January 10, 2021

Spiritual Politics: A Politics of Conceit

T K Rangarajan

AFTER the 1990s, the trend of Indian political and economy took a significant turn in an altogether different direction. The negative impact of the neo-liberal policies began to be felt deeply in the realm of politics and the economy over the following decades. Values of the long independence struggle against the British, nation's sovereignty, secularism, and federalism were brought into question.

The policy level and practical changes that took place in every sector of the economy and society viz., agriculture, industry, services, education and healthcare have had a devastating effect on the lives of ordinary people, especially those from the backward and scheduled castes; and on the lives of women who are numerically half of the society. The rights of the states, equal respect for all languages and inclusiveness of social diversity, secularism etc., which are said to be sacrosanct in the constitution, are being distorted daily. Hatred is being permeated in the minds of the people on the basis of religion, caste, language and ethnicity. Inappropriate and conservative justifications for these actions are being advanced. Glorious traditions of the past and sacrifices made for the nation are being trivialised. The obsolete and antiquated sanathana Manunsmriti is dusted off and brought to the fore as a substitute for constitutional values. Attempts are being made to brainwash the younger generation through television, print media, and social media to sub-serve the aims of Hindutva ideology.


The struggles of the working class against the economic miseries, in many sectors, are expanding on the national scale. But the ruling classes seek to divide and confront them, those workers who are fighting for their livelihood and justice. Phrases such as ‘spiritual politics’ are being popularised through media and are used to divert from the political and economic problems of the people.

In today’s scenario, retired judges, IAS, IPS, military officers and other bureaucrats and 'soon to be retired' cine-artists are jumping on to the bandwagon of politics. Forgetting the fact that they are also in a way responsible for today's dreadful conditions and cultural degradation. They pretend to be saviours who have come to clean up politics, to save people and the system. This trend is now more glaring than ever before. The media gives enormous publicity to this and it is shocking that a section of the younger generation, who want a change in today's social environment, is caught up in the ill-motivated trap. Under the central government led by BJP, the political wing of the RSS, we are witnessing the distortion of the freedom struggle, wrecking of democratic values and people's unity, undermining of the constitutional values and vicious snatching away of rights of the states.

The mortgaging of the interests of the nation at the altar of the corporate houses and multinational companies continues unabated. They are selling strategic public sector undertakings built over the years out of people's hard-earned tax money and national savings. And now the new 'Farm Laws' surreptitiously and illegitimately passed in the upper house, attempts to hand over the agriculture sector to corporate houses. The banking, railways, insurance, and service sectors are being increasingly privatised in a fast track manner.

The Dravidian parties have been ruling Tamil Nadu since 1967 and there could be a lot of criticism about their performance at the government level. But there is no denying the fact that Tamil Nadu is at the forefront in various fields as compared to Gujarat, Bihar and UP. But now, the AIADMK, which is currently ruling Tamil Nadu, is drifting away from the Dravidian party’s moorings. They are sitting at the mercy of the BJP, completely compromising the interests of Tamil Nadu. And obviously, facilitating the BJP to find a foothold in the state.


In this background, cine actors like Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan have been attempting to enter politics with the claim to turn Tamil Nadu upside down. Kamal Haasan had already launched a political party called Makkal Needhi Maiyam (MNM). Rajinikanth ever hesitant as he was, after continuous procrastinations, had finally marked the date for launching his outfit on December 31, 2020. But citing health reason, again on December 29, he retracted his step with a statement that he is quitting his political ambitions, even without ever entering.  Rajinikanth was proclaiming his brand as spiritual politics. Anyone in a democratic system has the right to start a political party and Rajinikanth could very much do the same; but the media gave him too much importance and trumpeted it as if it was the only news - that 'Rajini is entering politics'. That has turned out to be damp squib now. Kamal Haasan’s political campaign is vague in character, though he has demarcated from Hindutva politics.

Fans call one of a ‘world hero’ and the other a ‘superstar’. Now all of a sudden, they are trying to project themselves as crusaders against corruption. The oft-repeated claim that they are going to change everything sounds more like a cinema dialogue. Politics and spirituality are different domains and the spiritual politics put forward by Rajinikanth is in itself confusing. Many people are looking for answers as to what it is. When the former chief minister MGR was asked about his policy, he said ‘Anna-ism’ was his policy. Asked what it was, he said Anna-ism was a mixture of capitalism, socialism and fascism. But even more confusing is ‘Rajini’s spiritual politics’. Spirituality is an individual pursuit for peace and well being. Believers in spirituality are there all over the world. Their concern generally is as to who were human beings before birth and what follows their death. Such a sub-ideology exists in various religions and faiths.  They interpret the world in a particular way. There are similarities between spirituality and religion and differences as well. But spirituality has nothing to do with politics as the two are completely different disciplines.

Many of the religious believers have also been social reformers. Swami Vivekananda, Ramalinga Adigalar, Vaikundasamy, Narayana Guru, Kunrakkudi Adigalar, and many others spoke loudly for social reforms while remaining within the framework of religion. They severely criticised the institutionalisation of religions; opposed irrational beliefs; condemned caste discrimination; took up issues of women rights. But the spiritual politics that Rajinikanth suggested was of a different and paradoxical kind - it resembles BJP's politics and seeks to give a facelift to their reactionary ideas.


Spirituality is taught at some American universities and elsewhere too. There it is said that spirituality is not related to religion. It is an art like Yogasana and breathing exercise. For Adisankara who preached Advaita, the world is just an illusion. According to him whatever the eyes see is just an illusion. That Brahman alone is ultimately real, the phenomenal transient world is an illusory appearance (Maya) of Brahman, and the true self. Atma, is not different from Brahman. Paramatma and Jeevatma are one and the same for him. Mathvacharya founded the Dwaida Vedanta; Ramanujar the Vishishtadvaita. Ideological clashes like Paramatma and Jeevatma are one and the same or different entities, are still taking place. The great poet Bharathiyar sings: "All that stands, all that walks, all that flies, all are your mere dreams?".  "All illusionary appearances? All the learning, all the hearings, all the imaginations are all petty illusions? Doesn't have deeper meanings?" He goes on to say that we are firm in believing only what we see, don't believe in what we see not! What we see is all energy; this reality is eternal. He negates the doctrine of illusion though he is a believer in god.

Marxism understands the background of the religious beliefs of the people. But Marxism is clear that only by changing the political-economic conditions can the real, all-inclusive well-being of the entire people of the world can be brought about. Any attempt at confusing the people by introducing spiritual politics will undermine secularism, and only strengthen those having extremist religious agenda in politics and governance. By this act, the Hindutva forces try to conceal the fact from the eyes of the common man that they are serving their corporate masters. Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan speak against corruption; corruption is not a stand-alone phenomenon but one of the inevitable consequences of the capitalist system. The communists are fighting not only corruption but also the capitalist system that causes it. Corruption cannot be eliminated without eliminating the factors that facilitate and induce corruption.


Anna Hazare led the movement to bring the Lokpal Bill that was given wide publicity in the media. Many organisations including the RSS, were behind it. Now that corruption has increased manifold under BJP rule, the likes of Anna Hazare are keeping a studied silence. This goes to prove the shallowness of such fly-by-night movements. The Lokpal Bill was debated in Parliament.  During the debate, CPI(M) general secretary, Sitaram Yechury drew the attention of the then chairman of Rajya Sabha, that there is a provision in the bill to punish bribe-takers but there is none to punish bribe-givers. Bribery does not happen at the grassroots level alone, he pointed out that there was nothing in the bill to prevent high-level corruption. Corporates hand out large bribes in the purchase of military equipment and government contracts. Neither the bribe-givers nor the recipients are common people. Corporates and multinationals get their things done by large scale bribing. Yechury, therefore, demanded that appropriate amendments be brought in the bill to punish those who pay bribes. But this was not accepted by the government.

Corruption is now 'legitimised' in the BJP regime. Political parties can receive any amount of money from Indian bigwigs and multinationals in the name of ‘electoral bonds’. Clear legal arrangements have been enabled for that. The BJP is the largest recipient of such payments. In 2019 an amendment was made that charitable trusts need not pay income tax. Through this, corporates can evade income tax under the cover of so-called ‘godmen trusts’.

Anti-corruption activists who have suddenly sprung up do not talk about these at all. Have people like Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, who say that they are going to change Tamil Nadu and eradicate corruption, ever spoken openly about this systemic corruption? They may not speak. Because there is no sincerity in their anti-corruption rhetoric. Politics is not the last refuge at retirement period. It is the battlefield of struggles. Without talking about structural changes in the political-economic system the diversionary tactics such as spiritual politics will only help those who cover up the reactionary policies, by intertwining religion and politics. Politics and religion should be separate. The motive of those who confuse the two together can certainly not be honest to the cause they propagate. Genuine liberation of mankind is possible only through the struggles for the establishment of a socialist society.  Marxism shows humanity the way to create a ‘paradise’ called a socialist society in the present world itself, not in a world that does not exist. That is the true solution to all the problems.