Last night, during a TV debate on the controversial diktat over the chanting of Om on Yoga Day in June, a Muslim panelist questioned why it should be a part of the government's protocol for the second edition of the right-wing spectacle, said to be the brainchild of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"Why should a Muslim chant Om while doing his yoga? It is against his faith and violates the fundamental rights of a citizen," he argued, only to be shouted down not only by the RSS and the BJP panelists, but also by the male anchor of a leading English news channel otherwise known for its liberal reporting.
"What is his problem with chanting Om during yoga? Both yoga and Om are not Hindu, they are a part of India's ancient heritage which the current government is doing its best to revive and preserve," the RSS panelist, who is also a professor at Delhi University, said.
The RSS panelist, in a display of the kind of divisiveness it masters, even claimed only "some Muslims" have issues with Om, while no Christian has.
|If Om is as much Muslim, who is being sent to Pakistan?|
In another display of the right-wing genius, the BJP spokesperson went a step further, arguing that the Muslim panelist has already taken the name of the TV anchor "10-12 times" when it happens to be the name of one of Hinduism's triumvirate of gods.
Even the suave TV anchor had a smirk on his face as he wondered how could "anybody" in this country have an issue with the chanting of Om. He gladly watched the Muslim panelist shouted down and ridiculed.
So, what is going on here? If Om is as much Muslim (since traditions and history apparently matter more than religion), who is being sent (or went) to Pakistan?
If the RSS wants to remain uncritical over the revival of all things ancient, I suggest the professor from Delhi University read his former colleague DN Jha, whose book, The Myth of the Holy Cow shatters the belief that Vedic Hindus were vegetarians and proves that they enjoyed their beef steak as much as the Pakistanis - and millions of Indians - do today.
While there was nothing new or startling about Jha's thesis, one of India's best-kept secrets about Vedic (and even Buddhist and Jain) gastronomy created a furore so intense he was threatened with murder and had to ask for security from the government.
Of course, no Muslim has any issue with Om, Prakash or Puri (two of the finest actors we have seen in Hindustani cinema). The only decent bookstore in the entire Noida district is called Om, and I have always enjoyed my visit to the shop at the Great India Place.
So, what exactly is the beef with the ubiquitous Vedic chant, which is perhaps one of India's first major exports when a version of western nihilism found an escape in Oriental spirituality - Hare Ram-Hare Krishna, yoga et al - in the 70s?
The answer is simple: it's the government, whose intentions will always be judged by the men and women who run it, and the men those men and women report to. The answer lies in two years of unapologetic, unbridled Hindutva unleashed by this government as it regulates what people eat or wear or speak, or the politics they choose.
The answer, if you will, lies in a citizen's fundamental freedom to say yes or no. To anything he or she does not agree with, Om or yoga or whatever.
Postscript: The eyesore-of-a-TV-debate done, it was the time for me to switch to my current indulgence at 9pm: Masterchef Australia on Star World. On the recipe last night was meat, lots of it, and vegetables. The contestants (including an Indian woman) loved the cooking and the judges (hands down the best on TV) loved savouring the dishes. And that's precisely the point.