A British Ramdev
There have been protests (by people of Indian origin) in London against the recent Delhi Police crackdown on Baba Ramdev and his supporters. We have our own version of Ramdev in Britain – Archbishop Rowan Williams, who heads the Church of England.
Like the Indian yogi, Williams takes a pretty robust interest in politics and likes to take on politicians: the lines between the Church and State in the West may be sharply drawn but that doesn’t stop priests and mullahs from fulminating from the pulpit at the drop of a hat.
Sometimes Williams appears to go off the rails, as when he suggested that Britain should adopt aspects of the Sharia law, such as those governing marital or financial disputes. Indeed, such a step was “unavoidable” in his opinion, and would help win back those Muslims who did not identify with the British legal system.
That was three years ago, and he was rightly criticised for this strange view.
But, in fact, British Christian priests routinely express views on politics and society. In 1985, the Church of England blasted the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher with its Faith in the City report.
In 2008, the then Bishop of Rochester, the Pakistani-born Michael Nazir-Ali, stirred the pot by declaring that Islamic extremists had turned parts of Britain into “no-go areas” for non-Muslims. Nazir-Ali takes a muscular stand on propagating Christianity, and has no time for multiculturalism.
Archbishop Williams is, if you like, the good cop here. Recently, he infuriated Britain’s coalition government by suggesting that it did not have the mandate to make the kinds of sweeping public sector cuts that it was planning to do. Prime Minister David Cameron’s idea of a Big Society, he added, had become “painfully stale.”
“With remarkable speed, we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted,” Williams wrote in the left-wing New Statesman magazine. “At the very least, there is an understandable anxiety about what democracy means in such a context.” Here’s the article.
Cameron hit back, saying, “I think the Archbishop of Canterbury is entirely free to express political views. I have never been one to say that the church should fight shy of making political interventions. But what I would say is that I profoundly disagree with many of the views that he has expressed, particularly on issues like debt and welfare and education.”
The point here is that although there is very little doubt that the budget cuts – the result of the debts incurred by the previous government – may end up impoverishing British society and lower the quality of life, the Archbishop of Canterbury did not sit on a hunger strike in protest. He wrote a long article instead.
And although telling politicians that they don’t have the people’s mandate is like waving a red rag in a democracy, Cameron kept his reaction measured.
At the end of the day, Cameron and other members of the British government were voted in by the people of Britain. Last heard, Williams and his fellow-priests weren’t. And everybody knows that.