Monday, May 17, 2010

The tireless crusader: Jagmohan's religious reforms

Reforming Vaishno Devi: A case for Reformed,
Reawakened and Enlightened Hinduism
By Jagmohan
Published by Rupa

Price: Rs 395

(Appeared in The Pioneer on May 16, 2010)

Rajesh Singh

It is difficult for Jagmohan to forget his Jammu & Kashmir stint. The author has visited the subject earlier in his hard-hitting My Frozen Turbulence, and he returns to it with this book. It cannot be just the majestic mountains and the magical chinars that repeatedly draw him to what is such a contentious issue for Indians and those across the border. If it was politics earlier, this time it is an inner call to address religious reforms and understand Hinduism. He uses the Vaishno Devi experiment as the fulcrum to build a case for reforms that would make the people proud of their religion and heritage.

This is Jagmohan at his philosophical best. If you are looking for dramatic accounts of his success in revamping the Vaishno Devi administration and creating an infrastructure that seemed chimerical until he arrived, be prepared to be disappointed. While the normally combative author does show traces of anger, frustration and impatience when he is faced with stupid, and at times diabolical, elements, the very gravity of the subject that he addresses ensures that he is lost in the spiritual world, emerging time and again to offer an insight tempered with experience and a sense of strong conviction.

The Vaishno Devi reforms are of course well-known throughout India, and Jagmohan has been lauded for it even by those who have politically opposed him. As he says in the book, once the people at large endorsed his bold moves and benefited from them, it became difficult for his opponents to sustain any serious opposition on that score.

While providence may have been at work in making Jagmohan Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, it surely gave him an opportunity to reform the shrine when the State came under Governor’s Rule. Now he was king, with no prevaricating State Government to deal with. Besides doing the usual things like cracking down on subversive elements in the Valley and toning up the administration, he seized upon the occasion to put in motion the temple reforms.

What he wanted to do was already in his mind; the idea was in germination for some time and was waiting for the right occasion to bloom. Even then, aware of the need to strengthen his credentials in the eyes of the people, he decided to tread cautiously first. “When Governor’s Rule came, I did not act straightaway,” he remarks. The politician in him surfaces when he says, “After covering my flanks and formulating a comprehensive strategy, I decided to act swiftly and effectively.”

He kept his promise. From drafting a law that permitted the Government to take over the shrine without interfering with its religious statutes to implementing the various reforms ranging from administrative to infrastructural, Jagmohan ensured his vision became a reality. There was opposition on the way. One of the loudest voices of dissent was that of Dr Karan Singh, who headed the Dharm Arth Trust that looked after the shrine’s affairs. The trust was disbanded by the Governor and replaced by a new Shrine Board of which he was ex-officio chairman. But even Dr Singh, the Governor recalls, later congratulated him for the reforms.

Emboldened by the success, Jagmohan tried to similarly experiment with the Amarnath Caves. He had noticed the enormous difficulties that thousands of pilgrims visiting the shrine faced during their journey. He wanted to create infrastructure like temporary shelters, medical facilities and the like, along the route from Pahalgam to Amarnath, that would ease the pain of the devotees. But time had run out for him. He explains his efforts in the suitably titled chapter, ‘Amarnath Shrine: A Case of Aborted Reforms’. Loaded with ideas, Jagmohan prepared a comprehensive blueprint “for improving the area, making the vulnerable points safe for the pilgrims…providing special equipment for sanitation, water and power.” He also, quite naturally, proposed a shrine board similar to that of the Vaishno Devi one. There is no reason to believe that his plan would have failed, had he remained at the helm of affairs in the State. But Governor’s Rule ended, and with it collapsed his grand plans for Amaranth. The problems and the dangers faced by pilgrims on this route continue to exist, often manifested in tragedies like in 1996, when tens of thousands of devotees were stranded on the way due to torrential rains and snow storms. No help could reach them on time and there was no shelter or medical facility available. More than 200 pilgrims died.

If one leaves aside the sections on Vaishno Devi and Amarnath shrines, the book reads like an ex-tempore meandering of a soul in distress. Jagmohan takes enormous pains to understand and explain the true meaning of Hinduism, how Hindus were themselves “damaging the basic structure and lacerating the soul of Hinduism” and what should be done to preserve the dignity of this great and enlightened religion. The author plunges into the Aryan invasion controversy, the Harappan civilisation, the genuineness of River Saraswati and beyond to trace the roots of Hinduism. That he should be so conversant with the subject should not surprise anyone; as Union Culture Minister in the NDA regime, Jagmohan had given a huge boost to research on the Vedic River Saraswati, with a view to revive the existing ancient water channels for meeting the needs of crores of people in western India. Besides, the river is considered sacred to Hindus and its revival, even in a truncated form, would be admission of one of the country’s ancient and rich cultural symbols.

His quest to understand Hinduism leads him all the way back to the Vedas, Upanishads, the Trinity, the Puranas, the epics, Manu’s Code, the Tantric world, Yoga, Vedanta, the Bhakti movement and teachings of spiritual sages like Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo. After an exhilarating if exhausting trip to all of these, one would expect a distilled conclusion of the effort. But Jagmohan provides none, perhaps because none exists. Perhaps, then, we should reflect on what Sri Aurobindo said: “The Sanatan Dharma is universal. It is one religion which impresses on mankind the closeness of God to us and embraces in its compass all possible means by which man can reach God.”

Jagmohan has mellowed down, and it is reflected in this book. Age and experience, after all, tell.

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