I COME LATE TO the Sanatana Dharma controversy, set off by the ill-chosen remarks of the current heir apparent of the Karunanidhi dynasty, Udhayanidhi Stalin. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin’s son and a minister in his government erred in conflating the ills of the followers of the Sanatana Dharma with the religion itself. It was like throwing the baby with the bath water. Any religion that does not teach empathy does not help inculcate in its followers strong ethical values. In my book, it ceases to be a religion. Divorced from a sense of right and wrong, its followers are the real heretics, abusing and exploiting faith for greed and self-aggrandizement. In that reading of religion, any religion and not just Sanatana Dharma, increasingly a majority of believers everywhere would fail the test.
But where Udhayanidhi and his equally voluble supporter and MP Andimuthu Raja, who fiercely defended his leader, challenging people to a debate, are wrong is in delinking religion from ethics. As I said, if you are ethical, you don’t have to follow any religion. And yet, unknowingly, you still adhere to a higher code of conduct preached by various religious faiths. To emphasise the point again, only the ethical can be religious. Of course, neither Udhayanidhi nor Raja nor, for that matter, a host of their colleagues in the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) can ever be accused of being ethical, never mind being religious.
Consider the number of DMK ministers facing corruption charges. The extended Karunanidhi family had enriched itself beyond all imagination thanks to the fact that it was the foremost political dynasty in the state. Political corruption is a gross form of exploitation of the people’s faith in their leaders. Not unlike the old and corrupt Brahminical priests the DMK leaders rail against, they too are guilty of exploiting peoples’ faith for personal gain. Corruption robs people of developmental funds.
In fact, Udhayanidhi, A Raja, and others who have made a career abusing Sanatana Dharma are the practitioners of a far worse form of religion which allows them to exploit peoples’ faith to fill their own coffers with illicit wealth. It is this political religion the ethical and the righteous ought to challenge. Not tilting at the ancient windmills which long ago vanished from Tamil Nadu following the rise of the Dravida movement. Abuse of the political faith which bestows on its followers enormous power and ill-gotten wealth is a deep-seated malaise in Tamil Nadu that the state must be rid of.
THEY SAY BETTER late than never, don’t they? Now, those calling the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill a jumla a post-dated cheque, etc, ought to put their money where their mouth is. They need not wait for the reservations to become law. Why don’t they nominate one-third of women candidates in the coming Assembly and, later, parliamentary poll? If, as P Chidambaram, the newspaper columnist, says, it is easy to do so relying on the latest electoral rolls, he should begin by persuading his party to take the lead. We have strong doubts about whether he will even try.
THE TITLE OF the book may read like a rebuke for the political class. But Fali S Nariman’s latest, You Must Know Your Constitution, ought to be compulsory reading for all those interested in the workings of our democratic system. Probably the last of the Bombay bar’s greats who dominated the Supreme Court practice for decades until the recent advent of the aggressive breed of India’s new lawyers, Nariman brings to his book all the erudition some of his fellow Bombay bar practitioners were justifiably famous for. Though old age has obliged him to cut down on active practice, thankfully his mind remains as sharp as ever.