Hinduism and its Moral Dilemma

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Ode to Shankaracharya: Vajpayee withChandrashekhar and Asaram Bapu ap
Ode to Shankaracharya: Vajpayee with Chandrashekhar and Asaram Bapu. Photo: AP

Brahminical hinduism is in deep moral and spiritual crisis. The exposure of the life and times of Jayendra Saraswati and the misdeeds he committed over a period of his socio-political activism when the BJP was in power at the Centre, has worsened that crisis. At that time the swamis were interacting with the power centre so closely that Saraswati was in direct contact with the Prime Minister’s Office and the home ministry. As a ‘mediator’ between Hindutva and Muslim leaders, he seemed to be enjoying unlimited powers.

His arrest in the Sankararaman murder case and the exposure of his ‘unsaintly relations’ have destroyed the moral authority Hindu ‘saints’ have been claiming for years. While Jayalalithaa’s moral stature has grown, the Hindutva leaders and the RSS/BJP/VHP have stooped to unimaginable depths. But no one’s buying their high moral ground. Not in Tamil Nadu. Not in the rest of India.

Unlike Satya Sai Baba or Mata Amritanandamayi of Kerala, Saraswati is the head of a formal Hindu religious structure. If there is a crisis in Sai Baba’s establishment, it does not affect Hindu religion as a whole; but the crisis that the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham is facing will have major implications on the structures of Brahminical Hinduism. Saraswati was heading the most powerful ‘peeth’ that commanded the respect of millions. Of the five Shankara ‘peeth’ that were established by the Adi Sankara, or established in his name, the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham is the most revered one. But now, the authority of the mutt is in deep crisis.

We don’t know why the relations between the Shankaracharya and Jayalalithaa suddenly turned so inimical. They were said to be on very good terms. The problem, however, is different: why was this ‘saint’ constantly interacting with politicians and that too with those who are/were in power? For how long one they such crimes around the nation’s temples and mutts?

The ethical crisis in Kanchi can lead to a major crisis in classical, Brahminical Hinduism, because the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham is considered the Vatican of Hinduism. There are different denominations within Hinduism like Shaivites and Vaishnavaites, as in Christianity — Catholic and Protestant. Indeed, how can the Hindutva school save Hinduism from this terrible crisis? The BJP has made a political issue out of his arrest because the Shankaracharya is a strong supporter of the Hindutva ideology. Indeed, why is the BJP attacking Jayalalithaa for arresting him after having glorified her as a Hindu protector in the recent past? For the first time in her political life, she is upholding the rule of law. Why not back her instead?

Historically, the Hindu Shankara Peethadhipatis have claimed superiority on high moral ground. The conduct of this Shankaracharya proves that such claims are false. All these years, the Indian State has been playing a deceptive Manudharmic role: No Shankaracharya shall ever do wrong! Since the State pretended indifference to the crimes committed by temple establishments, there was no accountability. Thanks to the differences between Jayalalithaa and Saraswati, the Dravidian state has established a historical landmark which proves that the caste-centred Hindu ‘peeths’ are not above law.

Look at their cultural values. They would earlier never travel beyond the sea. In September 2001, the Puri Shankaracharya attended several functions in the US (I was a panelist with him in Chicago. He reportedly travelled by executive class). Now the Kanchi acharya’s conduct is under a cloud. Look at the contrast: when it comes to worldly needs, they can modify norms; but when it comes to the abolition of caste, untouchability and women’s liberation, they fall back on the rigid Dharma Shastras.

In Manudharama, it is said that no Brahmin priest should be equated with other human beings and all their crimes should be treated above the law. Hence, the BJP’s belief that Saraswati should be above the law. Because he is the defender of the Varnadharma, he should not be punished. This is where Jayalalithaa has made a difference. This is where she deserves appreciation and praise.

In ancient and medieval India, no Hindu priest would subjugate himself to the rule of law. That was the basic reason why no Hindu institution could evolve a spiritual democratic culture within the religion. We are now living in a borrowed system of political democracy. If a mainstream political party like the BJP behaves in a brazenly casteist and Brahminical manner, constitutional governance will collapse in India.

Look at the BJP’s logic. Simply because Shibu Soren is a tribal and Laloo Prasad Yadav is an OBC, upper caste Hindu morality must be imposed on them. However, that moral code should not apply to a Hindu priest. With this kind of twisted morality, the BJP will reach a moral and ethical dead-end. This is a vicious signal: beware of this oppressive orthodoxy.

The writer is political scientist, Osmania University, Hyderabad

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