The spectacle of a prime minister conducting the bhumi pujan for a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Rama on the site where the Babri mosque stood 28 years ago is still fresh in everybody’s mind. He performed the elaborate religious ceremony in full religious regalia, with the RSS chief in attendance. The organisation which spearheaded the transformation of a potentially secular, diverse and plural India into a Hindu Rashtra was thus given a central role in the ceremony.
What was also significant was Prime Minister Narendra Modi claiming in his speech on 5 August, the day of the bhumi pujan, that the day is comparable with 15 August, the day in 1947 when India got freedom from British rule. “Many generations sacrificed everything in India’s independence movement,” he rightly said. But he then added: “Just as 15 August is testament to the sacrifices made by lakhs of people, the Ram temple bears testimony to centuries of struggle…” He drew a comparison between public support for Mahatma Gandhi’s popular movements and said that the socially disadvantaged, the Dalits, adivasis, every section helped even helped lay the foundation for Ram temple.
A few major political parties that stand by secularism called out the lies in the outpourings of the Prime Minister. But in any case, comparing the two events is like equating chalk and cheese. There are multiple reasons why in the popular perception, the foundation of the temple and the freedom from British rule are not connected. India’s freedom movement was an epitome of democratic struggle based on truth, non-violence and inclusivity. It was not only the biggest ever mass movement in the history of the world, it also sounded the death knell of colonialism not only in India but triggered the same process in many other now former colonies.
This struggle addressed the grievances of a colonised India under the hegemonic and plundering British rule. It underlined the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. The stalwarts who participated in the making of modern India held justice as a core value for an India in the making. Religious minorities found their space to identify with it, as did the Dalits, women and adivasis participate in it with a longing for equality. During the movement, the fraternity of the country overcame the boundaries of caste, creed, religion, ethnicity and gender.
August 15 was the culmination of these democratic processes based on secularism and paved the path for a Constitution which recognises the principles that make a modern nation state. India took the path of progress with industrialisation, deepening of modern education, irrigation, foundation of institution of science and promotion of scientific temper. Secularism was the credo and it yielded rich dividends in lifting a nation that had just embarked on the path of genuine industrialisation and mass education, among other goals.
The Ram temple movement is a total contrast to all that the freedom movement stood for. Contrary to truth and non-violence, the foundations of freedom movement, the Ram temple movement was based on the construct that Lord Ram was born at the precise spot where the Babri mosque had been built. The criminal and illegal acts of installing idols of the god in 1949 and demolition of the mosque on 6 December 1992 are to be the foundations of the upcoming temple. The courts, despite at first having divided the land among the three litigants after accepting that the demolition was a crime, finally allotted the entire land of the so-called disputed site to the Hindu litigants. The court did not uphold the myth that there was once a Ram temple where the Babri mosque was, nor did it hold that the god was born precisely at that spot.
So myth, crime and violence lie at the root of the Ramjanambhoomi movement; considering that thousands died in the violence following the rath yatra and more in the aftermath of the demolition. This movement targeted religious minorities to such an extent that the Muslim community was pushed into ghettoisation, which totally contrasts the fraternity of the freedom movement.
Why then did the Prime Minister compare 5 August with 15 August? Those behind the Ram temple movement played no role fighting for freedom of the nation. Now that they are in a position of power, they are desperately in need for legitimacy. Hence their propaganda machinery underplays the achievements of India after 1947 while trying to equate their divisive movement with the inclusive freedom struggle.
The secularism which was inherent in the struggle for freedom led to the building of modern India. The communalism inherent in the Ram temple movement is going to lead to a new temple. It will push the country away from the Constitution into a dark tunnel of revivalism and blind faith. The Ram temple movement trying to revive hierarchical values and promotes blind faith. Moving away from the scientific temper has unleashed a process where faith based knowledge are bandied about as great achievements of the past. Sure the Indian past has made valuable contributions in the field of science, mathematics and astronomy, but to attribute all present achievements to “ancient Indian sages” is travesty of the truth and it will hit the brakes on our development as a society.
Irrespective of the claims of the Prime Minster, the Ram temple movement did not span centuries. A few incidents related to this dispute are recorded towards the end of the nineteenth century but the debate is as such only a few decades old—when one of the BJP’s top leaders, LK Advani, made building the temple the political agenda of his party.
The author is a social activist and commentator. The views are personal.