What Yogi Adityanath Overlooks
Hindus prefer a stable world of material benefits over the destabilising one of perennial religious activism
During the turbulence in 1992 to build the Ram temple in Ayodhya Ved Prakash Gupta, a prominent local BJP politician, went on record to express his annoyance at the repeated agitations in favour of the temple. His argument was that the city’s shopkeepers, traditionally strong supporters of BJP, were more concerned, as a consequence of the perennial unrest, about the declining volume of business than about the construction of the temple.
This reaction has a strong resonance today, for it prompts important questions about how Hindus will react, at a time of verifiable and painful economic dislocation, to the appeal of politicians on the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya, or now lately, the new proposal of Yogi Adiyanath to construct a giant statue of Rama on the banks of the Saryu river. Will they set aside their economic disappointments and fall prey to religious mobilisation, or will they reject this oft played religious card because of anger at something perhaps even closer to their heart – the erosion of their economic hopes?
In the Hindu worldview, artha, or the pursuit of material wellbeing, is among the four highest purusharthas or goals of life, along with dharma, kama and moksha. Hinduism, thus, gives materialism philosophical validity, not by inference but by specific inclusion.
Among the most important deities in a Hindu’s life are Lakshmi and Ganesha. Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu, is the goddess of wealth and prosperity. She is a ubiquitous presence in almost every home; her portrait adorns shops, offices and business establishments, and her blessings are sought to keep account books in the black.
On Deepavali, Hindus pray to her to bring wealth and prosperity. Many devotees keep their doors and windows open the whole night so that she can enter the home unobstructed. Ganesha too is much revered as a guarantor of material wealth, and especially commercial success.
Rama, who is the epitome of rectitude, maryada purushottam, is equally a highly venerated and loved deity. A temple in his name at his birth place, Ayodhya, will certainly be welcomed by most Hindus. But can politics in the name of Rama finesse the perceived neglect of Lakshmi and Ganesha?
For the legions of businessmen and entrepreneurs both in the organised and unorganised sector, whose dhanda has slumped due to the cumulative impact of demonetisation and the consequences of a less than adequately planned and implemented GST regimen, and for the millions of youth looking for jobs they cannot find, and for farmers reeling under unrelenting agrarian distress, will the discontents due to the devaluation of Lakshmi be more important than social conflict over constructing a temple for Rama, and the expense of building a giant statue in his name?
Certainly Kautilya, author of the Arthashastra – perhaps the world’s first comprehensive treatise on statecraft – is another significant elaboration on statecraft, says that it is the duty of the king to extend all assistance to the trader and businessman. The classic Tamil work, Thirukkural, authored by Thiruvalluvar as far back possibly as 300 BCE, is considered, especially in the south, as the very repository of wisdom. In it Thiruvalluvar has this pragmatic gem: ‘Pini imai Selvam Vilaivimban Emam Aniyemba Nattirkiv vainthu’ (Important elements constituting a nation are: being disease free; wealth; high productivity; harmonious living and strong defence).
The Ramayana itself has this invaluable nugget of advice: ‘ dhanam arjaya kakuthstha dhanamulam idam jagat, antaran nabhijamn nirdhanasya mrtasya ca’ (Acquire wealth. The world has for its roots wealth. There is no difference between a poor man and a dead one).
The truth is that, notwithstanding the remarkable loftiness of Hindu metaphysics, for most Hindus – and this has the sanction of ancient wisdom – the instinctive choice is a stable world of enduring material benefits, not the destabilising one of perennial religious activism. Even Rama, as maryada purushottam, would emphasise for those in power the importance of kartavyam karma, the selfless performance of good governance leading to increasing prosperity, over the cynical use of his name for short-term electoral gain.
Hindus do have loyalties of faith; on occasion they can be manipulated because of these. But, by and large, they are a pragmatic people who want to get on with the business of life, earning more and ensuring a better future for their children, rather than be mired in unending religious strife.
Hindus are right in believing that the correct policy should be respect for all faiths rather than the cynical politics of minority appeasement. But, especially in periods of economic distress, they also know that Rama cannot be used to deflect attention from Lakshmi. BJP will have to bear this in mind if it tries to whip up the politics of Hindutva in the countdown to 2019.