Only a Grand Ges­ture can slay com­mu­nal sen­ti­ment

Hand­ing over the three holy sites to Hin­dus would en­sure com­mu­nal har­mony.

The Sunday Guardian - - World -

In­dia has a stel­lar ju­di­ciary, but thanks to the coun­try’s colo­nial-era laws and ad­min­is­tra­tive prac­tices, the ease with which an in­di­vid­ual ci­ti­zen can be de­prived of his or her prop­erty or lib­erty seems ex­ces­sive to those un­able to af­ford crores of ru­pees in le­gal fees. A mere tweet or a few min­utes of YouTube ex­hi­bi­tion­ism may re­sult in prison, of­ten for a con­sid­er­able length of time. Ex­press­ing one­self in the con­fi­dence that In­dia is a democ­racy is haz­ardous to lib­erty, as in­deed is al­most any ac­tiv­ity, so vast is the power of the gov­er­nance sys­tem to pun­ish for a med­ley of “crimes” that are treated with ei­ther de­ri­sion or hu- mour else­where. By mak­ing the pop­u­la­tion so vul­ner­a­ble to the loss of lib­erty and prop­erty, an at­mos­phere is get­ting cre­ated that goes counter to the need to obey the law. For ex­am­ple, the Supreme Court ver­dict bar­ring fire­crack­ers not green and for pe­ri­ods not longer than a few hours on Di­wali, that has been ig­nored across the coun­try.

The Supreme Court has said that it has mat­ters other than the Ram Mandir to con­sider, and so put off the hear­ing of this long pend­ing mat­ter for two months. Of course, this pe­riod could take much longer. We have not been told what th­ese weight­ier mat­ters are, but those who track ground re­al­ity are aware that the post­pone­ment has cre­ated a mood across large parts of the coun­try that wait­ing for a ju­di­cial ver­dict may be an ex­er­cise in fu­til­ity. This is un­for­tu­nate, for it has long been the view of this colum­nist that only the re­turn of the three Hindu holy sites of Ay­o­d­hya, Mathura and Varanasi can cre­ate a fire­wall against the swelling tide of vic­tim­hood felt within large sec­tions of the Hindu com­mu­nity in In­dia, a per­cep­tion that bodes ill for fu­ture sta­bil­ity. Hand­ing over the three holi­est of holy sites to their Hindu broth­ers and sis­ters would be to the best in­ter­ests of not sim­ply the Hindu but equally that of In­dia’s large and over­whelm­ingly mod­er­ate Mus­lim com­mu­nity.

So fierce is the ded­i­ca­tion of Con­gress Party mem­bers to Nehru­vian sec­u­lar­ism, which is based on dis­crim­i­na­tory treat­ment to Hin­dus as dis­tinct from those be­long­ing to other faiths, that a pub­lic in­tel­lec­tual of the party such as Shashi Tha­roor be­lieves that “hav­ing the Ram Mandir in one’s heart” is prefer­able to see­ing it in stone and mor­tar at the birth­place of one of the great he­roes of hu­man his­tory. If Tha­roor truly be­lieved this, he would hand over the homes he now oc­cu­pies to the home­less, and live on a pave­ment, of course with “a man­sion within the heart”. That would set a fine ex­am­ple to all those who live the high life while swear­ing by the poor. Or who use for­eign goods al­most ev­ery hour, but talk end­lessly about swadeshi. Why the Con­gress Party in the per­son of pol­i­cy­mak­ers such as Kapil Sibal is op­posed to an early ju­di­cial res­o­lu­tion of the Ram Mandir mat­ter is clear. Sibal is part of the So­nia Old Guard, who be­lieve that they will soon re­turn to high of­fice on the coat­tails of the mis­takes made by the BJP. They see Con­gress dom­i­nat­ing the gov­ern­ment once again, and re­turn­ing the coun­try to Nehru­vian sec­u­lar­ism, in which there is no space for “Hindu” is­sues such as a Ram Mandir at Ay­o­d­hya. In the process, they will as usual with our politi­cians for­get about all that they have been ex­press­ing while out of power, words in de­fence of lib­erty and hu­man rights. Mat­ters that Sibal and his col­leagues for­got about while fram­ing one dra­co­nian law or reg­u­la­tion af­ter the other, all of which are now in the hands of the BJP gov­ern­ment to im­ple­ment. Un­ex­pect­edly, in a gov­ern­ment dom­i­nated by Naren­dra Modi, the NDA has al­most en­tirely spared the VVIPs of the UPA for their mis­deeds in a way un­likely to get repli­cated once the Op­po­si­tion Grand Al­liance takes of­fice, as in­creas­ingly seems prob­a­ble. This time around, the Con­gress Party will not be able to get the De­fence, Home, Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs and Fi­nance port­fo­lios to it­self, much less the Prime Min­is­ter­ship. The SP, the DMK, the TMC and the BSP will each be con­tenders for such prizes, and will not be will­ing to hand them over to a party they know to be a ri­val for the same voter base as their own. Vot­ers in In­dia be­ing a trust­ing lot, should Rahul Gandhi prom­ise to en­sure equal treat­ment to the Hin­dus and pledge to build a Ram Mandir at Ay­o­d­hya, his party may cross a hun­dred Lok Sabha seats. How­ever, thus far the So­nia Old Guard (SOG) seems to have the up­per hand in pol­icy, as dis­tinct from the Rahul New Guard (RNG), ex­cept in the mat­ter of words ut­tered on the cam­paign trail. In 2009, the Con­gress Party showed off Rahul and Priyanka on tele­vi­sion screens, giv­ing off a hope of youth­ful change, but when re­turned to of­fice, both were sent back to the back­rooms, es­pe­cially Priyanka, as the grey­beards once again took charge un­der So­nia Gandhi’s lead­er­ship.

The 2009 con­trast be­tween L.K. Ad­vani and the RahulPriyanka duo helped bury the BJP elec­torally in a way that would not have been pos­si­ble were Naren­dra Modi to have been made the face of the BJP cam­paign. How­ever, 2019 is not 2014, and Modi will have to bat­tle his own lack of suc­cess in mat­ters such as not tack­ling VVIP cor­rup­tion, not build­ing the Ram Mandir, and not en­sur­ing dou­ble digit eco­nomic growth. Modi’s per­for­mance may be good by past stan­dards, but by the tar­gets he set for him­self in 2014, vot­ers seem less than happy at the progress made by his Va­j­payee-era min­istry and Man­mo­han-era bu­reau­cracy. The only fac­tor that is work­ing for the Prime Min­is­ter is the sub­lim­i­nal fear within large sec­tions of the Hindu com­mu­nity that the de­feat of the BJP would lead to Nehru­vian sec­u­lar­ism, and noth­ing be­ing said or done by Con­gress lead­ers such as Sibal or Tha­roor is con­vinc­ing them oth­er­wise. In such an at­mos­phere, the post­pone­ment of the Ram Mandir is­sue by the Supreme Court has en­er­gised rather than dispir­ited the BJP base. Were le­gal decks cleared for the build­ing of the Mandir, the BJP would have lost this po­tent elec­tion is­sue.

This has been said be­fore but needs to be re­peated. A Ram Mandir at Ay­o­d­hya, a Kr­ishna Jan­mas­than at Mathura, and a re­turn to an­cient tra­di­tion at Gyan Vapi in Varanasi, would not dis­turb com­mu­nal har­mony, but en­sure it. More and more Mus­lims (though as yet few of the “Nehru­vian sec­u­lar­ists” among the Hin­dus) un­der­stand this fact, which is why they are in­creas­ingly com­ing out in favour of the Ram Mandir is­sue get­ting set­tled with the build­ing of a tem­ple on the site of Lord Ram’s birth. A Grand Al­liance can­not en­sure com­mu­nal peace in In­dia. Only a Grand Ges­ture by In­dia’s vi­brant 180-mil­lion strong Mus­lim com­mu­nity will.

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