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Aham Bhaktam: the dimensions of Bhakts on political spectrum


Kishore Asthana

The word ‘Bhakt’ has been lately made an epithet by some on the left side of our current political divide. This is dismaying. I wish these name-callers had selected some other word to give vent to their angst. However, that they chose this ancient word reveals what is actually behind their mind-set.

In this mood, let me explain to those who wish to learn what a real Bhakt is, at least from my perspective.

Yes, I am a follower of the Dharm, an unequivocal Bhakt. Do not take ‘Dharm’ in the religious sense. My ‘Dharm’ is ‘duty’ and my bhakti is all encompassing. It includes those who agree with me and those who don’t.  It also includes all others in between. I do not get viscerally riled if someone says things against my faith, my idols, or my nation, or my environment, or my friends. I think about their motives and whether what they have said and done harms my society. When I say ‘society’ I mean my family and friends, my countrymen, my India and my Earth. If it does, I oppose them logically, with the required amount of vehemence, in the spirit of my Dharm.

I oppose even those who agree with my political leanings if they do something that is harmful to my society. I ignore dissent or negative comments if they do not result in short or long term harm to my society.

Viewing the current agitation and allegations and counter-allegations from both sides, I ask myself, “what does my Dharm dictate under the circumstances? Who is on the side of the right and who is on the side of the wrong? Who is Dharmic in this chaos and who is Adharmik?

I can find Dharmik people on both sides of the ideological spectrum. Imagine a long band. One end is white and the other black. In between, there are shades of gray. All those within my conscience are ranged along this band. Their positioning depends upon whether, in my view, they are Dharmic or Adharmic, with the real Dharmic ones aligned on the lighter side.

On the real dark side of this band, I find all terrorists, regardless of their nationality or religion. Here I see those who initiate anti-India slogans and those who engineer and lead anti-India demonstrations. I also find those ‘right-wingers’ who resort to death threats or threats of rape etc. against those who they oppose. I find everyone here who seeks to divide India, physically or metaphorically, for whatever reason.

Just a few millimeters away from them towards the darkest grey, I find those agitators who burn national and private property and stop normal lives in pursuit of their political demands – demands for reservations for example. Here are those, too, who resort to physical violence against those who voice views they are opposed to.

Just a smidgeon more towards the greyer side, but still fairly dark, I find those influential people in the media, politics and society who actively support and defend these dark forces. They do this by writing articles, giving speeches and recirculating posts on social media that further the agenda of dark ones.

These people are not ‘misguided’. They are conscious believers in the discourse of these anti-Nationals, on both sides of the political divide. Often, they resort to chicanery. They use the power of the media and the power of their social status to spread the message of darkness everywhere they can.

Yes, I consider them merely a fraction better than the ones in real darkness. These people harm the society in two ways – firstly by spreading the message of the dark and secondly by distracting the country’s attention from real issues like poverty, education, farmers, employment, health, economic development etc.

Many other Adharmic are here too, including industrialists who blatantly pollute my rivers, builders who illegally chop down forests and those who undermine society through corruption. All those who promote superstition also populate this area.

Then come the masses, mostly young people who gather and shout slogans. It does not matter who they are supporting or who they are reacting against. They are in the grey area on both sides of the ideological divide. They are easily moved and they rely on others to form their opinions. They are puppets with their puppet-masters hiding in the dark, convincing them that their views are entirely their own. I do not consider them anti-national. They are merely guided by the dialogue fed to them. They are bhakts, too, in a naïve, twisted sort of way. They pray with their faces towards the dark.

At this stage, I wonder why the authorities do not realize this difference in shades of motivation and work out a different strategy for countering each segment. Force is appropriate against some on the darkest side, regardless of whether they support or oppose the regime. Social shaming, exposure and financial pressure are better for the social supporters of the dark. A gentler approach, proper communication and understanding is more suited to those who are being manipulated puppet-like.

Problems escalate when the same strategy is used for people populating all shades of gray.  Furthermore, when this is perceived to be especially targeted only against those holding anyone mindset, it makes the situation worse. A true leader will not take sides and deal in an appropriately firm manner with all the dark ones.

As my vision moves more towards the lighter grey side, I increasingly find more and more logical people. These people, regardless of their socio-political leanings, rely on analysis of events and their real implications for our society. They may believe in a certain ideology but are not blind slaves to it to the extent of seeing everything rosy in it.

Such people react in a measured manner, addressing issues rather than personalities. There are quite a few here, too. There are some defense services officers, some corporate executives and some retired people populating the light grey. I espy a very few social activists but hardly any journalists and politicians here.

Having had my fill of the dark, I turn around and look towards the brightest side of the band. I see my ancient India here, the fount of my Bhakti. I sense sadness in her heart and tears in her eyes. I bow my head, partly in reverence and partly in shame at what past generations of my countrymen have done to her and so many in the present generation are intent, even now, on doing to her. Our propensity for divisiveness and a warped sense of what is right and what is wrong have brought her to this pass.

Through good thoughts, I try to assure her that all will be well but, knowing the resolve of foreign and domestic dark forces, the mindsets of the opinion-makers, the gullibility of the puppet majority amongst my countrymen and the cynical vote-bank politics and frequent ham-handedness of our politicians, there is not much conviction in my thoughts.

All I can do is affirm to my India that, whatever happens, I am and will remain her Bhakt. I will not take sides except against anyone who attempts to harm her. I will not react in a knee-jerk manner to any provocation. I will willingly lay down my life for her and will respect others who do so too, both at our troubled borders and inside. I will analyze issues and look below the obvious to see where they originate. I will cut the strings if anyone tries to make a puppet out of me. Then I will determine my own action.

Yes, as a true Bhakt, I will be my own man – and my India’s.

Mr. Asthana is a resident of Gurgaon. Twitter: @kishoreasthana

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Indian Politics and Polity Shift to the Right and Away from Europe

India’s 2014 election was a clear rejection of the long serving Indian Congress Party and its soft socialism

Rahul Gandhi becomes president of Congress as mother Sonia Gandhi steps down
Rahul Gandhi steps in as President of Congress, Wikipedia

By Dr. Richard Benkin, Chicago

  • India is world’s largest democracy
  • Indian politics is always under international coverage
  • India is witnessing political shift due to its leaders and their transformation

The great democracy was electing its national leader.  It was a fight between the party in power with a leftist tinge; and the more conservative opposition with its upstart candidate. The media was rooting openly for the leftist candidate and would stop at almost nothing, even vilifying the conservative upstart as evil, not just wrong.  The candidate on the left seemed to feel entitled, that being head of state was all in the family.  And, as you probably have guessed, that candidate lost.  You might or might not have guessed that, despite the familiarity to American voters, this was not the United States.  It was India.

will also hold a meeting there with the Indian community. Wikimedia Commons
Narendra Modi’ win in 2014 elections stunned the whole nation. Wikimedia Commons

India’s 2014 election was a clear rejection of the long serving Indian Congress Party and its soft socialism.  Its candidate, then 43 year old, Rahul Gandhi, was the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Prime Ministers; and though India is the world’s largest democracy, not the world’s largest monarchy, it was “his turn” to take the nation’s top spot.

The similarities between the Indian Congress Party and the US Democrat Party stop, however, with how the two parties and their dynastic candidates reacted to their defeats.  While there is ample evidence that the Democrats are moving further to the left, India’s Congress, and especially its former candidate, seem to have taken the lessons of their defeat to heart.  Moreover, we too often gauge a polity’s position on the left-right spectrum by which major party dominates.  In the Indian case, however, we get a deeper understanding by examining changes in the out of power party.

Also Read: Rahul Gandhi Elected as President of Congress Amidst Celebration of Followers

The Indian National Congress Party was founded in 1885 and, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, was the principal leader of the movement that led to India’s independence from Great Britain in 1947.  It has ruled India for roughly 57.5 of its 70.5 years as a modern nation (81.6 percent of its entire existence).  Congress fashions itself left-center party with “democratic socialism” as one of the party’s guiding principles; and over the years, I have written a number of articles, criticizing what I believe to be weak Congress policies.  It has followed the lead of soft left European parties, in contrast with the Indian nationalism of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  Amitabh Tripathi is a well-known Indian political commentator.  I caught up with him in New Delhi in February and asked him about how the Congress Party was reacting to its crushing 2014 defeat.

RB:  So, was the 2014 election a strong statement about traditional Indian politics?

AT:  Definitely.  Till 1991, Indian politics was at a status quo with socialist, leftist, and communist stances prevalent.  After 1991, right wing politics emerged as a political force.  Since then, Indian politics has shifted to the right; and from time to time for more than two decades, left and right engaged in direct political confrontations.  Congress led the coalition of leftists; and the BJP emerged as the leader of the right.  The BJP ruled the country for six years (1998-2004) and its policies swung to the right, including a vocal and unapologetic relationship with Israel, moving forward strategically with the United States, and exploring India’s role in the Indian Ocean to contain China and its imperialistic ambitions. When the BJP lost power to a Congress led coalition in 2004, the Indian polity again shifted left; and Congress became a complete replica of its 1960s self—a totally leftist party.

Rahul Gandhi becomes the president of Congress as mother Sonia Gandhi Steps Down
Rahul Gandhi traveled to many Hindu temples during the campaign (something he avoided in his unsuccessful 2014 run). It is believed he also did not go to any Muslim places of worship, which was unusual for any top leader from the Congress Party.

In 2014, when elections occurred, the Indian polity moved on to the right on issues from economics to culture.  Before the election, Congress did not read the undercurrent of the people and moved even further left on those issues.  This has been widely acknowledged as the reason for its crushing defeat.

RB:  So it was a real shift to the right among Indians, which sounds a lot like our own experience in 2016.  In the US, the losing Democrat party has reacted by moving further left.  Has India’s Congress tried to understand the reasons behind its defeat?

AT:  The latter statement is correct.  Immediately after losing the elections, Congress realized it was not simply an electoral defeat.  Its ideological stagnation led to the historical loss.  And it tried to rectify that and re-invent itself.

RB:  How have they done that?

AT:  I observed it on three fronts, three major decisions.  First, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the former party President and current head of the dynastic family, took an almost “voluntary” retirement.  She had become the face of hard left and anti-Hindu policies.

RB:  Sounds familiar.  Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi has become the same here, but she does not seem to be going anywhere.

AT:  Second, in ten years of Congress rule, they openly flaunted themselves as very pro-Muslim, which irritated the majority Hindus in India.  But last year, in prestigious elections in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Gujarat), Sonia Gandhi did not address a single rally.  Plus, Congress Party Vice-President (now President) Rahul Gandhi traveled to many Hindu temples during the campaign (something he avoided in his unsuccessful 2014 run).  We believe he also did not go to any Muslim places of worship, which was unusual for any top leader from the Congress Party.  Some people might say it was an opportunistic political move, but I would say it was a well-calculated shift in the party to shed the tags of pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu.

Third, since the days of the freedom movement before independence, and during the rule of Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi (almost the entire period from independence to 1984); Congress followed the policy of demonizing the wealthy and glorifying the poor.  It seems, however, that Rahul Gandhi wants the population to know that he strongly favors the wealth generating middle class and capitalism; he opposes only crony capitalism.  He says the poor should aspire to become wealthy through greater opportunities and employment.

RB:  What about Rahul Gandhi himself?  Does he have a future in Indian politics?

AT:  Since 2014, we have watched his evolution from entitled politician to serious politician who understands the people’s aspirations and country’s need.  Perhaps most importantly has been his understanding of foreign policy and India’s role and responsibilities at a global level.  He has said that he’s ready to take the responsibility of the office of Prime Minister if elected, and he could make a formidable candidate.

Raul Maino
Rahul Gandhi can potentially cause a shift in Indian politics due to his transformation. Twitter

RB:  I’ve heard a lot of people talking positively about him and his growth in my time here.  I believe you also told me he has spent a lot of this time really listening to people from all classes and communities.  Thank you, Amitabh ji, it’s always a pleasure to hear your thoughts, and always a pleasure to be in India.

In a larger context, we have seen a reaction against decades of leftist overreach worldwide:  Donald Trump’s election; Brexit; and a number of elections in Europe rejecting the European Union and loss of national identity (most recently in Italy).  There has been little focus on Asia perhaps because it has not been in the orbit of traditional left-right equations in the West.  India, however, has become a major player on the world stage under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  It has historical conflicts with both Pakistan and China, and can be a major bulwark against Chinese expansion westward.  India also has strengthened its alliances with both the United States and Israel while maintaining relations with Iran.  The rightward movement there is highly significant in plotting future Indian geopolitical moves.

[Richard Benkin is a human rights activist and author with a strong concentration in South Asia.  Amitabh Tripathi appears often on Indian television and in other media.  He is also a contributor to What is Moderate Islam, edited by Richard Benkin.  This interview was conducted in New Delhi on February 27, 2018, while Benkin was there as part of a recently-concluded human rights mission.]