powerful Travancore Devaswom Board that manages over 1200 temples of kerala.

But the biggest, the most important question is, can state allows people like the temple priests or the people accountable for managing larger gathering that we see at religious events, to continue with their charade, with their whims and fancies of their perceived versions of ‘social might’?

PS: An annual ritual of firecrackers exhibition associated with the Puttingal Temple in Kerala’s Kollam district went horribly wrong after the huge stock of firecrackers stored in near vicinity of the temple and a densely populated area caught fire. The accident took 105 lives and the toll is expected to rise as many wounded are critically injured. Though the district administration didn’t allow the display of firecrackers, it is clear the government machinery didn’t take the matter seriously, something that allowed such a huge stockpile of dangerously inflammable material at a place where thousands were expected to gather. The government’s reluctance, at a time when Kerala is scheduled to elects its next government on May 16, would certainly have emboldened the Kollam temple administration to go ahead with its plan on firecrackers display.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

MR. RAVI SHANKAR IS STILL NOT REALISING!

In a newspaper interview published today, Mr. Ravi Shankar again reiterated that he would never pay a fine. He said he agreed to pay the compensation to develop the Yamuna floodplains. He also said that the farmers were happy with the compensation amount given by his Art of Living Foundation.

He lashed out at his critics for trying to paint his event in a negative light. He said the successful management of the World Culture Festival (WCF), which was even bigger than the Olympics and the FIFA soccer world cup events, should silence everyone. He said the place where the event was organised was a dumping ground and his Foundation would develop it into a beautiful biopark.

So, in a way, Mr. Ravi Shankar has further toughened his stand from what he was earlier saying.

But he is not realizing that this stand is so anti-middle class – ‘audacity of privilege’ – as one article described it. It is a well-established fact that popular sentiments tend to be with the weaker sections. Here Mr. Ravi Shankar sounded like an adamant powerbroker while those who were opposing his event were seen as working for a just cause. The sentiment was further augmented by the hostile comments that the WCF got from the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal.

Mr. Ravi Shankar may have pure intent but when you address masses to convey your viewpoints, it is not your intent, but your words that echo.

And the impression that have had loud echoes during all this WCF row is that Mr. Ravi Shankar acted as if he was above all – above the rule of law – above those activists crying hoarse – and above the common men who bore the brunt of incessant traffic nightmares in a city that is already reeling under the intense chaos of some 80 lakh vehicles making traffic snarls a daily routine.

That has not gone down well with masses, especially the target group that forms the support base of sages or religious gurus like Mr. Ravi Shankar – the urban middle class, the educated youth and the middle-age professionals.

The great Indian middle class that is projected to become the largest middle class base in the world by 2030 – a market of some 450 million people, as BBC and Harvard Business Review reports put it.

Just scroll through social media platforms and you can see the anger there.

Also, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is not Baba Ramdev.

The brand appeal that Mr. Ravi Shankar has is for classes while Ramdev has become a mass phenomenon. We need to accept that with the rapid strides his Patanjali brand of household products are making.

And another development that lends more justifications to the questions raised on the event is the cropping up of advertisements of Sri Sri Ayurveda products with the WCF. There is nothing wrong in trying to build outreach for your products but what about timing? The ‘purely’ marketing exercise just doesn’t gel with the tall claims of ‘world peace and humanitarianism’.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

WAS WCF A BAD BRAND INVESTMENT?

Till the World Culture Festival happened, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar or Mr. Ravishankar was probably a figure from a very small group of religious gurus in India who were more or less non-controversial. Mr. Ravishankar enjoyed a widespread support with a reputation of being ‘an efficient mediator in conflict resolution’.

Not anymore!

And the sharpest reflection of that sentiment is addressing him as ‘Mr. Ravishankar’ and not as ‘Sri Sri’, something that had become synonymous with him. Yes, many consciously tried to do it after the controversy on the World Culture Festival erupted and the stand that Mr. Ravishankar took – like he would rather go to jail than paying the fine asked by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) or that it was not a fine but a cess that he agreed to give.

The impression went that he took on law, that he bent it and blatantly tried to convey that he was far beyond it, that he was above all. And there would be many more than the participants or the audience at the World Culture Festival to share this feeling.

There was also another development that didn’t go unnoticed from those who are open minded about society and its religious extensions – a large, urban middle class, the prospective target audience of a spiritual-religious guru like Mr. Ravishankar, that builds and nurture its opinion based on logical thinking and rational perceptions.

In addition to harbouring a natural grudge, a middle class phenomenon, on abuse of authority and power that went into organizing the World Culture Festival, there is another spectacle that can hardly go unnoticed – that further questions the ‘noble intent’.

I, personally, did not have seen television commercials of ‘Sri Sri Ayurveda’ products before it, before the row (or frenzy for some) over the World Culture Festival. But, in the run up to the event and during the event, I saw it many times on television channels. Obviously, for the organizers of the event, the millions of eyeballs were the target and thus the millions of expected footfalls in the days to come.

I cannot say and I don’t know about the part of India Mr. Ravishankar has his ashram in, but we in Northern India, so far, had not seen the ‘Sri Sri’ products advertisements on the channels televised nationally, be it entertainment, be it news, be it infotainment or any other genre.

Till the World Culture Festival happened!

There was a coordinated and well-oiled effort to reach that elusive ‘effective frequency’ of advertisements to build the outreach.

But would it help take the brand ‘Sri Sri’ further?

Also, was the decision to hold a mega event in Delhi to take the ‘Art of Living Foundation’ and ‘Sri Sri’ brand name across the country influenced by the rapid strides made by products of another religious guru – Ramdev’s ‘Patanjali’ brand?

Obviously, Mr. Ravishankar denied so and Ramdev would not speak on it but these TV advertisements speak a lot.

But they certainly belie the tall claims of world peace, unity and humanitarianism.

Why these advertisements now only?

If the event was organized with such a noble intent like the world peace then there was no place for these advertisements!

At best, the event can be termed a breathtaking cultural extravaganza aimed at making Mr. Ravishankar a pan-India religious guru – to massify his brand appeal.

And the event would have been a brilliant marketing exercise in doing so but for the ‘Yamuna’ controversy.

When every concerned authority, from the Supreme Court to the NGT, was opposed to the event being organized at the Yamuna floodplains, Mr. Ravishankar made it prestige battle to have his say and got his way.

Combined with the fact that the political establishments (including the Delhi government) and the administration extended the olive branch and went out of the way to ensure smooth organization of a private event that caused endless traffic nightmares to millions in Delhi, the World Culture Festival sent negative feelers, that in fact, caused a dent into the ‘holy aura’ of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

It is not that ‘holy’ anymore!

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/