While the arrest of Jayendra Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, has raised some hackles, the good news is that most Hindus, who were no doubt shocked at what happened, have refused to bite the bait of the pseudo-nationalist parties who claimed it was an insult to Hindus. Rather than take the law into their hands, they prefer to let the law take its own course and have faith in the country's judiciary to ensure that justice will prevail.
In fact, not respecting the laws of the land is an insult to the Hindus, considering that Hindus constitute over 80 per cent of this country. Second, the law treats everyone as equals: if the pseudo-nationalists have a problem with that, then they are not just pseudo-nationalist, they are anti-nationalist!
Certainly, the arrest is shocking coming as it does at the hands of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. In that sense, M Karunanidhi may have a point when he says maybe Jayalalithaa has a personal axe to grind. That she handed over a cheque of Rs 5 lakhs to the family of the murdered Sankararaman is questionable. Hundreds of people are murdered in India; are they handed over huge amounts by the chief minister personally as compensation? So what makes Sankararaman's case different? Such acts make people suspicious of Jayalalithaa's motives.
Whether or not the Shankaracharya is guilty, it is for the courts to decide. Indian courts are among India's more reliable institutions and one can be sure that the verdict, either way, will be respected.
Turning a law and order and justice case into a political battle is despicable. That the BJP and VHP desperately need any (Hindu) straw to clutch is evident by the way they have latched on to the Shankaracharya's case. Not so long ago, the VHP was claiming that since the Shankaracharya is a Shaivite, he had no right to mediate in the Ayodhya case since that concerned a Vaishnavite temple. There is no doubt to those who were observing the Shankaracharya's heroic effort to solve the complex Ram temple-Babri mosque issue that it was under intense VHP pressure that the seer suddenly changed (and upped) his demands, leading to the collapse of the talks.
The Hindu right love to draw comparisons with 'Would the same have been done to a Muslim or a Christian'? Personally, I believe yes. If a Muslim or a Christian (or for that matter, or any other religious denomination) should be accused of a crime as serious as murder, s/he would be arrested, regardless of who the person is -- be it the top imam or an archbishop.
But if, as the Hindu right claims, this would not be the case, then it is a matter for concern for all Indians. And the answer to such a situation -- that an imam or bishop would never have been arrested -- lies not in demanding the Shankaracharya's release but in demanding, and ensuring, that no person should ever escape the law because of his religion. If there is any such case where a person was/is not arrested, the VHP should then demand that such a person be arrested, not that another suspected accused be released. Two wrongs do not make a right. The law of the land must prevail, regardless of who is at the receiving end.
Let us also be clear: the arrest of the Shankaracharya is not an insult to any Hindu. Individuals like Jayendra Saraswati will come and go, but the Peeth of the Shankaracharya remains. If an individual's failing can destroy an institution, then most institutions would have long been destroyed, but the fact is that the four shankaracharya Mutts (along with the Kanchi Mutt) have survived centuries, against various obstacles.
Even if the worst fears about the Jayendra Saraswati case were to come true, to say that it will harm Hinduism or the Hindus is to assume, wrongly, their fragility.
A religion that has survived millennia and a people who have clung to a faith against the worst odds cannot be affected by what is a mere hiccup in its awesome history.
But then, will the pseudo-nationalists ever understand this logic? Or perhaps, they prefer to be politicians first and Hindus next.
One must give credit to Jayalalithaa. She has shown courage in cracking down on law-breakers and suspected law-breakers. She ensured that Veerappan, who had been literally ruling the southern jungles for over 20 years, was killed and now she had the Shankaracharya arrested for his suspected involvement in a crime.
What India now needs is someone like Jayalalithaa to crack down on India's numerous corrupt politicians.