Hey Ram! Did Congress Miss The Poll Bus (Again)?

Hey Ram! Did Congress Miss The Poll Bus (Again)?

The manufactured propaganda, choreographed publicity blitzkrieg and hysteria around the ceremony are a clear indication of how the BJP is trying to milk the event for its electoral gains

A L I ChouguleUpdated: Monday, January 22, 2024, 02:36 AM IST
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Consecration of the Ram temple today, made into a national event by the BJP and its ideological associates will have Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the centre of religious rituals and ceremonies, just as he was on August 5, 2020, when amid the Covid pandemic he laid the foundation stone of the temple. There is little ambiguity about the consecration ceremony being an all-out BJP show – the saffron party has left no stone unturned to make it a memorable event. The dilemma for the Congress was whether to go to Ayodhya or not to go to attend the Pran Pratishtha.

With the Lok Sabha election just a few months away, the Congress’ dilemma was precisely this: if its top leaders stayed away from the consecration event, the party would have to counter the BJP charge of being anti-Sanatan or anti-Hindu and if they did attend, they would end up playing into the BJP hands and getting drowned in the saffron party’s hype of fulfilling its years-old promise of constructing a grand Ram temple. Given that the mega event is being viewed as an unabashed attempt to combine religion with politics by the Opposition parties, the Congress leadership’s decision, after two weeks of indecisiveness, to stay away from the ceremony did not come as a major surprise.

Like the CPM, the Congress declined the invitation by categorically terming the ceremony as one that has been turned into a “BJP/RSS event”. It said religion is a personal matter, but the BJP has “made a political project of the temple in Ayodhya”. Leave aside how locks of the disputed structure were opened in 1985, the Congress’s position on the Ram temple has been consistent with its opposition to the demolition of the Babri Masjid by the Hindutva forces. Even though, after the Supreme Court (SC) judgement on the Ayodhya case, Congress supported the construction of the temple, its opposition has been to the BJP’s politics of Hindutva – making the temple a central point of religious and political triumphalism.

Though the SC judgement has enabled the construction of the temple, it is a fact that the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 was a criminal and egregious act. Since then, Hindutva politics has expanded itself on the shoulders of injustice and insensitivity towards the Muslim community and appeasement of the majority community. Barring the Left parties, none of the political parties have taken a firm stand against the perpetuation of majoritarian politics using the Ram temple as an instrument to create a Hindu common sense. Therefore, from the secularist point of view, the Congress’ non-attendance at the consecration ceremony needs to be appreciated, given that it is a BJP-choreographed event projected as an achievement of Hindutva and majoritarian politics.

The inauguration of the half-constructed temple – which the Hindu scriptures and tradition forbid – is mired in controversy with the Shankaracharyas boycotting it. The Congress has amplified the boycott by the Shankaracharyas and questioned the BJP on why it is in a hurry to perform Pran Pratishtha in an incomplete temple. The Shankaracharyas believe that the Hindu Shastras do not permit one to perform Pran Pratishtha of a deity in an incomplete temple. They have also claimed that the consecration ceremony is being conducted in haste to reap political and electoral benefits.

The manufactured propaganda, choreographed publicity blitzkrieg and hysteria around the ceremony are a clear indication of how the BJP is trying to milk the event for its electoral gains. The pliant media has aided and abetted the BJP’s goal by not questioning how the political celebration by the Union government and its ministers of the consecration ceremony is not a violation of the secular constitution, which separates religion and the State. It is quite clear that the hype around the consecration ceremony is aimed at deflecting attention from the more pressing issues of the common people. This raises an important question: Will the Congress regret not attending the ceremony and electorally, will it prove suicidal?

There are three views on this. One, the religious significance of the Ram temple cannot be discounted. However, as a principal Opposition party with a pan-India footprint, it is only the Congress that has been battling the “divisive, anti-democratic and fascist” forces and their majoritarian agenda represented by the RSS, BJP and Modi. After much deliberation, the Congress has done what is consistent with its ideological position. It now needs to take it forward by mounting an ideological opposition to the communal frenzy that is being sought to be created with the success of the Ram temple project.

There are reports of strong voices within the Sangh Parivar, which consider that the demolition of the Babri Masjid was just the beginning and there is a long list of mosques that may be targeted in future. The Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi, the Shahi Idgah Mosque in Mathura, and the Sunheri Mosque in Delhi are a few examples of “disputes” that have become suitable sites to keep the communal pot boiling. Who else but the Congress, the biggest Opposition party, can counter such a polarising narrative? Looking beyond electoral politics, the Congress leadership, by declining the invitation has shown that it is ready to fight the BJP on ideological grounds.

The second view is that since politics is a lot about optics and narrative, Congress has lost a Ram-given opportunity to woo Hindu voters. By deciding to stay away from the ceremony, it may have handed over victory to the BJP on a platter concerning the forthcoming general election. However, the third view is that despite the big media trying its best to boost the Ram temple event in the BJP’s favour, India’s political landscape is no longer one-sided. Notwithstanding some dissonance in the INDIA bloc regarding seat-sharing in some states and despite huge propaganda on the temple ceremony, the BJP is likely to face a tough challenge to garner a significant majority in the upcoming parliament election.

This is because positive results flowing from Ayodhya and polarisation being sought to be created on religious lines in quest of electoral gains seem unlikely. The reason: throughout the regions where the BJP matters in substantial measure and where it had won 80 to 90 per cent of seats in the last general election, there is not much scope for improvement. Moreover, the east-to-west Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, recently launched under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership and supported by INDIA parties, may also be a key booster for the Congress.

Irrespective of the electoral outcome in the upcoming general election, the religious polarisation around the Ayodhya event may be an appropriate moment for the Congress to connect with its roots and stand up for secular values and principles – at least more than 60 percent of the Indian people who did not vote for the majoritarian politics of the BJP.

The writer is a senior independent Mumbai-based journalist. He tweets at @ali_chougule

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