By Hamid Dabholkar/Indian Express
New Delhi, April 28; The Bharatiya Janata Party government in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has given four religious activists, Computer Baba, Bhayujji Maharaj, Narmada Nand, Hari Haranand Pandit and Yogendra Mahant the rank of a Minister of State, causing concern among people who point out that it violates the constitutional requirement to separate religion from the State.
The newly inducted ministers will lead the initiative of cleaning the river Narmada as state ministers.
Earlier these ministers had announced a Narmada Ghotala Yatra to expose the delay in cleaning the Narmada river and protest the state government’s failure to keep its promise of planting six crore samplings on the river’s banks.
This co-option by the MP government has defused the Narmada Ghotala Yatra movement.
Mixing of religion and politics is not new but the Madhya Pradesh government seems to be scaling new heights in this respect. There is scarcely any need to dig deep to find out the credentials of these babas.
Namdev Das Tyagi calls himself Computer Baba because of his love for computers and modern gadgets. He also claims that his memory is like that of a computer. By that logic, there can be millions of computer babas and ammain our country. Another self-proclaimed saint is Bhaiyujji Maharaj. He has enjoyed proximity to both the BJP and Congress in the past. Last year, he announced retirement from the spiritual field. He is known for his lavish lifestyle.
The Madhya Pradesh government’s appointments are worrying in light of the recent large-scale scandals involving babas and ammas. On Wednesday, a Jodhpur court sentenced Asaram Bapu to life imprisonment in a rape case.
The havoc created by the followers of Ram Rahim and Rampal is not a very distant memory.
Allegations of sexual exploitation against Virendra Dev Dixit are well-known.
By no stretch of the imagination do I want to claim that all babas and ammas are involved in fraudulent practices. But the way many of these cults are organised, and their proximity to political big wigs, make scrutiny of their deeds almost impossible — in fact, a potentially life-threatening proposition.
We have diverged from the principle of separation of politics and religion, enshrined in the Constitution. Jawaharlal Nehru’s opposition to the then President of India Rajendra Prasad’s decision to attend the renovation ceremony of the Somanth temple seems unimaginable in the current times. Nehru had said that a person holding a constitutional post should not betray any religious affiliation. B R Ambedkar was also a passionate advocate for the separation of religion and politics.
The principle of the secular state is one of the core principles of the Indian Constitution. This means that an individual has the right to choose his/her religion but the government should always keep its distance from religious affairs. I
It is not surprising that the BJP does not stick to secular principles, but the change in the Congress’s outlook from Nehru’s days signals a serious climb down. Rahul Gandhi did the rounds of temples as part of an election campaign in Gujarat.
But this transition is not sudden. Several Congress leaders in the past were known to be followers of babas and ammas. Indira Gandhi was a keen follower of Dhirendra Brahmachari, P V Narasimha Rao was known for his proximity to Chandra Swami and some Congress leaders were followers of Satya Sai Baba.
Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M M Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh who opposed fraudulent practices in the name of religion and demanded separation of state from religion, were murdered. The delay in investigating their murders raises difficult questions of the Congress and BJP.
In an era of populist politics, it is difficult to imagine that politicians will stop collaborating with the babas and ammas until people express displeasure at these so-called spiritual leaders. Though the Constitution has given citizens the right to practice their faith it is also their responsibility to inculcate scientific temperament, spirit of inquiry and humanism.