Governance · Law · Public Policy

‘Godmen’ or ‘Good Men’: The Politicisation of a Religious Identity

India has always been a very accommodating nation on the question of religious communities and minorities. Prophets, Saints and Messiahs have always been a welcome spectacle for every Indian, inviting large numbers of followers in no time. These men of God who are otherwise known as ‘God men’ are ‘incarnations of a God in human form’, according to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. God men have always have had a very important positions in the religious as well as political context of India. From Sai Baba to Baba Ramdev, to Indira Gandhi’s own Bhindranwale to Asaram, India’s Babas and Sants have always played a major role in the otherwise secular political sphere of the country, influencing politics through their religious affiliations and power holdings.

The question on the popularity of the god men then arises. It is spectacular and how thousands of people listen, follow and seek spiritual guidance from them. This also raises the question of how only India’s unique popularity in this sphere. The reason for this is studied to some extent in God men of India by Peter Brent. He says that ‘in the West, we are free to work for the approval of those we love and respect and whom we would like to love and respect us. Not so the Indians. … For Indians, particularly those of the middle classes, there are only two directions they can go to prove that they can love, and be loved. One is towards homosexuality, the other towards the Guru — the two not being mutually exclusive.” The evidence of the West’s fascination and attraction with god men can be seen in the number of Westerners who visit the subcontinent yearly, to meet the god men.  This in some way answers the question of the Westerners flocking to the India, raising both the country’s revenue and the spiritual atmosphere.

Looking at the number of sex scandals and rackets involving God Men, it is indicative of the underground corruption and unreligious activities they partake in. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, Nithyananda Swami and Premananda are to name few from the big list. There may be others too, but hidden away from the public using bribes and political connections. One may never know, and it is too easy to simply speculate.

The profession of a ‘god man’ is a very profitable one. Money comes in from various sources; from devotees and trusts; and overseas accounts and other discreet persons. With this money, comes power- both economical and political. Lord Acton one said, ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men’. God men too, have been given more attention than is actually necessary. Their constant spot in the limelight of the media, for all the wrong reasons and their devotees and society have helped them build strong political and criminal ties.

The political ties build by God Men, are what holds them aloft the currents and tides of society and superstition. Politics is an ever mobile entity in society, and hence God men indulging in spiritual matters as well as politics, are ensured a strong and stable power hold. The politicization of an otherwise religious figure makes us question the identity of religion bestowed upon them. Why heed to the façade of religion for other personal means, and taint the purity and sanctity of it? What is the mentality and mindset of God men indulging in such immoral things, from sex scandals to vote banks?

It is however important to note that not all people named as reincarnations of Gods are prone to immorality. Some take their miraculous powers and Godly gifts seriously, but the only problem being that the numbers of those who misuse the power overtake the ones who are sincere.

The power in politics is limitless. India is a nation where religion plays a vital sphere in public domain. By merely looking at the looking political party, is enough to make us understand this. Mixing religion and politics has always been an unfortunate event, with no comprehensive good coming out of it. When god men, the veracity of whose existence has been questioned partake in politics, then the entire reason behind their existence is questioned. If God men are simply political mediums whom influential people can take advantage of, then the reasons of so many believers and followers are also questioned.

One of the main reasons for this sort of blind faith and superstitions can be due to the absence or lack of education, which is a result of poverty and backwardness. The 2010 UNDP report claimed that 29% of the population in India lived under the poverty, and more than 32% lived under the international poverty line. The effects of poverty can easily be tracked down to education- the main medium for negating blind religious beliefs and superstitions. The general public should be taught the necessity to question things and not take everything at face value.

 Religion is a major factor for all matters in our country, and so no chance should be left for its misrepresentation and misuse. The Government should take the necessary measures to ensure and safeguard this, and all those who go against it should be duly punished. Along with political connections and hideouts, most of the god men own spiritual centers, other profitable side businesses, various properties and accumulated wealth. All these are attained through the ‘favors’ that they have made for the influential fold.

Having strong and powerful political connections is what gives the god men of our country to do as they please, preach however much they want, and commit crimes and get away with it. There is no sort of democracy or ‘right’ in the way they function, and they are their own masters living in their own little worlds, unaware of the things happening around them, and living under the shadows of their own professed faith.

Mixing politics and religion is never a good thing, as these are two things that need to be seen as mutually exclusive of each other. Yet, in 21st century India, this isn’t the case, nor will it ever be like that in this ‘secular nation’. What needs to be done in the case of god men is to find out and ensure their correct motives and methods. Getting involved in criminal and political matters should be treated with harsh punishment and justice. Both the politicization of religion and the power of religion over politics need to be checked. The element of fear should have some play over the god men, as after all they are humans and can’t play God at all times.

Personally, I doubt God’s manifestation in human beings, and the strengthening of my views is shown by them constantly showing more of their human natures than their godly abilities. God might be essential in this world of diminishing faith and religion, yet God men’s negative sides prove to outshine their good qualities. Every human being has some good in them, yet it is good to question what side will be brought out by religion- the good or the bad?

Religion does not always make you God. It is qualities like humility, kindness, simplicity and honesty that make you resemble God. And without these in a person, one can never choose to ape or imbibe the Greater Force.

About the Author

Pooja GeorgePooja George is currently pursuing B.A. (Honors) English from St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi. An avid reader, she is interested in photography and also enjoys swimming and music. She is actively involved in various societies at her college. Research work has always remained an area of interest. She is currently interning with the Model Governance Foundation.

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