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regular-article-logo Thursday, 30 May 2024

Hour of triumph

In the aftermath of the demolition of Babri mosque, secular poseurs claimed that anything was better than a Ram temple at the site. Three decades later, few would care to be so outrageous

Swapan Dasgupta Published 04.01.24, 07:25 AM
Today, amid the public euphoria over the temple, it is hard to believe that pro-temple voices were not deemed respectable in the corridors of power until the BJP’s victory in 2014.

Today, amid the public euphoria over the temple, it is hard to believe that pro-temple voices were not deemed respectable in the corridors of power until the BJP’s victory in 2014. Sourced by the Telegraph.

To a small but influential section of Indians, soaked in either cultural cosmopolitanism or political progressivism, the excitement over the Ram temple in Ayodhya is inextricably linked to the forthcoming general election. Such a perception is valid if it is assumed that contrived Hindu religiosity with an unmistakable political thrust arrived on the Indian landscape with the coming to power of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Countless books and articles have been written over the past decade documenting the supposed advent of majoritarian rule in India and the way the Bharatiya Janata Party has disfigured the ‘idea of India’. At the heart of these agonised outpourings is the conviction that what is being promoted as the Hindu inheritance is a collation of kitsch, so far removed from the tasteful, personalised religion of our grandmothers. Lord Ram, it will be loudly claimed by those whose faith begins and ends with their Tanjore painting collections, resides in the ‘heart’ and not in a temple consecrated by Modi.

The fury over the transformation of an anarchic cluster of localised faiths and abstruse philosophies into what Romila Thapar debunked as “syndicated Hinduism” in the late-1980s, at the time when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad was encouraging Ram bhakts to send consecrated bricks for a proposed temple in Ayodhya, has been building up steadily. Initially, during the high noon of Nehruvian domination in the 1960s, the angry sadhus and their followers who tried to storm Parliament demanding an immediate nationwide ban on cow slaughter were the object of mockery. In intellectual circles dominated by a self-serving alliance of social democrats and Marxists, Hindu nationalists were relegated to the Hindi and Sanskrit departments of universities, pig-tailed curiosities from another age. Hindutva was also electorally inconsequential and didn’t threaten the efficacy of the secular consensus that had been built by the Congress. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a spectacular orator and a great parliamentarian, but he was dubbed the ‘right man in the wrong party’.

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The effects of this snarky condescension were quite devastating for the self-esteem of the Hindu nationalists. When the erstwhile Jana Sangh group was edged out of the Janata Party in 1980 on the issue of their association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the new party tried to prove it was the ‘real’ inheritor of the 1977 legacy. On the positive side, it consciously moved away from being a Hindi-Hindu party and tried to strike roots all over India — an approach that is now paying dividends for the BJP. At the same time, in a bid to become a ‘party of aggregation’, it tried to make a khichdi of approaches linked to Mahatma Gandhi, B.R. Ambedkar, Ram Manohar Lohia and Deendayal Upadhyaya. Initially, the final preparation wasn’t thought to be very edible, and the newly-formed BJP crashed to a humiliating defeat in the 1984 election.

In hindsight, the introspection that accompanied the defeat proved beneficial to the party. The party deemed it prudent to reinstate Hindutva as its ideological talisman. However, this was coupled with some inspired social engineering—the influence of Ambedkar and Lohia—that saw the BJP slowly break the perception that it was a party of the Brahmins, Banias and Thakurs. By the time L.K. Advani got onto his rath for the “greatest mass movement”, the Hindu nationalism of the BJP had acquired a more socially representative character. The Mandal agitation led to a great social churning, and the BJP managed to incorporate a big chunk of the social justice movement into the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation.

Where the Left and the ‘secular fundamentalists’ in the Congress seriously miscalculated was in seeing the Ayodhya movement as something detached from mainstream Hindu beliefs. The former prime minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, was among the few Congress leaders who understood the potential of the Ayodhya agitation. He was, however, wrong-footed by a section of the saffron camp on December 6, 1992 and never again regained the self-confidence to get the Congress to take a more accommodative view of the Ram temple movement.

In my view, the Congress erred on two counts. First, it was bamboozled by the outrage of the secular intelligentsia into believing that the demolition of the 16th-century Mughal structure enjoyed only nominal legitimacy among Hindus. True, many Hindus were stunned by the sheer audacity of the kar sevaks and didn’t know how to express their feelings. However, it soon became clear that the demolition enjoyed a post-facto legitimacy, a sentiment that made it quite clear that Narasimha Rao’s knee-jerk promise to rebuild a mosque on the exact site would be a non-starter.

Secondly, the Congress and the entire secularist camp believed that the best way to remove Ayodhya from the national agenda was to throw the ball into the court of the judiciary. It was believed, without being explicitly stated, that the judges would find the issue too hot to handle and the case would be subsumed in calculated judicial delay. Even after the Allahabad High Court ruled in favour of the Hindu side in 2010, it was assumed that the Supreme Court hearings would continue indefinitely. The former Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, upset all calculations by setting his own deadlines and forcing a conclusion.

Today, amid the public euphoria over the temple, it is hard to believe that pro-temple voices were not deemed respectable in the corridors of power until the BJP’s victory in 2014. The BJP had to keep its commitment to the temple under wraps between 1996 and 2004 because it was difficult to maintain a coalition otherwise. One of the factors behind Vajpayee’s defeat in 2004 was the indifference of many BJP’s core voters to a government that seemed unmoved by Hindu concerns. Their motivation returned in 2014 with Modi at the helm. The Hindu vote bank has seen a further enlargement under Modi, not least because it has got linked to economic growth, targeted welfarism and an explosion in national pride.

In the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992, secular poseurs claimed that anything was better than a Ram temple at the site. Three decades later, few would care to be so outrageous. Today, the sleepy and somewhat rundown town of Ayodhya has been transformed into a national tourist attraction with a grand Ram temple at its epicentre. What was once a contested issue has become an overriding Hindu consensus. As the bhakts would say, after 500 years, Bharat has been reclaimed for Ram.

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