Disclaimer: If I express my less than reverential opinion about Mr. Rahul Gandhi, it does not earn me an automatic membership to Mr. Modi’s fan club. It is not in me to be a 'bhakt', a mandarin, a camp follower, or a palanquin bearer. I am an independent citizen who struts in all seriousness, wearing his cap of sovereignty. The stance of the citizen taking himself seriously, and hanging on to the democratic premise that he is the master, is at the heart of the absurd theatre called electoral democracy: a scene from this Theatre of the Absurd.
Like it hard, like it soft?
"He is one of the most thoughtful, best-read Indian politicians on religion and spirituality" Shashi Tharoor on Rahul Gandhi.
In hoary antiquity a woman scholar called Tilottama, laid low all the contemporary scholars - all men, of course - at philosophical debates. She remained unmarried simply because her vow that she would marry only the man who could give her a drubbing - or at least prove to be her match - at such a debate could not be fulfilled. The many pundits who had crossed swords with her and licked the dust, united in malice and conspired to avenge their humiliation by getting her married to the greatest idiot of their time.
They were in luck because no sooner had they set out in search of the greatest moron, they found one, instantly: Kalidas, was sawing the very branch he was sitting upon. They lured him with promises of cash rewards and other goodies and set her up before Tilottama as her latest challenger. He looked every bit the idiot that he was but Tilottama was sworn to engage him in debate.
The accompanying Pundits put the condition that the Brahmgyani did not speak, he could only gesture and make signs.
Tilottama pointed a finger and explained that there was but one God. Kalidas enraged beyond words, directed two fingers at her eyes. If she gouged one of his eyes, he will do both. But the Pundits explained his crude response it in terms of the philosophy of dualism.
Tilottama uncertain but trapped, showed five fingers to say that the human body was made of five elements. Kalidas provoked beyond control raised his fist. The Pundits quickly explained it as a riposte to suggest that the five elements ultimately produced an indivisible essence.
Even before Tilottama had the time to consider the answer, the judges to the debate, gave their verdict in favour of Kalidas and Tilottama was forced into marriage with Kalidas.
I never heard this story, that I was told in my childhood, repeated in my adult years. But it lay buried somewhere in the attic of my mind and it erupted like a volcano after reading the following two items of news:
The profundity - as much of it as Mr. Tharoor can bring to bear upon something as vast, amorphous, many faceted, multilayered and diffuse as Hinduism and - attributed to Rahul Gandhi had me thinking.
Tharoor’s elucidation of his master’s thought/motivation could pass muster as voice over, with Mr. Gandhi lip syncing, but what if Mr. Gandhi had to speak those lines? I mean no disrespect to him, but summoning up remembrance of things said by him in the past, only quotidian, banal, ephemeral and wedded to the contingent moment of luring the voter or ridiculing the opponent came to mind. Never do I remember him holding forth on Hinduism or gods of the Hindu pantheon, or matters spiritual or the eternal verities of life. He now flaunts his Janeu but his religious identity was never explicitly spoken of. In fact, if I remember correctly, quite a controversy erupted when Mrs. Sonia Gandhi refused to disclose her religion when visiting some Hindu shrine.
Many Shiva devotee begin the day with a recital of Shiva Tandav Strot. Could Mr. Gandhi, the self-avowed Shiva bhakt, recite, not from memory, but with the help of a teleprompter even the first four lines from this strot or from any other of the many of the hymns, shlokas, prayers devoted to Lord Shiva, or even name the Dwadash Jyotirling?
A man who says Kumbhakaran in place of Kumbharam can hardly be the dispenser of so much wisdom on soft- and hard-core Hindutva. This is no reflection on his capabilities in other fields, it is just to reiterate that Mr. Gandhi just does not belong there. By all accounts he is a simple man, well-meaning and even kind after a fashion, but not wily enough to harness religion to the requirements of democratic politics.
I am lamenting the cynicism of those who are scripting his role, those who are running him. I want to know whether the Indian National Congress, the soi disant secular party, has reneged on its commitment to civic republicanism which privileges a person’s civic role as paramount to engage in competitive appeasement of people who think that their religious commitments take precedence over their civic ones? I am wondering about the new role of the intellectual?
India Today magazine once referred to Manoje Nath, a 1973-batch IPS officer, as being fiercely independent, honest, and upright. Besides his numerous official reports on various issues exposing corruption in the bureaucracy in Bihar, Nath is also a writer extraordinaire expressing his thoughts on subjects ranging from science fiction to the effects of globalization. His sense of humor was evident through his extremely popular series named "Gulliver in Pataliputra" and "Modest Proposals" that were published in the local newspapers.