Friday, 15 February 2013

Gurus in Indian Politics

In ancient times, the foundation of Dynasties was closely associated with Spiritual preceptors- even if the policies of the Dynasty markedly diverged from what those preceptors might have counselled. An example is the Bahmani Kingdom about whose founder Wikipedia has this to say-
Early historians, Tabataba and Nizam-ud-Din Ahmad believe that Hasan was descended from the Persian king Bahman, son of Isfandiyar. But Firishta emphatically asserts that this genealogy was fabricated after Hasan's accession to the throne by the flatterers and poets though he has seen the same genealogy in the royal library at Ahmadnagar. He believes that his origin was too obscure to admit or being traced. He thinks that Hasan was an Afghan by birth. He was a servant of an astrologer Brahmin named Gangu (Gangadhar Shastri Wabale) of Delhi and was blessed by him because one day while working in his master's fields, he found some buried treasure which he returned to Gangu thus securing his blessing.  Some experts think, based on sources available at the main library of Ahmednagar,  that, being an astrologer, Gangu had already read his servant's chart and since he was very sharp and shrewd, he started giving him instruction and also used his influence within the Delhi Sultanate to get his protege appointed Sirdar (Governor) of the Deccan .

Nationalist politics in India, perhaps self-consciously, adhered to this pattern but with one novelty- viz. the emergence of the politician-saint hybrid. Why did this occur? 
When we look at Hindu Revolutionary movements of the last decade of the Nineteenth and first decade of the Twentieth Century, we find shadowy God-men in plenty operating behind the scenes. Bankim Chandra's novel, Anandmath, resurrected the ghost of the Sanyasee rebellion and explicitly linked it to Young Bengal's determination to throw off the fetters of British bondage.
 The legend of Tibeti Baba - who, by mystic means, could enter the body of others and thus achieve functional immortality- and that of Soham Swami- gifted with prodigious strength- alarmed the British by giving a sinister twist to the Theosophist doctrine of Higher Beings on the Astral plane directing events down below on Earth. For their part, the British realized that to target seditious Hindu Godmen would be to lend substance to the notion that they possessed supernatural power- after all, a Hindu Godman is indistinguishable from a beggar- and thus give currency to the myth (most damaging because true) that their own power was built upon quicksand; the whole gaudy pageant of the Raj was the most childish of illusions, and that some Sadhu in a remote cave or mountain-top could uproot the foundations of British power, purely on a whim, and do so as easily as a child blows away the gossamer of a thistledown. Thus, the safer course for the Imperial Police was to highlight the activities of Western returned intellectuals and the restive young students in the Govt. schools and Colleges who were assumed to be either deracinated, and thus devoid of of that Antaeus like strength that arises from contact with the soil of the motherland,  or else were mere College drop-outs or delinquents eking out a miserable existence at the boundary between petty Crime and conspiratorial politics. 
Still, it is noteworthy that the authorities steered clear of charging professional (as opposed to self-professed) ascetics with sedition, preferring to bring lesser charges- cheating, rape, sodomy. etc- which had the double purpose of causing respectable people to recoil from what after all are the habitual activities of Godmen in this godless world.
In this context, the Revolutionary-turned-Godman - people like Sri Aurobindo or Niralamba Swami- raised up the Social position of the Hindu Godmen and rehabilitated Yoga and other ascetic practices as being something more than pious frauds or a cover for pederasty. Thus, by a historical irony, the Sanyasse-Faqir rebellion, which the British put down with salutary force at the dawn of their rule, was reclaimed by Nationalists in a manner such that the obnoxious aspect of the Sadhu Sangh, or indeed the Dervish community- viz. their extortionate monetary demands backed up by both physical force as well threats of Black Magic- was removed and the Godman stood substantially rehabilitated, indeed rendered almost respectable and, after Independence, even, by a polite fiction, not automatically disqualified for some small Political role within the Secular State, especially seeing as Rape, Sodomy and the slaughter of their own Priests and Gurus was ceasing to be their exclusive monopoly.

A quite separate trend, centering on the Madras and Bombay Presidencies- as opposed to Bengal- was the development of what Morris Jones has called the 'the saintly idiom' of Indian populist discourse whereby the supernatural claims and esoteric doctrines of the Godmen came to take a backseat to concrete, or seemingly concrete, demands which could become the object of a popular agitation. Annie Beasant, though steeped in Occultism, suddenly re-invents herself as a Home Rule campaigner. Mahatma Gandhi rises to this challenge by turning the tables on the Hindu Reformists by firstly seeking out the peasants and then, inexplicably, making common cause with the Muslim fanatics. His ascent is dizzying. For a moment, it seems, he has made himself the master of India- a Luther who hasn't yet broken faith with the peasants- by being willing to sluice the British out of their bastions- to sweep them away into the Indian Ocean- on a tide of blood, internecine blood, Caste against Caste, Creed against Creed, Co-operator agains Non-cooperator, Father against son, brother against brother- but, thankfully, Gandhi drew back from that precipice. 
From that moment on, the Godman and the Politician became interchangeable. Everybody- including the Marxist, including the Capitalist- had become a Godman of some sort- in that such 'virtu' as the possessed was now purely ritualistic or doxological. 
Thus, even if History cut short Subash Chandra Bose's life, legend has endowed him a posthumous life as 'Gumnami Baba'.
True the Nehru's- Motilal and Jawaharlal- kept a little aloof from the Godman tag- but only by their ineffectuality, thus, without wishing it, ending up founding a dynasty- since dynasties exist only by the blessings of Godmen- not, thank God, vice versa.
There are two trees, in the Mahabharata, one which grows upwards from Earth to Heaven, and the other with its roots up in the sky whose tropism is towards the ground. Be it the tree of the dynast, or that of the Godman, cut it down, says Krishna. With the axe of non-attachment- which is a fancy word for boredom- cut it down.

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