The word “bhakt” has been lately made an epithet by some on the left side of our current political divide. This is dismaying. I wish these name-callers had selected some other word to give vent to their angst. However, that they chose this ancient word reveals what is actually behind their mindset. In this mood, let me explain to those who wish to learn what a real bhakt is, at least from my perspective.
Yes, I am a follower of dharm, an unequivocal bhakt. Do not take dharm in the religious sense. My dharm is “duty” and my bhakti is all encompassing. It includes those who agree with me, and those who don’t. It also includes all others in between. I do not get viscerally riled if someone says things against my faith, my idols, my nation, my environment, or my friends. I think about their motives and whether what they have said and done harms my society. When I say “society” I mean my family and friends, my countrymen, my India and my earth. If it does, I oppose them logically, with the required amount of vehemence, in the spirit of my dharm.
I oppose even those who agree with my political leanings, if they do something that is harmful to my society. I ignore dissent or negative comments if they do not result in short or long term harm to my society.
Viewing the current agitation and allegations and counter-allegations from both sides, I ask myself, “What does my dharm dictate under the circumstances? Who is on the side of the right and who is on the side of the wrong? Who is dharmik in this chaos and who is adharmik?
I can find dharmik people on both sides of the ideological spectrum. Imagine a long band. One end is white and the other black. In between, there are shades of grey. All those are ranged along this band within my conscience. Their positioning depends upon whether, in my view, they are dharmik or adharmik, with the real dharmik ones aligned on the lighter side.
On the real dark side of this band, I find all terrorists, regardless of their nationality or religion. Here I see those who initiate anti-India slogans and those who engineer and lead anti-India demonstrations. I also find those “right-wingers” who resort to death threats or threats of rape, etc., against those who they oppose. I find everyone here who seeks to divide India, physically or metaphorically, for whatever reason.
Just a few millimetres away from them, yet towards the darkest grey, I find those agitators who burn national and private property and stop normal lives in pursuit of their political demands—demands for reservations, for example.
Those who resort to physical violence against those who voice views they are opposed to are here too.
Just a smidgeon more towards the greyer side, but still fairly dark, I find those influential people in the media, politics and society who actively support and defend these dark forces. They do this through writing articles, giving speeches and re-circulating posts on social media that further the agenda of dark ones. These people are not “misguided”. They are conscious believers in the discourse of these anti-nationals on both sides of the political divide. Often, they resort to chicanery, including false quotes and photoshopped pictures. They use the power of the media and the power of their social status to spread the message of darkness everywhere they can. Yes, I consider them merely a fraction better than the ones in real darkness.
These people harm the society in two ways—firstly by spreading the message of the dark ones and secondly by distracting the country’s attention from real issues like poverty, education, farmers, employment, health, economic development etc.
Many other adharmik people are here too, including industrialists who blatantly pollute my rivers, builders who illegally chop down forests and those who undermine society through corruption. All those who promote superstition also populate this area.
Then come the masses, mostly young people who gather and shout slogans. It does not matter who they are supporting or who they are reacting against. They are in the grey area on both sides of the ideological divide. They are easily moved and they rely on others to form their opinions. They are puppets with their puppet-masters hiding in the dark, convincing them that their views are entirely their own. I do not consider them anti-national. They are merely guided by the dialogue fed to them. They are bhakts, too, in a naïve, twisted sort of way. They pray with their faces towards the dark.
At this stage, I wonder why the authorities do not realise this difference in shades of motivation and work out a different strategy for countering each segment. Force is appropriate against some on the darkest side, regardless of whether they support or oppose the regime. Social shaming, exposure and financial pressure are better for the social media supporters of the dark. A gentler approach, proper communication and understanding are more suited to those who are being manipulated, puppet-like.
Problems escalate when the same strategy is used for people populating all shades of grey. Furthermore, when this is perceived to be especially targeted only against those holding any one mindset, it makes the situation worse. A true leader will not take sides and deal in an appropriately firm and fair manner with all the dark ones.
As my vision moves more towards the lighter grey side, I increasingly find more and more logical people. These people, regardless of their socio-political leanings, rely on analysis of events and their real implications for our society.
They may believe in a certain ideology but are not blind slaves to it to the extent of seeing everything rosy in it. Such people react in a measured manner, addressing issues rather than personalities. There are quite a few here, too. There are some defence services officers, some corporate executives, some bureaucrats, some teachers and some retired people populating the light grey. I espy a few social activists, but hardly any journalists and politicians here.
Having had my fill of the dark, I turn around and look towards the brightest side of the band. I see my ancient India here, the fount of my bhakti.
I sense sadness in her heart and tears in her eyes. I bow my head, partly in reverence and partly in shame at what past generations of my countrymen have done to her and so many in the present generation are intent, even now, on doing to her.
Our propensity for divisiveness and a warped sense of what is right and what is wrong have brought her to this pass.
Through good thoughts, I try to assure her that all will be well, but knowing the resolve of foreign and domestic dark forces, the mindsets of the opinion-makers, the gullibility of the puppet majority amongst my countrymen and the cynical vote-bank politics and frequent ham-handedness of our politicians, there is not much conviction in my thoughts.
All I can do is affirm to my India that, whatever happens, I am and will remain her Bhakt.
I will not take sides except against anyone who attempts to harm her. I will not react in a knee-jerk manner to any provocation. I will willingly lay down my life for her and will respect others who do so too, both on our troubled borders and inside India. I will analyse issues and look below the obvious to see where they originate. I will cut the strings if anyone tries to make a puppet out of me. I will determine my own action. Yes, as a true bhakt, I will be my own man—and my India’s.
Kishore Asthana, an alumnus of IIMA, is the president of Mensa India Delhi. He writes on diverse topics.