The Disconnect: Smear Campaign Against Sai Baba
Dr. Vijaya Rajiva
In a previous article ‘Smear Campaign Against Sai Baba’ (Haindava Keralam 05/05/2011) the present writer had pointed out that Christian evangelism has influenced some Hindus to denigrate their religion and religious figures, amongst whom Satya Sai Baba had long been the target. He is one of the great religious figures of contemporary India and also a social reformer who has upheld the best traditions of Hinduism and has advocated peace and prosperity for all sections of Indian society. He has made no distinction between castes, creeds, religions or nationalities. By and large these Hindu critics (and non Hindus) were composed of young people, shady characters, politicians looking for vote banks, opportunists and careerists hoping to benefit from monetary and other incentives, Christian converts playing into the hands of the evangelicals etc. The path breaking book Breaking India (2011) by authors Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan examines the role of evangelism in India and its origins in the West.
In this article we shall look at another phenomenon, the disconnect between people who consider themselves Hindu patriots, and are seemingly interested in the country’s welfare, but who target Hindu religious figures such as Sai Baba. These people are from well educated backgrounds and economically self sufficient, often running their own large businesses etc. One recent example is the businessman Atanyu Dey who shortly after Satya Sai Baba’s funeral (April 24, 2011) wrote what, in the present writer’s opinion, is a ‘scurrilous’ piece against the religious leader in an article titled ‘Satya Sai Baba: The Confederacy of Criminals’ (April 28, 2011 on his blog site).
The article accuses Sai Baba of virtually every crime under the sun. It is written in poor taste and the reader is encouraged to read the blog to get an idea of its content. The contents of the article are not worth repeating here.
On that blog site among many other topics Dey speaks about a topic which is dear to his heart: economic development. An article prominent on this site is ‘Think Big about India’s Urbanization' (It is a collection of blogs).The central theme of this piece is the need for the urbanization of the 600,000 odd villages of India. To make a fine point Dey points out that the operative word is not the ‘village’, but the flesh and blood inhabitants of the village. They are living in poor conditions and must be lifted out of their misery.
He has two lines of approach: the historical importance of cities in ancient India and the advantages of urbanization for the villagers themselves, who can now share in the prosperity of the current urban population. Here he distinguishes between mere economic growth and development, the first being straightforward material prosperity and the latter being related to quality of life and civilized standards of living. He is not advocating moving villagers to the already crowded cities. He is suggesting creating citylike complexes in the open spaces of the villages. No mention is made of agriculture in his scheme.
Historically, in his references to the Harappan civilization and their glorious cities, he ignores the presence of agricultural life without which no ancient civilization or for that matter modern ones can flourish. It is simply a matter of bread and butter issues. One need not labor that point. And Vedic India and subsequent centuries of high urban economies had flourishing agricultural life. The subsequent poverty of the Indian village was the result of the two Occupations (Islamic and British). The latter has been written about endlessly, but in the early years of the twentieth century, in 1902 we have the first sustained serious account of the economic history of India under British rule by Romesh Dutt, who was a civil servant in the British civil service and who travelled the countryside during and after some of the great famines that occurred directly owing to Britain’s misguided agricultural policies.
Mahatma Gandhi tells us in his Hind Swaraj (1908-1909) that he wept when he first read those volumes. The Occupiers left, but little has changed in post Independence India. The poverty of the villages and their neglect can be seen in the poor implementation of one budget after another. Even as we speak we have the plight of the farmers in various states, their suicides, their protests as in Mayavati’s Uttar Pradesh where the building of the expressway has led to the driving of the agricultural population from the land.
The mega corruption of the UPA government has led to the sucking of taxpayer money to a small creamy layer that enjoys the benefits of urban living. Hence, Atanyu Dey’s scenario of a happy urbanization of village spaces is a sleight of hand. It cannot be argued for in any serious way. What is needed is not his ill thought out schemes, but better planning and its strict implementation and the slowing down of a reckless liberalization of the economy, and the resistance to some of the negative aspects of globalization along
with the sensible exercise of monetary and fiscal policies, etc. These are the beginnings of wisdom.
And it is here, that Hindu civilizational wisdom and culture can come to the rescue of the village. From Mahatma Gandhi to Baba Ramdev, there is a fund of practical measures and wisdom to sustain good quality agricultural life in India, while sustaining economic growth in all sectors. Satya Sai Baba belongs in that tradition. Hence the attacks against him from both the evangelical forces and the neo liberalism of people like Atanyu Dey. This is where the seemingly unrelated two groups connect. This is not simply about ‘scurrilous’ articles, thrown in for good measure.
The evangelicals want to convert the Indian masses to Christianity. The neo liberals, while seemingly concerned for growth and development want the wrong kind of growth and development. Hindu India, except for the long night of the two Occupations, has always supported the harmonious development of both city and village. This is the uniqueness of Hindu civilization. This must be consciously recovered. Satya Sai Baba helped millions of Hindus to regain this genuine prosperity. He advocated the removal of social injustices and set an example by providing water to drought ridden land, setting up educational institutions, medical institutions and hospitals where all services were free of charge to anyone who came, regardless of caste or community. He upheld this high ideal to the business community. He redefined in meaningful ways the balance found in varnashrama dharma (for example he emphasized that the famed Gayantri mantra is for all people, regardless of caste, creed, nationality, ethnicity or gender). He emphasized the integrated city-village nexus of Hindu dharma. The integrated city-village nexus is the enduring strength of Hindu civilization.
Any Hindu who attacks authentic Hindu religious figures such as Satya Sai Baba, is attacking this nexus, and wittingly or unwittingly is a pawn in the evangelical and the neo liberal globalization game.
(The writer taught Political Philosophy in a Canadian university. Her academic training has been in Political Science, Political Economy, Philosophy and History).