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A pilgrim’s progress

At last, a book that takes a long, hard look at saving Hinduism from its self-styled flag-bearers, writes Vir Sanghvi about Jagmohan's Reforming Vaishno Devi and a case for Reformed, Reawakened and Enlightened Hinduism.

books Updated: Jul 23, 2010 23:34 IST
Vir Sanghvi

Reforming Vaishno Devi and a case for Reformed, Reawakened and Enlightened Hinduism
Jagmohan
Rupa Rs 395 pp 305

One of the problems with the current avatar of the BJP is that so few of its leaders bother to spell out their vision of Hinduism. Some take the line that religion is a personal matter (which begs the question of why they are members of a party that pins its fortunes on Hindutva). Others talk vaguely about ‘Hindu tolerance’ only so that they can contrast it with ‘Muslim intolerance’. And others talk about Hindus (a poor, downtrodden people who have suffered at the hands of evil secularists, apparently). But not about Hinduism.

Among the many reasons I admire Jagmohan, the former BJP minister who sadly, seems to find no place in his party these days, is because he has no hesitation in talking about Hinduism. When Jagmohan was governor of Jammu and Kashmir, he visited the Vaishno Devi shrine and was so horrified by what he found that he came back and wrote in an official note: “If one were to see the moral and material degeneration of present-day India, all that one has to do is walk from Katra to Vaishno Devi.”

Jagmohan’s tenure as governor of J&K has now been demonised by ‘secular’ journos. (In their retelling, he urged Kashmiri Pandits to abandon their homes and livelihoods and run away for a life of misery in refugee camps which the Pandits cheerfully agreed to do while secularism-loving Islamist terrorists begged them to stay and live in peace and harmony!) But even his worst critics will agree that his clean-up of Vaishno Devi is a tremendous achievement almost without parallel in modern India. As a consequence, the number of pilgrims has increased from 5 lakh per year to 75 lakh. And all of them find the experience safer and cleaner.

Jagmohan has now used his experiences in Vaishno Devi as the starting point for an examination of Hinduism. His view is that Hinduism can be looked at from three levels.

At level one, Hinduism is the philosophy of the Vedas and the Upanishads — the great religion that fascinates philosophers all over the world. At level two is temple-and-festival Hinduism, the religion as it is followed by ordinary people.

But it is level three Hinduism that worries Jagmohan the most. This is the Hinduism that seems to be about “superstition, spurious rites, malevolent cults, caste-divisions, gender discrimination etc.” Jagmohan argues that this is “violative not only of the basic structure of Hinduism but also of modern sensitivities and norms of human rights”. In his view, the way ahead is clear. We need to “totally eliminate” level three Hinduism, clean up level two Hinduism and focus more on the basic philosophy (level one) that makes Hinduism such a great religion.

I don’t think anybody in his right mind will dispute much of what Jagmohan has to say here. But he must surely be aware of the problem: eliminate level three Hinduism and you are striking at the very heart of the Ayodhya movement, of the Bajrang Dal, of the VHP, of the politics of caste and of many of the issues that his party uses to win votes.

This is a thought-provoking book. LK Advani should read it. And Nitin Gadkari should have it read out aloud to him.