Published: August 5, 2020 11:58:03 pm
August 5, when construction of the Ram temple began at Ayodhya — one year after the abrogation of Article 370 by the BJP-led Centre in Kashmir — marks a milestone for the BJP, and for India. For the BJP, it will have a tidy resonance. On August 5, it achieved its grand cause, which had energised its politics and powered several mobilisations for decades.
The issue that coalition politics compelled it to place on the “backburner” in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime has now journeyed to the centre, flamboyant and triumphant, in Narendra Modi raj. Of the two large national political projects that reconfigured India’s politics in the early 1990s — Mandal and Mandir — the former met with only scattered and fragmented success while the BJP has led the latter to full and unequivocal fulfilment. But if the BJP has reason to celebrate a conclusion, for India, the beginning of temple construction at Ayodhya underlines a challenge. The leading role of the Prime Minister, Chief Minister and Governor at an event ostensibly organised by the Ram Janmabhoomi Teertha Kshetra Trust was foretold. Even so, its images, of intimacies between state and religion, have implications that will need to be grappled with in days and years to come.
India’s secularism has been a variant of the traditional western notion of the strict wall of separation between church and state. The Indian version has described itself, more, as being about a state that keeps equal distance from all religions but respects them all. Now, even that increasingly embattled idea of equi-distance will need to be qualified or redefined. Of course, this task is the burden of the non-BJP parties, should they have the stomach for it, which, so far, they don’t.
In the BJP’s narrative, on the other hand, a discredited secularism has deservedly fallen. At Ayodhya on Wednesday, Prime Minister Modi sought to draw parallels between the bhoomi pujan on August 5 and August 15, Independence Day. A five-centuries-old struggle had triumphed in the liberation of an idea that will now be the link, the PM said, between “nar” and “narayan” (man and god), “lok” and “aastha” (people and faith) “vartman” and “ateet” (past and present). The Ram temple, he said would be an inspiration for a self-confident and self-reliant India on the world stage.
The BJP’s political opponents may not rise to the challenge posed by the far-reaching changes in political culture wrought by it — both the first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 and the bricklaying for the temple at Ayodhya have been met by the same sullen silence, if not acquiescence. But as the ruling party at the Centre of a diverse nation, the BJP must be mindful of the dangers of majoritarian triumphalism. Even the Supreme Court, which paved the way for the temple by giving the disputed site to the Hindu side, described the 1992 destruction of the Babri masjid as illegal. The demolition case continues in court. At Ayodhya on Wednesday, there was no mention of the debris of the mosque that lies under the proposed temple, or of the exclusions of faith-based politics. These need to be acknowledged and addressed. Only then can the invocation of national unity — by virtually the entire political establishment today — ring sincere.
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