Religion and Politics in India

JU News Desk
Published: May 2016

A panel discussion at the ju Knowledge Campus throws light on the intricate link between religion and politics

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Jain University in association with Lokniti, New Delhi, University of California, Berkley and Georgetown University organized a panel discussion on Religion and Politics in India at the Knowledge Campus of the University. Religion and politics are intrinsically related in the sub-continent. So far, democracy has mitigated several implications of religion on the polity in the country but, of late, the scene is shifting. Religion is leaving deeper imprints on politics of India. It is expected but nevertheless, worrying. The panel discussion delved into politics, its reach and how religion shapes its contours in very distinct ways.

Dr. Sandeep Shastri, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Jain University and a well- known political analyst introduced the distinguished panellists for the evening and set the tone for the dialogue. These included Dr. Pradeep Chibber, South Asia Chair Professor at the University of California at Berkeley, Dr. Irfan Nooruddin, Professor of Political Science at Georgetown University and Dr. Rajdeep Sardesai, Consulting Editor, India Today TV.

The Pro-Vice Chancellor also threw light on the book Religious Practices and Democracy in India authored by Dr. Shastri and Dr. Chibber. It has been published by the Cambridge University Press.

The discussions were initiated by Dr. Chibber. His contribution to the discussion was dominantly based on key findings of the book. “Religious practices and the practice of democracy are very closely related in India,” he remarked. He built his case on the premise that religious practices and democratic exercises such as elections, both, create a shared space for people of all castes, creeds, class and religion to come together on a common platform. “India is a very hierarchical society. Religious as well as economic divisions prevail here.” He added that during elections people from all walks of life have the same right and go to the similar polling booths, creating a blurring of lines. Similarly, religion or more specifically, religious practices such as visiting temples, taking part in satsangs and other religious exercises, also create a common ground, where people different backgrounds come together.
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Following this, Dr. Sardesai took the stage and discussed one of the most visible phenomenon being witnessed today pertaining to religion and politics, ‘religious exclusiveness’. “Indian politics is witnessing a phenomenon whereby, religious leaders are becoming more and more influential.” He pointed out how some of the political leaders make it a point to assume an appearance which can be identified with a particular religion. ‘Leaders of the Hindus’ and ‘leaders of the Muslims’, instead of ‘leaders of the Indians’ is an occurrence that is steadily progressing. “India is a pluralistic society, we thrive on diversity, such a trend is very disturbing and would have wider implications on the political scenario of the country in future.” The veteran journalist and editor also expressed that the book Religious Practices and Democracy in India is a very significant contribution to the entire debate.

religionqDr. Nooruddin assumed the baton from Dr. Sardesai and focused the debate on complex relationship between religion and politics. He compared religiosity (practice of religion and identifying with religion) in Europe and United States and the conceivable route that India was likely to take. An economist and a political scientist, he pointed out that in Europe the State and Church are closely linked while U.S. witnessed a democratization of religion. The people of the latter are also considered to be more religious than Europeans. “Given the intensity with which people practice religion in India and its influence on the society, it is of utmost significance that the country should renegotiate the space for politics and religion, and clearly define the boundaries.”

These discussions were followed by an open house session where the audience comprising students, academicians, researchers and journalists raised questions based on the discussions. The discussions were followed by concluding remarks by Dr. Chenraj Roychand, President, Jain University Trust. He remarked that even though at times it looks as if our peace can be threatened by some of the growing developments in the political arena, he still remains optimistic. “I believe that the religion of humanity is bigger than any other religion and people would realize this. We have existed with each other and shown remarkable tolerance for ages and hopefully, would continue to do so if future.”