Off-centre | How Narendra Modi is reversing the 'break India' campaign with his Kedarnath push


At one point during his speech at Kedarnath on Friday morning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi paused, his eyes moist. He was recalling the ineffable, luminous experience of the grace of Adi Shankara flowing as if from the eyes of the newly installed statue of the great sage while sitting in meditation in front of it.

Invoking the ancient Upanishadic formula of realisation through negation — neti, neti — he explained how Adi Shankara himself had commented on it. “Not this, not this” was thought as the most appropriate description of the transcendental truth.

अथातआदेशः—नेतिनेति, नह्येतस्मादितिनेत्यन्यत्परमस्ति; अथनामधेयम्—सत्यस्यसत्यमिति; प्राणावैसत्यम्, तेषामेषसत्यम्॥

Now therefore the injunction: ‘Not this, not this.’ There exists no more appropriate description than ‘Not this.’ Now its name: ‘The Truth of truth.’ The vital force is truth; it is the Truth of that.

It was to Sage Yajnavalkya’s dialogue with his disciple-wife Maitreyi in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (2.3.6) that the prime minister was referring.

This is a truly extraordinary passage, one of the highpoints of Indian philosophy and spirituality. The truth of the truth of ultimate reality, its vital force and action, to be experienced only in the silence that surpasses words. Modi also quoted from Ramcharitmamas by Tulsidas: “Abigatakath apar, neti-neti nit nigam kaha” — the experience of the Divine is so sublime, unutterable, and infinite that the scriptures call it “not this, not this”.

Modi said, “This is how I feel when I come to Baba Kedarnath’s shelter.”

But, switching gears almost immediately, Modi recalled how, as the chief minister of Gujarat, he had rushed to Badrinath in 2013 after the flash floods. So many had perished, with nearly the whole pilgrim town swept in the swirling currents. Only the temple stood, almost unscathed, miraculously saved. Modi said that his knowledge of how to restore Bhuj in Gujarat after the devastating Kutch earthquake of 2001 had given him home and confidence that Badrinath would also rise again, stronger and grander after that catastrophe.

After inaugurating projects worth hundreds of crores, not only to strengthen roads, infrastructure, but also facilities for pilgrims and the protection of Kedarpuri, Modi said that he felt a sense of satisfaction at the privilege of being able to offer his services to the Lord of the Mountains. Greatest of all these was the bridge across the Mandakini which would ensure that the shrine would never be cut off from the rest of the state of Uttarakhand.

Kedarnath, among India’s holiest of the holies, is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas of Shiva, and the highest of them at over 3,500 metres (11,755 ft). Right in the lap of the Himalayas, its origins are cloaked in hoary and ancient legends still alive in the minds and hearts of millions of Indians.

The source-story of Kedarnath connects it with the Mahabharata, with the Pandavas wishing to absolve themselves of the sin of killing their blood relatives in the great war. Looking for Shiva in Varanasi, they were disappointed. Shiva did not want to be seen by the Pandavas because he was disgusted by the horribly fratricidal and unrighteous war.

He escaped to the mountains as a bull. Bhima caught hold of his hump. That is why the shape of the linga at Kedarnath is like a triangular stone. The other parts of the bull were discovered elsewhere in the region, hence the tradition of panchakedar or five temples in the hills, the other four being Tungnath (3,680 m or 12,070 ft), Rudranath Temple (3,559 m or 11,677 ft), Madhyamaheshwaror Madmaheshwar (3,490 m or 11,450 ft), and, lower down, the Kalpeshwar Temple (2,200 m or 7,200 ft). The Pandavas were absolved of their sins and able to ascend to the heavens eventually via the great path (mahapanth) or the heavenly way (swargarohini).

Modi’s love for the Himalayas is well-known. Andy Marino in Narendra Modi: A Political Biography (2014) recounts how Modi wanted to renounce the world by leaving for the Himalayas soon after graduating from the BN High School at Vadnagar and dropping out of college. He found solace and shelter at the famed Mayavati Ashram founded by Swami Vivekananda himself near Champavat, Uttarakhand. After living the life of a wandering itinerant (parivrajaka) and failing thrice to don the ochre robe, Modi was persuaded to give up this aspiration and serve the world instead by Swami Atmasthananda, who later became president of the Ramakrishna Mission.

We may also remember how Modi repaired to this famous and revered shrine, after the voting and before the declaration of results, following the months of hard campaigning during the 2019 elections. He admitted how much Kedarnath, its air, atmosphere, and sacred vibrations meant to him and contributed to his strength and peace of mind.

But in unveiling the statue of Adi Shankara, who is believed to have dropped his physical body here, at Kedarnath, Modi was doing much more than paying tribute to a temple or to one of India’s foremost philosopher-sages. Not only was he combining vikas (development) with vishwas (faith), but he was also trying to restore and revive the broken cultural continuity and greatness of India.

As a sannyasi from Kerala said, “It is so unfortunate that Shankaracharya’s statue is neither erected in his birthplace, Kaladi, nor in the university named after him in Kerala. We hope that the political leaders rise to the occasion to fulfil this demand too.” By trying to reconnect the vital points in the sacred geography of India, Modi is reversing the break India campaign carried out over hundreds of years by invaders but also continued to this day by some political parties and forces.

If he succeeds, it will be a service to this civilisation and society that is beyond all considerations of politics or profit.

The author is a professor of English at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Views are personal.

यह भी पढ़ें



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Off-centre | How Narendra Modi is reversing the 'break India' campaign with his Kedarnath push
Off-centre | How Narendra Modi is reversing the 'break India' campaign with his Kedarnath push
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