As celebrations erupt, one must scrutinise the carefully cultivated display of religious pride and exploitation of sentiments for political gain.
The Ram Janmabhoomi issue has fiercely divided Indians for decades now, the flames of its mythos deliberately fomented by the Raj and around its blaze a circle of zealous votaries warming their hands on the political largesse it has yielded. The desire to build a temple on the very site of an existing mosque, driven by the ersatz emotion of avenging a 450-year-old imagined “wrong”, went violently against the principles of communality and fraternity on which the new nation was constitutionally founded, but the mission has seen fruition today. A fevered ambition messed with the minds of people with simple beliefs and conjured up a monster.
Over the past weeks, television, YouTube, and social media are blitzing forth a strident message of revelry. But January 22 cannot be a day of innocent celebration given the bloodshed, illegality, and unhappiness of its dark history. Yes, one must accept the Supreme Court’s 2019 verdict that made the temple inevitable. Although the court’s ostensible intention was to stop the violence once and for all, it produced some of the most convoluted interpretations of the Constitution and saw the court blindsided by false promises of future peace. The supposed healing touch has been seized to slash fresh wounds in Kashi and Mathura.
In this troubling milieu, a sober inauguration ceremony that paid tribute to the lives lost and to the sentiments of those whose place of worship was destroyed would perhaps have been more becoming. What we have seen instead is an ugly triumphalism and blithe statements from admen and talking heads about a so-called resurgence of Hinduism. Let us be clear: Hinduism has never faded from public life for it to be revived today. India is an intensely religious country, and faith has always dominated every aspect of life. Holidays and diets, marriages and births are all governed by the rites of various religions; all pilgrimages are elaborate, all places of worship beloved.
“ What was once a personal matter of faith is now public business. The country’s Prime Minister is now the household priest. ”
What we are seeing today rather is a brazen rise in the politicisation of religion. What was once a personal matter of faith is now public business. The country’s Prime Minister is now the household priest. The functions of the nation’s administrator include those of the clergyman. A democracy is run as a theocracy. The Ram temple’s construction, consecration, and promotion is entirely a government project. In fact, a half-day holiday was announced for central government offices on January 22 to embed the administration fully into the event.
The high visibility of Hindu rituals and symbols in the public sphere is, therefore, neither an organic nor miraculous reawakening of piety but a carefully cultivated display of religious pride sown by the party in power for its own political gain. It is important that the public be aware of this reimagined construction of Ram and the exploitation of religious sentiments.
As the 2024 elections draw near, we are being inundated with encomiums to the BJP’s organisational skills and to Prime Minister Modi’s singular popularity, there is endless chatter about trains and roads, growth figures and start-up miracles. If all of this is indeed true, these achievements must be able to campaign on their own legs. They should not have to piggyback on the politics of divisiveness and othering and the ominous spectre of hate-fuelled violence.
In other words, the Ram temple and the development of Ayodhya as India’s spiritual capital, an excellent idea for tourism and one reportedly mooted years ago by P.V. Narasimha Rao, need not have waited for a mosque to be destroyed. They would have been even more welcome had they been built on Ayodhya’s storied and syncretic past and taken every religious denomination along.