news Friday, August 15, 2014 - 05:30
Anisha Sheth | The News Minute | August 14, 2014 | 2.25 pm IST On Independence Day, people wear their patriotism on their sleeves and on social media. Whatever you make of the whole affair, there are quirks to Indian democracy that may not be possible elsewhere. On Thursday, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Yuva Morcha protested against Jnanapith Award-winning playwright Girish Karnad being invited to inaugurate the Mysore Dasara celebrations this year. The state government organises the celebrations annually, a throwback to an old monarchical tradition of the Wodeyar dynasty of Mysore. A report in The Hindu quotes the state President of the Morcha as saying in a press conference: “Dr. Karnad is a rationalist who does not believe in idol worship as well as cultural heritage of the State. But Dasara festivities involve all these things. How can such a person perform these things, which he has been opposing?” (It is unclear whether or not Karnad is a rationalist who does not believe in observing religious festivals, but he sure has written very insightful plays on religious traditions.) Having said that, the Yuva Morcha has urged Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to withdraw the invitation given to Karnad.  Here’s the irony. In February 2011, after being removed from his post as chief minister, B S Yeddyurappa had accused a bunch of people for using black magic to “eliminate” him, The Hindu reported. In the same report, Siddaramaiah had said that he would file a defamation case against Yeddyurappa for that accusation. Siddaramaiah explained why: “Basically I am an atheist. I visit temples only during elections with a view not to hurt the feelings of people who join me.” One can debate whether the state should support religious activities – the Indian government, both at the centre and the states, provides financial aid to all religious denominations and faiths in the country – or not. But this support has Constitutional sanction.  As Christophe Jaffrelot explains, in Misunderstanding Secularism, that the Indian tradition of state support for all religions is different from the French understanding of secularism in which the state and religion are kept distinctly separate. So we can debate, in civilised fashion, and today is as good a day as any, to talk about the kind of society we want to have. So until then, don’t be surprised if on an Independence Day, you see news reports about the youth wing of a political party that identifies with Hinduism demanding that a rationalist not inaugurate a state-sponsored religious festival. And this demand, by the way, to a chief minister who is an atheist, but participates in religious programmes to avoid alienating his voters.  It happens only in India.
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