The Gita enables Modi to legitimise his violent erosion of India’s constitutional fabric

29 August 2021
Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveils a three-metre long Bhagwad Gita, at the ISKCON temple, in Delhi, on 26 February 2019. Over the past seven years, the Modi government has been heavily invested in advertising the Gita as a panacea for India’s suffering, as well as that of the world, through various events, government programmes and publications.
PIB
Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveils a three-metre long Bhagwad Gita, at the ISKCON temple, in Delhi, on 26 February 2019. Over the past seven years, the Modi government has been heavily invested in advertising the Gita as a panacea for India’s suffering, as well as that of the world, through various events, government programmes and publications.
PIB

“The Bhagwad Gita has been the sole source of India’s tradition of vaicharik swatantrata and sahishnuta”—freedom of expression and tolerance—Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a packed room of senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, at his residence, on 9 March this year. “It has guided our nation since the time of Mahabharata,” he continued, referring to Hindu mythological epic about a war. During this widely televised address, Modi released a collection of 21 new commentaries, published by Dharmarth Trust—a Jammu and Kashmir-based organisation that backs Hindu religious efforts.

Modi took long pauses among his enunciations, and ensured that his language was pock-marked with archaic Sanskrit terms and verbose Hindi. By mid-March, the prime minister was also sporting a flowing white beard, and the entire performance seemed to pull heavily from the depiction of sages that had become a hallmark of Hindi mythological television soap operas. The goal was self-evident. Modi’s image was undergoing a make-over, a volte-face from Modi the economic reformer, and Modi the firebrand nationalist, to one that defined him as a Brahminical philosopher.

A careful viewing of the remainder of the 9 March address, however, shows that this was not simply a philosophical or academic exercise. Modi’s speech often veered sharply into validations of the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, or the “self-reliant” India mission. These were couched in references to the Gita and justified on its basis. In a previous essay for The Caravan, I argued that at the core of this policy is an attempt to privatise public resources such as coal and agriculture, and to deregulate banking through changes in the law.

Sagar is a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: RSS Brahminism Hindu Nationalism Buddhism Narendra Modi ISKCON
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