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An affront to Gandhi’s Ram

IT was a day to celebrate and cheer for the ruling party. It was a day to reflect and worry for India’s future. It was a day for the BJP to show what many say is its trump card in the run-up to the general elections due in May.

According to this view, the grand but all too rushed inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya was aimed at securing votes, like the way the killing of security personnel in Pulwama did in 2019, or as the politically induced communal carnage in Muzaffarnagar was used in 2014.

It was a day for the opposition to calibrate its response, quietly, a day when Rahul Gandhi battled obstacles in the BJP-ruled Assam in his east-to-west march for unity and justice. It was a day when Mamata Banerjee offered puja at a Durga temple in Kolkata to call for a needed campaign for communal unity. It was the day when several key opposition leaders politely turned down the invitation to visit Ayodhya.

It stands to reason that the most critical foil to the BJP’s religious-nationalist card in the coming elections is INDIA itself, the alliance that powerful regional satraps knit together with the resolve to defeat Prime Minister Modi with a decisive headcount. The opposition is not unaware that National Socialists had 37 per cent votes when Hitler came to power, almost exactly the count that the BJP got in 2019. But one doesn’t have to be irrational about these things.

There’s a difference between the Nazis of Germany and the current strength of Hindutva forces in India. Hitler didn’t hold elections after coming to power. That possibility doesn’t exist in India for the near future. It’s a defining difference, and it’s one the opposition plans to seize with everything it has. It must shepherd the remaining 63pc voters into a fighting unit.

There’s nothing to indicate that the premature and apparently desperate inauguration of the Ram temple would stand in the way of an opposition bid to win the 2024 polls. If the BJP hopes to exploit a daylong spectacle in Ayodhya to canvass support in the name of the new temple to Ram, that shouldn’t worry the opposition at all, provided peace prevails. Do note that the last two Lok Sabha polls were fought with the BJP foregrounding divisive violence, domestic in 2014, and cross-border in 2019.

The opposition needs a plan to counter any scope for communal friction, which many see as a possibility if the temple ploy falters. This is one of two main challenges the INDIA alliance needs to have a plan to thwart.

The other is a questionable presidential tradition. Since the opposition is gearing to fight the election as an alliance and not as a single unit, there is a real chance of a technical glitch.

Should the BJP emerge as the single largest party but without a clear majority, the president, would be technically correct to invite Mr Modi to form the government. And we know only too well how wrecking opposition parties has been honed into a craft by Mr Modi. Money would not be a problem looking at the list of the moneybags at the Ayodhya event.

There is a tradition, shown by Rajiv Gandhi, for example, who preferred to sit in the opposition in 1989, despite heading the largest party albeit without a majority. And there is the example of Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1996. Asked first, he jumped at the opportunity to be prime minister for all of 13 days. Those are the truly daunting challenges the opposition faces, not the Ayodhya event. If the BJP hopes to exploit a daylong spectacle in Ayodhya to canvass support, that shouldn’t worry the opposition at all, provided peace prevails.

We don’t know, of course, how the date of Jan 22 was arrived at for the temple inauguration by Mr Modi, but it surely meant different things to different people.

According to a TV interview by one of four Shankaracharyas that head the Hindu fold of Sanatan Dharma, a particular astrologer from Varanasi was pressed to find an auspicious day in January even though the temple was not complete and is not likely to be for quite a few more months. The idol ceremony requires the temple to be complete, the Shankaracharyas have pointed out. To what avail? There was a gamut of things happening on Jan 22 in the wider world.

An EU delegation was heading to the Middle East. Ron DeSantis quit the US presidential race as Republican hopeful to throw his weight behind Donald Trump. For the Palestinians, particularly those in Gaza, it was another day of trauma, ironically at the hands of those who were themselves victims of unconscionable brutality, but in Europe. It was a dreary day also in the uprooted lives of the victims of an unending war between Russia and Ukraine.

It was also a day when all 11 convicted rapists of a Muslim woman in the Gujarat pogroms were back in prison. They surrendered together at 11.45 pm on Sunday, reports say, to comply with the supreme court’s refusal to extend their premature release by the BJP establishment.

The apex court shot down the reprieve albeit on technical grounds. It must have been a sombre day for Bilkis Bano who, though she saw her tormentors jailed again by the kindly judges, must have sensed an entire culture of sectarianism and hate uncorked in Gujarat in 2002 now seeking divine blessings in Ayodhya.

Religion is a peculiar thing. Mahatma Gandhi was an ardent devotee of Ram, and his killer’s name was Nathuram, literally Lord Ram. It’s not unusual for this to happen. Zealots of any faith pounce on their own quite readily.

But Gandhiji’s Ram, as depicted in his favourite bhajan, was a defender of the weak and the fallen. Ishwar and Allah were harmoniously enshrined in his telling of Ram, something negated by the divisive construct of a new cult Mr Modi may have unveiled in Ayodhya.

Email: jawednaqvi@gmail.com

Jawed Naqvi, "An affront to Gandhi’s Ram," Dawn. 2024-01-23.
Keywords: Foreign relations , Foreign policy , Foreign debts , Foreign aid , Foreign exchange , Political science , Political issues