Monday, 20 March 2017

योगी और पंच-परमेश्वर (Yogi Aur Panch-Parmeshwar)

If the title of this post is in Hindi, it's for a couple of reasons. One, the big news of the past week is the BJP's massive and surprising election win in the Hindi-speaking state of Uttar Pradesh, and the subsequent appointment as Chief Minister of a Hindu religious leader called Yogi Adityanath. Two, I was strongly reminded of a short story I had read in high school. This was titled 'Panch-Parmeshwar', written by the famous Hindi/Urdu author Premchand (the nom de plume of Dhanpat Rai Srivastava). 

Premchand - his stories are famous for their simple language and profound truths

The literal translation of the story's title, "Head of the village council", does not do justice to the image it is meant to evoke, that of a sacred authority. "Parmeshwar" means "Supreme God".

This is the story of two good friends (incidentally, a Hindu and a Muslim), and how their friendship is first strained, and then restored, by the demands of integrity which a position of authority forces on them. When one of them takes his turn as head of the village council, he has to find against his friend in a case that comes before him. This strains their friendship.

Years later, the friend has the opportunity for revenge when he finds himself head of the council and the other man appears before him in another case. Yet he is unable to yield to his desire for revenge, because the sense of responsibility that his post gives him makes him rule in favour of his erstwhile friend. When both men understand that the position they occupied made them take the impartial decisions that they did, they become friends again.

The moral of the story is that high office can imbue a person with a sense of responsibility and turn them into a conscientious official. It is as if a divine sense of righteousness suffuses such positions and transforms mortals who occupy them.

Yogi Adityanath is a controversial figure. He runs a private army of Hindu vigilantes, and his electioneering style has been strident and polarising. To the nearly 20% of Uttar Pradesh's population that is Muslim, his elevation to the highest office in the state could be seen as bad news. Yet his immediate statements after his appointment have been sane and reasonable. He appealed to his followers not to behave badly in the name of celebration. He promised not to discriminate against anyone, and he emphasised that law and order would be a very high priority issue for him.

As if to echo the fears of many about his rise, his father advised him publicly to respect all religions.

Yogi Adityanath - All eyes are on him to see what he will do with his newfound power

Premchand was born and died in Uttar Pradesh. Let's hope his short story predicts the behaviour of Uttar Pradesh's new chief minister.