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November 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.  Happy Diwali to all our subscribers and Distributors       November 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.   Happy Diwali to all our subscribers and Distributors       
Issue:Sep' 2017


Politics of gurudoms and pilgrimages

Anuradha Dutt

The spate of cases against controversial godmen/godwomen and incarceration of some has the media and moral police ferociously targeting gurus and gurudoms. This drive to sanitise society would be credible if their views were well-informed or aimed at dispelling misconceptions about spiritual and cultural traditions that were randomly commercialised and burlesqued.
The unfortunate truth is that recent events have also provided a platform for showcasing orthodox, obscurantist stances as the desired ideal, and voicing deeprooted prejudices against those considered aberrant or outside the social pale.

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh There is rarely any common ground between the establishment and heterodox or blasphemous gurudoms, some seen to be harbouring subversive aims. The perceived transgressions of the gurus in q u e s t i o n , damned as interlopers in the spiritual realm by opponents, are compounded by their acquisition of considerable assets and wealth; growing fame or infamy, as the case may be; and fluid political equations.

Radhe Ma Gujarat-based Asaram Bapu is accused of libidinous conduct and causing the death of two gurukul boys by means of sorcery. Haryana's Rampal, charged with murder, forgery, instigating riots, etc, opposes social iniquities, as do the others, and worship of deities. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, accused of rape among other offences; is also based in Haryana.

Phalahari Baba M u m b a i ' s Radhe Ma has been charged with abetting d owr y - l i n k e d h a r a s s m e n t , indecency and other lapses. Allegations of sexual misconduct against Rajasthan's Phalahari Baba and Uttar Pradesh's Siyaram Das have u n l e a s h e d punitive action.

Siyaram Das The fact that some of these gurus overtly influence their disciples' voting choices in elections and switch sides when they want seems to weigh against them, with followers alleging political vendetta, witch hunt and intrigues to take over their ashrams and wealth.
However, the danger of a cleansing over-drive is only too real with a reporter on a Hindi news channel laying bare his bias when he was seen brusquely asking the ornately adorned Radhe Ma, about her perceived proximity to Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim, jailed Dera Sacha Sauda head, as both were Sikhs.
The lady replied that she did not know him. The tasteless query was clearly motivated by prejudice, intimating that revanchists in the media and among opinion-makers have the opportunity to give full play to animus against avarna peoples, non-conformists, heretics and the like in the given circumstances.
Haryana BJP spokesman Rajiv Jaitley went so far as to claim on another Hindi news channel recently: "It is because of BJP that some babas are in jail. Gurmeet Ram Rahim, Rampal...," before trailing off.

There are about 9,000 deras of gurus in Punjab that do not necessarily conform to Sikh, savarna Hindu or other mainstream dictates; and throughout the country there are myriad cults and sects, centring on Indic traditions that follow an avarna, independent course, sometimes outside the parameters of convention.
It is not feasible for moral custodians and State agencies to target all of these and acquire custody of their ashrams and other assets, and drive away followers on grounds of protecting the masses from fake gurudoms. Such an exercise to standardise religion, culture and conduct would be an exhausting, timeconsuming campaign, deflecting State functionaries' attention from the challenging tasks of governance, and ignoring people's crying need for sustenance.
Indeed, one of the primary reasons for the latter's increasing dependence on preceptors to bail them out of existential crises is the colossal administrative failure to provide work, housing, education, adequate food, proper healthcare and other necessities of life. Religious vigilantes, even when acting under State aegis, by projecting themselves as the sole proactive custodians of dharma and by extension, people's interests, risk putting the delicate social and communal balance out of joint.
The overlap of politics and religion is a widespread phenomenon. It characterises Islamic nations and ensuing relentless conflicts between sects and communities. In fact, religion and politics combined to extend the dominion of Islam, shattering non-Muslims or kafir, polytheists or mushrik; and supplanting the existing sociocultural matrix.
Muslim invasions were driven by the impulse to proselytise as well as craving for power, vanquished territories and booty of war. Prophet Mohammad's advent and subsequent proselytism set the trajectory for Islam's expansion. Mohammad and his followers on December 11, 629 AD were reported to have taken over the Kaaba, an old pilgrimage in Mecca, and destroyed 360 idols inside.
Muslim warlords followed a militant course of usurping existing shrines and forced conversions.
After the Umayyads captured Jerusalem in 638 AD, they raised Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, holiest Judaic site. The temple had been destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. The church of Job in Syria was converted into the mosque of Job. Cave of Pharoahs, a Christian site usurped from the Jews, was turned into a mosque in 1266.
There were numerous such usurpations. Islamic incursion into the Indian subcontinent followed the same course of usurping hallowed pilgrimages - Shree Ramjanmabhumi , Kashi Vishwanath and Mathura Janmasthan, since partly restored, being most prominent - even as Abrahamic peoples fought over influence and territory in the Holy Land.
The essence of secular democracy is separation of the Church – rather, Shrine – and State; and the principal feature of a theocracy is rule by priests. The papacy arrogated temporal functions for itself, with Popes ruling for about a millennium over territories in the Italian peninsula until 1870, when such rule was deposed by the Italian State.
Pontiffs also determined kingship. The Frankish king Charlemagne was crowned first Holy Roman Emperor on December 25, Christmas, in 800 AD by Pope Leo III. The first crusade was launched under the leadership of Pope Urban II in 1095. Crusades' aims were taking over the Holy Land, which centred on Jerusalem in West Asia; regaining Christian areas lost to Muslim warlords; checking the spread of Islam; and vanquishing pagan territories. European nobility was mobilised by the Popes for successive religious wars.
This model of ecclesiastical government was epitomised by the Holy See, Catholic Church's jurisdiction in Rome. Vatican City State, a walled enclave in Rome, came into being in 1929. The Pope, as head of the Catholic Church, continues to be head of the Holy See; and as bishop of Rome, heads the Vatican, which is a sacerdotal monarchy. The clergy comprise its functionaries.

Yogi Adityanath Here, Gorakhnath Peeth Mahant Yogi Adityanath's ascent to the post of UP chief minister marks the emergence of Hindu theocracy in the modern era. Dividing his time between his role as chief priest of the renowned pilgrimage at Gorakhpur – dedicated to Nath immortal Gorakhnath, of the heterodox Nath tradition, hinging on the practices of Kundalini Yog and Hath Yog - and the state's executive head, the Yogi is also one of the chief drivers of the Shree Ramjanmabhumi movement, hinging on Hindutva efforts since the mid-1980s to gain control over the site of the now demolished Babri Masjid at Ramkot in Ayodhya, reputed to be Lord Ram's birthplace.
The principal claimants to the site are All India Hindu Maha Sabha, Nirmohi Akhada of Ayodhya, which is the original custodian of the place, representative of Bhagwan Shree Ram Lalla and Asthan Shree Ram Janam Bhumi and Sunni Waqf Board. After all of them rejected the Lucknow Bench, Allahabad High Court's formula for a threeway division of the site between the latter three litigants, filing appeals against the 2010 verdict in the Supreme Court, control of this most hallowed pilgrimage continues to elude Hindutva votaries. For the time being, the BJP government in UP seems content instead with its plan for building a 100-metre high Lord Ram statue near the Sarayu river and developing the precincts so as to attract pilgrims.
For, piety is as much about power and pelf as about religious tourism.