Rationally unconvincing

Last Updated: Thu, Jun 17, 2010 19:40 hrs

Jagmohan’s career has been unusual. Few bureaucrats have managed to retain their utility for so long and for both the Congress party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the manner he has. As an IAS officer, deputed to the Delhi Development Authority as its vice-chairman during the Emergency years in 1975-77, Jagmohan had become controversial for his role as an active ally of the government of the day in its drive to make India "work more and talk less". He was a favourite of Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay, who spearheaded the controversial Emergency initiatives during those infamous 18 months.

Five years later, Jagmohan was at the helm of the Delhi administration as its Lieutenant Governor at a time the Capital city hosted the Asian Games. Two years later in 1984, he became the governor of Jammu and Kashmir. One of Jagmohan’s many achievements, that he himself is proud of, during his governorship is his legal and administrative initiatives to create a clean and efficient infrastructure in and around the Hindu shrine Vaishno Devi near Jammu.

Jagmohan returned to Srinagar for a second stint as governor of the state after the formation of the National Front government led by V P Singh even as militancy in the state was on the rise. However, Jagmohan’s second stint did not last long as he fell out with the then chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah, and developed serious differences with the leadership at the Centre in particular and the Congress party in general over the government’s policy on the troubled state. That was a turning point in Jagmohan’s career. He fought and won elections as a BJP candidate and even occupied several ministries at the Centre between 1998 and 2004.

The book under review is a reflection of the sharp twists that Jagmohan experienced in his relations with the Congress party and the BJP. As a young man, he blamed Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress leadership before and after India’s Independence for the millions of lives that were either lost in Hindu-Muslim riots or uprooted from their places of birth because of the Partition. He had debunked what he called the Gandhian myth of earning India’s freedom through peace and non-violence. Jagmohan’s analysis will give you a clear understanding of why he and several people of his generation chose to join the BJP when the erstwhile Jana Sangh leaders regrouped under a new name to promote the Hindu cause, relying on the numerically large Hindu vote bank.

The first section of the book, however, devotes more to his work on rebuilding the Vaishno Devi shrine and its approach route. It is a detailed and often self-congratulatory account of what prompted him to embark on that venture, which eventually turned out to be a major gain for India’s religious tourism. What also comes out clearly is how personal events often prompt senior leaders in this country to undertake large projects such as the reconstruction of the Vaishno Devi complex. Should leaders be guided by personal incidents or by imperatives of better governance in a larger context? Jagmohan is unconvincing when he tries to justify rebuilding the Vaishno Devi complex in the larger context of better governance. It is a pity that leaders with such vast administrative experience and skills should be goaded into action just because they are by chance exposed to something that needs to improve.

The bigger disappointment comes from the reasons Jagmohan cites for his actions as a civil servant and later as a politician. His desire to serve Mother Goddess, Mother India and Mother Earth is what he sums up as the defining spirit of his actions as a policy-maker. He has no qualms over following an exclusivist approach that espouses a majority view in a country with India’s demographic profile. Nor is he worried that such ideals would inspire mostly Hindus or those following the BJP way of life.

His attempt at explaining the Hindu religion or Hinduism offers no special insights. Nor does it impart greater understanding of the deeper social or philosophical issues underlying it. There are no strikingly fresh ideas or suggestions to reform Hindu religion. He makes the mistake of confusing Hindu religion with Hinduism and vice versa. A practitioner of Hindu religion is not necessarily a great follower of the Hindu way of life. The blame for the various ills of Hindu religion, therefore, should not be heaped at the doors of Hindu philosophy. That is why Jagmohan’s call for reforming Hinduism is not convincing. The attributes of a reformed Hindu, according to Jagmohan, are self-confidence, rational faith, compassion and a catholic approach. There is no reason why these should also not be attributes of every Indian, and for that matter every human being.

Reforming Vaishno Devi and a Case for Reformed, Reawakened and Enlightened Hinduism
Rupa & Co
306+XIV pages; Rs 395

More from Sify: