Brand problems of a religious
Document date: The Times of India, February 14, 1999.
Many of us are horrified by the burning of Christians and their churches. But not the RSS. You, its most cogent spokesman, say the Church is well known as a semi-political and semi-commercial organisation that use money and fraudulent claims to sway the gullible masses). I readily agree with some of what you say about Christianity. But is Hinduism any different? Or any other religion for that matter?
You seem to believe that the spread of Christianity can be explained in the language of marketing managers: as a success of promotional pricing and false advertising. Christian missionaries represent multinational religious enterprises who have access to enormous sums of global capital. This enables them to run expensive promotional campaigns, dispensing cash (alms) and kind (schooling, medical treatment) in order to gain market share. They astutely target the most price-sensitive section of the market (commonly known as the poor).
Their market research has revealed that some sections of the population (notably dalits and tribals) complain of a low comfort level offered by the dominant brand of religion in the marketplace. This creates a marketing opportunity that missionaries are exploiting through false advertising. Some relate tall tales of turning water into wine. Other missionaries perform conjuring tricks and claim these are instant miracles. In sum, Christian multinationals are using a disgraceful bag of advertising gimmicks and money 10 win over customers, and this is intolerable to anybody with a swadeshi heart But is Hinduism any different?
First, consider access to money. Are not many Indian temples like Tirupathi and Guruvayoor so wealthy that they can bail out improvident state governments? Do not hundreds of crores pour into the coffers of the Mahesh Yogi the Hare Krishna movement, Satya Sai Baba and hundreds of others? These are multinationals in their own right, with devotees and donations flowing in from many continents. Even a charlatan like Chandraswami captured the heart (and purse) of Elizabeth Taylor and Saudi financier Khashoggi. Acharya Rajneesh won so many devotees in the USA that he almost took over an entire county. The Hare Krishna movement seems bigger in the US than India. Note that these converts to Hinduism are not burned.
Do Hindu religious multinationals use their wealth to gain market share? But of course. Their expansion within India and abroad would not have been possible without spending enormous sums on promotions. which have later yielded handsome dividends. The press hand-outs of Mahesh Yogi's self-proclaimed world government are printed on the fanciest and most expensive paper I have ever seen, far fancier than anything used by General Motors. As for bogus miracles and conjuring tricks, surely we can beat anyone in the world at this game. Please go to any major ashram or temple, and you will hear a thousand tales of miracles. You will also hear seedy stories of so-called holy men and gullible women. Satya Sai Baba produces sacred ash from his long sleeves (for VIPs he goes up-market, producing gold chains out of thin air). Turning water into wine is pale stuff by comparison.
So, Govindji, do not labour under any inferiority complex in regard to promotional expenses, marketing tricks, or even reaching out. Na matter what the Jesuits and Anglicans may get up to, you can justly declare hum kissee se kam nahin. As a leader of a religious multinational (Vishwa Hindu Parishad means World Hindu Congress) you need to study how other multinationals slug it out in the global marketplace. Pepsi battles Coke, Lever battles Proctor and Gamble. They use many dirty tricks. But they do not burn each others marketing managers or sales offices.
You say Christianity is semi-political. Very true But which religion is not? Does not the BJP mix religion and politics? Do not Sikh jathedars declare there be no separation of religion from politics, and use the ample coffers of the Golden Temple to promote the political market share of the Akali Dal? And is this good enough reason to bum Sikh preachers and gurudwaras? Christian Democrats run governments in Europe, and the Christian Coalition influences the Republican Party in the USA. Similarly, Hindu religious groups can also inspire to influence politics. But, like the western ones, you must gain adherents by competing in the marketplace for ideas, not by burning competitors.
Your real problem in competing is not that Christians are using money or false advertising. It is that traditional Hindu society has behaved so abominably to some of its members, notable dalits and tribals, that they seek a rival religious brand.
As long as this persists, not all the wealth of Hindu temples and all the fancy miracles of Babas will stem the defection of disillusioned consumers of your product to rival brands. Some have gone to Islam, some to Buddhism, some to Christianity. If you really think tribals and dalits have been purchased by Christian missionaries, kindly offer to buy them back for twice the sum. You have the money, but I suspect you will fail.
The lesson: your product is defective. Improve it, and you will beat the competition. That was demonstrated by another acharya who preceded you, the great Shankaracharya. Born in an era when Buddhism reigned supreme, he went out and re-converted India into a Hindu-majority land. He did not do so by burning rivals, he won their hearts and minds.