May 2014. Indian children celebrate BJP General Election victory. Demotix/ Abhishek Chinnappa. All rights reserved.It is understandable that some British Indians and native civil rights activists would have preferred the Cameron Government to disinvite the Indian Prime Minister to Britain. They expressed their view by projecting a message on the Palace of Westminster. Did they really expect their Prime Minister to change his mind on seeing a well-lit screen screaming “Modi Not Welcome”? More powerful protests have failed in the past and the official red carpet has been rolled out for several foreign leaders with more questionable human rights records..
After Bihar loss, @narendramodi gets 'not welcome' message in UK
— India Today (@IndiaToday) November 9, 2015
The screen showed Modi with a sword followed by an image of Hitler who kept turning into Modi. The religious symbol of ‘Om’ kept turning into the Swastika. It was inappropriate and offensive. If the activists wanted to promote religious tolerance, the cause dear to the domestic critics of Modi, their message was not just in bad taste but also counter-productive.
In India where Modi has just been rebuffed by the voters of Bihar, the message is seen as silly. To associate ‘Om” either with Modi or with the Swastika makes no sense to the Hindus fighting bigotry. It only provokes the extremists who prefer violence and disorder to argumentation.
One has to go back to the Vedic literature to understand the significance of this sacred syllable in the ‘meditative practice of Yoga’. And apart from Hinduism, three other Indian religions – Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism also use this sacred symbol or its variants.
In the words of a western scholar, ‘Om’ symbolises “three worlds in the Soul; the three times – past, present and future eternity, the three divine powers – creation, preservation and transformation in one Being, and three essences in one Spirit – immortality, omniscience and joy. It is a symbol for the perfected Spiritual Man.”
An outbreak of religiosity is sparked by political campaigns before any election. Religion serves as a polarising force. Hinduism is presented in a distorted form because it does not have a central authority or a single sacred text. It is all-embracing and gives freedom for theological dissent. When some of the present BJP leaders led the campaign for the demolition of a mosque and the establishment of a temple of Lord Ram, Prof. Richard Gombrich, said that the BJP cannot be described as a Hindu fundamentalist party since it does not subscribe to the fundamentals of Hinduism!
The sections of the Modi-followers who are fired by religious zeal are committed to a very different idea of Hinduism than that envisioned by the sages of the Vedic age. Over the centuries Hinduism embraced diversity to the extent that it is described not as a religion but a way of life.
Some charismatic Hindu religious preachers and mythological TV serials have unwittingly helped in the mobilisation of Hindu votes and raising the level of religious intolerance. At times, the BJP was helped by Congress governments compromising on the principle of secularism enshrined in the Constitution – again for political gain.
The rise of Hindu sectarianism in India has been ascribed to the neglect of classical learning over the decades. Those seeking to fight the bigots in India suffer from a handicap because they too do not understand Hinduism. One can hardly expect the UK-based Awaaz Network to show great understanding of either India or Hinduism. For their protest, the activists just borrowed the template used by the religious fundamentalists.
They perhaps also wanted to enact a symbolic show to counter the light-and-sound spectacle organised in the Wembley Stadium by Modi-supporters in order to present the Prime Minister as a rock star with global appeal. The kind of message projected by the Awaaz Network message cannot counter sectarianism. It can only fuel religious intolerance.
In the UK, divisions in the South Asian communities can hardly be a cause for concern to the establishment. And it also has a large Indian community that hopes that Modi will transform the country of their birth. There are others committed to the ideology of the BJP and would love to see a muscular theological autocracy in India.
Hindus and Muslims living in Britain fall back on their faiths to lessen their sense of insecurity. They have largely remained uninfluenced by those natives who ridicule their God. A Hindu living away from India is a bigger Hindu and a Muslim living away from India is a bigger Muslim. This is the general pattern of behavior of the Diaspora. The non-resident Indians played no small part in supporting Modi in the national elections 18 months ago.
In the wake of the demolition of the Babri mosque in India, many British Hindus supported the move to build the Ram Temple on the site of the mosque. One heard anti-minorities comments from some Hindus long settled in Britain. This writer had to tell them that they would not like such comments made against them by some White goons.
The term “Love Jihad” was first heard in the UK in the London School of Economics as some Hindu young men complained that the Sikh and Hindu girls were being targeted in the British universities.
Since Awaaz Network hopes to fight sectarianism in South Asia, it would do well to understand how to participate in this creative struggle. Their opponents are quite effective even without being in power but currently the secularists face a double whammy.
In India, more effective than the leftists will be the Hindus invoking the true spirit of their religion. It has been pointed out that the secular forces must understand how sectarianism should not be fought. India is in a temper and images such as ‘Om’ merging into the Swastika are counter-productive.
Those fighting the communal forces must shun excessive exuberance and not show any anger. One commentator noted that just when the BJP was leading an agitation to build a Ram Temple, some secularists started pointing out the flaws in Ram’s character. Such tactics only weaken the struggle against religious intolerance.
It has been India’s strength not to think in black-and-white terms. “If you are not with us, you are against us” is not what is normally heard in India even though the TV discussions during the recent election campaign indicated otherwise.
But during a political season, aberrations take place. If Awaaz Network understands this, it will be more effective in countering communalism in India.