Jains Versus Hindus — The Latest Episode In Congress’ Project Of ‘Manufacturing Faultlines’

Anmol Jain

Jan 30, 2024, 04:37 PM | Updated 04:34 PM IST

A Chola Jain bronze statue.
A Chola Jain bronze statue.

There is a novel and yet familiar mischief going on. Attempts to stoke tensions between Jains and Hindus — many would identify as both — are being made.

Novel because this is a relatively unimagined conflict being created. Familiar because this attempt is not the first when it comes to Congress’ efforts to forge divisions within the Dharmic fold.

Here's what is going on and why.

‘Hindus versus Hindus’ using caste divisions was the original strategy to divide Hindus. Then it was ‘Hindus versus Tribals’ using the term ‘adivasi’ and importing the aboriginal-occupier divide from the West. 

‘Hindus versus Hindutva’ by claiming them as mutually exclusive. Farm law protests reignited the unfortunate and dwindling ‘Hindus versus Sikhs’ narrative. ‘Hindus versus Buddhists’ was another manifestation of deepening the caste divide and engineering new arithmetic of Meem-Bheem.

Then there is ‘Hindus versus Lingayats’ in Karnataka. Not to forget the often-debunked insidious 'North (Aryans) versus South (Dravidians)' divide.

Remember the ‘Cholas weren't Hindus’ diatribe to pit ‘Hindus versus Shaivites’? And then the negation and undermining of Ram Navami celebrations in Bengal was done to peddle the ‘Hindus versus Bengali Hindus’ divide. ‘Vaishnavas versus Shaivites versus Shakta’ fall in the same category of discords being pushed.

And now for some time a new ‘Hindu versus Jain’ faultline is being dug. From conveniently cherry-picking the disputes to presenting Bharatiya Janata Party-Rashtriya Swayamseval Sangh (BJP-RSS) as anti-Jain, there have been concerted efforts to manufacture yet another divide.

Here are three observations on this latest attempt drive a wedge within the Dharmic fold. 

One. By pitting Dharma against Dharma, the effort is to push the narrative that conflict and incompatibility between faiths are present everywhere. By doing this, they wish to neutralise the pushback against Islamic exceptionalism. 

In this particular case, there is a contention being made that there is nothing called a Hindu-Jain. Wrong. Jain, Hindu-Jain, Jain-Hindu, and Hindu are all equally true and to a large extent synonymous.

It can be argued that one is a Vedic tradition and the other a Shramanic one. But then even within non-Jains, Vedic tradition is not the only Dharmic way and within the Jains there are several sects too — Svetambara and Digambara being the two larger umbrellas.

These Darshanik differences in the Dharmic thought, negligible or stark, are not only common but desirable. These divergences aren’t just capable of coexisting but also enriching each other. That is how so many Darshans have evolved and thrived within the Dharmic fold.

This churn in theology, philosophy, metaphysics, and cosmology is the very essence of the wheel of Dharma. And it is not a lazy scoot-around. Specific and intelligible differentia exist as to what is within the ambit of Dharmic and what is not, including but not limited to adherence to Dharma, the quest for Moksha/Nirvana, understanding of Karma, and a sense of sacred geography.

These concepts have different nuances and interpretations in different Darshans and yet they’re all compatible and complimentary. 

How Jain Dharma and other Hindu Darshans are intertwined is a subject of common knowledge in the Jain as well as non-Jain families. What stands out is Abrahamic privilege and in that, Islamic exceptionalism.

Now that there is a growing pushback against it, a false figment of exceptionalism is being created around various Dharmic traditions to dilute the former. Jains are the latest attempt after trying the same with Sikhism and Buddhism.

Two. This is also an attempt to dent the fight for reclaiming Dharmic spaces — Gyanwapi, Mathura, Jain temples at Qutub Minar, etc. Notably, Jains have been at the forefront of this struggle — be it legally, intellectually, or with resources.

By saying that destroying religious places was a norm even within the Dharmic fold, they want to normalise and whitewash the barbaric Islamic invaders that defiled and razed Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, and Sikh sites in thousands. 

This is not to say there weren’t any skirmishes within the Indic communities ever. But these were outliers, not the norm. There are some present-day disputes like the one in Girnar, Palitana, Shikharji, etc, concerning Jains and Hindus. But nothing that can't be sorted out within the Dharmic fold and warrants no interference of adharmis or political opportunists.

Three. Congress' biggest fear appears to be a united Dharmic fold. It beckons the end of its politics of appeasement. Earlier the modus operandi of this approach was caste politics and fearmongering among the tribals.

Now when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s socio-economic welfare is reversing the trend, the Congress seems even more jittery given that the BJP is making serious efforts to reach out to minorities, even to the chagrin of some of its (BJP’s) voters.

Outreach to Pasmanda Muslims and Muslim women can be seen in the same line. Modi has created two entirely new chunks of voters — labharathis (beneficiaries) of his welfare schemes and the women voters.

This sudden display of concern for Jain sites by Congress suggests a mischievous attempt to incite passions. Will the Congress party support reclaiming Jain temples that were razed for the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque?

Where was Congress’ outrage when Jain Muni Kamkumar Nandiji Maharaj was brutally murdered and his body dismembered in Karnataka? Congress Kerala unit’s official X account openly insulted Digambar Jain Muni Tarun Sagarji Maharaj. Where does the concern for the micro-minority Jain community go away when Rahul Gandhi talks of 'Jitni Abadi Utna Haq'?

However, this ‘Jains versus Hindus’ fissure that is being tried out will not be an easy nut to crack. It is unlikely to have the support of the larger Jain community who seldom see themselves as different from other Hindus.

Some Jain voices that are speaking out also do not forget to add the caveat — “it is not political”. Be it worship, ideals, diet, or festivals — there are more overlaps than differences. Again, any such nuances only enrich the Dharmic thought.

For instance, the Jain diet is the epitome of any Satvik diet. Ironically, it is the Left that has been labelling vegetarians and by extension Jains as casteists for their strict dietary preferences. But that discussion is for another day.

As for disputes in Girnar, Palitana, Shikharji, etc — Hindus must come forward and engage with the concerns of Jains with respect to these tirtha kshetras. In any case, it is an internal matter of the Dharmic community with no scope of intervention from any foreign ideology or theology.

India celebrated Ram Mandir’s pran pratishtha on 22 January. The first Jain Tirthankar of this avasarpini (time cycle), Rishabhadeva hailed as Ikshvaku by Hindus, is the progenitor of his namesake dynasty — in which Shri Ram, the hero of our civilisation was born.

Shri Ram’s homecoming on 22 January was celebrated by Jains as jubilantly, if not more, as any other Hindu. Even if someone were to consciously look for it, they would have had a hard time spotting a Jain household without a saffron flag or diyas.

Efforts to reclaim the Janmasthan of 22nd Jain Tirthankar Neminatha’s cousin, Shri Krishna are picking steam. And after Ayodhya, the struggle for Mathura will again witness Jains in the foreground. Jains were, are, and will always be equal stakeholders in this struggle to restore Dharma’s primacy in the story of Bharat.

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