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Return of the Mandir

Anand Teltumbde (tanandraj@gmail.com) is a writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 on the back of a blitzkrieg campaign against a “corrupt” Congress party. With the support of its global capital patrons, he also mesmerised people with his political rhetoric of achhe din (good days) and a clean India, both literally and metaphorically. However, in the past three years, public life has got corrupted and it may be difficult to recover from its effects, for many years to come. Socially, the emboldening of the saffron brigade in terms of enacting its fascist antics, unleashing terror on minorities, and spreading communal poison; politically, systematic erosion of democratic norms, undermining of parliamentary decorum, and saffronisation of institutions; economically, devastation of the informal sector due to irrational decisions like demonetisation, hasty implementation of the goods and services tax, and reversal of India’s economic growth rates have been the hallmark of his rule. Now that people are slowly waking up to reality, reflected in the decline of his party’s performance in recent elections, there is a clear indication of the revival of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) strategy of communal polarisation in the name of Ram Mandir.

Dirt of Communalism

It is well known that Ram Mandir, Article 370 on Kashmir, and Pakistan, have been the three main issues that have propelled the BJP from a fringe party to a formidable political force in India. Among these, it was the Ram Mandir issue that provided the moment of ascent for the BJP, when the Rajiv Gandhi government enthusiastically ordered the opening of the locks of the Babri Mosque within an hour of the Faizabad judge’s ruling on 1 February 1986. Gandhi’s strategy was aimed at undercutting the BJP’s Ram Temple campaign, underway since 1984. But it backfired badly as the Sangh Parivar quickly seized the initiative. It paid off handsome dividends for the BJP (then the Jan Sangh) in terms of pushing up its tally from just two seats in 1984 to 86 seats in 1989.

Enthused by this success, Lal Krishna Advani, the then president of the BJP undertook a rath yatra from Somnath in Gujarat to Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh (UP) on 25 September 1990. If Pradipsinh Jadeja, then minister of state for home, is to be believed, the architect of this yatra was none other than Modi (Ajay 2017). Advani’s arrest on 23 October 1990 at Samastipur, Bihar by Lalu Prasad Yadav’s government, the consequent frenzy of the kar sevaks (religious volunteers) assembled at Ayodhya, and the firing upon them by the Mulayam Singh government in UP on 30 October and 2 November 1990, eventually led to the demolition of the Babri Mosque on 6 December 1992. It sparked off communal riots across the country, particularly in cities like Mumbai, Surat, Ahmedabad, Kanpur, Delhi, and Bhopal, resulting in over 2,000 deaths, primarily of Muslims, and loss of property amounting to crores of rupees. A significant contribution to this communal build-up in favour of the BJP was that of Modi’s, culminating in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, a sequel to the Ram Mandir issue, resulting in the deaths of another 2,000 Muslims.

The BJP gained hugely from these communal carnages. Yatras became its special purpose vehicle to whip up communal frenzy among the people. The second rath yatra of the BJP was the Ekta Yatra (unity rally) from Kanyakumari to Kashmir led by the then party chief Murli Manohar Joshi, which ended with a handful of BJP leaders, including Modi, who was the convener of the yatra, timidly unfurling the tricolour at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk on Republic Day in 1992 amidst tight security. Another Rashtriya Ekta Yatra (national integration rally) from Kolkata to Kashmir was planned in 2011. However, the BJP Yuva Morcha’s attempt to hoist the national flag in Srinagar was thwarted by the then Omar Abdullah-led state government in Jammu and Kashmir as it could potentially derail the ongoing peace process.

As it gained in strength, the BJP maintained a strategic silence over these issues and instead projected development as its election issue. It was required to have a wider appeal and also to convince its patrons in global capital. Now that it finds itself on shakier grounds with voters, it appears to be resorting to its old game of communal polarisation to consolidate its constituency.

Ram Mandir, Once More

The BJP’s global patrons, however, may not favour the idea and hence it appears to have distanced itself from the 41-day long Ram Rajya Rath Yatra, spanning a 6,000-kilometre long journey from Ayodhya in UP to Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu (Pradhan 2018). The yatra was to be flagged off earlier by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, but another party Member of Parliment did so at Ayodhya on 13 February 2018. The yatra is said to be organised by a little known Maharashtra-based organisation, “Sree Ramadasa Mission Universal Society,” supported by two Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh affiliates, the Vishva Hindu Parishad and the Muslim Rashtriya Manch (Pradhan 2018). It is meant to “create awareness” about “Ram Rajya” and the Ram Temple.

The BJP’s political agenda is visible to anyone: as many as 224 Lok Sabha constituencies are being covered by the yatra in six states—UP, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, not the least—with imminent assembly elections in Karnataka in April 2018. Although, the BJP government kept a safe distance from the yatra, the union home ministry has written to the police chiefs of states through which the yatra will pass, asking them to facilitate its progress (Jha 2018). It is interesting that the government that routinely denies permission to activists holding even small public meetings, without any rhyme or reason, has not only allowed this yatra, despite its potential danger to law and order, but also has mandated its machinery to facilitate it.

The demands of this yatra are also revealing: the re-establishment of Ram Rajya, inclusion of the Ramayana in syllabi of schools and colleges, shifting weekly holidays from Sundays to Thursdays, and a declaration of a Vishva Hindu Diwas (world Hindu day). There is another angle to this project, which is that Hindutva forces want to have an out-of-court settlement of the Ram Janmabhoomi–Babri Masjid dispute that is coming up for its final hearing before the Supreme Court on 14 March 2018. The yatra can pressure Muslim groups to acquiesce to the same as the verdict of the Court cannot be relied upon. Ram Rajya, as a concept, was first articulated by M K Gandhi to lure the masses into his freedom movement on the promise that once independence arrived, Ram Rajya will be established. Gandhi, in his characteristic style, went on to change its interpretation, even dissociating it from the Hindu religion. Responding to a question at a prayer meeting on 26 February 1947, he clarified

let no one commit the mistake of thinking that Ramrajya means a rule of Hindus. My Ram is another name for Khuda or God. I want Khuda Raj which is the same thing as the Kingdom of God on Earth.

As Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi explained that Ram Rajya meant a “welfare state.” However, he went on to dispossess common people in the state in order to satiate the unquenchable greed of crony capitalists and their corporations. Ram Rajya, in practice, appears to have served as rhetoric for all political parties to appeal to gullible Hindus. The late Rajiv Gandhi had inaugurated the Congress party’s 1989 election campaign from Ayodhya with a promise to usher in Ram Rajya as his son does today. Ram Rajya is uncritically evoked as an ideal rule, as described in Ramayana. In the sixth book of Valmiki Ramayana, Lankakanda,1

All [that is, Brahmins (the priest-class), Kshatriyas (the warrior-class), Vaiśyas (the class of merchants and agriculturists), and Sudras (the servant class)] were performing their own duties, satisfied with their own work, and bereft of greed. (canto 116, verse 89)

This is the typical varna order that Gandhi believed in and our rulers would like to have. But what about the Dalits, Adivasis, Shudras and non-Hindus, who together constitute a vast majority and would surely say “no” to such a Ram Rajya?

Why No Outcry?

When it comes to resisting the BJP’s Hindutva, there is no real political opposition; all parties are united in a broad anti-people alliance. In the present instance, except for the two parliamentary communist parties (Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India [Marxist]), there was not even a whisper of opposition from the other opposition parties to the yatra. The Trinamool Congress in West Bengal which had been accused of “appeasing minorities,” because they are relatively more populous in the state, also recently organised a massive Brahmin convention, namely the “Brahmin and Purohit Sammelan.” It was organised by a senior party leader and Trinamool’s Birbhum district president, Anubrata Mondal. All the priests who attended the convention were gifted a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, a shawl, and pictures of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and his wife Sarada Devi. All political parties have similar skeletons in their closets. The Congress, on the other hand, proves to be a comic competitor with its soft Hindutva, in its desperation to demonstrate that it is not anti-Hindu. The manner in which the Congress president Rahul Gandhi is being projected as a janevudhari (holy thread wearing) Brahmin should be condemned, but it sells in “secular” India.

During the recent Gujarat elections, Rahul Gandhi visited 27 temples to stress that he too is a Hindu. The Congress has interpreted its victory in the 18 constituencies where these temples are situated (wresting 10 from the BJP) as being due to this temple run. It is neither ashamed to see that even in such a surcharged anti-BJP atmosphere, as in Gujarat, it could not wrest power from the BJP, nor does it realise that it can never compete against the BJP on the Hindutva platform. Those who egged on Rahul Gandhi’s soft Hindutva, will soon demand a hardline stance from him. It is a dangerous development which would only hasten the establishment of the Hindu rashtra in India. While it is true that electoral success is driven by religious and caste considerations rather than social or public service records, it is not the natural order. The ruling classes had deliberately intrigued to conserve castes and communities in the Constitution and cheated people on the promise of secularism as on many other things. Dharmanirapekshata is not just secularism; it is a ploy to preserve dominance of the majority religion. Had India been truly secular, we would not have had to face the spectres of the Hindu rashtra.

Note

1 Book 6, Lankakanda (Book of War), Valmiki Ramayana (critical edition), Varoda: Oriental Institute, Maharaja Sayajirao University (compiled in the 1960s–70s).

References

Ajay, Lakshmi (2017): “Modi Architect of Advani’s Rath Yatra: Gujarat Minister,” Indian Express,
22 April, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/modi-architect-of-advanis-rath-yatra-gujarat-minister-pradeepsinh-jadeja/.

Jha, Dhirendra K (2018): “RSS Prepares to Launch Rath Yatra from Ayodhya to Rameswaram on 13 February,” Scroll.in, 7 February, https://scroll.in/article/867793/rss-prepares-to-launch-rath-yatra-from-ayodhya-to-rameswaram-on-february-13.

Pradhan, Sharat (2018): “‘Ram Rajya’ Rath Yatra Is a Misuse of ‘Ram’ in Politics,” National Herald, 14 February, https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/opinion/ram-rajya-rath-yatra-is-bjps-misuse-of-ram-in-politics.

Updated On : 19th Mar, 2018

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