Does refusing to wear a particular kind of cap reflect a bias? This has been a topic of prime time debate in much of the Main Stream Media since Modi’s refusal to wear a Muslim skull cap. It is thus pertinent to ask what constitutes a bias to a community, particularly if one is positioning oneself for a top Constitutional post. It is also important how that bias is measured. Between Narendra Modi and the INC spokespersons it boils down to these aspects:
According to the INC: Bias is not accepting/ adorning the religious symbols. Symbolism (like adorning a skull cap) is a manifestation of ‘Non-Bias’, even if one does little to economically uplift the community or provide them safety and security as citizens and as mandated in the constitution.
According to Modi: Bias has nothing to do with not adorning religious symbols. Symbolism (like adorning a skull cap) is a manifestation of appeasement. Non Bias is economic upliftment and providing safety and security as full citizens as mandated in the Constitution.
Between both the above versions it is interesting, that most INC spokespersons accept Modi’s version as given above, but point out that it is hypocritical since Modi also wears a Sikh Turban and that amounts to adorning a religious symbol that is not his own. Modi asserts that it is his Parampara and he has the full right to wear/ adorn loudly what is his Parampara. So question is what is the bias and importantly how it is ‘measured’. If the ‘measure’ of the bias is the Constitution, then Modi scores on his point and stands soundly on firm ground. Article 25, Clause 2, Subclause (b) of the Indian Constitution clearly mandates the freedom of Hindu’s, Sikhs, Buddhists,Jains to visit and practise aspects of each others faith in their exclusive temples:
Article 25(2)(b) in The Constitution Of India 1949
(b) providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus. Explanation I The wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion. Explanation II In sub clause (b) of clause reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly
Thus constitutionally Narendra Modi has every right to wear a Turban, go to Gurdwaras, Jain temples, Buddhist monastries. It is his constitutionally guaranteed right and not an act of appeasement or hypocrisy. This act defines by right of law what Narendra Modi rightly refers to his parampara. Thus the INC charge of hypocrisy is incorrect and false. An Arya Samaji going to a Gurdwara, a Vaishnav paying respects at a Buddhist monastery, a Sikh taking Devi mata prasad from a nearby temple and so on, Dharmics have since millenia intermingled and respected the purity of the different panths and their Guru’s even while they followed their own. A Sikh Guru writing a version of the Ramayana, Brahmins writing and formulating various Buddhist canons of thought, Nalanda where intellectuals of many Dharmic sampradayas taught and learnt and so on one has many examples of mutual sampradayic respect as opposed to acts of symbolic appeasement that some in the INC would like us to believe. That is the historical aspect the constitution through Art 25 acknowledges of the fluidity of Dharmic tradition. The INC cannot thus target Modi that wearing a Sikh turban is the same as wearing a Skull cap. The rest of the head gear (Manipuri, Arunachali, Marwaari) donned by Modi did not have much religious significance, which also Modi rightly acknowledges as part of his parampara. In a way the INC arguments reflect how far they have moved away from core Indian tradition.
The skull cap meanwhile is of Middle Eastern origin and is used by Muslims, Jews and Catholics alike and the Pope is rarely seen without one. Modi cannot thus by any stretch be forced to compromise on his constitutional right to follow only his parampara, but also necessarily follow another parampara that is of Middle Eastern origin on the threat of implied bias. Why should that be logically forced on anyone, even if aspiring for the post of a PM? When Modi says the Arunachal headgear, Sikh Turban, Marwari Saafa, South Indian lungi are his parampara he is right. In Sanskrit the word Parampara literally means an uninterrupted row or series, order, succession, continuation, mediation, tradition associated implicitly with the ancestry and the land. All those items that he donned are an intrinsic part of his parampara while the Skull cap is not. It could necessarily be seen as an act of appeasement if he did don the cap, and he thus avoids doing the same for exactly the same reason. Hence for him to be truly just, to the Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Parsee communities would be to fulfill constitutional provisions and not address symbolic ones as opposed to making symbolic gestures and deprive them the benefits that the constitution really provides for them as Indian citizens. Modi stresses the former and stresses consciously avoiding the latter. The INC record has been largely of symbolic respect, while little has been done to improve the socio economic status of minorities. Modi rubs that point in with this refusal to wear the Skull cap and that is a significant point by itself. This is the crux between the secular and so called Pseudo Secular debate.
There are other aspects of this debate, but the basic punchlines above hold. While the Constitution under Art 25 guarantees the freedom of religion, propagation, practice, it does not imply citizens must hold sacrosanct the symbolic gestures of all religions. It only deems the right of those of a particular faith to hold such sacrosanct and not the others. So while for the INC it may be fine to wear a Muslim skull cap, by the same logic it would also be fine and respectful if one slaughters a goat or cow on Bakr Id or if a Hindu accepts prasadam at a Jain temple he shouldn’t mind accepting a mutton offering on Id. The extension of the symbolic logic thus becomes an unending affair to appease. Even a vegetarian could be ridiculed stating that Hindu’s are not necessarily vegetarian so having reservations on eating mutton on Id and none on eating Prasad at a Jain Mandir is hypocrisy and bias only. This line of reasoning is just abandoning common-sense, constitutional norms, Dharmic tradition and indeed will only be misused by those that would like symbolic reverence at the expense of the well being of the communities involved.
Another important aspect that people should contemplate over, is respecting the constitutional provisions for religions other than ones own, does not imply personal respect of the tenets of all religions that the constitution provides freedoms to. Respect for your right to practice your faith does not imply one approves of the practises your faith approves. Most Jains, Vaishnavs and many other Dharmics, Moksha Margi’s don’t approve of slaughtering animals in some faiths for example. All religions are not same, neither all preach the same principles. There are differences. To be a PM candidate you need not ideally approve of all practises of all religions and participate in some symbolic ritual of acceptance. As the USAF Commander outside Kalaikunda Airbase said of the CPI demonstration against US-Indian air exercise: You may not like our presence here, but the reason we train together is to protect your right to criticize us.
So let Modi be. Respect him for following his tradition. Don’t pull him down for refusing the symbolism associated with traditions that are not his. Also respect him for the reason he offered.