Congress seeks to delink ideal Ram from RSS
The Congress has made a cautious but astute intervention in the national discourse on the temple construction in Ayodhya, emphasising that Lord Ram represents righteousness, sacrifice and unification instead of getting embroiled in the complexities of the politics that has shaped the event.
Issuing a statement on behalf of the party, Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said: “The bhoomi pujan ceremony for the construction of the Ram temple will take place on August 5, 2020. Hope this ceremony becomes a symbol of Ram’s message and consolidates national unity, fraternity and cultural harmony.”
Priyanka went on to explain what Ram stands for, how his character embodies liberalism, righteousness and sacrifice, and how he belongs to one and all.
Without making an obvious attempt to juxtapose these values against the politics of domination and division that the RSS-BJP is accused of practising, the Congress leader pointed out that Lord Ram’s philosophy is antithetical to hate and exclusion.
Contending that the Ramayana has left a deep and indelible mark on the cultures of the Indian subcontinent and the world, Priyanka said: “Lord Ram, Mother Sita and the Ramayana have illuminated our religious and cultural memories for thousands of years. The Ramayana has influenced religion, policy-making, sense of duty, sacrifice, liberalism, love, valour and service in the Indian subcontinent. Ram’s legacy has helped integrate humanity in India.”
Explaining the inclusive symbolism of Lord Ram by referring to the authors of many versions of the Ramayana across the country, she added: “Ram belongs to both Shabari and Sugreev. Ram is of Valmiki, of Kambar, Bhasa, and Ezhuthachan as well. Ram is also of Tulsidas, Kabir, Raidas. Ram is for all. Gandhi’s Ram endows everybody with good sense; Waris Ali Shah says the one who is Rab (God) is Ram.”
Priyanka drew attention to the fact that Ram is worshipped cutting across regional and linguistic divides and delved into different interpretations.
“If national poet Maithlisharan Gupt describes Ram as the strength of the meek, another poet (Suryakant Tripathi) Nirala says Ram is the power of eternal truth,” Priyanka said. “Ram is courage, Ram is union, Ram is tolerance, Ram is cooperation. Ram thinks of everybody’s welfare. That’s why he is Maryada Purushottam.”
She signed off with the traditional greeting, “Jai Siya Ram”, or “Praise be to Sita and Ram”, which is radically different from the Hindutva war cry Jai Shri Ram.
The purpose is clear — the Congress wants to tell the people that Ram is all-encompassing and cannot fit into the narrow frame of a militant RSS worldview that not only sees him as a weapon of cultural dominance of Hindus over Muslims but also inflicts retribution on anybody who differs or questions.
The Congress is trying to distinguish between politics and religion and communicate the message that the communal agenda of demolishing the mosque, an act described as criminal by the Supreme Court, and devotion to Ram are not interlinked.
A senior leader said: “What happened is irreversible; we have to live with the new reality. We all are stuck where the criminality of a communal campaign cannot be made the basis of opposing the construction of the temple. We are not opposed to the temple.”
Many Congress leaders privately contended that the party cannot allow the RSS-BJP to hijack Lord Ram only because the August 5 event is the culmination of a sinister campaign led by the Right-wing axis.
The Congress leaders said Ram was a matter of faith for Hindus, but the RSS-BJP had used him as a political project to further majoritarianism.
The leaders stressed that their idea of secularism excludes communalism, not Ram, and pointed out that the majority of the leadership, whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian or of any other sect, are deeply religious.
Former information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari recalled how “Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram, Sabko Sanmati de Bhagwan” was Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite bhajan.
Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath went a step ahead by organising a recital of the Hanuman Chalisa for the “welfare of our countrymen”.
There is no denying that the Congress is desperate to dilute the perception that the BJP alone represents Hindus, but its inability to articulate the concerns about the RSS project to replace secularism with political Hindutva is found to be seriously problematic by some leaders and political observers.
Some leaders who share the unease, however, hope that the Congress leadership will be able to counter the BJP’s agenda by carefully distinguishing between communalism and religiosity. They hope the situational responses won’t override the ideological clarity once the euphoria over the temple construction subsides.
The Congress will also have to take into confidence moderate allies like the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) so that the partner in Kerala can explain the nuanced statement to it is core constituency and prevent it from being exploited by opponents.