Opening the Bhakra-Nangal dam, Jawaharlal Nehru described it as a temple of modern India. Where India’s first Prime Minister faltered was that he did not build a sufficiently large number of those modern temples, such as steel mills, industrial hubs, scientific research centres and so on, for them to be able to provide, at the very least, a subsistence-level existence to her poor millions. His love affair with Fabian Socialism let India down. On Wednesday, August 5, Narendra Modi consecrated another kind of temple, a grand temple to Lord Rama, symbolising religious-spiritual power, which, he maintained, was also aimed at inspiring India’s teeming millions to achieve their real destiny. The temple whose foundation stone laying was watched by tens of millions of Rambhakts, too, was repeatedly described by him as `modern.’
Yet, unlike Bhakra-Nangal Dam, the temple to Rama was mired in controversy, by deep divisions and polarisation. Notwithstanding the hope Modi and other dignitaries expressed that the Ayodhya temple would bring all Indians together in the onerous task of nation-building, given the events leading up to August 5, 2020, we fear that the wounds of alienation and neglect exposed in the long struggle for the Ram temple are unlikely to heal anytime soon.
Modi was expectedly reconciliatory and broadminded in his address to the largely saffron-clad audience of sadhus and sants who had contributed immensely to make the long campaign for the temple successful. But there was no glossing over the sullenness of the minorities, the way the campaign for the construction of the Ram temple had become a grudge match between Hindus and Muslims.
The insistence to build the temple at the very spot where there stood a long- disused mosque erected by an invader king over five centuries ago had ruptured ties between them. The RSS-BJP and an assortment of sadhus and sants who spearheaded the campaign had gained tremendous traction in the political sphere as well, while the so-called secular parties lost ground due to their ambivalence. Hunting with the Hindu hounds and running with the Muslim hares, the Congress forfeited its erstwhile Muslim vote bank. Opposing the Ram temple campaign, and yet opening the locks of the disputed structure, where someone in 1949 had surreptitiously kept an idol of Ramlalla, and on the election-eve in 1989, permitting ‘shilanyas’ for the construction of the temple, spotlighted the secular Congress’s utter confusion.
Even now, it blunders in seeking to stake claim on the resulting political and electoral capital from the consecration of the temple, which is bound to accrue almost exclusively to the RSS-BJP. Tweets of the Gandhi scions on the ‘bhoomipujan’ in Ayodhya in the last two days reveal that they have not learned from the mistakes of their late father, whose cluelessness in reversing the Shah Bano judgment, in opening the locks and allowing the shilanyas, had marked the beginning of the end of the once monolithic Congress Party. It is all very well to assert that Ram belongs to the whole nation, that he was a civilisational idol, but shorn of the verbiage, in the political bazaar, Ram will remain associated in the popular mind with the ruling BJP. The more people like Asaduddin Owaisi continue to lament the loss of the Babri Masjid, the more they will ensure the ascendancy of the RSS-BJP. Instead, saner voices among the Muslims should most gracefully accept the verdict of the highest court in the land. Living with a sectarian past will prevent any prospect of a peaceful present and mar the future of the coming generations.
If the temple in Ayodhya applies closure to the campaign for righting the-wrongs-of-history, if it leaves untouched similar structures in Mathura and Kashi, the two communities should shed the emotional baggage of bitterness and ugly recriminations and join hands to together fight poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy. Poverty is endemic to both communities. Men of goodwill on both sides need to take the lead in applying the salve of humanity to the religious wounds. The armchair secular-liberal elements do harm to the cause they purportedly uphold by constantly pontificating about what ought to have been, instead of realising the ground reality of a nascent democratic society, as vulnerable as people in other, far older democracies are, to the raw, emotional appeal of religion and other such issues.
However, if the construction of the temple in Ayodhya succeeds in inspiring the people to devote themselves anew to the task of nation-building, it wouldn’t have been all a wasteful effort. The nation now needs to move on. And grapple with Covid-19, a sputtering economy, a threatening China on the border, etc., etc. The grand temple to Lord Rama might win a few more elections but by itself won’t solve the nation’s growing problems of economic and social distress. For that we need to build many more temples of the kind the first Prime Minister referred to but failed woefully in that onerous task.