The nationally broadcast 'bhumi poojan and shilanyas' ceremony for the Ram temple performed at Ayodhya by Prime Minister Modi in person on August 5 was a spectacular programme in its own right -- notwithstanding the strict compliance of Covid restrictions by all concerned -- and it undoubtedly marked a watershed moment for the ruling party in terms of the political goodwill that the event would turn out for it for the long run.
What certainly would not go unnoticed is the remarkable speech of the Prime Minister on the occasion that was as profound in content as any religious discourse on Ramayana -- with all its versions -- could be and as powerful in enunciation as any national address would be in presenting Lord Ram as an ideal not merely of Hindus but as an icon of the entire world in today's times. The Prime Minister began by saying that the building of the Ram temple fulfilled the aspirations that Hindus had 'for centuries' and paid his respect to all those who had worked for it and made sacrifices for its cause. He brought out how Ram symbolised truth, duty, compassion for the downtrodden, acknowledgement of even the smallest help rendered by anyone and a rule that took care of all subjects.
The Prime Minister emphasised that 'Ram belonged to everybody', reiterated that Mahatma Gandhi's Ram Rajya envisaged all the ideals of Ram and explained how in a large number of countries around India following different religions -- Indonesia being a prime example -- the legacy of Ramayana was alive to this day. Apparently, keeping in view the current context of developments on the Chinese front, he pointed out that according to Ram 'there was no respect without fear' -- Ram had said this when the Lord of Ocean was not providing a passage to Ravan's Lanka -- and reaffirmed that India had to be strong enough to deal with any hostile forces outside.
The Prime Minister spoke as a pious Hindu, as an upholder of inter-community harmony and as a staunch nationalist -- all at the same time. The Ayodhya temple is now becoming a symbol of national pride and resurgence for vast sections of Indians even though some elements were still bent upon keeping it up as a lingering cause of Hindu-Muslim divide in domestic politics. Ram temple is a game changer for India in the sense that it has established the deeper image of this country as the land where cultural richness existed in the times pre-dating the advent of the Prophetic religions. This inheritance could no more be disregarded in the play of the 'secular' card that many parties took to, for pleasing a particular community.
That was bad politics. The 'exclusivism' of any faith that rejected the validity of other religions and cultures was bound to run into rough weather in India and if it was rooted in the contention that the world was a place without any 'civilisation' just 1,500 years ago, then that would be a blind end for its followers. Also, democratic India cannot allow power-sharing on the basis of religious identities -- the experience of 1947 provides a learning for all times to come -- and so long as the nation is governed on the principles of total freedom of worship, 'one man one vote' and the political executive at the apex carrying no denominational stamp, the argument of India shifting towards 'majoritarianism' will hold no water.
Certainly, unlike the Islamic Republic in our neighbourhood, the Democratic Republic of India puts all its citizens on the same footing. It is a pity that many of the Ulema and the elite here leading the Muslim minority politically have started disparaging even the concept of nationalism and decrying suggestions about saluting the national flag and singing the national anthem in moments of patriotic pride. The common people belonging to all communities in India had no such reservations -- they share common concerns of livelihood, health and education. If the Modi government pledges to ensure 'development for all' and 'equal protection of law for all' then it is practising 'secularism' without having to tom-tom this borrowed word. Muslims like members of any other community of India are 'equal' not 'special' citizens of this country. It does not matter if Hindus are in a majority as voters -- it does not dilute the merit of Indian democracy. The Ram temple of Ayodhya adds to India's benevolent identity in the world without hurting the interest of any section of Indians. Because of the historical controversy about its location, the construction of this particular temple no doubt was presaged by a political catharsis that had to ultimately yield to an objective way out through a judicial verdict -- this being the highest form of solution finding in a democracy.
Politics in India cannot be run perpetually on the legacy of Partition -- there should be no further attempt to bring in Pakistan in the psyche of Indian Muslims or to project Kashmir as a Muslim issue rather than a 'territorial' dispute that it really is -- with a part of the state being still under the occupation of Pakistan. In fact, there is no reason why the political leadership of the minority should only be in the hands of Muslims and why would Muslims not lead parties that had membership in all communities. As regards the people of Jammu and Kashmir, they can press the Centre for any demand since the state is an integral part of India -- what is important is that they come out of the subversive influences of the agents of Pakistan. They must unequivocally condemn Pakistan for infiltrating terrorists in the name of Mujahideen in the Valley -- many leaders of the so-called 'mainstream' parties remain unambiguous about this for their own political reasons. These parties still have to account for their silence on the violent ouster of the Pandits from the Valley by the Pak-guided Islamic militants in the beginning of the Nineties.
Equality of opportunity is important and so is the benefit accruing to the poor being made available regardless of caste, creed or region. So long as India is governed by a clean leadership positioned through an impartial election that permitted only legitimate campaigning, so long as the citizens had personal freedoms and equality of treatment from the state and so long as integrity, merit and a nationalist outlook were put on a premium in appointments, there is no place for sectarian politics in India. This country has the right to project its cultural and progressive heritage for promoting national consolidation and unity. Restoration of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya makes that point -- it does not detract from the reality of all citizens here enjoying the same personal, social and political rights. Beyond the diversity of styles of worship there are cultural values and a moral framework that binds all Indians -- not to impose one's wishes on others is at the core of these. Indians have been kept divided by political vested interests on the basis of caste, creed and region and the sooner this malady in public life ends the easier it would be for the country to speed up towards its modern goals.
Prime Minister Modi demonstrated a great clarity of vision when he closed his address at Ayodhya by laying emphasis on how 'Ram was a modernist' -- the values of selfless discharge of duty, honouring friendship, opposing the evil, embracing the poor and the socially weak and bestowing respect on the sages who were custodians of 'knowledge', define modernity in the true sense. In India, Ram is not a symbol of religion but a guide for living a purposeful life. It should not come as a surprise if many leaders continue with their politics of putting Muslims against Hindus in the context of Ayodhya. On the day of 'shilanyas' of the Ayodhya temple by Prime Minister Modi on August 5, Imran Khan, Pakistan's PM was exhorting the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir to go all out to oppose their 'subjugation' by India and inaugurating a Resistance Wall at Muzaffarabad on their behalf -- on the completion of one year of abrogation of Art 370 by the Indian Parliament.
What the country has to guard against is the possibility that agent provocateurs instigated domestically or from outside may create strife and even use the event of 'bhumi pujan' of the Ram temple to foster faith-based militancy. Both the Centre as well as the states must step up vigilance against the offensive conduct of any community. Well meaning forums and individual leaders should spread the word that the Ram temple marked the recognition of India's moral framework and cultural wealth that was unnecessarily denied so far -- it was not at the cost of any section of our integral society. Ayodhya has rekindled a new belief in India's national identity -- resting on pursuit of truth, brotherhood and prosperity flowing out of fulfilment of duty and dedication to work. If some of it translates into added political support for the ruling party, this is part of democratic freedom enjoyed by the people here.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)
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