The bhoomi pujan of the grand Ram Temple at the very place of birth of Ram at Ayodhya is a historic event for multiple reasons. While the BJP national executive resolution demanding construction of a Ram Temple at Ayodhya at the 1988 Palampur session gave a big impetus to the cause, the campaign was truly a mass movement. The moot question is whether the changes triggered in the Indian polity by the Ram Janmabhoomi movement are going to be institutionalised.
The answer to this question depends on several factors: First, whether political parties would refrain from vote bank politics; second, if the Muslim community would choose the Hamid Dalwai approach or go for the Asaduddin Owaisi way; third, whether the opinion-making classes stick to their traditional outlook while analysing identity politics or show openness and amend their approaches.
These factors are important because the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was not confined to the construction of a grand Ram temple. The demand for the temple had become a powerful symbol of the public unrest against a politics of appeasement and minority-ism, indulged in for electoral gains by the Congress and others. The Congress took an otherwise divided Hindu society almost for granted.
It was seen as afraid of being viewed as siding with the Hindus, even at the cost of showing absolute disregard for a justified Hindu cause. A case in point was the needless hesitation first, and later, strong opposition from the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to the participation of President Rajendra Prasad at the inauguration of the reconstructed Somnath temple in the 1950s. While Nehru was apprehensive about the “wrong signals” the President’s participation may give, the latter went ahead while reminding Nehru that as government “we are neither irreligious nor anti-religion”. But sadly, the Congress continued with its disregard towards all issues related to Hindu sentiments. This emboldened Muslim communalists to hijack the polity.
Key guiding principles of the Constitution became victims of this perverse secularism. The constitutional position on the abrogation of Article 370 and common civil code continued to be violated for decades, ironically, in the name of secularism. A politics of “hurt emotions” resulted in the endless pampering of minorities, eventually giving impetus to the mobilisation of Hindus as Hindus.
The Ram Janmabhoomi movement achieved at least three things. First, the brazenness with which minority politics was indulged in earlier is no more to be seen. Remember terms such as pseudo-secularism, minority appeasement, and minority-ism that Lal Krishna Advani contributed to the political lexicon? Today, the number of occasions warranting the use of such terms has been drastically reduced. This is because of the deterrence created by the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.
The Ram temple movement has also created consciousness about Hindu ethos. For decades, moves like changing the name of Allahabad, Mughal Sarai railway station or New Delhi’s Aurangzeb Road would have caused a huge brouhaha. Today, there are only feeble murmurs. Nehru could afford to openly oppose Rajendra Prasad’s Somnath programme, his great-grandchildren cannot even think of such a move.
Going beyond the temple, every Hindu must realise that unless caste discrimination is abolished lock, stock and barrel, a common consciousness and Hindu unity will remain a chimera. Muslims must realise that it is wrong to see the temple movement as anti-mosque or anti-Muslims. The Indian ethos, with spiritual democracy at its core, can never accept rulers imposing their way of worship by destroying other places of worship. The destruction of Ram temple by Babur was a historic wrong, which is being corrected today.
In this context, Lokmanya Tilak’s description of Shivaji’s attack on Afzal Khan is educative. Tilak wrote: “Shivaji killed Afzal Khan because he was an impediment in his path towards Swarajya. He didn’t kill him simply because he was Muslim. Had that been the case, Shivaji wouldn’t have sent Afzal Khan’s wife safely and honourably back to Vijapur after presenting her some ornaments. All have to work for the nation, disregarding caste or religion.”
This article first appeared in the print edition on August 5, 2020 under the title ‘Temple As Turning Point’. The writer is president, the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, and a Rajya Sabha MP of the BJP