Rama, the mythological god-king will continue to be the savior for ruling Hindu nationalist BJP in forthcoming Indian Elections in 2020-24, at least its realpolitik mascot and the Prime Minister Narendra Modi hopes so. To ensure that, Modi and his party-ruled Uttar Pradesh state (UP) dispensation pulled all the stops to hold the ‘Bhoomi Pujan’ , a ritual ceremony for laying foundation of the grand Rama Temple on August 5 at the deity’s purported birthplace in UP’s Ayodhya amid the Corona Pandemic which is ravaging Indian lives and livelihood more than our neighbors. Bihar will go to polls at the end of this year while Bengal and most importantly, the Hindi heartland state UP will follow in next two years and the national election is due in 2024.
A five-century old mosque was destroyed by the ‘friends of Ram Lala’ or the child-god to reclaim the Lord’s right to his cradle in 1992. The watershed in contemporary Indian history was decisive for the political Hindutva forces to move forward to national power, slowly but steadily. Indian Supreme Court in its November 2019 drew a curtain on 150 years long legal and political tussle by adjudicating in favor of the ‘friends’ on the title suit of the contested land even after calling the demolition of the mosque in modern India a ‘crime against law’. Many legal experts found it based on a convoluted priority of majority faith over historic facts and constitutional principles of a professedly secular democracy
Modi, not Rama is the new deity
Modi was the master of the ceremony as he did the Bhoomi-Pujan, the Hindu religious ritual before construction of buildings and monuments invoking Gods and goddesses in astrologically auspicious hours. He was arrayed by Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of BJP’s ideological mother, the Rastriya Swamsevak Sangha (RSS) and UP chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, a fanatic monk-politician as well as state governor and Modi’s protégé from his home state, Anandi Ben. Modi prostrated before the deity in the makeshift temple and did Bhoomi-Pujan as the ‘Swarastra-pratinidhi’ or the representative of the Indian state, still officially a secular one, at the very spot where the idol was surreptitiously placed under the mosque’s dome in 1949.
Nonetheless, the political Puja of the Prime Minister as the new deity of Hindu nationalism overshadowed the spiritual trapping of assembled Rama devotees, mainly, the monks of various orders close to the ruling RSS parivar. The SC order had asked the Centre to be the facilitator of the construction of the temple by transferring the land to a religious Trust representing primarily the monks. But the head of the trust named Ram Janambhoomi Tirthsthan Nyas, Mahant Nityagopal Das or any other godmen were not allowed to be the Jajman or rightful worshipper at the ceremony except Modi.
RSS chief was visibly the second important man seated close to him and offering the puja. The Sangh control over the new Temple was solemnized by sanctifying the nine bricks with the deity’s name embossed on them which were reminiscent of the saffron Parivar’s Shila Pujan campaign in 1989-92. This is perhaps the first major occasion in post-2014 India where the RSS chief, no constitutional functionary, shared the official space with an elected prime minister at a State function. Bhagwat claimed Sangh’s legitimacy as the new regulator of Rama legacies among a billion Hindus of infinite sects on the authority of the Lord’s ‘liberators’ when he reminded his predecessor Balasaheb Deoras who had urged them to ‘embark upon a 25-30 years long struggle’ to this end.
The presiding priest, however, was more focused on today’s power-equations as he flattered Modi as the ‘worthy son of Bharatmata’ for his deeds and prayed for more power to him in between chanting hymns to the divine pantheon. The chief minister called Modi a ‘Mahapurush’, a great man while the RSS chief eulogized his Pracharak (preacher) PM as the ‘popular’ ruler.
It was left to Bhagwat to acknowledge the role of LK Advani, the former deputy prime minister and the leader of the original Ram Janambhoomi movement in the late eighties and Asoke Singhal, the late leader of Viswa Hindu Parisad, a RSS front.
Modi was not among the front-running BJP leaders like AB Vajpai, later a prime minister and his buddy Advani. The latter, once a mentor of Modi and later an irritant to the young prime ministerial aspirant, could not share the limelight in Ayodhya at the twilight of his life. Officially, he and few other old-guards still face criminal charges related to the mosque demolition.
Linking past to present
A little hindsight is likely to help the new generation readers to locate the trajectory of the current hoopla since the global and national scenario in between 1979-1992 and time onward. It was the time when both Berlin Wall and Soviet Union fell and Afghanistan became the hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism, thanks to US-Saudi- Pak axis. Two Indian prime ministers were assassinated over botched military campaigns against religio-ethnic armed separatism, namely, Khalistan for Indian Sikhs and Tamil Elam for Sri Lankan Tamils while insurgency in Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley also erupted. The Hindu right wing seized the opportunity of global- national ideological vacuum and political instability. They harped on the majority insecurity by tuning up to growing Islamophobia and other minority insurgencies.
More pressingly, the new-born BJP with its RSS Brahmanical and anti-Muslim ideology was threatened by the surge in new type of caste-based identity politics over the reservation for Other Backward Castes, mainly the rising middle stratas among the Homo Hierarchicus, in government jobs and education, The VP Singh government’s move to implement Mandal Commission recommendations on reservations, unnerved BJP, his partner in the then ruling Janata Party, an anti-Congress hotchpotch. The temple-mosque conflict in Ayodhya was still a local issue among various Hindus and Muslim claimants since the colonial period. However, the RSS-BJP brainstorming session in 1984 identified as the choicest weapon to fight the ‘Mandal politics’ with ‘Kamandal (urn of holy water carried by Brahmin priests) politics’.
The appeal for Hindu unity to keep Brahminical caste hierarchy intact against the threats of new caste wars could only be cemented by raising a Hindu hysteria against the ‘historical enemy’ and contenders for power, the Muslims. Ayodhya is located at the heart of the Hindi heartland, the breeding ground of both Hindu and Muslim communalisms even before the Partition of India. Hitherto an ancient but small religious town, known for both syncretic and divisive beliefs, was transformed into a national Armageddon in the late eighties.
Like all religious jingoists, the BJP- RSS Ram Janambhoomi movement has been playing on ‘historical victimhood’ or ‘medieval wrongs,’ perceived or real, perpetrated by Muslim rulers of pre-British India. Though never proved conclusively either in the court and in historical-archeological scholarship, their narrative has continued to insist on the purported destruction of an original Rama temple by the army of Babar, the first Mughal ruler of North India. ‘The 500 years old wound and trauma’ of the Sanatan believers, the Hindu traditionalists was harped constantly during the government-run ceremony on Wednesday.
The glee over the modern revenges for ancient and medieval destructions was unmistakable among the Saffron VIPs present. No matter how much the ideas on human progress have changed after the age of conquerors of all faiths who razed places of worship on religio- political grounds in addition to plundering divine wealth.
However, the saffron brigade were careful not to mention the demolition of the Babri mosque while recalling the ‘fallen soldiers of Rama and their sacrifices during the liberation struggle’. Their victimhood came to fore as Modi-Bhagwat-Yogi reminded the repression of the Temple warriors by non-BJP governments.
Moditva: Rabid religious nationalism plus new-con corporate cronyism
By no means a moderate as his records in the role of a RSS preacher and chief minister of Gujarat in early last decade had witnessed, Modi , however, had maintained some distance from Ayodhya movement while hard-selling himself as the Messiah of inclusive economic growth in the run-up to his prime ministerial campaign in 2014. All his populist promises for the miraculous economic recoveries and financial deliveries to masses have miserably failed while his crony corporate houses are making hay with proactive government support. Nevertheless, he has romped back to power in May 2019 with bigger share of seats in the parliament by employing the time-tested twin strategy of whipping up majoritarian Hindu hysteria against Muslim minority and war-mongering against neighboring Islamic Pakistan which was curved out of mother India 73 years back.
Since then, his government has been aggressive in pursuing the RSS original agenda of demolishing the secular democratic constitution of the postcolonial Nehruvian era and replacing it with the ideals of establishing Hindu Rashtra. The surge in Hindu nationalism in mainland India, particularly in greater Hindi heartland that includes Modi’s Gujarat which has been hotbed of communal riots for long has helped to abrogate the constitutional special status of Muslim-dominated Jammu &Kashmir state as well as abolish the state itself by dividing it into two centrally-ruled Union Territories.
The Choice of D-Day was deliberate
No doubt, the coincidence of the first anniversary of the annulment of J&K to the Bhoomi-Pujan in Ayodhya on the same day was deliberately planned to send a clear message to the core support base of BJP-RSS. The visible contrast between Kashmir and Ayodhya was too stark. The normal life in Muslim- dominated valley stood standstill under a yearlong lockdown looked occupied under gun-toting jackboots while Hindu nationalists rulers celebrated ‘liberation’ of Rama’s birthplace in Ayodhya the epicenter of their Temple-mosque politics.
The juggernaut has not stopped in Kashmir to Ayodhya. After establishing the ‘one nation, one constitution’ rule in Kashmir and initiating a grand Rama Temple at the bank of river Saryu, Modi and his party has been swift in moving towards an unitary, over centralized and majoritarian state to ensure ‘one election, one party, one leader’ rule with a presidential form of government. His introductions of National Register of Citizens and a National Population Register, first used to weed out the ‘doubtful’ voters, Muslim ‘infiltrators’ from Bangladesh in Assam and an amended Citizenship Act institutionalizing denial of Indian citizenship to Muslims from neighboring Islamic countries– all are meant to disenfranchise mainland Muslims while consolidating the demographic and electoral base for a BJP-ruled majoritarian and steamrolled nation-state or Hindu Rashtra.
The new official narrative of Indian history
Modi and Bhagwat’s speeches after the Bhoomi Pujan have made it amply clear that they would use the upcoming Rama Temple for strengthening their master narrative of Hindu religious nationalism or jingoism in next polls. Hailing lord Rama as the unifier of India across regions, castes and genders as well as the most vital link between our past and present, they claimed their lineage from Valmiki to Buddha, Kabir to Gandhi in order to obfuscate RSS-BJP lies and debauchery about the teachings of those ancient and modern teachers. Both conflated anti-British freedom struggle and the divisive Ram Janambhoomi movement to confuse today’s youth, the demographic mainstay of today’s India about the quintessential differences between their hate-politics and our fragile but time-honored pluralist ethos of Indian civilization as well as modern secular nationalism shaped during our freedom struggle.
This queer mixing of Gandhi and his killer Godse suits the master pretender best as he promised to herald us into Rama Rajya or the reign of Rama; the proverbial rule of the just and compassionate god-king in a land of milk and honey, even if the protagonist of new Ramayana is the epitome of warlike vainglory of ancient divine’s demon challenger, the Ravana.
Secular Democrats in retreat
But the Devil must be given his due. He and his chums are on cloud nine as Hitler and Mussolini had enjoyed in their heydays. The latter’s ghosts are again ruling the roosts as neo-fascists like America’s Trump, Russia’s Putin, China’s Xi, Turkey’s Erdogan and Israel’s Netanyahu are playing up varieties of populist nativism and religio- racial majoritarianism based either on former imperial glory or historical victimhood. In fact, Modi and Erdogan as well as their domestic Opposition parties are copy-pasting each other as Turkish opposition’s support to their neo-Ottoman president’s reconversion of historic Hagia Sophia into a mosque has underlined.
In India, the main Opposition party, Indian National Congress is still running like a headless chicken as its reaction to the foundation-laying ceremony for the Rama temple has proved. In earlier decades too, successive Congress governments which tried to run with the hares while hunting with the hounds had only lost the struggle for winning Hindu majority minds to the single-minded and aggressive BJP. Rest of the secular democrat as well as Left parties are on the retreat, both ideologically and organizationally. In these dark hours, people across faiths, ideologies and parties who still believe in the idea of pluralist India and the world must go for honest self-introspection to fathom what went wrong with us and how to turn the table on the murderous communalism and religious nationalism in the name of Rama & Rahim, Christ & Buddha as well as Bharatmata (Mother India).