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Counter-narrative or silence: Congress faces tightrope walk on Ram Temple

While the party understands that any “false step” could hurt its prospects further in the Hindi heartland, a section of its leaders believes the Congress should shed its silence as the BJP looks to consolidate its Hindutva base by recentering the Ayodhya issue.

Salman Khurshid seeks counter-narrative; Kamal Nath welcomes temple.

Ahead of the ground-breaking ceremony for the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, the Congress is caught on the horns of a dilemma— how to enter the bhoomi pujan discourse, or whether to enter it at all.

While the party understands that any “false step” could hurt its prospects further in the Hindi heartland, a section of its leaders believes the Congress should shed its silence as the BJP looks to consolidate its Hindutva base by recentering the Ayodhya issue.

The Congress appears to be circumspect about commenting politically on the event — with the Ayodhya movement and Babri masjid demolition having impacted the party the most in the heartland. While it lost upper caste votes to the BJP, the Muslims – disheartened with the P V Narasimha Rao government’s failure to prevent the demolition – shifted to regional parties like the SP and RJD.

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Read | How Ayodhya is preparing for Ram temple bhoomi poojan amid Covid protocols

Last November, the Congress had welcomed the Supreme judgment on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit case and declared that it was in favour of construction of a Ram Temple. But the party has been virtually silent now, though former Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath welcomed construction of the temple and Digvijaya Singh asked PM Narendra Modi to defer the event citing “inauspicious” timing.

A Congress spokesperson last week reiterated that the party had welcomed the SC judgement, but the party avoided getting drawn into questions about leaders like PM Modi attending the event amid the pandemic, saying the decision on “the participants, the methodology, the infrastructure, the decision solely rests with the trust and the concerned individuals, who have been invited to participate on this holy occasion”.

“The BJP and RSS have encashed it multiple times. They always benefit politically. There is a nationalism fervour (over China)… polarisation… all these consolidate the move towards a majoritarian state. But we unfortunately cannot be seen on the other side. It will cost us politically …,” a senior leader told The Indian Express.

Opinion | A temple for Bharat

Former Union minister Salman Khurshid said a counter-narrative has to be told. Asked about the guest list for the event, he said, “If they are making it a political event… we should ensure that our position is that if you accept Lord Ram as not of just some people but of all people, excluding some people from paying obeisance to him is a disservice to Lord Ram. This is a counter narrative that has to be told. We have to tell the counter narrative.”

Another leader said the party’s Uttar Pradesh unit should have said that it was the Rajiv Gandhi government that had allowed the opening of the locks of Babri Masjid in 1986 and permitted Shilanyas there three years later.

Not many agreed, though. “The BJP and RSS have earned the right to celebrate. If we say something, it will be nothing but a cock and bull story,” one leader said.

“Will it make any difference if we talk about the 1980s… it is better to welcome construction of the mandir… you have no space on that platform,” a leader said.

Sources said the party is thinking about a way to enter the debate. “Questioning the PM’s presence etc is futile. Has the country stopped functioning during corona? Why should we say that for the sake of criticism? It will be interpreted as if we are opposing the Ram mandir,” a leader said, underlining the tightrope walk the Congress faces.

Khurshid said he has no problems with construction of a Ram temple. “It is a fact of life we have to recognise. It is a fact of life that does not give perfect justice in the eyes of some people. But it is approximate justice in the best possible circumstances…”

Meanwhile, the CPM on Monday said the “takeover of the bhoomi pujan ceremony at Ayodhya by the UP administration along with the central government involvement at the highest level of the Prime Minister goes against both the Supreme Court verdict and the letter and spirit of the Constitution of India.”

“The Supreme Court verdict also condemned the December 6, 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid describing it as a criminal act. Far from punishing those guilty, the involvement of the Central/state governments must not provide retrospective legitimization for this destruction,” the CPM said in a statement.

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