Narendra Modi's invocation of Buddhism more personal and spiritual than Strategic

Noted Strategic Affairs expert C. Rajamohan writing the Indian Express today on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's invocation of Buddhism in his Diplomacy had this to say:

Some have seen it as an effort to compete with China for leadership in Buddhist Asia. Others have viewed it as a fond hope of finding a spiritual connection to China. Some point to Modi's personal interest in Buddhism and cite his commitment to restoring the rich Buddhist heritage of Gujarat when he was chief minister there.

It does not really matter if none of the above can explain Modi's emphasis on Buddhism. What does matter is the fact that the PM has put Buddhism at the heart of India's vigorous new diplomacy.

Focusing on the Strategic aspect of Buddhism in India’s International Diplomacy, Prof Raja Mohan's Column dwelled at length on what this invocation of the Buddha has meant to relationships both in East Asia and closer home in the neighborhood

Modi's focus on Buddhism has deeply touched the people of Nepal, despite the rumblings of discontent among its habitual anti-Indian leftists and secularists. It has also opened an opportunity for Modi to arrest the decline in the relationship with Sri Lanka and consolidate its partnerships in the vast world of Buddhism in East Asia. Modi’s focus on Buddhist heritage nicely complements his focus on infrastructure, accelerated economic development through the promotion of tourism within the country and across its borders. 

What perhaps Prof Rajamohan misses that the Prime Minister's connect with the Buddha is far more deeply personal and spiritual.What perhaps Prof Rajamohan misses that the Prime Minister's connect with the Buddha is far more deeply personal and spiritual.

Narendra Modi’s Spiritual roots

For a man who was for decades wrongly labeled as an icon of  so called 'hardline' Hindutva little thas been written about Narendra Modi's personal spirituality. It is though well known that the Prime Minister used to have an idol of the Buddha made by the Tribals of Bastar in his residence while in Gandhinagar. In his personal quarters, practically just one room, he is said to have 3 to 4 Buddha Idols.

This personal fascination for Buddha evokes much curiosity given Narendra Modi's public persona over the years. To fully understand Narendra Modi’s personal reverence of Buddha one first needs to understand his personal attitude towards faith itself. His public participation in community religious events apart, Modi's Hinduism is really Vivekananda's Hinduism. During conversations back in 2013 Mr. Modi had revealed a special attachment to Swami Vivekananda. Part of this special bond goes back to the naivety and innocence of his childhood when he felt connected to him because of his name. Later on over the years as he read and learned more about him he felt drawn by his fiery intellect, his energetic persona and most importantly his non-ritualistic practice of the Hindu way of life. When you look at Swami Vivekananda's Hindu way of life it was a very rational and reformist way of life.

In this bond with Vivekananda one sees a non-dogmatic and rational view of Mr. Modi's spirituality which part explains his fascination with the Buddha.

But there is a deeper emotional reason as well. During conversations Mr. Modi revealed that Buddha to him also symbolized Modernity in a different era. If you look at the Buddhist congregations from the Buddha’s times  you will notice that this was a very inclusive congregation. It was rooted in the idea of a Community - the Sangha. This aspect had touched him deeply early on in his life and had influenced his work . While to many lazy Pundits 2002 was the frame of reference to understand Narendra Modi, the reality is it is this aspect of the Sangha, that shaped and influenced Narendra Modi over the years as an Organizer exemplar who spent years organizing people and communities for the Sanghatan.

During the same conversation Narendra Modi also had an interesting poser on how is it that the Buddha's Teaching had gained such wide International Acceptability  across so many Countries so many Centuries back  – a lesson in Indian Soft Power that is manifesting itself in present day diplomacy.

Narendra Modi's deeply personal connect with The Buddha had as much to do with the Buddha's teachings as it has to do with the emotions he evoked. According to Mr. Modi, the Buddha's teachings always kept in mind the lowest strata of human society. The second and perhaps more personal reason for why he held the Buddha with deep reverence is the emotion that he evoked within him of ‘Karuna’ or Compassion which according to Mr. Modi was the essence of life.

To Narendra Modi, the Buddha was the epitome of Karuna or Compassion towards others. Hence all of the idols of the Buddha, his personal favorite though was the Buddha in his Yogic Posture. This is the mental image of the Buddha he always carried in his mind.

While much will be written on the strategic calculus behind NaMo's Buddhist Diplomacy it is important to recognize its deeply personal and spiritual dimensions as well.

Courtesy Niti Central


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