Is ML Khattar saffronising Haryana politics? Jain monk delivers sermon in Assembly
The Manohar Lal Khattar government in Haryana has become well known for implementing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's Hindutva agenda, in letter and spirit. And now, it has set a new precedent by having a Jain monk, Tarun Sagar, address the state Assembly on the opening day of its monsoon session.
The act has been slammed as 'obnoxious', 'unconstitutional' and 'against the spirit of secularism enshrined in the preamble of the Indian Constitution'.
What comes as a surprise is that politicians across party lines listened to the 45-minute discourse in complete silence, without batting an eyelid, in the presence of the Governor, Kaptan Singh Solanki, and Chief Minister Khattar.
The state government has safely excused itself from questions, saying the event was held after support it garnered support at an all-party meeting.
In fact, prior to the session, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader Abhay Chautala, who is also the Leader of the Opposition, had endorsed the event, saying it was a good thing if a saint came to the Assembly and said something good, as normally, people have to go far to listen to such sermons.
The content of the sermon
Sagar, a naked (digambara) ascetic, delivered his 'Kadve Vachan', taking potshots at the politicians while also making references to Pakistan, female foeticide, the duties of a wife and other social issues. He had been invited by the state education minister, Ram Bilas, to deliver the sermon.
Observers pointed out certain dangerous comments Sagar reportedly made during the lecture. "His comment that 'rajniti par dharma ka ankush zaroori hai
'(Dharma should have control over politics) needs to be interpreted in its proper political context, given the scenario prevailing in India these days," said an observer.
Sagar was further quoted as saying: "Dharma is the husband while politics is the wife. While every husband should protect his wife, the latter must accept his discipline. If this is not there, the wife is like an out-of-control elephant."
The preacher, while pointing to the allegations that Khatar was saffronising politics, reportedly said on the sidelines of the event that it is the 'purification of politics in real terms' rather than saffronisation of politics.
Obnoxious and unconstitutional
"Obnoxious is the only term that can be used for what happened in the state Assembly, which is the largest constitutional institution in the state. The event can be defined as flagrant violation of the Constitution," said veteran journalist Virender Kumar, who has covered Haryana for years.
Kumar pointed out that the purpose and role of every person in the state Assembly is well defined, and wondered how a religious personality superseded the protocol pertaining to the Governor, the Chief Minister and the Assembly Speaker.
"With what locus standi did the saint address the session in the chamber of the state Assembly? Either all of those present in the House have not read the Constitution, or they simply have no respect for it. This is a case fit to be referred to the President of India. Can any one of them tell me which article of the Constitution or which rule of the Vidhan Sabha allows it?" he said.
Kumar added that such a precedent could lead to Sikh jathedars or Muslim maulanas, or other religious persons delivering sermons elsewhere too.
"It is a shocking state of affairs. They have reduced the Vidhan Sabha to a community centre. They have devalued the Constitution as well as the state Assembly," he said, while saying that leaders like BJP's Arun Jaitley and Congress's Randeep Singh Surjewala needed to explain to the people how such an event was allowed to take place.
Integration of Hindu symbols in state craft
Dr Pramod Kumar of the Institute of Development and Communication (IDC) in Chandigarh said there was a broader dimension to this phenomenon.
"This needs to be seen in the continuing process of integration of Hindu civilisation symbols with the state craft. This has been visible in Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifting copies of the Bhagavad Gita to visiting dignitaries from abroad, as well as the PM visiting temples. This has been the case with the PM observing Navratri fasts and going public with its declaration, with the rider that he would only have potatoes at the end of the day, even if he has to attend a dinner hosted by American President Barack Obama," he said.
He added that the same was visible when Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living Foundation holding its World Culture Festival on the banks of Yamuna in March.
He also said Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was doing the same - integrating cultural and social symbols with state functions.
Dr Kumar said people like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Baba Ramdev were now being treated as celebrities, and the constitutional concept of secularism, which means being equidistant from all religions, was being passed by. He added that such practices would reflect in the form of prejudices in state functioning.
Activists up in arms
Shyam Sunder, a Left-leaning social activist in Kurukshetra, felt the sermon in the Vidhan Sabha was reflective of the weakening of the secular forces in the country. He particularly hit out at the Congress, and the so-called mainstream Left parties, for helping in weakening secularism.
"What has happened is simply unconstitutional and against the ethos of the constitution. Political parties are letting the people down by going soft on such practices," he said.
Activists were quick to point out that India's first Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru, called for the development of a scientific temperament among the people of the country during his 'freedom at midnight' speech. They also remembered how he had aired his reservations over then-President Dr Rajendra Prasad inaugurating the Somnath Temple.
"Can the government explain what benefit will the sermon do to a common resident of Haryana? Who gave them the right to waste public money and waste the session time on such an activity? After all, state Assemblies are run on public money, and need to carry out business for public welfare and discuss people's problems, instead of organising sermons for themselves," said social activist Phool Singh Gautam of the Jan Sangharsh Manch (Haryana).
Laying the blame at the Congress and INLD's doors, Gautam added: "This goes on to show how much they have degenerated. This is a time when there is no difference between any of they political parties."
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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