Indians have been living generally in harmony on the precondition of non-interference in religious matters-‘the touch me not’ syndrome. The moment there was individual or mass trespassing in matters of faith the harmony got destabilized temporarily; only to be restored when sanity returned.
My first job is to congratulate the people of India and the NaMo government on the grand yet peaceful show they put up at Ayodhya at the installation of Ram Lalla (RL). The event is a major punctuation mark in the narrative over RL which began almost 40 years ago in the politically bizarre 1980’s. The euphoria at Ayodhya this time was remarkable and dignified. It could have been more decent if NaMo had been given a modest welcome instead of almost equating him with the Ram of the epic (sans Sita, Laxman and Hanuman!) returning to Ayodhya after victory over Ravan. There was no need to deck his path with flowers. But we live in a society that likes to believe that its leaders are larger than life and every now and then they are seen as Avatars who descend to the earth with a noble agenda destiny has set them: furtherance of the Good and destruction of the Evil.
Expectedly, the event was celebrated all over the country almost on the eve of the Republic Day; giving the week starting with 21st Jan a religious beginning and a secular end! Indians celebrated both enthusiastically not only because both were public holidays but also because they provided a constitutional outlet for the essential duality of the Indian mind: we are old and new, live in both ancient and modern times, profess both religion and secularism in one breath, practice democracy and still put our faith regularly in individuals to make or break our destiny. Be that as it may since this syndrome doesn’t look like going away, it must be conceded that the celebrations were rousing and yet peaceful. If they violated something at all it was the decibel norms set for noise levels. Moreover, even if this was mainly a Hindu event-notwithstanding the reiterations of Mohan Bhagwat and NaMo that RL belongs to all - a few Muslims attended at Ayodhya. Even if the Muslims of the country stayed aloof they need to be complimented for their forbearance.
It would be interesting to ponder the political and cultural fallout of the grandiose Ayodhya spectacle since the people of India have put NaMo on such a high, near divine pedestal..
First, the political: No astrologer or Prashant Kishore is needed to forecast with certainty that the political grahas are all in not just favour but in near subservience of the present rulers. RL has found a grand, lasting home at long last, the majority community is ecstatic in the belief that its future is secure in NaMo’s hands. The INDIA alliance is proving abortive. Elections are going to be held a little after Ram Navami when the RL will once again serve to stir the voters to flock to the voting booths with pride.
At least in north India and especially in the Hindi belt LS elections might turn out to be a mere formality. Also the non Hindi states of Orissa and West Bengal cannot escape the RL blast entirely. To make matters worse for the INDIA combine Mamta and Kejriwal have already decided to go alone in Bengal and Punjab. Neetish the great survivor of Bihar had yet again jumped ship and is 9th time CM of that ungovernable state. Pragmatism seems to be the guiding principle of Kejriwal-Mamta-Neetish: they know they are sure to lose the national war so they are ensuring personal survival in the state battles. Gujrat is NaMo’s backyard and in Maharashtra too the trident of BJP and the two breakaway groups of Ajit Pawar and CM Eknath Shinde are too formidable for the possible INDIA hotch-potch.
True, the RL card will not work in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. But together the two states send only 60 odd(!) members to the LS. Kerala never allows a sweep and Tamil Nadu votes for this DMK or that. No national appeal impacts the voters there. In Andhra Congress and TRS are at each other’s throats in the state and the non-BJP ruling combine in Karnataka is always in need of oxygen in spite of Kharge.
Moreover the INDIA leaders’ strategy of underplaying or completely boycotting the Ayodhya event is likely to boomerang with Hindu voters. But they can still correct this by visiting Ayodhya and bowing to RL in near future but certainly before the elections are announced.
So much for the immediate political fallout of the rehabilitation of RL.
Culturally the matters are complex. We have to concede that restoration of RL is the beginning and not the end of the long march to harmony. A mosque too is to be erected at Ayodhya. (Sooner the better). At present the construction is scheduled to start after Ramzan month (after LS elections in the context of our present discussion). The Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation (IICF) is supposed to oversee the construction of the mosque which will not be called (significantly) Babri Masjid.
I believe this where the Hindus of India, Mohan Bhagwat and NaMo can play a proactive role which will accelerate the secularization of both Hindus and Muslims. Rather than leave the mosque construction only to the Muslim community and IICF, the RSS and the NaMo government should offer to participate in the process-at the least should show their willingness to participate - in a secular brotherly spirit. The BJP is in power both at the centre and in UP and can officially initiate the legal and administrative steps that are required for such a project. They can start with inviting IICF office bearers and other Muslim leaders for a meeting to ensure that the renamed mosque does not drag in red tape or legal small print. Architects, designers, sculptors and construction experts from all over India should be involved in the project to ensure that the mosque too would come up in good time, will be grand and will be a source of inspiration for secularization of our society just like the RL temple is expected to become.
India can go a step further. As it is we have probably all faiths and forms of worship that mankind has invented. Six populous religions are practised here - the Vedic, Hindu, Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism. Add to these Sikhism and Jainism which are, in practice, religions though they are regarded by some as panthas. We also have the Parsis with their religion. Indians have been living generally in harmony on the precondition of non-interference in religious matters - ‘the touch me not’ syndrome. The moment there was individual or mass trespassing in matters of faith the harmony got destabilized temporarily; only to be restored when sanity returned.
Let us make Ayodhya a global destination for followers of all major religions of the world. If RL belongs to all, let Ayodhya too become a home to all forms of bhakti. Let us not stop at a temple or a mosque but take the venture further and construct a Vedic Math, a Church, a Synagogue, a Stupa, an Agiary, a Gurudwara and a Jain shrine at Ayodhya. Let all these edifices be grand, serene and beautiful. Let all of them quench the thirst of their followers and motivate them to visit each other’s places of worship with humility and genuine understanding spirit. This will really send a message all over the world that India deserves to be Vishwa Guru.
This will be the proud destination to the journey starting with the RL installation..
(PS- Even as I am writing this a Varanasi district judge has ruled to allow worship in the basement of the Gyan Vaapi Masjid. Rings a bell ? A Faizabad judge had done the same in the mid 1980’s. If history is going to repeat, let it not repeat as tragedy or farce…)
- Vinay Hardikar
(The writer has been working in the public sphere of Maharashtra for the last five decades. His versatile personality has several dimensions, but the primary ones remain to be that of an established writer, journalist, editor, critic, activist, and teacher.)