The rise of the proud, global Hindu

The Ay­o­d­hya move­ment re­de­fined sec­u­lar­ism, brought the po­lit­i­cal Hindu to the cen­tre stage

Hindustan Times (Gurugram) - - Comment - SWAPAN DASGUPTA Swapan Dasgupta is a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment (Ra­jya Sabha) The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

The pan­demic is cer­tain to en­sure that the bhoomi pu­jan of the pro­posed Ram Jan­mab­hoomi temple in Ay­o­d­hya on Au­gust 5 will be an ex­tremely sani­tised af­fair, de­spite the ex­tra­or­di­nary sig­nif­i­cance of Prime Min­is­ter (PM) Naren­dra Modi’s pres­ence. No doubt the oc­ca­sion will be solemn and will be marked by the pres­ence of a few hun­dred guests, care­fully cho­sen for their con­tri­bu­tions to a move­ment that has dra­mat­i­cally al­tered the pol­i­tics of In­dia and the men­tal­ity of a ma­jor­ity of Hin­dus.

Yet, it will be a very dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sion from the shi­lanyas on Novem­ber 9, 1989, when Kamesh­war Chau­pal, a Dalit, was spe­cially cho­sen to lay the first con­se­crated brick for the temple at a spot that the Congress gov­ern­ment of the day had, af­ter much ag­o­nis­ing and cal­cu­la­tion, deemed to be undis­puted. The day had a special sig­nif­i­cance: It co­in­cided with the fall of the Ber­lin Wall, an event that cul­mi­nated in the col­lapse of the erst­while Soviet Union. It also marked the first oc­ca­sion in in­de­pen­dent In­dia that there was a mass mo­bil­i­sa­tion of kar se­vaks in Ay­o­d­hya for the con­struc­tion of a Ram temple and, by im­pli­ca­tion, the re­moval of the 16th cen­tury Mughal shrine that had, how­ever, been func­tion­ing as a Ram temple since 1949.

What the ju­rist Nani Palkhivala de­scribed as the Ay­o­d­hya years were heady times marked by high emo­tion­al­ism and po­lit­i­cal po­lar­i­sa­tion. Be­gin­ning with the con­se­cra­tion of nearly 200,000 bricks from all over the coun­try and cul­mi­nat­ing in the 1996 gen­eral elec­tion that saw the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dis­place the Congress as the largest party in the Lok Sabha, In­dia was in fer­ment.

On the face of it, the mass mo­bil­i­sa­tion of Ram bhakts was aimed at the con­struc­tion of a temple on the spot where lord Ram was be­lieved to have been born — a quasi-re­li­gious move­ment that also in­cor­po­rated the de­mand to right a his­tor­i­cal wrong. How­ever, the sig­nif­i­cance of the Ay­o­d­hya move­ment was more far-reach­ing.

First, the move­ment re­opened a de­bate that had been left de­lib­er­ately in­con­clu­sive by the found­ing fa­thers of the Repub­lic: The mean­ing of sec­u­lar­ism in the In­dian con­text. The premise that the In­dian State would main­tain a mea­sure of equidis­tance from all faiths and show equal re­spect to all be­liefs was un­der­stood. The Con­sti­tu­tion also guar­an­teed statu­tory pro­tec­tion to mi­nor­ity re­li­gions. At the same time, de­spite the at­tempts by mod­ernists to rise above all forms of sym­bol­ism, it was gen­er­ally ac­cepted that the cul­tural un­der­pin­nings of In­dian na­tion­hood were, looselyspe­ak­ing, Hindu — but not ex­clu­sively so.

This loose con­sen­sus based on good sense and mu­tual ac­com­mo­da­tion was bro­ken in 1976 when, at the height of the Emer­gency, Indira Gandhi in­jected the term sec­u­lar­ism into the Con­sti­tu­tion. Hitherto, sec­u­lar­ism had been un­der­stood in spirit, but never writ­ten into the rule book of public life. The im­me­di­ate con­se­quence of this shift to “pro­gres­sive” pol­i­tics were at­tempts at a cod­i­fi­ca­tion of Jawa­har­lal Nehru’s be­lief — as elu­ci­dated by his of­fi­cial bi­og­ra­pher S Gopal — that “the prob­lem of mi­nori­ties was ba­si­cally one for the ma­jor­ity com­mu­nity to han­dle. The test of suc­cess was not what Hin­dus thought but how Mus­lims and other com­mu­ni­ties felt…” Trans­lated into sec­u­lar­ist pol­i­tics, this im­plied that Hin­dus must live in a state of per­ma­nent mag­na­nim­ity, and, in the realm of com­pet­i­tive pol­i­tics, never as­sert them­selves as Hin­dus. The Ay­o­d­hya move­ment chal­lenged this pseudo-sec­u­lar­ism — LK Ad­vani’s coinage that ac­quired pop­u­lar­ity in the 1990s — frontally.

Sec­ond, in at­tempt­ing to re-es­tab­lish the Hindu un­der­pin­nings of In­dian na­tion­hood, the Ay­o­d­hya move­ment brought the po­lit­i­cal Hindu to the cen­tre stage of public life. There was un­de­ni­ably an el­e­ment of faith in the move­ment for a Ram temple, but its mass ap­peal owed al­most en­tirely to a po­lit­i­cal con­text. There was the out­break of sep­a­ratism in the Kash­mir and the ex­pul­sion of Hindu Kash­miris from the Val­ley, a mo­men­tous de­vel­op­ment that the sec­u­lar par­ties chose to brush un­der the car­pet. Then there was the Ra­jiv Gandhi gov­ern­ment’s in­fa­mous U-turn on the Supreme Court’s Shah Bano judg­ment that sought to ef­fect mi­nor re­forms in Mus­lim per­sonal laws. These, plus the pre­var­i­ca­tion over the Ram temple and a tacit en­dorse­ment of the de­mo­li­tion of the Babri shrine on De­cem­ber 6, 1992, con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cantly to the be­lief that Hin­dus must have a dis­tinc­tive voice in pol­i­tics to over­come the sec­tional veto. This man­i­fested it­self loosely in the elec­tions of 1996, 1998 and 1999, and then more pow­er­fully in 2014 and 2019.

Hin­dutva, as de­fined by Veer Savarkar in the 1920s and 1930s, was too ide­o­log­i­cal for pop­u­lar tastes and its ap­peal was lim­ited, es­pe­cially when pit­ted against Ma­hatma Gandhi’s lead­er­ship of the na­tional move­ment that res­onated with Hindu sym­bol­ism. The new Hin­dutva that evolved af­ter the post-lib­er­al­i­sa­tion rise in liv­ing stan­dards blended cul­tural pride with a sense of na­tional as­sertive­ness.

The Ay­o­d­hya move­ment was an im­por­tant in­put in forg­ing this new men­tal­ity and Naren­dra Modi be­came its icon. But whereas the first phase of the Ay­o­d­hya move­ment was de­fined by mass mo­bil­i­sa­tion, civil un­rest and an out­pour­ing of pas­sion, its post-1996 ar­tic­u­la­tion was marked by a quiet con­fi­dence that comes with the aware­ness that the main bat­tle has been won. Ay­o­d­hya helped shape the trans­for­ma­tion of the meek Hindu and the sub­mis­sive Hindu into a proud Hindu and even a global Hindu, along the lines Swami Vivekanand­a had hoped for.

The mon­u­ment to lord Ram, built on the site of an an­cient temple, could yet be­come a pow­er­ful sym­bol of resur­gent na­tion­hood.

The new Hin­dutva that emerged postlib­er­al­i­sa­tion blended cul­tural pride with na­tional as­sertive­ness

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