What does the obsessive pursuit of the current regime to ensure a picture perfect execution of the ritual of Bhoomi Pujan (worshipping the soil) for the Ram temple at Ayodhya on August 5 depict? What does the decision of the government to permit and assist the ceremony amid the COVID-19 pandemic, even after Union Home Minister Amit Shah tested positive and at least two cabinet ministers decided to self-isolate themselves, show? In years to come, much after the planned temple is built, how would the event be assessed -- from the viewpoint of taking forward the sangh parivar narrative on the temple? Will this be seen as closure of a chapter that has seen much bloodshed, or will it stand out as the opening of a fresh chapter whose narrative lines are well-etched by now?
Before answering these questions, it is important to make sense of the claim that the Bharatiya Janata Party made several times over, after emerging as a serious challenger to power in 1991, that it was not a "single-issue party”. Essentially, it meant that although fanatical about the demand to build a Ram temple, the party was also concerned about other matters. The Bhoomi Poojan at 'this time' when government agencies and coordination could have been put to better use, not mentioning the huge risk involved, shows that the BJP remains fixated on a central issue, except that this has been considerably so over the past 28 years.
It is no coincidence that the date of the function was chosen to coincide with the first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370. At one level, the din from Ayodhya will overwhelm any possible sounds of protest from the Valley. But more importantly, it seeks to connect the first item of the religio-cultural agenda with the government's step last year, to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its statehood and special status. It connects the two issues, as also the other 'landmark' decision to criminalise instantaneous divorce among Muslims -- popularly referred as the triple talaq issue, by the primary intention to demonstrate to Muslims that they are children of a lesser god at the least, if they are Indian citizens. The decisions on Kashmir and the Ayodhya campaign were driven with the idea of asserting Hindu hegemony, not just over religious minorities, but even on those Hindus who disagree with the sangh parivar's worldview.
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The sense of this changing reality has been palpable for long. Many would claim that despite intentions, the progressive group among founders of the Indian Republic were unable to integrate the two communities and build a genuinely secular polity. From the first Lok Sabha elections onwards, minority representation in legislature was always a matter of 'adjustment'. It was ensured that there was 'justification' in ensuring election of Muslim nationalists in legislatures -- even a leader of the standing of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was fielded by the Congress party from constituencies -- Rampur and Gurgaon -- where large Muslim presence provided 'explanation' for his nomination.
Yet, it was the BJP which created a Hindu electoral constituency in the 1980s through the Ram Janmabhoomi Andolan, although it took almost two and half decades before this could be harnessed by the party from 2014 onward. It is paradoxical, but the Muslim League took almost the same time in Imperial India between creating the Muslim constituency in the 1920s and then, enlisting it to vote almost en bloc for it in the 1946 elections. The BJP and its followers may get incensed whenever they are likened as Hindu Pakistan, but eventually they have metamorphosed this country into one which justifies Pakistan poet, Fahmida Riyaz's lament: dost, tum hum jaise nikle (Friend, you turned out to be just like us).
At a psychological level, the yearning to establish supremacy over the 'other' is evidence of deep-seated inability to forge oneness within -- due to caste fissures -- while considering the 'other' as a homogenised entity and a threat to oneself. The BJP has milked this diffidence and the inarticulated sense that, it would have been better if partition was 'complete' and this nation mirrored its western neighbour with Hinduism enshrined in the Constitution as State religion.
By securing the disputed land in Ayodhya by legal, although questionable, means and by altering the basic character and relationship of Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of the country by constitutional processes, this government demonstrated that pursuit of its politics and transmogrification of the Republic is possible by teasing the frontiers of the Constitution with a little assistance from a pliable judiciary. This became further evident in the course of the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act and the response of the judiciary so far. Even the cases filed against members of the civil society on trumped up charges and for instigating communal riots in the Indian capital, are part of this strategy to use existing laws to subvert rule of law by hollowing out institutions and creating an imaginary network of 'anti-nationals'.
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The Ram temple's Bhoomi Pujan has to be seen in this perspective, and it cannot be ignored that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityannath had played the lead role in shifting the Ram Lalla idol in March, within hours of nationwide lockdown being imposed and in violation of regulations the Centre had laid out. Close scrutiny will reveal that the imminent ceremony, too, is being mounted by trimming several regulations applicable to others, especially organisations and for people of different faiths.
In years to come when the entire chronology of the construction of the Ram temple is written, it is possible that all that would survive of this event is a photo-frame of Prime Minister Narendra Modi being the star of the show. This ceremony may even get confused with the shilanyas ceremony on November 9, 1989 -- ironically the day when the Berlin Wall was torn down -- which remains the event which converted the Ram temple issue from being a religious demand into a political pursuit.
By a quirk of 'destiny' Shah misses out, while the Yogi secures permanence in the frame and maybe more, in times to come. Sympathetic historians of the future will, however, find it awkward to erase the name of Advani as the architect of the agitation as much the present leadership may want. Modi's presence is evidence of his Achilles' heel for not letting an opportunity slip past in securing a place in the pantheon of Ayodhya heroes, as the person who 'delivered' when it appeared a tad difficult on numerous occasions.
The writer is a Delhi-based writer and journalist. ‘The Demolition: India At The Crossroads’ was his first book published in 1994. He is currently working on a new book on the issue. He tweets @NilanjanUdwin