Only a Grand Gesture can slay communal sentiment
Handing over the three holy sites to Hindus would ensure communal harmony.
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.