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The Rediff Interview/Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati

July 18, 2003

Sri Jayendra Saraswati Swamigal, the Kanchi Shankaracharya, spoke to Managing Editor Saisuresh Sivaswamy for an hour, explaining his stand on the Ayodhya issue, and how it can be resolved. An interview like none other he has granted in recent times. Read on for the concluding segment of an exclusive and informative interview:

Part I: 'Did Allah tell them to fight all the time?

Part II: 'Show me another janambhoomi and we will go there'

Out of the five Sankara Matts (the other four being in Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri and Sringeri), you have taken the lead in trying to solve the problem. Are the other four Shankaracharyas with you in your initiative?

No one has opposed it. No one has any objection. No one is concerned so long as something good comes out, doesn't matter whether it is a Shankaracharya or anyone else doing it. I am not doing it to hog the credit; if I did, the other Mutts could get upset. National integration, communal harmony, the country's well-being, and a Ram temple comes up, where is my name in it? If I had the ego to take credit for it, others could get angry and oppose me but that's not my intention at all. If everything goes well Ayodhya will benefit, the nation will benefit! How will I benefit personally? I will still be sitting here in Kanchipuram. I am merely doing my duty, so there is no way for anyone to become angry at me.

Except, of course, the politician (laughs).

There is also doubt over the status of the Kanchi Mutt itself. Adi Sankara, goes one belief, founded only four Mutts, and the Kanchi Mutt is self-proclaimed.

Those who say so will say so. It is like the dog barking at the sun, does the sun care? If a cloud blocks the sun, has the sun disappeared? Similarly, such statements won't rob the Kanchi Mutt of anything. I know who is spreading such talk, he had in fact been a friend of mine once, he had then given in writing that Kanchi was also a Sankara Mutt (laughs). We still have that letter. Today there is not a squeak out of him, there is no publicity for him, the world today knows only one Shankaracharya, he is unable to handle this obscurity and gives vent to his feelings to the press. That's all. 

One thing has always puzzled people. What is your interest in Ayodhya? Why are you involved in the negotiations?

Shouldn't I do at least one good thing in my lifetime? There is so much strife over Ayodhya. Do you know what the name means? A-yodham, meaning a place without war. Can there be another adarsh-purush [ideal] like him! If not a memorial for him then who else! We erect memorials for our fathers, grandfathers, Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Kamaraj, and we can't have one for Ram? It has been facing problems for so many years. We are willing to do that for politicians, but not for god?

But hasn't the issue been politicized?

We are involved just so that it won't be politicized, to keep the politicians out. I have said they should not be involved, even [Prime Minister A B] Vajpayee has said it. Many people have the same opinion, but still politicians make hay. The latest is [former prime minister] Chandra Shekhar and [former minister] Ram Vilas Paswan have said I should not be involved.

In fact, when Chandra Shekhar was prime minister he had brought a delegation that included Ali Miyan here for discussions, the Periyavar [the late senior Shankaracharya Chandrasekharendra Saraswati] was alive then, and I was also around. In this town, in this Mutt! He was the man who started the whole thing. But today he suddenly finds me political. Then he needed the Shankaracharya, today when he is out of power he has no need!

Does such criticism hurt you? The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, for instance, said you, a Saivite guru, was interfering in the Ram temple issue.

If I get hurt I can't be a Swamigal. Don't they know Ram was a Shiv-bhakt? He worshipped Shiva in Rameswaram after slaying Ravan, to remove the curse. They don't know this, and are saying these things.

Let me go a step ahead. Many of those on the Ram Janambhoomi Nyas are from Ayodhya. There are members of the Ramnandiya group on the Trust, who are the only ones authorized to do Ram-puja. But they won't look at either Krishna or Narayan, aspects of the same god, such severe Vaishnavites they are. With such people on board how have they asked for Kashi and Mathura? I am asking this for argument's sake, of course. These people talk without knowing the facts well.

How does the prime minister look at the breakdown in talks, would you know? Is he upset?

He is not involved in this. He has kept himself aloof. If it moves forward, he helps. If it doesn't, he lets go. That's all.

Is he in touch with you through representatives?

That's not the case. No one has come here so far. [Finance Minister] Jaswant Singh came here recently, but his appointment was made a month ago. [Defence Minister] George Fernandes has been coming here for years, since Chandra Shekhar's time. At that he came about the Janambhoomi, this time it was a general visit but we briefed him.

Are you in touch at all with the government?

We don't need it. We are spiritual, religious leaders, why do we need to be in touch with the government?

There is this perception that you are trying to solve this issue ahead of the election so that the Bharatiya Janata Party can go to the people with a favourable report card. Are you playing the BJP's game?

Did they win the last election on my say-so? Was I responsible for them winning so many seats in the last election? If I was, I am happy. I had not said a word about the BJP before the last election nor am I going to say anything this time. How does it matter to me which party wins the election? I am not doing anything for the sake of any political party. I am doing out of a heart-felt need. Ram's abhimaan is important to me, not the BJP or any political party. It doesn't matter to us who forms the government, who becomes PM.

Is it true you won't be too pleased if the BJP were to lose the election and the Congress party wins?

This is a very, very wrong thing to say. Let me say it again: It doesn't matter whether the BJP or the Congress wins. We have no need for the government. We have been with the Congress since the days of Indira Gandhi. She has come here so many times, as have Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. How many Congressmen have come here! We are not going to get anything new. Why only Congressmen, even other partymen come here. The Samata Party also comes here. We are apart from parties, we have no connection with them. So we are not concerned whether the BJP or Congress wins elections.

It sounds like you support the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's demand for making India a Hindu Rashtra.

It is their demand, it is a democracy. If they can do it, let them do it. I have no views on it. Like someone says there is no god, they say make India a Hindu Rashtra.

You have completed 50 years of your initiation as Shankaracharya. Looking back, do you have a sense of something not accomplished?

There is nothing like that. I have been doing my duty, for the rest it is up to god. There is no sense of having done, not having done, having left anything incomplete.

Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj

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