Way to sway voters

Sushil Kutty

Ayodhya, Sabarimala, Gurugram, Akbar Fort, Noida, lunatic asylum, pilgrimage centre, women’s right to pray, Muslims’ right to pray… Since May 26, 2014, ever since BJP won the rulers’ grubstake, religious issues have acquired a political colour, which has gotten a deeper shade with general elections 2019 approaching. The Sangh Parivaar is basically a politico-religious configuration. It mirrors monotheistic religions, which themselves are not beyond politics. But the name of the game in India is religious polarization to win elections.
Ex-RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan says a ‘majoritarian agenda’ divides people. By that token, mollycoddling the ‘minority’ also divides people. Cut off a large or a small slice of the cake, both ways there will be division. The Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala and the Authority Park in Sector 58, Noida, offer insights. The two are in the news over the issue of the right to pray. In Sabarimala, it is the right to pray of women of all ages infringed. In Noida, the right to pray of Muslims interfered with.
But the argument splinters two different ways. In Noida, it is ‘how can government and police interfere?’ In Sabarimala, it is ‘police and government can interfere.’ In both situations, there is the law to contend with. And there is violation of the law, too. Like the guy and the gal answer to the question "are you in any relation?" with: "It’s complicated." Do people, including law enforcement, know the law? Is there application of mind in decisions taken on matters governed by law? Are the laws being followed, enforced, without fear or favour?
As it happens, when it comes to religion, laws are often flouted. Also, not enforced properly. Until all hell breaks loose! July 2018, Puducherry Lt. Governor Kiran Bedi goes to the Social Welfare Department in the Union Territory and finds none of the officers in the department has any knowledge of the laws governing ‘Senior Citizens Welfare’, ‘Juvenile Justice’, ‘Child Welfare, ‘NGOs’ or ‘Domestic Violence’ – not the ‘Director’, the ‘Deputy Director’, ‘Assist. Director’ or the ‘Welfare Officers.’ And all of them 20 years in service! Pathetic. ‘Criminal’ is the word.
The law on Sabarimala changed September 28, 2018. And because of the turmoil that followed and continues to date, everybody, including children, are aware of the change. The Noida Police sat on the law governing religious congregations in public places without being aware of it, till challenged by an emerging law and order situation. Now, Noida has become a flashpoint and experts on TV cannot step out of their bias, throwing allegations and counter-allegations of ‘majoritarian bullying’ and ‘minority appeasement’.
There are lessons to be learned. Why did the Noida companies ask their Muslim employees to pray ‘outside’ without examining the law? Why did the Noida Police not notice the congregation grow from 15 to 1,000 and not question for four plus years, why now? Why the different treatment of ‘Kawaria’ and ‘Namaz’ by the Yogi government? Are Muslims being stopped from constructing mosques? Is there a law limiting religious gatherings at public places? Do RSS shakhas and laughter-therapy sessions in parks translate to congregation, do they breach the law?
Apparently, there is a 2009 Supreme Court verdict governing religious congregations at public places. But what is a public place for religions? The Ayyappa Temple is, according to the apex court, a public place. A park is also a public place. But there are reasonable restrictions, including ‘law & order and public morality issues,’ limiting religious congregation in parks. The Authority Park in Noida has now become a ‘law and order’ problem with religious overtone. Politics is seesawing on the religious swing!
Gurugram witnessed a similar ‘Namaz in the open’ dispute a few months ago. Apparently, in both Gurugram and Noida, Muslims offering Namaz in the open were mostly migrant workers from West Bengal. They have no mosques to offer Namaz. That said, communal tensions are, to an extent, real. Add to that the BJP’s majoritarian and the opposition parties’ minority agendas and it is important that both majority and minority hold their horses, and noses. Communal conflagrations triggered by politics benefit only the lowlife.
That being said, if dissent is what makes democracy, there are constructive and creative ways to lodge dissent. Like the ‘Ayyappa Jyothi’ of the Ayyappa devotees that lit Kerala up Wednesday (December 26) evening, from Kasargode to the Triveni Sangam in Kanyakumari. Stretched over 790 km, the light traversed all the Kerala districts, touched over 3,000 religious centres, wound its way through numerous villages and towns – covered the cities of Kozhikode, Mallappuram, Ernakulam, Kottayam, Pattanamthitta, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram. A total of 15 lakh ‘Ayyappa Jyothi’ lamps lighting up Kerala from end to end, 6 pm to 6.15 pm!
January 1, 2019, the LDF Government’s ‘Great Wall of Women’ will stretch from Kasargode to Thiruvananthapuram and it will try to match ‘Ayyappa Jyothi’ – spectacle for spectacle! Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan will have to beat the slumgullion with slumgullion! The word ‘slumgullion’ was one of the top look-ups in Webster Merriam dictionary this month. It means both ‘inexpensive stew’ and ‘insipid drink’! (IPA)

Wednesday, 9 January, 2019