5 March 2011
Some politicians without any substance of their own manipulate the religious beliefs of simple folks to achieve their ends, whilst some people who claim to be religious eye the benefits they can derive from proximity to political power.
Khushwant Singh, the outspoken Indian writer, used to write a column in the "Hindustan Times" entitled "With malice to one and all". On 1 May 1982, during the period when some Sikhs were rioting to have their own State he, although himself a prominent Sikh, castigated those Sikhs who "suddenly have decided that smoking (never alcohol), although it may be indulged in half a mile away from the temple, violates its sanctity." A familiar clarion call these days!
He stressed that this kind of attitude is the return of fundamentalism in all religions, with the blessings of politicians. His advice was that "the first thing to do is to ban every kind of religious ritual at State or civic functions and dissuade political leaders from chanting sacred texts".
Faith and worship have, since the dawn of history, always been the guiding force behind religious doctrines. The ancient prophets and sages laid down very valuable principles and precepts for mankind to follow in its quest for peace and in its search for God, by whatever name you call the Power behind or the Creator of the Universe. They indicated the paths along which human beings should tread to achieve that aim.
Politics is ideally also based on principles aimed at improving the lot of mankind. Whilst religion looks at the spiritual needs of the human being, politics looks after his material needs. But corrupting forces are at work in both cases to deviate these aspects of human endeavour from their avowed objective. Mahatma Gandhi could symbolize perfectly these two components of human endeavour. He was called a saint among politicians and a politician among saints. When madness took hold of Hindus and Muslims prior to the partition of India, Sarojini Naidu, known as the Nightingale of India, and a close collaborator of Gandhi, could not remain silent when Gandhi put his own life into peril to travel to dangerous places to bring sanity to his people. She wrote to him on 26 December 1946 to urge him to go ahead in these terms: "Beloved pilgrim, setting out on your pilgrimage of love and hope, 'Go out with God' in the beautiful Spanish phrase. I have no fear for you - only faith in your mission." For those who cannot attain such lofty heights, we should tell them "A chacun son métier et la vache sera bien gardée."