Friday, 2 December, 2022
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With Rafale puja, Rajnath Singh was just Hindu Everyman. Criticising him is political suicide

Only a few years ago, almost all of India queued up outside temples to feed milk to Ganesha idols. So why the brouhaha now?

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The brouhaha this week over Defence Minister Rajnath Singh placing a coconut and drawing an ‘Om’ during the shastra puja of the first Rafale jet in France was unnecessary – politically and culturally. Not because I believe in religious rituals. I don’t. But it was unnecessary because millions of Indians believe in it. It is technically right to dismiss it as obscurantist and superstitious when a top official does it. But it is politically suicidal to say so these days.

Critics of the BJP must understand that Rajnath Singh was playing Everyman for devout Hindus this week. And the criticism of it only strengthened his base.

When Rajnath Singh drew the red Om on the Rafale jet, it was an extension of an image familiar to millions of Hindu homes across India where the dad-figures did the same. It was in sync with the Om so many neighbourhood grocery store owners write on top of every bill, and with people who drive their new cars first to the temple for blessings.

The Om-on-the-Rafale was actually the stuff of picture-postcard Incredible India. It was what poet Ashok Vajpeyi said many years ago at an event at the National Museum in Delhi: “There is a simultaneity to the way India lives – we live in several centuries at the same time.” It is what Indians take pride in – that they live in the 21st century, but follow ancient unbroken Hindu traditions. It is what the Western world finds ‘exotic’, ‘colourful’ and ‘fascinating’ about Indians.

But aggressive political Hinduism in India is so ripe today that smugly superior Indian atheists and Euro-style liberals (like myself) can no longer afford to be seen as being contemptuous of religion in public sphere. They don’t have to accept religion – they just have to make peace with the extreme prevalence of religiosity among Indians and the pujas before ISRO launches so that missions get ‘godspeed’. There will never be, and never was, a scrupulous church-state separation in India.

Also read: Why India of today looks more like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Israel

Sacrificing rationality to politics

It wasn’t just the memes, tweets and political cartoons that called out the Indian celebration of superstition in France, even politicians did. But cartoonists, meme-makers and Twitter stars are not in the business of fighting and winning elections. Politicians are. It is politically myopic for Congress party’s Mallikarjun Kharge and Sanjay Dikshit to jump in calling it a “tamasha” and saying Vijayadashami and the Rafale aircraft “don’t match”. Or for the NCP’s Sharad Pawar to compare the Rafale fighter jet to a “new truck”.

Politicians routinely endorse religious events and symbols. Sonia Gandhi wears the Hindu red thread around her wrist almost all the time. Others routinely check rahu and ketu schedules before swearing-ins and cabinet formations.

The Om-on-the-Rafale is only the most recent image in this series. Almost every prime minister has visited the Tirupati temple, attended Iftar or worn a Sikh turban, held a kirpan or shot an arrow at a Raavan effigy. Even liberal politicians like Congress MP Shashi Tharoor had to bow to Sabarimala devotees and give up on gender rights. The Ayodhya matter has killed so many people in the last three decades just because it is impossible to win an argument when it comes to people’s blind faith. Religious rituals may appear irrational to some, but many people in this country can kill and die for the sake of their irrationality.

Also read: World already accepts India as Hindu Rashtra, for its principle of unity in diversity

The worshippers

Let me recount an incident from 2001. India’s Ministry of External Affairs had organised a dinner for the foreign media at a five-star hotel in Delhi. I was working with The Washington Post back then. The ministry spokeswoman asked a newly arrived American journalist how she found India so far.

“I am surprised by how immensely religious Indians are,” the journalist replied.

The spokeswoman looked visibly shocked, offended and uncomfortable. “Really? Religious? Indians are not that religious. Are you sure you are not talking about Pakistanis?”

“No, I meant Indians are religious,” the journalist replied.

This exchange has stayed with me. An English-educated peripatetic diplomat either didn’t think that Indians are very religious or didn’t like the image of Indians as being very religious.

And yet it was just six years before this exchange that almost all of India had queued up outside temples to feed milk to Ganesha idols.

Also read: How Indian secularism could still be saved

Theory of everything

Now, the Ganesha-drinking-milk is my Theory of Everything to understand contemporary India. It didn’t happen a century ago. It wasn’t several generations ago. It happened just over two decades ago. The same set of people are still here – working, voting and forwarding WhatsApp messages.

Why are people voting for the BJP even though unemployment is high? Why are people saying lynching incidents aren’t a matter of concern even though it is seeing an alarming rise? Why are intelligent people willing to believe blatantly false WhatsApp forwards? Why do people still believe that the Nehru-Gandhi family can rescue the Congress party despite evidence to the contrary?

Because people are prisoners of blind faith and do not like rational arguments when it comes to their core beliefs. People from our families and neighbourhoods believed Ganesha idols were drinking milk not too long ago, after all. It is the Theory of Everything.

This is not to say people are inherently stupid. But the willing suspension of disbelief is a strong urge. And belief has always moved more boulders and set the EVMs ringing.

Even the murdered atheist Narendra Dhabolkar had to concede that one person’s superstition is another person’s devout faith.

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  1. Wow, what a convenient position you are taking “I dont believe this, but you cannot condemn this in this era”. This category of folks are far more dangerous than the one displaying anti-science(lemon under Rafale). Your category is like, me and my kids will study and progress, but at the same we display all superstition symbols for common folks so they will stay always down believing all non-sense. Just Wow.
    In this era, opposition to your position is exactly what is needed, thats why opposition failed miserably.
    If lemons so powerful, buy a pair of lemons lets say 10 rupee, our Job is done. Why we need costly Rafale to keep enemies at Bay.

  2. The brouhaha this week over Defence Minister Rajnath Singh placing a coconut and drawing an ‘Om’ during the shastra puja Rajnath Singh is good man and believe in superpower to childhood.

  3. Hawking said every thing in life is chance.Dhoti wala says it is prayer. Yeah Right, we will see. The latter wants two in one the jet and Hindu Bhai ka vote.

  4. Rafale bought at the cost of tax payers is neither a personal car of Rajnath sing or BJP, we have no objection if they prrfrom any number of pujas as long as it personal. The Rafale has been purchased at the cost of tax payer’s faith so a puja represent a particular religion is not right. Whenever armed forces procure some thing, pundit, granti, maulvi a and pastor perform rituals..

    • when indira and nehru is doing it is indias pride. When AK Antony ‘s wife make the cross , its secularism . What a dirty politics india and indian media and some foolish ppl ( so called intellutals) trap in this.

    • India is pre-dominantly Hindu. after partition. it is time that people like you understand that rational fact and drop your superstition of India of secularism or multi-faith.

  5. Ideally armed forces should not have been used for politics. Now they are being used big time. Where this will lead us to is another matter.

  6. Reyaz : Rafale Jet belongs to every indian whatsoever religion he is practising . I suppose it would be flown by pilots of all the religion whether the pilot is hindu or muslim or sikh or christian . Then why not create a sense of oneness by allowing to do customary rituals of all the religion at a same time .It would give a pilot( hindu/muslim/christian/sikh) a feeling that it belongs to him and his family i,e India. OR we can jst keep aside all relious practices from Defence Area to keep it more simple in all means. I somehow felt what if our defence minister would have been a muslim guy and were doing all customary rituals and offering namaz and dua’s in front of the whole world (media) , it wouldn’t have been so easy i guess, what do u guess?
    Let better sense prevail!

  7. This writer is clearly a leftist liberal moron. So, Rajnath Singh’s puja tells her that India does not have “scrupulous church-state separation.” Had she not noticed before that the Indian constitution recognizes religions and accords them different privileges? Did she not know that the Indian state controls many temples all over the country? So, all these were “scrupulous church-state separation” for this hypocrite, but not Singh’s puja of Rafale? And, is this self declared Euro style liberal ok with England having an official church and religion? Is she also ok with Europe rejecting Turkey into EU based on Turkey not being a Christian country? I suppose these are kosher for this Euro-styled liberal joker just because they are “phoren?” This writer is nothing but a deracinated self loathing Indian who has no sense of identity or self respect.

    • Your comment reminds me of an interesting, and a very useful article from the prestigious New Scientist magazine. The focus was on investigating the significance of ‘PURPOSE’ in human life through a proper (scientific) study. It stated: “…nations with the highest ratings of meaning in life were also the most religious.” (Burrell, T., 2017: 30; Why am I here. NS, Jan. issue).

      You should evaluate the Def Min’s action not through the prism of science but through the lens of sociology, anthropology and psychology. Every human action (individual or collective) doesn’t have to be scientific. Also, politicians must be the least perfect people, especially when it comes to being politically correct. In fact they are provocateurs. By the way, journalists are no better.

  8. I think this is a needless debate. How many of us perform a Puja – nimbus under the wheel included when we buy a new car or a bike? Almost all of us. It is an innocuous practice, which we half- believe and causes no harm. It would harm if the rituals substitute scientific processes and theories. This won’t happen. This is Indian way of combining traditions with modern thinking- we instinctively believe in both. One may term it a twin value system, but does it really matter? The comfort that we receive by performing a Puja could be imaginary but it won’t harm us so long as we keep a proper balance. Excessive indulgence in religious rituals could be harmful and should be avoided. But such innocuous practices could be tolerated. Let us not waste our time in futile debates.

    • Would you be so accommodating if the rituals were of a different religion? While all are free to follow their own religion, there is a reason government function are meant to be free from religious rituals in a secular country.

      • India is a Hindu majority nation. This is a statement of fact and no amount of argument can alter this fact. So, if a Hindu Minister of a Hindu majority country performs an innocuous Hindu ritual, why make a controversy of it? Are you annoyed by the fact that we are a Hindu majority country? You are stretching the concept of secularism too far. This is perversity. A balanced approach is necessary. If majoritarianism is used to suppress the minorities, then you have a right to protest and condemn. Raising unwarranted and useless debates like this amounts to trivialising the issue.

        • The concept of secularism is very simple – the government should not have any connection with religion. There is no ,”state religion” even though the majority might follow a particular faith. Anything other than this is not secularism and trying to justify that is pure sophistry.

          • India was never a secular country, not now not in the past. The word’secular’ was inserted forcibly, without the will of elected parliament, during Emergency. India had always had special laws for every religious group. The Indian government has been running temples for donkeys years. Governments have always arranged religious prayers of all faiths before government functions. So much for India’s secularism.

  9. Every country has her tradition. The West has Champaign bottle smashing ceremony on ships as part of naval tradition. We have our Shastra puja.

    • In India forgs are married for rain. People are lynched for witchcraft, few days ago 6 men were forced to eat human excerta. Does this happen in west?

  10. Hi Rama Laxmi, the self styled Euro liberal,
    I hope you know that many of your favourite euro liberal countries still crack a champagne bottle on the hull of the ship for good luck when it is launched/commissioned? Would the euro liberal in you have a problem with that? Or just that rituals followed by non-English speaking Indians are automatically superstitions to the euro liberals like you?

  11. Some Indians acted more Persians when ruled by Turko- Afghans and more English when under British. Pakis still act like more Arabs nd Persians and many Indians like this writer as Black ENGLISHMEN. Bhagat Singh knew about these Black Englishmen. Across world people are following their roots, culture, practices, etc like in Europe Japan Indonesia etc. But people like this writer are ashamed of anything they found non British. India does not follow what Religion and secularism is defined by West. Centuries before when Secularism was not in dictionary nd world was prosecuting Parsis and Jews Indians gave them shelter. Remove the veil of fake englishmen to understand what is Bhakt.Om. Gau rakshak .

  12. For at least sixty years, I have seen pictures of new ship Or submarines launches by Indian navy with coconuts being broken and proper pujas being performed by prime ministers, defence ministers, naval chiefs etc. why this noise now?

  13. India know for it’s culture and devotion various indigenous religious beliefs.this is not a islamic country it’s our tradition. If u want fallow or espect Arab tradition it is enough there is no space for u librandu real ememy of india like u people Afghanistan Pakistan and Bangladesh are Islamic prior that was Hindu u r aim is india will Islamic county the way of secularism.

  14. Pseudo European liberals code word for worshiping white skin worshippers cum Anti Hindu,are a ok with wearing
    topi and feasting during Ramadan,and following the moslem Christian religious rituals by public officials.
    You all nothing but a bunch of hypocrites raised in families with slave mentality.get therapy.

  15. Well written article. I am sure that most people who made fun of Rajnath Singh, did so because of their ideological beliefs, ie anti BJP, and not because they are anti religion. Their acts will contribute to more votes for BJP in Maharashtra and Haryana. How will they live with their foolishness?

  16. These rituals are symbolic and evolved over time. If one knows the logic it’s not exactly superstition.
    Spending billions to buy weapons to kill is more stupid than a simple ancient religious practice.
    All poojas and festivals are superstition for that matter.
    The only observation I have is that it should have been done on Indian soil, once it is landed and all faiths represented.

    • Well said Colonel. All faiths represented when it comes to policies, actions or even political symbolism when it comes to defence. “Sarva Dharma Samabhava” may be the right principle.

  17. Rama Lakshmi, Your contention is that Aircraft was in France. Since it was handed over to India in the presence of Defense Minister, Aircraft belongs to India on France soil. Indian aircraft whether it is on France soil or Indian soil do not matter. So Defense Minister as Hindu has every right to perform Pooja as per his Hindu belief. Performing Ayudha Pooja in every factory,Scooter or Car is individual choice as per his belief. Performing Pooja is not superstition. If you believe pooja is superstitious, than India has to become Communist Country where will of communist leaders exist. It is your kind of Journalists,Congis,Leftist,pro-chelas of this group making propaganda & coining “Aggressive Hindutva” but today Hindus are very happy because BJP showing some respect to Hindus where as Congis/Left taken Hindus as granted during their rule of 50 years & always appeasing others even if it hurts Hindus sentiment.

  18. Just replace Imran Khan with Rajnath. Can we safely assume that the time of taking custody of the aircraft would be adjusted according to the prayer timings for Imran? His ritual in the prayer room may not be on TV though, unlike his beads.

      • Like all other leftists, this lady too suffers from inferiority complex which makes them diss their on own traditions. I am sure she loves Western christian traditions. These people call us Hindus superstitious, but worship Mother Teresa at the same time

  19. Why can’t the writer can raise all these issues by highlighting the drama of the two M. E. based cults, or the writer fears adverse backlash.

  20. No harm, so long as they fill the Rafale’s tanks with ATF, not what gaiya mata squirts so helpfully all the time.

  21. At least, the writer is sensible, even though she has thinly veiled contempt for Hindu practices. In a conuntry of extreme level of diversity like India, it pays by way of social harmony to simply live with others’ beliefs and practices, so long as it does not hurt one. I see Christian neighbours who own cars allow their Hindu drivers to perform Ayudha Puja to the car.

  22. Don’t you have any other decent work ?
    Just debating about silly matters.
    Why don’t you talk about common people losing their lifetime saving in bank scams ?

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