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One size does not fit all

There is diversity even among those who have the same religious identity. The current anointment is being compared by some to the ‘coronation’ of Lord Rama. Will the RSS/BJP now decree who is the right sort of Hindu?

columns Updated: Sep 16, 2013 23:38 IST
RSS,BJP,Atal Bihari Vajpayee

The RSS/BJP is already sounding the victory bugle even before the battle has begun. It appears that they no longer need a ‘mukhauta’, à la Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The communal trouble in Muzaffarnagar spreading through west Uttar Pradesh, claiming scores of innocent lives, creating mayhem, displacing thousands to refugee camps is the perfect backdrop for the anointment of the Gujarat chief minister as the BJP’s prime ministerial prospect. Declaring him as the Vikas Purush sound similar to the 2009 futile exercise of declaring LK Advani as the Loh Purush.

The current anointment is being compared by some to the ‘coronation’ of Lord Rama. While we shall return to this analogy later, it is significant that this column is being filed on Onam, the universal festival of all Keralites. The Aryavarta tradition informs us that Mahabali is the king of the Asuras, whose elimination was necessary for humans to survive. Hence, Vishnu descends as Vamana avatar to the audience of king Mahabali. The guest is accorded the warmest of welcomes and asked to seek any gift he wishes. Vamana seeks ‘three feet of land’. His wish being granted, Vishnu assumes the form of ‘Viswa roopa darsana’ and places one foot on ‘swarga loka’ (heaven), one on ‘bhoo loka’ (earth) and then asks Mahabali where to place the third! With Mahabali’s head alone remaining unoccupied, he places his foot there and pushes him down to ‘patala loka’ (under world) thus killing him. Realising that he has been cheated, Mahabali asks Vishnu to allow him to return to his people for a day every year. That day is Onam. For one set of Hindus, therefore, the death of Mahabali is the occasion to celebrate, and for others, it is his resurrection!

Will the RSS/BJP decree who is the right Hindu and who is the wrong one?

Let us return to Rama. Amongst the Ramayana’s myriad variations is one called the Ravanayana, which has filtered down through India’s sustaining oral tradition. Like many children of my generation, the stories of the Ramayana and Mahabharata were transmitted to me in nightly installments by my grandfather over many months. I remember asking my grandfather, to his visible annoyance, why all princes and kings from the south of the Vindhyas, in the Ramayana were depicted in animal form and not as humans — Vali, Sugriva, Jambavantha, Hanuman etc. My grandfather would philosophically dismiss this by saying that ‘God does not differentiate between life forms’. Only much later could I conjecture that this epic was probably being composed during the battle for Aryan supremacy over the Dravidians. For, after all, the greatest Ram Bhakt in the epic was the Dravidian Prince, Hanuman, paying obeisance to the Aryavarta, Rama.

Ravanayana, as the name suggests, centres around Ravana, who even according to Valmiki, was a highly learned and a pious Shiva devotee. Shiva, pleased with Ravana’s devotion, grants him a boon of his choice. Ravana asks for immortality, to be protected from death by natural organic decay and by any human or animal. Continuing to rule Lanka for centuries, he gets bored of his earthly existence and seeks liberation or moksha. For this, however, he would have to die, in the first place. Thanks to Shiva’s boon, this cannot happen. In Indian mythology, when faced with apparently insoluble problems, one person who is invariably approached for a solution is the Muni, Narada. Narada advises Ravana that as he can neither die naturally nor be killed by any human or animal, the only way he can achieve moksha is by dying at the hands of God. He tells Ravana to engineer a conflict with God when he descends to Earth in the Ram Avatar and, thus, achieve his objective.

In a narration as long as the Valmiki version, the story goes on of how Sita was abducted to induce Rama to come to Lanka and fight Ravana. Recollect, even Valmiki’s Ramayana does not suggest that Ravana misbehaved with Sita in her confinement in Lanka. In the battle, Ravana, dismayed that he may have to wait for the next yuga as Rama is unable to kill him, sends Vibhishana to tell Rama where he should aim his arrow — an act that saves Vibhishana’s life. Therefore, the Ram Lila and Dussehra marking the triumph of good over evil could well mark the moksha of Ravana. There is no good or evil, no hero or a villain in the Ravanayana.

India’s richness, therefore, does not exist only in the plurality of its religions, languages, ethnicity and cultural traditions. There is immense diversity, even among those who embrace the same religious or linguistic identity.

The BJP’s PM-hopeful invokes the name of Sardar Patel, at the drop of the hat, as the unifier of modern India. Thus, seeking to (mis)appropriate that legacy. India’s integrity has never been confined to its territorial unity alone. The country’s soul rests on the continuous unfolding of the idea of India which is based on the strengthening of the bonds of commonality that run through our immense socio-cultural diversity. India’s integrity can never be furthered by seeking to impose any form of uniformity — religious, linguistic, cultural, etc, — upon its rich diversity. Any attempt to do so will perilously endanger our unity and integrity.

It is precisely this that was attempted in the 2002 communal pogrom in Gujarat. The country today is asked to endorse the extension of this Gujarat model for the whole of India. If this is the case, then what is in store is not vikas but vinash. Young India has no dearth of leaders, what it needs is a vision. If this is the RSS/BJP vision, then being forewarned must mean being forearmed to preserve and consolidate modern India.

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Sep 16, 2013 23:28 IST