Ayodha: What is BJP's Motive For Holding Ram Temple Ceremony Amid Pandemic?
What does the obsessive
pursuit of the current regime to ensure a picture perfect execution of the
ritual of Bhoomi Pujan (worshipping the soil) for the Ram temple at Ayodhya on
August 5 depict? What does the decision of the government to permit and assist
the ceremony amid the COVID-19 pandemic, even after Union Home Minister
Amit Shah tested positive and at least two cabinet ministers decided to
self-isolate themselves, show? In years to come, much after
the planned temple is built, how would the event be assessed -- from the
viewpoint of taking forward the sangh parivar narrative on the temple?
Will this be seen as closure of a chapter that has seen much bloodshed, or will
it stand out as the opening of a fresh chapter whose narrative lines are
well-etched by now?
Before answering these
questions, it is important to make sense of the claim that the Bharatiya Janata
Party made several times over, after emerging as a serious
challenger to power in 1991, that it was not a "single-issue party".
Essentially, it meant that although fanatical about the demand to build a Ram
temple, the party was also concerned about other matters. The Bhoomi Poojan at 'this time' when government agencies and coordination could have been put to
better use, not mentioning the huge risk involved, shows that the BJP remains
fixated on a central issue, except that this has been considerably so over
the past 28 years.
It is no coincidence that the date
of the function was chosen to coincide with the first anniversary of the
abrogation of Article 370. At one level, the din from Ayodhya will overwhelm
any possible sounds of protest from the Valley. But more importantly, it seeks
to connect the first item of the religio-cultural agenda with the government's
step last year, to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its statehood and special status.
It connects the two issues, as also the other 'landmark' decision to
criminalise instantaneous divorce among Muslims -- popularly referred as the
triple talaq issue, by the primary intention to demonstrate to Muslims that
they are children of a lesser god at the least, if they are Indian
citizens. The decisions on Kashmir and the Ayodhya campaign were driven with
the idea of asserting Hindu hegemony, not just over religious minorities, but
even on those Hindus who disagree with the sangh parivar's worldview.
The sense of this
changing reality has been palpable for long. Many would claim that despite
intentions, the progressive group among founders of the Indian Republic were
unable to integrate the two communities and build a genuinely secular polity.
From the first Lok Sabha elections onwards, minority representation in
legislature was always a matter of 'adjustment'. It was ensured that there was
'justification' in ensuring election of Muslim nationalists in legislatures --
even a leader of the standing of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was fielded by the
Congress party from constituencies -- Rampur and Gurgaon -- where
large Muslim presence provided 'explanation' for his nomination.
Yet, it was the BJP
which created a Hindu electoral constituency in the 1980s through the Ram
Janmabhoomi Andolan, although it took almost two and half decades before this
could be harnessed by the party from 2014 onward. It is paradoxical, but the
Muslim League took almost the same time in Imperial India between creating the
Muslim constituency in the 1920s and then, enlisting it to
vote almost en bloc for it in the 1946 elections. The BJP and
its followers may get incensed whenever they are likened as Hindu Pakistan, but
eventually they have metamorphosed this country into one which justifies
Pakistan poet, Fahmida Riyaz's lament: dost, tum hum jaise nikle (Friend,
you turned out to be just like us).
At a psychological
level, the yearning to establish supremacy over the 'other' is evidence of
deep-seated inability to forge oneness within -- due to caste fissures -- while
considering the 'other' as a homogenised entity and a threat
to oneself. The BJP has milked this diffidence and the inarticulated sense
would have been better if partition was 'complete' and this nation mirrored its
western neighbour with Hinduism enshrined in the Constitution as State
By securing the disputed
land in Ayodhya by legal, although questionable, means and by altering the
basic character and relationship of Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of the
country by constitutional processes, this government demonstrated that pursuit
of its politics and transmogrification of the Republic is possible by teasing
the frontiers of the Constitution with a little assistance from a pliable
judiciary. This became further evident in the course of the enactment of the
Citizenship Amendment Act and the response of the judiciary so far. Even the
cases filed against members of the civil society on trumped up charges and for
instigating communal riots in the Indian capital, are part of this strategy to
use existing laws to subvert rule of law by hollowing out institutions and
creating an imaginary network of 'anti-nationals'.
The Ram temple's Bhoomi
Pujan has to be seen in this perspective, and it cannot be
ignored that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityannath
had played the lead role in shifting the Ram Lalla idol in March, within hours
of nationwide lockdown being imposed and in violation of regulations the
Centre had laid out. Close scrutiny will reveal that
the imminent ceremony, too, is being mounted
by trimming several regulations applicable to others, especially organisations
and for people of different faiths.
In years to come when
the entire chronology of the construction of the Ram temple is written, it is
possible that all that would survive of this
event is a photo-frame of Prime Minister Narendra Modi being the star of the
show. This ceremony may even get confused with the shilanyas ceremony on
November 9, 1989 -- ironically the day when the Berlin Wall was torn down --
which remains the event which converted the Ram temple issue from being a
religious demand into a political pursuit.
By a quirk of 'destiny'
Shah misses out, while the Yogi secures permanence in the frame and maybe more,
in times to come. Sympathetic historians of the future will, however,
find it awkward to erase the name of Advani as the architect of the
agitation as much the present leadership may
want. Modi's presence is evidence of his Achilles' heel for not letting an
opportunity slip past in securing a place in the pantheon of Ayodhya heroes, as
the person who 'delivered' when it appeared a tad difficult on numerous
The writer is a Delhi-based writer and
journalist. 'The Demolition: India At The Crossroads' was his first book published in 1994. He is
currently working on a new book on the issue. He tweets @NilanjanUdwin