Is Sharad Pawar an atheist?

Atheism in the Indian context is not denial of a Creator (or God) but only of discriminatory Vedic and Puranic practices. So why should Pawar be apologetic about his impartiality?

Is Sharad Pawar an atheist?
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Kapil Patil

For long people have wondered if Sharad Pawar is a believer in God or does he deny the existence of The One Above? The debate has once again caught fire after Raj Thackeray accused Pawar of being an atheist (nastik) and the day after that Pawar’s supporters tweeted a photo of him breaking a coconut at a Maruti (Hanuman) temple.

Raj’s statement was clearly an attempt to discredit Pawar in view of the Maharashtra government’s resistance to the playing of Hanuman Chalisa near mosques to counter Azaan on loudspeakers. But the question now being asked is why should that photograph have been tweeted at all?

Amid police closure of an atheist meet in Pune soon after Raj’s allegations, people missed two points – Sharad Pawar has never believed in the commercialisation of religion (and thus has never been seen in public at any temple/religious pandal) and that the presiding deity of Maharashtra is Lord Vithoba of Pandharpur– and He is the deity of atheists.

Lord Vithoba (or Vitthal) practises no discrimination between castes and religions at his temple and as CM of Maharashtra, like all CMs including Devendra Fadnavis and Uddhav Thackeray, Pawar and his wife have presided at the puja at this temple every year on Ashadi Ekadashi. That is not to say he hadn’t stopped the government pujas when he first became CM in 1978 -- out of atheism or the belief that governments have no place in temples, one does not know. The practice was later revived and he played along in later years.

Pawar, however, has never made a public show of performing rituals to God. That is not the Maharashtra political tradition. Sushil Kumar Shinde, another former CM of Maharashtra, sets up a Ganpati idol every year at his home but he keeps that worship strictly private.

When he took oath of office, he did not swear in the name of God but on the Constitution of India. He had said, “Politics is not about religion or belief in any God. So one has to take one’s politics seriously. And Yashwantrao Chavan (Maharashtra’s first CM and Pawar’s political godfather) has taught us all to be strictly faithful to the Constitution.”

That is what Pawar is – he swears by the Constitution and that is why today Maharashtra is an oasis of secularism in India. It explains why the BJP hates the MVA govt so much.

While today’s atheists may not know the difference between theism and atheism, 300 years ago Sant Tukaram, the patron saint of Maharashtra, was well aware of the tricks of such frauds as those who populate the Dharma Sansad today and had exposed them thoroughly.

In one of his Abhangs (devotional poetry to Lord Vitthal), he says:

“Lord Vitthal, the god of Warkaris, (poor pilgrims) does not discriminate ... and seeks devotion notwithstanding whether (people) are poor or rich. He accompanies Sant Rohidas to his leather works and Sant Kabir to his weaving. He assists Sajan Kasai, a butcher (and devotee), to sell meat from his shop.”. Do not miss the lack of caste and religious discrimination.

However, an atheistic tradition is not atheism. Those who do not consider the Vedas to be authentic are atheists and they do not believe in narratives of soul, afterlife and rebirth. Many do not know the difference between atheist, rationalist, agnostic and Samkhya, which is more about reality and human experience than illusory goals and ideals.

Chanakya was devout. But he says in Arpan Patrika that his book Arthashastra is atheistic. Gautama Buddha does not go into the discussion of God and Buddhism is not a theistic religion but about spiritual liberation.God has no place in Mahavir’s philosophy and Jainism also rejects the theory of a Creator of the world.


Closer to our times, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule saw God as the Creator but his whole philosophy was to destroy Vedas, Manusmriti and Puranas. When B.R. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism, he wanted to liberate his society from shackles of Brahmanical Hinduism based on Vedas and Manusmriti but not God per se.

Mahatma Gandhi was a believer in God but his staunch follower Goparaju Ramchandra Rao was an equally staunch atheist.

According to social scientist Professor SR Gadgil in ancient times the upper classes started referring to the working people as ArthaKamapradhan, Asura, Lokayat, Charvak and Prakrutjan – all atheists and thereby demons.

Sharad Pawar, a clear opponent of Brahminism, has not been called a demon so far!

However, there is a Marathi inscription near Akshi on Alibaug-Choul Road in Raigad district which is 1010 years old. The prayer in this first inscription of Maharashtra is in stark contrast to the discriminatoryVedic Aryan prayers. This prayer says, ‘Jagi (In the world) Sush (Happiness) Santu (Should be maintained)’. That is the tradition of Maharashtra that very few, including Raj Thackeray, understand.

In fact, for all his Constitutional commitment Sharad Pawar is among the few remaining leaders in the state who has a deep sense of its history and tradition. So why did he feel compelled to respond to a political midget and cultural ignoramus like Raj Thackeray? One can only conclude his being shaken up is a sign of the times we are living in today.

(Kapil Patil is Member of Legislative Council in Maharashtra)

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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