‘Spiritualising’ politics?

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee


It is said that we get the politicians that we deserve because after all, they come from the same pool of ordinary citizens populating the country. However, this should not be used as an excuse for anyone to deviate from the path of righteousness

In a bid to ‘spiritualise’ politics, some leaders have been perhaps inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. The idea was certainly laudable – although one could also take the view that ‘spiritualising’ politics is an oxymoron. For spirituality is about elevating us by transcending the demands of matter, whereas politics tends towards the opposite, focusing on the fulfillment of material needs and wants – even to the point of excess beyond what would be considered adequate and normal requirements for a reasonable human being.

Logically, any project to spiritualise politics must start with politicians themselves, since they are the principal actors in the political game. Given the numerous examples drawn from all over the world of displays of venality and ostentation by politicians of all hues, one could be excused to be highly cynical about such a project. Particularly with regard to our own country with its limited resources, which should in theory have compelled our politicians to be extremely cautious about handling them.

Over the years the number of those involved in pursuing and indulging in excesses has gone on increasing, to the extent of blackening even our highest symbol of State, the Presidency. There seems to be an insatiable appetite for appropriations and misappropriations well beyond the already generous salaries and perks of office, not forgetting those who in addition are the recipients of multiple pensions after serving more terms than one.

Such temptation for material accumulation is the very antithesis of a spiritual inclination – which only goes to show how difficult, even impossible, it would be to spiritualise politics. Besides, the very nature of the political process itself seems to militate against such a possibility, involving as it does the huge sums of tantalizing money that are required to finance political campaigns.

I don’t know how it works out in countries which are, say, less democratic than the usual models of democracy that are held up to us, which are essentially the western-style democracies. But even in them, so many cases of misuse of political or public funds by venal politicians have been reported, a tar from which even we in Mauritius have not escaped. The issue of political financing has never been resolved definitively, as we have witnessed here itself. Committee upon committee has met but a bill is yet to find its way in Parliament for the regulation of political financing.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that politicians should not draw at least some inspiration from spiritual values, which are after all fundamental human values such as truth, righteousness, peace, love and non-violence which are to be found in all major spiritual paths. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna elaborates further on them, emphasizing on, among others, ‘fearlessness, purification of one’s existence, cultivation of spiritual knowledge, charity, self-control, performance of sacrifice, austerity and simplicity; nonviolence, truthfulness, freedom from anger; renunciation, tranquility, aversion to faultfinding, compassion and freedom from covetousness; gentleness, modesty and steady determination…’

Currently visiting Mauritius is Swami Mitrananda from the Chinmaya Mission, whom I had the privilege to interview. He has been giving talks to college students, and has delivered discourses on part of Chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita during three evenings at the municipality of Quatre Bornes. He ‘specializes’ in guiding young people. We are all complaining that young people consider politics so dirty from what they see is happening in so many countries that they are unwilling to join in. So I asked him specifically whether the ‘demographic dividend’ in India which is represented by the youth could be an asset to take the country forward.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear from him that they are reaching out to a lot of youth who are responding very strongly in the sense that with a good government at the centre in the last five years many people are clear today that they can get into politics and make a change, and he has found that the youth are very keen to join in. And the role of responsible leaders, whether spiritual or lay, is to channelize the young people in the right direction.

Given the nature of realpolitik we would be fooling ourselves if we were to expect politicians to don the spiritual garb and act accordingly a hundred per cent – which even we as ordinary mortals cannot attain! And that is why it is said that we get the politicians, and therefore the government that we deserve because after all, they come from the same pool of ordinary citizens populating the country. However, this should not be used as an excuse for anyone to deviate from the path of righteousness, and the higher we rise in any field the higher should be the sense of duty and of responsibility.

This applies to any occupation or profession, but especially those which are called upon to do public service, because there are a lot of people out there, the masses who are struggling to make ends and have the normal human aspirations to fulfil – a proper education, a decent means of earning a living, affordable health care, a conducive physical and social environment in which to bring children up, some form of social protection to cover needs when one is in difficulty and when old age sets in, etc.

As we can see, it is the political process that is meant to cater to all these aspects in any country, and hence the enormous responsibility to do what is right by the people by political leaders in whom they put their trust, almost blindly. And they can only do so if they abide by at least some of the spiritual values that are common to all of humanity. The younger aspirants to political office would do well to draw from such sources.

But there are also selfless stalwarts who can inspire them, and in modern times one can think of Martin Luther King, Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandela and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. They not only epitomize high ideals but have demonstrated them in their public lives, much worthy of emulation by those who genuinely pledge and wish to serve their countries.


Corrigendum

In last week’s article – ‘Dear Prof Amartya Sen, you’re mistaken’, in reference to “Kashmir’s ‘good governance’ record” alluded to by Prof Sen, it was inadvertently stated that it was “Pt Deendayal Upadhyaya, who had been prevented from reaching Kashmir by the Congress government led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru”. In fact, it was Dr Shyam Prasad Mukherjee founder of Bharatiya Jan Sangh (who had opposed Article 370) who was arrested by police while entering Kashmir, and died in May 1953 while in custody in Srinagar under circumstances which have never been elucidated.
We regret this inadvertence.


* Published in print edition on 30 August 2019

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