The views of the columnist are not necessarily the views of the editors















IN BAD FAITH (previously published in The Hindustan Times) NEXT>

India's great new middle class has done it. It has triumphed over the squeamish pusillanimities of its predecessors and embraced the pursuit of wealth any which way as desirable social goal No. 1. Gone are the days when the unduly wealthy heart would twinge just that little bit with an inherited habit of shamefacedness. The pieties of old are everywhere bullied by the designer purse full of currency and the credit card. Old, self-defeating 'wisdoms' are busy making the most creative adjustments to the political economy of 'globalisation'; and all proudly in public.

It is a truism of historical analysis that all moments of profound social transformation (e.g. the English Renaissance, the French Revolution, the popular upsurges of the Sixties) entail a far-reaching rethink about what it means to be 'human', about man's relation to man, and man's relation to God. In the history of the modern West, the Protestant Reformation, its Puritan fallout that played a decisive hand in the making of America, and the work of the French Philosophes are cases in point.

In our own case, a Hindu-Calvinist revolution has been under way for over a decade. Where possessions and property drew cultured apology and righteous opprobrium from the have-nots (witness the overall cultural narratives of Hindi movies from inception to the Eighties), possessions and property are now peddled not only as justification for social aggressiveness and political eligibility, but indeed as indices of the guarantee of salvation in the hereafter. Put simply, the logic reads: if God means well by us in this world, he must mean well by us in the next life as well. Just as the development of capitalism in the West required the ejection of an inconvenient Christ - since his ethics hardly matched the imperatives of Exchange - from the Bible, so here dharma gives way to more canny and pragmatic interpretations of the concept as pelf and power become the self-evident pointers to our status as God's 'elect.'

Is it any wonder then that religious observances are no longer matters of inward need, but aids to the consolidation of ascendance? The quietitude of prayer born of an old and unevolved sense of the imperfections of being human in a troubled world, therefore, yield to exhibitory and exorbitant splashes that go hand in hand, in eloquent Hobbesian phrase, with the "war of everyman against everyman." On an everyday basis, of course, ill-gotten money feeds smoothly into the daily offerings made equally at roadside temples as we return from the day's maximisation of profit and at the more gorgeous ones - temples that gobble up public land without the least fear of secular law. But during the festive season - and when is there not a festive season in Bharat - it is that our ruling philistines come into their very own.

Thus Navratras, Garbas, Durga Pujas, are taken over now by professional 'event managers' looking to build a brand name, and graced by the ubiquitous politicians seeking to firm up their public standing and, hopefully, their vote. The Hindu-Calvinist revolution thus effects a clear and guiltless ejection of the impoverished from the old culture of community oneness, however symbolic. Religion, our new elite assume, will properly remain an opiate and a vote-catcher in the shanty while among the God's favoured, it becomes a designer draught backed by the full approbation of the State.

And that last assumption is hardly misplaced. Consider that whatever else the State may or may not do, it never fails to place the full compliment of its protective enforcement at the disposal of the organiser whenever or wherever a mela or a yatra is in the offing. Indeed, the one reliable service the State now performs is to ensure that shraddhalus are fully safe from the profane of every sort. Be it Amarnath, or the Kumbh melas, or Vaishno Devi, or Tirupati, or the Kanwaria rally, or an Ashtami, not to speak of Ramlilas, the State will be in full attendance.

And another thing: notice that 'ordinary' rallies in pursuance of some socially contentious issue, however significant to India's impoverished masses - not to speak of the right to strike - are now prohibited, all with the due pleasure both of the 'elect' classes whose business is badly affected by collective expressions of secular protest and of the corporate media, who project the melas and the yatras with gusto. But if the rallies are saffron-clad, no highway or centre of town is out of bounds.

And as the religion of the haves comes to be recognised more and more for what it is - a brazen and irreligious display of power - that recognition may yield a more durable secularisation of the people of India. Let alone the opiate, even the balm that religion used to be may not anymore be satisfactory medicine for the crude exclusions and oppressions that they suffer with increasingly disdainful ejection from the life of the nation.

-Dr. Badri Raina, Professor of English, University of Delhi NEXT>







Web graphics and design by Smita Maitra