Monday, November 15, 2004

The fall of the Brahminist citadel

"Am I Veerappan?", Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati asked after he was arrested last Thursday (November 11, 2004) on charges of instigating the murder of his bete noire Sankararaman [1]. Not for nothing has it been said that looks can be deceptive; criminals don't have to look threatening.

No, I am not calling Jayendra a murderer yet. For all his past track record, he ought to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, his character (or the lack of it) is evident from those who have spoken out in his favor.

Narendra Modi, for once, forgot his Newton. Or, may be, he felt that if 2,000 murders (in Gujarat) can go unpunished, it's unfair for Jayendra to be punished for allegedly instigating a single murder. Actions from powerful people can have unpleasant reactions, though only rarely, and this must indeed be a disconcerting thought for Modi who promptly called the Indian Prime Minister to register his sadness at Jayendra's arrest.

Bal Thackarey, one of those regrettable blots on humanity, called it an insult to the "whole Hindu community." Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Ashok Singhal proclaimed it a "conspiracy by the Islamic and Christian forces", blathered about "non-believers" in general and promised revenge. Advani prophesied the arrest to have been made in "haste" or "under pressure." Vajpayee, that master of doublespeak who remained unperturbed in the immediate aftermath of the Gujarat pogrom and, in fact, pinned the blame on Muslims -- "Aag Lagayi Kisne, Aag Phile Kaise" [Who lit the fire, How did it spread?], he had asked -- claimed that Jayendra's arrest had shocked the entire country. Good, now we know this man has feelings. But then, the Tamil Nadu Police seems more interested in finding out "Who committed the murder? How did Sankararaman die?"

Jayendra's list of supporters includes a whole lot of other Sangh Parivar [2] luminaries, but I guess you get the point. And it's not a mere coincidence that he finds so much favor with the top echelons of power in the Sangh. Sample his following utterances and the reason is obvious.

[In response to the question, "What is the difference between Hindutva and Hinduism?"]
"This is like making a distinction between insaan and insaniyat. All those for whom India is home, are part of Hindutva - whether Hindu, Christian or Muslim. It is our entire culture and way of life." [3]

[When asked about the VHP trying to foment communal passion]
"The VHP is only an organisation to spread Hindutva." [4]

[Disagreeing that the VHP is preaching an "ultra Hindutva", whatever that meant]
"For you, it may appear to be ultra; I believe VHP is an organisation that teaches and spreads the message of Hindutva." [5]

"If the [Shiv] Sena is getting aggressive it is purely because it is the need of the times. Even the scriptures recommend this ... It is here that leaders like Thackeray who can mobilise Hindus become crucial. If his style is high-handed, so be it. It is necessary." [6]

"The RSS and its frontal organisations act as a generator of Hindu awareness around the world." [6]

"The Muslims should stop offering namaz on days like December 6 [when a centuries-old mosque was destroyed by the Sangh]. What has happened has happened. They should learn to forget it. There is no more a masjid now." [6]

"Has Allah told them [Muslims] to fight all the time." [7]

Given his consistent and long-standing defence of Hindutva crimes, it's not at all surprising that the Sangh has come out swinging in support of Jayendra. Fellow seers have also spoken out, and Sri Sri Ravishankar has given a whole new meaning to the principle of presumption of innocence: "Saints cannot even think of committing such a crime", he said, apparently with a straight face.

The initial shock following the arrests have clearly worn off, and there doesn't seem to be anything spontaneous about the ongoing protests. If anything, they seem to be orchestrated by the Sangh organizations and/or by motley groups of (Brahmin) seers desperately trying to cling on to their privileged status in society. For those wedded to the hierarchical caste system, equality before law is indeed a bitter pill to swallow. Support for Jayendra from certain Muslim and Christian religious heads also need to be seen in this context -- their desire to maintain a privileged and irreproachable position in their communities, which they feel has been indirectly challenged by a fellow godman's arrest -- though it could also be a reaction to Sangh's vitriol against minorities.

Notwithstanding the Brahminical and Sanghi nature of the protests, the lack of an opposite viewpoint (barring some lone voices like that of Swami Agnivesh) from the Hindu community only crowns the likes of Jayendra and the Sangh as authentic representatives of Hinduism. More silence from the so-called "silent majority" in the Hindu community will only ensure their (and their religion's) fast track to universal ridicule and oblivion.

If the Sangh's response has been predictably virulent, the ruling Congress party's response has been predictable lame. After a long silence, Congress spokesperson Girija Vyas opined that "perhaps the arrest of the Swami on Diwali could have been avoided." Certain others in the Congress have echoed the Sangh line, probably out of blind obesiance to the Jayendra and/or in an attempt to pander to the Hindutva votes in the cow belt.

Quibbles about Jayendra's time of arrest are particularly irritating, for we have often seen -- most recently, in the Best Bakery case of the Gujarat pogrom -- that justice delayed is justice denied. The time is always right to do right, as Martin Luther King Jr. would say. The state ought not to wait for an auspicious time or the appropriate star signs and moon shapes to pick up a suspect, more so when the suspect is someone as powerful as Jayendra. People in positions of power are wont to muzzling any opposition -- particularly when they have everything to lose (as is the case with Jayendra) -- and in such cases, time is of the essence. Given Jayendra's economic might (as head of a 5000 crore empire) and well-entrenched political connections (the current president as well as several former prime ministers and presidents are known to be his followers, and Sangh leaders are already lining up to meet him in prison), there's every possibility of prosecution witnesses turning hostile if he is let loose. His imprisonment would certainly embolden the witnesses, and his fame rules out any possibility of his being subjected to torture, so the best bet to justice seems to be to maintain the status quo. At the very least, the state must promise and ensure full protection to all witnesses and their families.

The case is bound to get more and more interesting as the investigation expands, but there's another sub-text to this story. A section of the press has focussed on the ideological rivalry between the Brahminical Kanchi mutt and the rationalists headed by Periyar and proclaimed Karunanidhi (head of the DMK, a regional party based in Tamil Nadu) to be an inheritor of Periyar's legacy. That this is not quite the case is evident from the following comment made by Karunanidhi after Jayendra's arrest: "if a virtuous woman commits mistakes, she can get pardon by taking a holy bath in Ganges but if the Ganges itself commits a mistake, where can one go for pardon?" Such talk of "women's chastity" and "holy bath in Ganges" could hardly come from a rationalist. Though he has effectively ruled out any truck with the BJP [8], Karunanidhi still needs to go a long way toward extricating himself from the morass that is Sangh spirituality. Indeed, by choosing to focus solely on the alleged misdeeds of Jayendra the individual, he is letting the Brahminical underpinnings of the Kanchi mutt go unquestioned. It remains to be seen whether his current appeal to the state government to "ensure that the Mutt is being run to safeguard the interests of all sections of downtrodden people" will evolve into a principled stand or peter off as a one-time appeal meant to assuage the rationalists in his party.

The scene in Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha's camp is entirely different. Jaya has never shied off from revealing her Hindutva colors, be it in banning religious conversions or in publicly supporting Narendra Modi after the Gujarat pogrom. However, the electoral debacle earlier this year seems to have left her badly shaken. Her alliance not only lost all the parliamentary seats, but ominously enough for her, also trailed in all the assembly segments. Sensing the need for a mid-course correction, she promptly withdrew the ban on conversions and other repressive measures, but this by itself was hardly going to be sufficient. Recent elections in Tamil Nadu have borne out the essence of pre-poll alliances and it's here that Jaya found herself shortchanged. For instance, in the parliamentary elections, the Jaya-led alliance suffered a whitewash despite the voteshare of Jaya's ADMK dropping by only 1.63 per cent (since the 2001 elections). The difference between victory and defeat lay in the relative strengths of the BJP and the anti-BJP formations. With the latter showing no signs of breaking, and the BJP showing no signs of recovery in Tamil Nadu (where it had a measly 5.07 per cent vote share) or elsewhere (as evident from the electoral debacle in Maharashtra), dumping the BJP seems to be the prudent option. This is what Jaya seems to be doing with a vengeance now, for it should have been obvious that any move against Jayendra would invite the Sangh's ire and she still decided to go ahead with the arrest. In fact, her resolve to dump the Sangh seems to have been so strong that she basically acqueisced to the demands of the DMK (which had been threatening to launch an agitation demading a probe of Jayendra's link with Sankararaman's murder), something unthinkable given her bitter enmity with Karunanidhi. How this will affect Jaya's electoral fortunes is a matter of conjecture, but what is clear is that the BJP is in for a long political hibernation. All this despite the fact that the Sangh seems keen on tagging on to Jaya.

If this isn't good enough, the recent bonhomie between two regional parties in Tamil Nadu -- the Dalit Panthers led by Thirumavalavan and the PMK led by Ramadoss -- is even more cause for hope. The coming together of these two political formations (which derive their strengths from the dalit and the "low" caste Vanniyar communities, respectively), which had for long been at each other's throats, further skews the electoral arithmetic against the Sangh. Ramadoss has in the past too often sold himself to the highest bidder, but if his recent pronouncements are anything to go by, here in lies the genesis of a formidable third front that along with the Left parties could act as a check against the Brahminism of the dravidian parties. Despite constituting 20-25 per cent of the vote share spread throughout Tamil Nadu [9], dalits have so far been deprived of political power, but the fall of the Brahminist citadel and the new political formations might just prove to be the tonic for the dalit movement.

Notes and References

1. The Shankaracharya of Kanchi is arguably the most powerful Hindu godman alive. He is the head of the Brahminical "Kanchi mutt", a religious establishment headquartered in Kanchi in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and is reported to have had a long-standing feud with the victim, Sankararaman. Since his arrest, the police have also alleged Jayendra's involvement in an attempted murder of another critic.

2. "Sangh Parivar" refers to the family of 'Hindu' fascist organizations led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, World Hindu Council) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and in the U.S., by VHP-America. For a brief overview of the Sangh and the fascist underpinnings of its Hindutva ideology, see and



5. Deccan Herald, March 12, 2003

6. "Kanchi Silk" (S Anand), Outlook, March 25, 2002. Also see S Anand's "I am Neither Happy Not Unhappy" (, July 9, 2003) for an analysis of Jayendra's "impartiality" with regard to the Ayodhya issue.


8. In a statement released on November 9, 2004, Karunanidhi lashed out at the BJP for pursuing "policies that were against secularism, communal harmony and unity of the country." [, November 9, 2004]



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