The controversy over Sanatana Dharma, ignited by Udhyanidhi Stalin, minister in the Tamil Nadu government and son of chief minister MK Stalin, was raging for days with a spectrum of opinions coming to the fore when Prime Minister Narendra Modi added fuel to it with the reference he made while in Madhya Pradesh on Thursday. Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party must have delighted in how this came to fall in their lap as the state warms up to its assembly election campaign. They have been handed their strongest suit — Hindu religious references — which, in a polarised electorate and society, usually works in their favour. The Prime Minister, who can hardly be faulted for commenting with alacrity on a range of issues from Manipur conflict and disrobing of women to communal clashes and Chinese aggression, found the time and space to refer to Sanatana Dharma in the light of Stalin’s remarks that it “must be eradicated like mosquitoes, not opposed”.
The range of opinions on Sanatana Dharma move from the understanding that it includes the varna ashrama or the despicable caste system and therefore has no place in Indian society, to the argument that Sanatana Dharma comprises some of the most timeless and eternal truths, laws and ways of being in the world of which some shades can be found even in the Constitution of India. It is a wide spectrum, indeed. Sanatana Dharma as understood by rationalists and reformists — the ideological fount of Stalin’s party DMK — is widely different from its conflation with Hinduism by the Hindutva brigade.
The debate over the literal, figurative, alluded and interpretative meanings of Sanatana Dharma can rage on and on. It is best left to men and women of religion, spirituality and metaphysics. Politicians, when they refer to it, ought to invoke it with precision and within context so that the phrase which means so many different things to different people is not misinterpreted. Udhyanidhi Stalin missed these in his articulation. However, whether politicians follow Sanatana Dharma or not, they are required to follow Raj Dharma and Manav Dharma.
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