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Seer's arrest shock NRIs

In US most Indians are dismayed about Kanchi Shankaracharya's arrest and the controversy, writes Binay Kumar.
PTI | By Binay Kumar, California
PUBLISHED ON NOV 26, 2004 07:40 PM IST
Most Indians here realise that Jayalalitha, the melodramatic mercurial chief minister of Tamil Nadu, is hardly known for restraint. Her decision, therefore, to order the Tamil Nadu police to execute a late-night arrest of the Kanchi Shankaracharya on the day of Diwali only underlines tinsel-town antics which defy reason and plain logic.

Being thousands of miles away in America, most Indians are dismayed and bewildered, to put it mildly, about the issue and resulting controversy. Many organisations have expressed their anguish and anger through resolutions.

The latest episode pushes into insignificance the nation's horror a few year's ago at a similar arrest-drama carried out in the middle of the night in Chennai when Karunanidhi was brutalized before being taken away by the police, all because madam wanted to get even with him.

No one is questioning the validity of the charges in both cases; that must be left to the law of the land to decide. What is of concern here is the brazen audacity with which the authority of the state is misused to settle alleged political scores or push political agendas, and how religion is made a convenient tool to aid such motives.

Before I proceed any further, let me set the equations straight for our readers living overseas, many of whom are in a state of disbelief and shock. Not surprisingly, Shankaracharya's arrest - after a long spell of silence - was an event worthy of coverage in the mainstream American media (which normally has nothing to say about India unless it is something bizarre or outlandish). Be that as it may, this event is being hotly debated in the Indian community and most people, far away from their motherland that they live, have very little understating of the undercurrents.

One aged gentleman who enjoys enormous standing in the local Bay Area Indian community told me, "To my mind it is the equivalent of putting the Pope behind bars on Christmas Eve. It is scandalous!" I have heard comments of similar refrain from many.

Why has Shankaracharya suddenly earned the wrath of the lady? Wasn't she an ally of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar until recently? Sure enough Jayalalitha and her party have been very close to the Shankaracharya until a few months back. And that is why the unseemly drama is all the more startling. What changed her mind was possibly her immediate need to distance herself from the BJP in the aftermath of the electoral drubbing she received at the polls. In her calculation, it is time to appear before the electorate as equally anti-Brahminical, if not more, than her opponent, Karunanidhi. That also explains why the two foes find themselves on the same side on this issue.

There are principally three points which must be highlighted if the event has to be put in a rational perspective. Firstly, a Shankaracharya is not the equivalent of a Pope, because Hinduism is not like Christianity, neither in its theological and spiritual message nor in the organization of its ecclesiastical order. In fact, Roman Catholicism is the only religion which is recognized worldwide to have both temporal as well as spiritual powers. Since 1929, the Vatican, the capital of Catholicism from where the Pope presides over his vast ecclesiastical empire, has enjoyed the status of an independent state and is represented formally at the United Nations (though without voting rights). It maintains diplomatic relations with 166 nations, 69 of which have permanent diplomatic missions in the Vatican City. It is a member of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, is represented on the Board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and since 1997, a member of the World Trade Organization.

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