HINDU NATIONALISM - MAHATMA GANDHI and SATHYA SAI BABA
Hindu-nationalism is the dominant tendency in India, which represents the aspiration of the majority population of Hindus. Though it arose as a movement for independence from British rule, nationalism is an ethnically and religiously rooted phenomenon, not least since India is divided into castes according to the Hindu (as opposed to Islamic) tradition. The Hindu majority consists in 81% and the Muslim minority in 13%, which figures alone show that - even though officially a secular state - Indian is overwhelmingly Hindu in its outlook and is always ruled by the Hindu majority.
Already in 2002, Human Rights Watch wrote how: "The increasing domination of Hindu nationalism in India's current political landscape has dramatically undermined India's constitutional commitment to secular democracy. The policies espoused by India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its sister organizations, collectively known as the sangh parivar, have already resulted in much violence against the country's Christian, Muslim, and Dalit ("untouchable") populations."
The phenomenon of Indian nationalism as an open political movement for independence (Swaraj) gained real impetus in the 1920s with the return of Gandhi to India and, as the world knows, reached its goal in 1947 - when Sathya Sai Baba was around 20 years old (depending on which of his two much different birth dates one finds the best documented). Sathya Sai Baba always warmly endorsed Mahatma Gandhi.
As regards nationalism, the ideals of Gandhi and Sathya Sai Baba were most often very similar, as will be seen. Sathya Sai Baba needed to bask in the aura of Gandhi's fame, just as he also usurped the name of Shirdi Sai Baba, revered throughout much of India as a great saint then and to this day. Though claiming to be the very God to whom Gandhi prayed, Sathya Sai Baba nonetheless tried to bask in his reflected light, holding both their lives up as a precursor for Indians to follow. (Sai Baba even stole Gandhi's statements as if they were his own, eg. 'My Life is My Message'). One must however realize that the general adulation of Gandhi has been adumbrated both by a rising tide of historical research and critical voices concerning Gandhi himself and by historical events (which never followed Gandhi's recipe for moral-religious revival and agrarian rather than industrial development). There are many parallels between their ideals and religious preaching, neither of which produced anything remotely like the promised results.
The religious and political history of Mahatma Gandhi is still revered by a great number of Indians and many world figures, including various non-violent peace movements. Yet It is a historical fact that both Gandhi's doctrines have long since ceased to have any effective role in Indian society, faced as the nation was with such a divided populace with its overwhelming problems of severe religious conflict, vast poverty, unimaginable suffering, crime and corruption etc. In hoping to capture some of the effulgence of Gandhi's symbolic legacy, frequent lip-service is paid to his name by those who themselves could never agree with the policies and beliefs Gandhi himself held, and whose own actions and agendas diverge vastly from their figurehead. Though Gandhi, above any other single figure, eventually led Indian nationalism to victory of Independence in 1947 through his courageous personal example, his almost complete lack of political vision for India after the British meant that he left no legacy of constructive politics or real plans for social improvement. He withdrew from the Congress Party leadership and was side-lined after Independence.
Non-violence was the ideal for which Gandhi is chiefly known, but this failed to stop millions of deaths in Hindu-Muslim rioting and mass murder after partition resulting from the conflict between the Hindu nationalist movement and the Islamic nationalists led by Jinnah. Hindu-Muslim conflict killings still flare up regularly within India, which had a very long history of internal wars and violence of every degree and kind. Since Independence, India has further rejected non-violence ever since through its huge military and nuclear build-up and its violent militaristic suppression of many minority populations, sub-cultures and groups (the best know of which are in Kashmir and tribals in Manipur and in the Deccan). Non-violence (ahimsa) was adopted as a key 'Divine Human Value' (!) by Sathya Sai Baba, with much reference to Gandhi. However, Sai Baba himself befriended such horrendously violent figures as Idi Amin and most warmly endorsed the former Indian President Kalam who was famous for having designed the delivery vehicles for India's nuclear arsenal! He was also a warm supporter of top Indian military figures, many of whom feel at his feet. Sai Baba had most of India's PMs and Presidents through the decades as his devotees, but he failed totally to correct any of their diverse corruptions or glaring suppressions of human rights of many minorities. Further, Sai Baba never once spoke up against the indiscriminate and sometimes mass killing of minorities by the Hindu-dominated governments he supported in public. He kept well away from any controversy that might involve him in losing support (and donations) from those of the Hindu majority who would believe in him. Perhaps most importantly, both Gandhi and Sai Baba were deeply involved in a struggle for personal power. While it is known that Gandhi was a smart manipulator and very politically ambitious and astute, this aspect of both Gandhi and Sai Baba (and many gurus) is not widely enough studied or therefore generally accepted (especially by the Hindu-nationalistic masses in India). India's most brilliantly-gifted polymath and authentic historian of the 20th Century, Nirad C. Chaudhuri (deceased at age 101 in 1999 with an honorary Oxford doctorate and a CBE), has shown a many-sided understanding of Gandhi's behaviour.He lived through the 20th century and is a marvellous recorder of contemporary Indian history, no less through his own experience, vast learning and erudition - so personally frank that no Indian who was around then has ever matched his circumspect accuracy about all the things it is common to cover up. The quotations (on right from p. 31 and 49) and directly following remind in various ways of the behaviour of Sathya Sai Baba. Chaudhuri wrote of Gandhi:-"At no time did the Indian people cease to respect him. His position as the greatest man in India was never questioned. But that was maintained by his religiosity, with its accompaniment of asceticism and renunciation paraded with every kind of theatricality. This exalted his practical political activity by throwing a veil over its real motive force, namely, the hatred of British rule, and by infusing into it a moral and spiritual value which it never had, although as I have already explained, to Mahatma Gandhi religion and nationalism were inseparable. (Chaudhuri ibid p. 274)
Romantic historical revanchism A strong concurrence between Gandhi and Sai Baba was their desire to reinstate as far as possible the ancient Indian social and political system - the 'Rama-raja' (Divine Rule) - as the ideal of their nationalism. That can only belong to the scrap heap of failed policies, for Indian nationalism is firmly allied to constitutional democracy. Sai Baba went much further than Gandhi in wanting as full a return as possible... to what in reality was a kind of royal despotism under Brahmin priestly influence and the caste system, in which the millions of villages would be regenerated to fulfil a central social role in Indian life. Instead, 'voting with the feet' in the constant move of millions to city slums, and the relentless conditions for the agrarian populace leading, for example, to countless farmer suicides, show that this was but vain sentimentalism. Economic progress and money have now become as much the ruling passion of Indian politics as in any other capitalistic society. Sai Baba repeatedly went so far as to prophesy that - through its return to the ancient values and practices - India would renew the values of the entire world, and even that the values (the Hindu conception of Sanathana Dharma or 'eternal righteousness') would before many decades have overcome all national differences creating unity between all opposed and warring nations!
Though Sai Baba did not express hate of British rule, he adopted a yet stronger nationalistic fervour against most Western influences than did Gandhi (who was educated in UK), including those of morals, scholarship, science, technology and more. There is an obvious difference between Gandhi and Sai Baba's to the role which was foremost - i.e. the political or the religious. Sathya Sai Baba tried mostly to downplay - even hide - many of his his political engagements, for this would obviously not befit a God Incarnate and self-pronounced Creator of the Universe, but they were very extensive behind the scenes, but also were not hid from public view. Of course, Gandhi was more respected than Sathya Sai Baba by the Indian people, though Sathya Sai Baba's actual following is far smaller than his propagandists have constantly tried to establish in public consciousness and his relative fame was far less than Gandhi's both within India and throughout the world. "Gandhi's saintliness was also real", wrote Chaudhuri, and he was never charged with sexual abuse, cover-up of murders or even gross historical inaccuracy and making utterly fantastic predictions, for which Sai Baba is widely known.
Sathya Sai Baba as a political figure He always allied himself to the current government which, despite his misgivings about its failure to unite Indians and various other social policies and absurd practices, was in reality less of the much proclaimed secular power than a Hindu-dominated elite, especially when the rightist Hindu Bharaitiya Janata Party was voted into power. (See scan of his praises of both former PMs - Narasimha Rao and Vajpayee) Sai Baba was evidently involved in the nomination of Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee, his long-standing devotee, rather than the leader of the party and actual election-winner, L.K. Advani, who was shuffled aside, in accordance with what Sai Baba reportedly told him beforehand. (Note: This was told me by IAS Official, Mr. V. Ramnath, who had long known L.K. Advani, who had told him one day after darshan at the Prashanthi ashram that Sai Baba had informed him: "You will NEVER be the Prime Minister of India!"). Even more than Gandhi, Sathya Sai Baba constantly harped back on India's former greatness in many backward-looking Hindu-nationalistic discourses meant for Indians at home and abroad. He made many rash predictions about the return of that former glory:-
"Very soon, the entire world will be united. In fact, after 28 years, the world itself will become “Bharat”. Everyone will call themself a Bharatiya (one imbued with godliness — ‘Bhagavat rathas’). No one will refer to themself as belonging to this state or that state, this region or that region.” (Sathya Sai Baba’s Convocation Discourse 22-11-2008) See http://www.sathyasai.org/discour/2008/d081122.html)
Here is one example of Sai Baba's anachronistic yearnings and his claim to be transforming India back to its lost glory (including defunct yagna rituals), which he repeatedly prophesied would soon happen:-
"Every one of you ought of feel proud that you took birth in this holy land, long famous as the land of Yoga (divine communion), of Thyaaga (selfless sacrifice) and of God-oriented Karma (dedicated action). You are the children of Mother Vedha, whom she loves so affectionately that she has called you here to witness this great Vedhic Yajna. Bhaarath is the land that God loves, for, He has taken Avathaar (divine incarnation) here often, and is even now moving on this land, carrying out His Mission of restoring Dharma (righteousness) to people who are ignoring it. Yajna (Vedhic (ritual of sacrifice) is an item in that great Task." (Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol. 12 Chapter 46).
Firstly, this overlooks the rejection of the Hindu doctrines by a large proportion of those born as Indians who chose to become Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, and not least the Dalits. However, both Gandhi and Sathya Sai Baba spoke out against the discrimination of the casteless Dalits (called 'harijans' - meaning 'Children of God' - by Gandhi) and Sai Baba also referred to them with this title by Sai Baba (Sathya Sai Speaks, Volume 2, p. 139). This usage shows massive insensitivity, and the term eventually became politically incorrect in India and was banned after a long struggle begun by B. R. Ambedkar (the famous scholar and lawyer who was a prominent outcast and defender of their rights, who is also regarded as a Bodhisattva by some Indian Buddhists, though he never claimed himself to be so) and presently continued by others, especially P.L. Mimroth, who wrote:
"You will appreciate that literal word of 'Harijan' is synonymous to illegitimate child of Devadasis (ed: 'temple dancers and prostitutes') in olden days... This insulting definition given by Mahatma Gandhi... has been totally rejected and discarded by the followers of Baba Saheb Ambedkar..." (i.e. different person to B.R. Ambedkar - see full report from The Hindu 28/09/2003 here).
Sathya Sai Baba has never once criticized the continuing practice of temple prostitution, nor actually defended the Dalits against their Hindu persecutors unless in the vaguest of general terms. Moreover, he was also a defender of the Hindu caste system! That he has so often spoken in glowing terms of India as the progenitor and shining example of religion (i.e. original Vedic Hindu religion, and definitely not Judaic, Christian or Islam) - and has never taken up the crying needs of the many suppressed minorities or the constant crimes against humanity in exploitative labour, child prostitution, organized beggary and score of other terrible ills shows that he went along with the agendas of the brown sahibs and nationalists to clamp down wherever possible on negative reports on their national ills. That was a striking resignation of moral courage, considering the invulnerability he came to enjoy from any kind of legal process through top governmental protection. See also The caste system of India - Gandhi, Ambedkar, P.L. Mimroth & Sathya Sai Baba, Famous spokesmen for the casteless like B. S. Ambekar and P.L. Mimroth have made most clear that they totally reject Gandhi's naming them 'harijans' (Children of God) as "derogatory and insulting" (see The Hindu).
In Sathya Sai Baba's typically unrealistic speech in March 1999, in New Delhi, he gave advice for the unification of India and praised the leader of the right-of-centre Hindu party, Vajpayee, to the skies. "My advice is that all parties should unite. Only then Bharat will become a divine land. Very soon this is going to happen. The present-day administration is noble and good." (see lower part of scan on right)
In view of the state of intense enmity between the main contenders for power in India, he contradicted himself by flattering the then Prime Minister (his foot-worshipping Hindu devotee for over 20 years): "All of you know what a nice person Vajpayee is. Even in olden days whenever Vajpayee or Jayaprakash Narayan would visit Andhra Pradesh, people, especially the youth, used to gather in large numbers to listen to their speeches. Naturally, the people are attracted to those who adhere to truth and righteousness. Such a leader should be given all support. I have been observing Vajpayee for the last so many years. Now this body is seventy-four years old. Vajpayee always keeps the welfare of the society in mind in whatever he speaks or does. He is broadminded. There will certainly be peace and security in the country if these principles are followed."
Sathya Sai Baba said many vague supportive things about other religions in his aim to convince that he was universal, not sectarian or divisive in attitude but 'universal' (but this is not supported by the facts). In actual practice he constantly assumed the superiority of Hindu scripture, Hindu religion and ritual while the Hindu yagna prayer and offering rituals were seen by him as the be-all-and-end-all cure for all ills of the world! He was actually very ignorant of the scriptures of other religions and their history (as has been shown at length from his own words).
The ultra-nationalism of Sai Baba - entirely based only on Hindu religious sources - came to expression in numerous connection. One early such was:-
"Countries are like carriages. The engine is God. The first carriage is India. The other carriages will follow. According to the astrology of ancient times, the change in world conditions to be brought by Swami's influence will come in about 15 years. This was predicted 5600 years ago in the Upanishads." (This conversation was in December 1968 in Conversations with Bhagavan Sathya Sai Baba. by J. Hislop, ch.XXXIV, p.111)
Yet more extremist and even more absurd than his many other unfulfilled predictions for India was what he told the Hindu
Nationalist leader Ashok Singhal in 2008:-
“The VHP leader, while disclosing his discussion with Satya Sai Baba, said that Sai Baba had informed him that between 2020 and 2030 the whole India would be of Hindus and after 2030 the whole world would be of Hindus."” (See here - or if unavailable view scan here)
Ashok Singhal has an international profile in the Hindu world, leader of the Hindu Vishwa Parishad. He instigated the tearing down of the 'Ayodhya' mosque. Singhal was at Puttaparthi for 1 month (and was in Brindavan later in 1994) and he even gave an address during the Brindavan summer school on Indian Culture & Spirituality (in 1991?) on dharma etc. in the presence of Sai Baba!
This fanciful-fanatical Hindu-nationalist statement - made to the leader of the right-wing Vishwa Hindu Parishad party which was behind the Ayodhya mosque demolition - is almost a fitting epitaph on Sathya Sai Baba's incredibility (Bharat means India, especially as it was in ancient times). He exceeded even the world ambitions of Islamic Sharia-law radicals in that! Unfortunately, perhaps, he died without ever seeing any of his predictions about the unity of India coming even remotely true, rather to the contrary. Nor has India moved back towards the ancient ruler king model or the gurukula educational system, for which most Indians can feel everlastingly grateful. That his own students would rule India was also a prophesy that are now among the list of 'Sai Baba Howlers', not forgetting that he himself was prophesied by some to have to rule the world for a brief period before his death!