Covid-19 is surging and the economic wreckage is piling up, but the focus this week will likely be on the ‘bhoomi poojan’ for the Ram Temple in Ayodhya and the first anniversary of stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status. Both events are on the same day, August 5.
Removing Article 370 had been there for longer on the BJP’s agenda – since the Jana Sangh days of the early 1950s. The agitation for the Ram Temple started only in the early 1980s. Right now, the attempt in the ruling establishment seems to be to talk up the temple while avoiding confrontation over Article 370 – which for the BJP is done and dusted. Read in Tamil
Major political functionaries of the establishment have avoided joining issue with voices emanating from the Valley – Omar Abdullah or Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter Iltija – and appear to be careful not to raise the jingoistic pitch to mark one year of the dilution of Article 370.
The intention could be to ensure that the planned events in Ayodhya are not overshadowed – but it also suggests an effort at not aggravating already frayed nerves in the Valley. The issue has generated some heat in the courts, but has not travelled beyond them.
On the temple by contrast, the noise is louder – so much so that the former Congress chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Kamal Nath, has issued a video message welcoming the construction, and the Congress chief minister of Chhattisgarh has highlighted the works he is pushing around a place linked to Lord Ram in his state.
The most significant signal though, will be in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the events that will be covered live by the national broadcaster.
When the Somnath Temple was rebuilt in 1951, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had made clear his disapproval of President Rajendra Prasad’s involvement with the inauguration. On August 5, Modi will signal the end of this hesitation that was built into the Nehruvian view of Indian politics. With the Supreme Court having paved the way for the temple, the ruling establishment is keen to put its permanent stamp on the event.
The reason why Kamal Nath or Bhupesh Baghel are keen to not allow the BJP to claim the temple entirely for itself is that they realise that any perceived ambivalence about Ram would be held against them in these polarized times. They have seen how the BJP has milked historical events earlier.
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“The difference of opinion between Patel, Munshi and Nehru is illustrative of two different ideas of Bharat. Pandit Nehru was not anti-Bharat but his idea of Bharat was rooted in an Eurocentric school of thought. On the other side was an idea of Bharat rooted in this soil and tradition,” RSS joint general secretary Manmohan Vaidya wrote in The Indian Express in December 2018. Vaidya praised the role of Nehru’s cabinet colleagues Sardar Patel and K M Munshi in the reconstruction of the Somnath temple and the defiance of President Prasad in the face of Nehru’s disapproval of this “Hindu revivalism”.
Modi’s big challenge at the moment though, remains the Chinese incursions in Ladakh. The goal of a return to status quo ante seems far still. Let us wait for the signals from the Chinese side this week after Sunday’s round of Corps Commander-level talks.
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