From Babri Masjid Demolition to Ram Temple Inauguration: The Trajectory of Indian Politics by Ram Puniyani

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As the Babri demolition helped sectarian politics come to power, the inauguration of the temple seems to be yet another mechanism to consolidate polarisation and reap electoral dividends. Temple politics has reached its zenith.

When India gained independence, Nehru’s ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech set the tone for the future courses that India planned to undertake. He pledged, ‘The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty, ignorance, disease, and inequality of opportunity… The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, our work will not be over.’ He articulated this vision for the temples of modern India during the inauguration speech of the Bhakra Nangal dam.

A report in Hindustan Times archives describes it thus: “With great feeling the prime minister described these sites as “temples and places of worship” where thousands of human beings were engaged in great constructive activity for the benefit of millions of their fellow beings.”

The phrase ‘Temples of Modern India’ served as the underlying theme for conceptualising public sectors, educational institutions promoting scientific temper, health facilities, and academies for the promotion of culture, among other aspects. The nearly four to five decades’ journey with this undercurrent of ‘Modern Temples’ took a significant turn in the 1980s. On one side, the response to the Shah Bano fiasco in dealing with minorities opened the floodgates of divisive politics, as communal forces unleashed a massive propaganda war against religious minorities. Simultaneously, the affirmative action for the downtrodden, with the implementation of the Mandal Commission, gave impetus to temple politics, already a strategy in the playbook of Hindu nationalists.

In contrast to Nehru’s vision of ‘Temples of Modern India,’ the quest for ‘temples underneath the mosque’ brought to the fore the Babri Masjid dispute. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) progeny, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), came into existence in 1980, donning the cloak of ‘Gandhian Socialism’ with the moderate Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the helm. Despite his moderate image, Vajpayee was deeply rooted in RSS ideology.

He authored Hindu Tan Man-Hindu Jeevan (Hindu soul and body-Hindu life), and masked his Hindu nationalist politics. Vajpayee later made way for Lal Krishna Advani, who came up with the slogan ‘Mandir Vahin Banayenge’ (We will build the temple where the Babri mosque is located).

The RSS Combine was able to create a perception that Lord Ram was born precisely at the spot where the mosque was located. The Ram Rath Yatra gained momentum following the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations. However, this yatra left a trail of violence in its wake. Around 1990, in the aftermath of L.K. Advani’s Rath Yatra, nearly 1,800 people lost their lives in different parts of India. The yatra was eventually halted when Lalu Yadav arrested Advani.

The mosque was demolished on December 6, 1992, by the karsevaks, some of whom had planned the demolition. During the event, leaders like Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, and Uma Bharati were seated on the stage, where slogans like “Ek Dhakka Aur do, Babri Masjid Tod do” (Give one more push, break the Babri Mosque) and “Ye to kevel Jhanki hai Kashi Mathura baki hai” (this is just the beginning, Kashi Mathura will follow) were raised.

After the demolition, violence erupted in Mumbai, Bhopal, Surat, and various other locations. In summary, the legal system bent over backwards to give the verdict of the case based on ‘faith’, and not giving any punishment to those who led the demolition. In its judgment, the judiciary, for better or worse, awarded the entire Babri Mosque land for the construction of the temple.

In the glee of this ‘success’ by the RSS combine, large funds were collected from home and abroad and now, a huge temple is ready to be inaugurated by the prime minister himself, with all Hindu rituals. This will be a ceremony undertaken by the head of a ‘formally secular’ state. Babri Masjid was a regular election plank till it was demolished and after that, the building of the grand Ram temple was part of the BJP’s election manifestos and electoral promises. The communal violence shot up on a regular basis along with the ghettoisation of Muslim community, the polarisation and the rise of the electoral might of the BJP.

According to A.M. Singh, a research scholar at the Department of Political Science, Manipur Central University, “Since coming to power, much of the BJP’s political discourse has exacerbated communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims. Their actions have followed suit, with the abrogation of Article 370 in the Indian Constitution and the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in 2019… By redefining and remanufacturing Indian citizenship on the principles of Hindutva, the BJP government has broken the fate and legacy of India’s secularism enshrined in its constitution.” Now a ghettoised Muslim community has been pushed to the margins as second class citizens.

Now, as the temple is set to be inaugurated, efforts are underway to mobilise a large section of Hindus for this occasion. In countries like America and others, a significant number of NRIs are preparing for the event by organising various programmes. Back home, all the affiliates of the RSS have been activated to mobilise Hindus for the occasion, encouraging them to either visit the new temple or participate in rituals at local temples.

There are minor controversies about who has been invited and who has been left out. Advani, the chief architect of the demolition movement, and his close aide Joshi were initially advised by the temple trust not to attend the inauguration due to their old age and the biting cold in Ayodhya. On second thought, the VHP, the overarching organisation, has invited them.

As the Babri demolition helped sectarian politics come to power, the inauguration of the temple seems to be yet another mechanism to consolidate polarisation and reap electoral dividends. A large number of special trains and buses are being planned for the occasion. Temple politics has reached its zenith.

It is time to recall Nehru’s concept of ‘temples of Modern India’ with the promotion of scientific temper. Currently, religiosity and blind faith are being heightened. As India started coming out of the colonial darkness, it also ensured a direction where the ‘last person in the line’ was to be the primary focus. With the politics revolving around Ram Temple, to be followed by temples in Kashi and Mathura, the deprivations of ‘last person’ and Nehru’s ‘Tryst with Destiny’ promises have been dumped along with holding him responsible for all the ills of the country.

Ram Puniyani is president, Centre of Study of Society and Secularism and has written several books including Communal Politics: Facts Versus Myths (Sage, 2003), Deconstructing Terrorist Violence (Sage 2015), Indian Nationalism versus Hindu Nationalism (Pharos 2014) and Caste and Communalism (Olive 2013).

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