Masti Venkatesha Iyengar, one of the last beacons of the Kannada Literary Renaissance, also edited a monthly magazine titled Jivana from 1944 – 65. A general purpose magazine, it covered a broad range of topics including current affairs, literature, colonialism, national security, international affairs, communism, secularism, profiles of eminent people, etc. Politics and especially, the Congress Party and Government featured prominently.
In an era where Nehru-worship had become a national cult in our media landscape, only a handful of bravehearts like Masti stood apart like blazing contrarians. As we have mentioned elsewhere in The Dharma Dispatch, Masti was an iconoclast of famous fakes in public life, the most famous being Nawab Nehru.
In an acerbic piece written sometime in the mid-1950s, Masti uproots three central pillars supporting the Nehruvian cult: his alleged rationalism, scientific temper, and democratic spirit, all of which were supposedly rooted in his atheism.
The original Kannada piece has been translated and adapted into English by Sandeep Balakrishna.
SEVERAL PEOPLE HAVE BEEN UPSET by Nehru’s disdain for some traditions which have been regarded as Sanatana (eternal). They claimed that Nehru’s attitude in these matters is criticized by traditional Hindus as Nastikya (atheism). Endorsing this view, some friends in the Opposition recalled a past incident about Nehru.
Years ago, an organizer of a Dharmic sammelan had invited Mahatma Gandhi to preside over it. Gandhi had declined the invitation saying, “I won’t be able to attend it, call Jawaharlal.” The organizer said, “Arre! He doesn’t believe in God.” Gandhi had replied, “even if he doesn’t believe in God, he’s a pious person.”
This story is indeed nice, and its complete details are not important to us at the moment. But Gandhi’s statement has a ring of truth – even if a person does not believe in God but is endowed with piety, that should suffice. Whether he believes or not in God is a matter of personal choice. An attitude of piety inspires a person’s life and touches the lives of others.
However, a logical question arises here. If we accept that a person who doesn’t believe in God can be pious, then do we give only one definition of the word “God?” Piety is typically associated with unselfishness and an attitude of always working for the welfare of others. Thus, if this is piety, what then is God? But then, because piety signifies unselfishness and toiling for others’ good, it becomes a quality worthy of worship, and thus Godlike, and therefore, associated with God.
All those clever chaps who declare that we don’t want your temples and that our goodness alone is sufficient for us, prop up a non-existent opposition to the same indivisible truth that underlies goodness and the principle upon which temples are based.
Blind belief is not God. Neither is superstition. However, the societal and national good that ensues from such beliefs is Godliness. Because of the capacity of these beliefs to accomplish the aforementioned good, the motive force that inspires these beliefs and traditions is called God.
Be it Pandit Nehru or the common populace, all Indians learned the mentality of blindly condemning the superstitions of our own people from the British. Some among the British condemned Sanatana Dharma in order to propagate Christianity. We convinced ourselves that what they were saying was the truth and began to feel ashamed of Sanatana Dharma. However, like Christians, we too, began to condemn our own beliefs without ourselves becoming Christians.
In the process, we overlooked an important aspect. Blind belief and superstitious rituals aren’t exclusive only to Sanatana Dharma. Such beliefs and superstitions exist among the followers of every religion including Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists. Some enlightened people of Britain have condemned superstitious beliefs and practices in Christianity as well. One such person is the poet Swinburne. Claiming that there is no God, he wrote these lines on one occasion:
This thing is God
To be man with thy might
To go straight in the strength of thy spirit
and live out thy life in the light.
To this poet, the concept of God means becoming a complete human being in the fullest sense of the word: extending the reaches of his innate nobility, elevating one’s own self, enriching human values according to one’s own ability and scaling the heights of virtue.
Given this, how does one become an atheist if one accepts this tenet of Swinburne? If any power or inspiration that aids this sort of conduct and work can’t be termed God, what else can be?
Just as how Pandit Nehru is conducting himself in regard to whether God exists or no, he is also displaying the same conduct in our national life thereby unnecessarily creating confusion in the minds of our people.
This is most clearly visible in his recent fascination with the Cooperative Movement.
Our public discourse in this regard goes something like this. All it takes is for Nehru to say, “The country cannot survive without cooperative farming,” and the Opposition retorts with, “If farming occurs on land belonging to ten people, private property will be destroyed. The individual will have no incentive to work productively. The country will be ruined.” Pandit Nehru rebuts this as follows: “Life is impossible without cooperation. Cooperation is the maxim of all-round development.”
It’s true that both parties to the debate are standing face to face. It’s also true that both have their own counterpoints, which are effective and correct in their own ways. However, the counter to the first premise is not the solution. Neither is the counter to that counter.
Of course, there’s no life without cooperation. From a Vanavasi colony of ten huts to a vast city like London that houses a crore people, cooperation is ubiquitous in every society and nation.
The argument here is not about the principle of cooperation. The real question is this: in this context, in our present situation, is cooperation the solution that will result in all-round benefit? This is the fundamental question that our leaders haven’t properly examined.
If we continue along the present lines, we don’t have enough land to grow food sufficient to meet the needs of our people. We need change. One solution could be cooperative farming. However, if we accept that, how do we ensure that nobody’s private property is destroyed and at the same time, we obtain a substantially increased yield? This is a point our leaders need to think deeply about.
Our political parties and leaders who all claim to represent unique ideas and ideologies need to sit together, not as rivals, but as belonging to the same fraternity, and contemplate on this problem with honesty.
Instead of patiently engaging in disquisition over the best way to shape our national life, we are blindly aping the Western model of democracy, splitting ourselves into fractious parties and wasting our intellect, strength and time in useless debates.
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