"When the saints go marching in" : sadhus in democratic politics in late 20th century India
Author(s)Pradhan, Rajesh Kumar
Sadhus in democratic politics in late 20th century India
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Political Science.
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This empirical study examines the political significance of religious leaders-known commonly as sadhus-in a huge and mature democracy like India. During the late '80s and the '90s, a flurry of sadhu activism coincided with the dramatic rise of a previously insignificant political party, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). As a conservative Hindu nationalist party, the BJP allied with many sadhus, came to power at the center and in many states, breaking the monopoly that the relatively secular Congress party had held for more than four decades. The sadhus and the BJP came together over the controversy of whether a Hindu temple had been destroyed to build a 16th century mosque (the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute). It propelled a few sadhus-who I describe as spiritual agents, whose essential identity is based on individualism, freedom from making long-term commitments, and yet committed to transcendental causes-to band together under contingent conditions and the availability of a platform to voice their discontent. However, both the coalition between pro-BJP sadhus and the BJP, as well as the desire to build the temple, unraveled over the next decade. Not only did the newly emergent BJP broaden its political base by distancing itself from a single issue, but the unity among sadhus also splintered. This thesis is an empirical and agent-centered approach to examine nationalism and a particular strain of religious fundamentalism. It examines the commonalities and differences among sadhus themselves as factors that explain both the unity among sadhus in one period and the splintering of that unity at another time.(cont.) Sadhus are individualistic, free-floating, religious individuals who became sadhus not to pursue any social cause, but to live a life free of responsibilities and in tune with their inner callings. Aside from the role of outside forces and differences among sadhus over key political issues, I argue that essentially it is the elements common to the identity of sadhus as sadhus that temper their fundamentalist tendencies. Looking forward, the crouching Hindu serpent, like the famed kundalini in yoga, best characterizes this strain of sadhu-led Hindu fundamentalism, ever poised to rise and recoil.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Political Science, 2009.Includes bibliographical references (leaves 222-225).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Political Science.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology