Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the first phase of the Kashi Vishwanath corridor in Varanasi recently. A whopping Rs 900 crore was spent on the corridor which connects the classical temple with the Ganga river. The project is expected to promote religious tourism.
I have never been able to come to terms with the view of Modi and his party that religion should play a major role in the running of a nation. My view, for whatever it is worth, is that religion should have nothing to do with politics. Religion is a matter of the soul and it should remain there: with the individual souls. There can be temples and other places that may help people to stay in touch with their souls. But what is a Prime Minister of a country doing in a temple doing what a pujari should be doing?
For centuries now, eminent thinkers have questioned the validity of religion particularly in public life. Too many philosophers and writers have told us in no uncertain terms that a thinking person could be happy and moral without God or gods even in personal lives. But at the same time many of them – right from Cicero – also worried about what the average person would do and feel without religion.
If you have the ability to think clearly and properly, you won’t need religion. That’s what most of these great thinkers say. But some clear thinkers have accepted religion for the sake of going with the herd. If I am not mistaken, it was Dag Hammarskjold who said that it was “loyalty to the tribe” that took him to church on Sundays. Hammarskjold would not need religion for being ‘good’. He had an excellent brain to tell him why it was his duty to be ‘good.’ But for those who lacked such brains, he recommended religions which, in his words, should be “the guardians of the deepest beliefs and the loftiest dreams of man.” In simple words, religions should give human values and ideals and aspirations to people.
Values, ideals and aspirations. Not Kashi Viswanath corridors. Not statues of gods. Not temples and pilgrimage centres. Not the least, religious tourism.
In a country like India which is sliding rapidly down on all indices that matter – economy, GDP, public health and hygiene, education, employment, security – religious tourism is like a palliative drug given to people who are looking for basic things like food and shelter. What do shanti mantras mean for a starving man?