A sense of deep agony and outrage has gripped a section of the thinking class since the bhoomi pujan at Ayodhya by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 5. Many who belong to this class see the death of liberalism and secularism because of the event, while others foresee rise of a Hindu Rashtra.
These critics have lamented that only a “liberal and secular state" can keep India united. A Ram temple — at the place where the Babri Masjid once stood — is an anathema to the “very idea of India” or whatever it means.
Of course, the most depressed among the “secular-minded” have even gone to the extent of reviving the idea of proportional representation as a way of justice for the Muslims, inviting even ridicule from their own lot.
A day after Modi performed bhoomi pujan for Ram temple at Ayodhya, a few leaders (claiming to be representatives of Muslim community in India) averred that his participation is against the spirit of secularism mentioned in the Constitution. Some used the social media to send out a message to the effect that “Babri Masjid was, Babri Masjid is still there and it would continue to remain.”
For them, the spectacle of a prime minister performing the bhoomi pujan in Ayodhya does no credit of India, which is home to more than 200 million Muslims. Interestingly, the “secular-minded” section has also felt betrayed by the actions of the Congress leaders — as they did not let go the opportunity to take credit and recall the role of Rajiv Gandhi, who had as then PM allowed the shilanyas in 1989. By their logic, the Congress is too responsible for a situation that has let the BJP gain because of the verdict of the Supreme Court.
The irony is that, all these years, the thinking class wanted everyone to accept the Supreme Court’s verdict — no matter whether it favours the Hindus or the Muslims. But, once the apex Court settled the Ayodhya dispute, they could not hide their disappointment. Their logic appears to be if the Supreme Court gives a decision in favour <of those whom they support, then the spirit of the Constitution has been upheld. But if the top court decision is not up to their mark, they won’t mince words to even insinuate the judiciary.
In fact, what we are seeing today is that those who could not openly oppose the Supreme Court’s verdict in favour of Ram temple last November for obvious reasons have hit out at the August 5 event at Ayodhya. Naturally, many sought to draw comparison of the Ram temple with the rebuilding of the Somnath Temple under the orders of then Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel after Independence.
The temple was completed in May 1951. But India’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru had objected to President Rajendra Prasad inaugurating the temple (which houses one of the 12 jyotirlingas and is witness to repeated destruction by invaders after reconstruction).
As we know, Rajendra Prasad wrote to Nehru that he did not see any objection to associating himself with the function as he had never "ceased visiting temples" of various religious faiths. Nehru replied to him that, “I confess that I do not like the idea of your associating yourself with a spectacular opening of the Somnath Temple. This is not merely visiting a temple, which can certainly be done by you or anyone else, but rather participating in a significant function which unfortunately has a number of implications.” Again, Rajendra Prasad wrote to Nehru asserting that the Somnath temple had been built entirely with private subscriptions and he was not doing anything extraordinary if he associated himself with the function, as he visited other places of worship whenever he felt inclined to do so.
This time too, Opposition leaders like CPI(M)’s Prakash Karat have suggested that Modi should have known that Nehru objected to Rajendra Prasad inaugurating the Somnath temple on the plea that a secular State cannot patronise or fund the construction of a religious place of worship.
However, these critics do not admit that the government of India is not spending any money for the Ram temple. Funds are already pouring from the public into the coffers of the Trust tasked with the building of the temple.
Ultimately, the real test of secularism is whether the PM or his government has done anything that only benefits a particular community at the expense of others. Could Modi have avoided going for the bhoomi pujan when the BJP had reiterated in elections after elections that the Ayodhya temple was a “cultural commitment”?
Modi was present at the event because he believed many of the 130 crore Indians would have wanted him there as the PM. A visit was not needed for him now just to draw extra political mileage for himself. If the court’s verdict and the bhoomi pujan seemed to suit the BJP and its ideological mentor RSS, it is because they had made the issue as part of their long struggle.
The Congress dilly-dallied as it thought its brand of “composite secularism and nationalism” would keep everyone happy.
The “secular” critics also conveniently forget the days when the Congress prime ministers (and those supported by the Congress and the Left) threw Iftar parties at official residences and visited Muslim seminaries and religious congregations.
The big question is can secularism in India die repeatedly? It was supposed to have died when Modi won the 2014 elections and returned to power again with a greater mandate in 2019.
There are some hopefuls among the “secular class” who believe that, with the Ram temple and Article 370 done, the BJP would soon run out of its core issues and the pitfalls of governance would come to stare on its face. But Modi cannot easily lose the focus on issues of governance and economy even if it is tempting for the Hindutva-baiters to think that the UCC (Uniform Civil Code) and NRC (National Register of Citizens) are next on the agenda.
The writer is a former Senior Associate Editor of Hindustan Times and Political Editor of Deccan Herald, New Delhi