Nandi’s eternal wait at Gyanvapi is symbolic of the sorrow, perseverance and hope of a civilisation. The hope is not only for the restoration of deities to their rightful places and the rebirth of temples but also for an end to the denialism and delusion that has plagued the Indian polity for too long. Kashi is an open and shut case like Mathura and many other places. There is no real controversy over the fact that these mosques were built after the destruction of the temples by medieval Islamic warlords. The only “controversy” is the manufactured political rhetoric, academic obfuscation and chicanery joined by Islamist religious supremacism. The Islamist claim over Hindu sites occupied by force and violence is untenable, unethical, and, like in the case of Ayodhya, illegal.
But Islamist supremacism and aggression are being provided intellectual cover by the usual suspects on the left and liberal spectrum. This has been a trend since the 1920s. The Kashi case is portrayed as a conflict between religious obstructionism and modernity, and appeals are being made to reject the past to build an enlightened secular future. This argument is both conceptually and theoretically flawed. First, it’s about truth and justice and not modernity or obstructionism. Second, it assumes that there is some standard model of modernity or universal values like secularism, and the only task is to impose them forcefully. Third, it assumes that the past is dead, and a cut-off date of August 15, 1947, can decide between the old and new.
It is a liberal delusion that past, present and future are disjointed. But the past continues to shape the present and future. And no society can be detached from its past and unique trajectory. Ignoring the complex social formations and inter-community relations that evolved over centuries can only lead to disasters, as demonstrated repeatedly across the world. And Hindus and Muslims share a tumultuous past that has never been openly acknowledged. There has never been an honest Hindu-Muslim dialogue despite them not agreeing on the big questions of the day as a political community. No amount of academic jugglery and intervention can alter the ground realities.
The obsessive appeals to secularism have no legitimacy when it is always deployed in the service of the Islamic cause and is never used to challenge the Islamist agenda. Secularism is also an uncomfortable fit outside Western Europe and America, whose unique experiences gave birth to it. There is growing evidence of the crisis of secularism across the world. It is not the fault of those societies or people not being secular enough. It is due to unrealistic expectations from societies whose historical experiences, evolution and intellectual traditions are in dissonance with secularism. India has no word for secularism in any classical language because the concept or idea never existed. India managed its unparalleled diversity and pluralism using its own framework.
Secularism comes under great stress when dealing with the presence of two Abrahamic religions in a polity. And it becomes a harbinger of discord and conflict when other non-Abrahamic religions are also present because it privileges expansionist Abrahamic religions over others. The doctrine of the “basic structure” is itself a violation of the basic structure of the constitution because the Constitution envisioned no such arbitrary doctrine or gave effective veto power to an unelected judiciary.
The appeal to the Place of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 may still have some legitimacy if not for the violent anti-farm laws protests and open rioting to oppose CAA supported by those now appealing to the sanctity of the legislation passed by Parliament. The 1991 Act is draconian. It was passed without any consultation with or regard for the affected communities, bars judicial review, mandates an arbitrary retrospective cut-off date, and closes the constitutional and legal route to justice for an entire community.
Then there is the argument to protect the post-1947 social and political compact with its socialist-secular core. Such nostalgic arguments mistakenly assume that the old system is worth saving, that it had popular legitimacy and that it can be saved. It produced only misery and regular riots. It could neither produce economic growth, social upliftment or cultural rejuvenation. It was always a top-down imposition by an ultra-minority of urban elites and collapsed as democratic deepening accelerated after the ’80s. It can’t be saved, not the least due to the utter incompetency of its champions, busy mocking Hindu beliefs, demonising Hindus and ridiculing their concerns and civilisational aspirations. They are trying to do to Shiva what they did to Rama and Ayodhya for decades. They clearly do not understand Shaivism or the undercurrents and faultlines at work.
The way forward is to accept the burden of the past and restore the Hindu sites — the only ethical thing to do. A grand bargain, something which should have been done in Ayodhya in the 1980s itself.
(The writer is National Vice-President, BJYM)
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