On his maiden visit to the US as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi gifted the Bhagavad Gita to President Barack Oba-ma during a dinner hosted at the White House and told him “as far as India is concerned, we have a guiding philosophy inspired by Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi. We believe in non-violence”.
He gifted the Bhagavad Gita to Emperor Akih-ito, too, on his visit to Japan. He took a dig at his “secular friends” over the gifting of the Hindu text to the Emperor, saying “they could kick up a storm and trigger TV debates back home”. The media in a way felt threatened and consequently no discussions on the implications of gifting a spiritual book kicked off.
The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Sangh Parivar seem to think that they have found a bold Hindu propagandist in Mr Modi and are celebrating silently. It is a known fact that Mr Modi is an Other Backward Class Hindu. Even if we leave his status aside, is giving a religious scripture by the head of a government to the head of a state — who does not believe in its sacredness — good?
Assuming that Mr Modi thinks that he is an “authentic” Hindu and has a right to propagate Hinduism and its scripture — it is his right, but only as an individual. But what implication does it have when he gifts the holy book as Prime Minister of a nation which is not a Hindu theocratic state? It implies that the Prime Minister is indulging in evangelical propagation of his religion.
Let us assume that hereafter all the heads of Euro-American and African states — Presidents, Prime Ministers or foreign ministers — who believe in Christianity carry a Bible with them and go about gifting it to all state functionaries of India, starting with the President of India. Would that be acceptable to the BJP leadership?
Further, assume that all the heads of the Muslim states carry a Quran and gift it to their counterparts in India — given its present dispensation. Also imagine all Buddhists doing the same. In which case, the heads of the states would be doing evangelical work, but not political, administrative, or diplomatic work. If every head from the Christian and Islamic world carries a Bible or Quran in his diplomatic bag and the BJP ministers keep roaming with the Gita in their saffron bags and distribute it to host countries — which spiritual book would influence whom?
Such gifting of one’s book of faith in an official capacity is not an innocent or secular act. It is an act of spiritual influencing. Even the heads of the theocratic states would not do that. It is treated as diplomatic immorality.
If some President or Prime Minister or other head of a country is very conservative and does not want to receive a religious book as a gift how would he treat it upon his return home? He may throw it. Will the person who gifted this like to imagine such an end? If the Pakistani Prime Minister, instead of sending a sari for
Mr Modi’s mother were to send a copy of the Quran, what would he have done? How would he have treated the holy book?
There is this Hindu arrogance that they can evangelise their religion, get American or British visas for Hindu priests. They can build temples in other countries but no Christian from other countries should be given visa to work as pastor or no Muslim should be given visa to work as a mullah in India. This is discriminatory diplomacy.
Even the Congress and other coalition governments have been privy to this kind of Hindu propaganda. Now the Prime Minister has boarded the evangelical bus too. The West has a long tradition of matured and secular diplomacy. They would only laugh at this kind of immature approach of a head of the world’s largest democracy. The Emperor of Japan may not have been clever to understand the naivety of such a gift. But Mr Obama is a scholar in his own right and author of two books — The Audacity of Hope, Dreams of My Father. He can see through such a naive act. Mr Obama is also a deeply religious person and a devoted reader of the Bible. It is another thing if Mr Modi wrote a book and gifted it to him. If Mr Obama reads the Gita he will understand whether it is a book of non-violence or not. Why risk on that count too?
We do not know who advised Mr Modi about this gift of diplomacy. This is an example of naive politics. The sooner Mr Modi stops this kind of dogmatic diplomacy, the better it would be for Indian democracy. All national heads — even of theocratic states — avoid religious exhibitionism. This would harm the core constitutional value of Indian secularism.
Mr Modi should also stop lecturing on non-violence invoking the names of Buddha and Gandhi as he did in America. He has a past and the violence unleashed by his party and the Sangh Parivar is known. Some of the Western scholars have a better understanding of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP’s political culture. They know that Buddha was opposed to Vedic-caste culture. They also know that Gandhi was murdered by his own organisational network in 1948.
Imagine if some member of the Ku Klux Clan that killed Martin Luther King became the President of America, and lectured the world about the history of non-violence. That will be seen as a joke. What Mr Modi should prove is that so long as he is in power he would not let the Sangh Parivar perpetrate violence. He should establish a moral authority over his organisation. So far his authority is over his party, not on the Sangh Parivar. His authority is based on State Power, not on moral power.
Learning from Buddha or Gandhi is not possible from the position of state power. Both Buddha and Gandhi became what they did from a position of moral authority. Martin Luther King acquired a similar moral auth-ority over his organisation and civil society by organising non-violent movements in America.
If Mr Obama visits Japan and lectures abo-ut the non-violent tradition of America, the world will laugh at him. The shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will haunt him for long. So also will the shadow of communal riots and Gandhi’s murder will haunt the BJP for long. They should not lecture about non-violence, but prove that they are beginning to believe in it. But belief should not change for the sake of state power. It should grow as an inherent nature of man or an organisation.
The writer is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad