In one divisive stroke on 5 August 2020, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, destroyed all that was sacred and secular to the people of India. He participated in the ‘bhoomi pujan’ (laying the foundation stone) of the Ram Mandir ; in doing so he sent the nation a loud and clear message that the Constitution of India (which enshrines some of the greatest of values) no longer matters, for India has now become the ‘Hindutva Republic’.
Siddharth Varadarajan, the well-known political analyst and editor of ‘The Wire’ says it all in a very erudite and hard-hitting YouTube presentation (which is going viral) ‘Demolition Men Do Not Build Nations’. Varadarajan says, “What do you do if you belong to a political party that never fought for India’s freedom against the British? You will fabricate a new history and a new set of dates so that the importance of August 15 is downplayed. That is precisely what Narendra Modi did when he tried to compare August 5- the date he laid the foundation for the Sangh parivar’s temple in Ayodhya – with the freedom struggle! In reality, August 5 will go down in history as a day that celebrates the triumph of vandalism and destruction over renewal and regeneration, crime and illegality over law and justice, fiction and fabrication over reality and truth.”
Varadarajan was referring to the Prime Minister’s presence at the ‘bhoomi pujan’ and his speech which followed in which Modi said, “ Friends, several generations devoted themselves completely during our freedom struggle. There was never a moment during the period of slavery that there was not a movement for freedom. There was not a place in our country where sacrifices were not made for the freedom. 15th August is the embodiment of sacrifices of the lakhs of people and a deep yearning for the independence. Similarly, several generations have made self-less sacrifices for several centuries for the construction of the Ram Temple. Today marks the culmination of that centuries-old penance, sacrifices and resolve. There was sacrifice, dedication and resolve during the movement for the construction of the Ram Temple and that dream is being realized today because of their sacrifices and struggle. I, on behalf of the 130 crore people of the country, salute them and bow before them for their sacrifices which have led to the foundation of the Ram Temple. Today, all the powers of the Universe, everybody who was involved in the sacred struggle for the construction of the Ram Temple, are watching this programme. They are all very happy and blessing this occasion”.
The freedom struggle reflected all that was sacred and secular in India: the blood, sweat , toil and tears of millions of Indians who belonged to and represented the rich pluralistic fabric of the country in which the ideals of the Constitution are sacrosanct, have virtually come to naught thanks to the presence of the Prime Minister at the ‘bhoomi pujan’. It would have certainly won him brownie points among the ‘bhakts’ and will surely become a ‘key item’ to garner votes in future hustings! But that is not what the idea of India is all about; it is not what a nation which is set to leap into modernization, should be flaunting. It is setting the clock back several years; when Governments and so-called leaders are unable to deliver on governance and respond to the cries of the people, what they the ordinary people is ‘religion’ full of trappings as is painfully evident in the PM’s speech. One cannot help but be reminded of what Karl Marx said years ago, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”.
When the long-awaited verdict on the contentious issue of the disputed land in Ayodhya was finally delivered by the Supreme Court on 9 November 2019, many felt it was flawed. The judgement came after a 70-year old conflict filled with acrimony, divisiveness, hate and violence between sections of the Hindus and Muslims of the country. At the core of the issue was the Ram Mandir – Babri Masjid dispute: was there a temple on the place where the Masjid was built? To whom should the land be given to?
For the five-member Constitution bench headed by the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices S. A. Bobde, D.Y.Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S. Abdul Nazeer delivering the verdict was not an easy task – given the fact that the dispute was one of the longest in the country’s history and secondly, it has always been a very emotional issue between the country’s majority community: the Hindus and the largest minority community: the Muslims. The verdict was a unanimous one, relying on the findings of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)
Some of the key points of the 1054pages landmark judgement include that:
· the entire disputed land of 2.77 acres in Ayodhya must be handed over for the construction of a Ram Mandir
· the Central Government has been directed to formulate a scheme in this regard within three months. A Board of Trustees must be set up for construction of temple
· the findings of ASI report cannot be brushed aside as conjecture
· ASI reports indicate that the Babri Masjid was not built on a vacant land. The underlying structure was not of Islamic origin. The faith of Hindus that the place is birth place of Lord Ram is undisputed.
· an alternate suitable plot land of 5 acres in the town must be allotted to the Sunni Waqf Board for construction of a mosque
· the destruction of Babri Masjid in 1992 was a blatant violation of law
· the rights of Ram Lalla to the disputed property is subject to maintenance of law and order and communal harmony
· the suit by Nirmohi Akhara was time barred
· the Ram Janmabhoomi has no juristic personality. But Ram Lalla, the deity has juristic personality
· the Suit by Sunni Waqf Board is maintainable and not barred by limitation
· the Sunni Waqf Board has not been able to prove adverse possession. There is evidence to show that the Hindus had been visiting the premises prior to 1857
· there is evidence to show that Hindus worshiped in the outer courtyard of the disputed site. As regards the inner court yard, there is no evidence in the suit by Sunni Board to show exclusive possession prior to 1857
There has been sufficient deliberation and debate in the country, on this particular judgement; most legal luminaires and other intellectual can effortlessly point out to its many flaws and how it does not address certain vexatious issues. The judgement ironically still remains unsigned; the then Chief Justice who presided over this bench has been suitably rewarded, by this current dispensation.
The Government and the Sangh Parivar were surely in a tremendous haste. So on 5 August 2020 the ‘bhoomi pujan’ of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya finally took place. It marked the beginning of the construction work for a Ram temple, at the site where the Babri Masjid once stood. The construction of the temple is expected to take three years and the costs, yet undisclosed, will surely run into astronomical amounts. The Babri Masjid – Ram Mandir fight, has been one of the most contentious issues in post-independent India. It has resulted in plenty of bloodshed, destruction, violence, hate and divisiveness.
Prime Minister Modi did participate in the ‘bhoomi pujan.’ He went there not as a private citizen but as a Constitutional authority, who is expected to protect and promote the secular fabric of the country. Despite pleas from several sections of society that he should not participate in the event, he threw all caution and propriety to the wind, in order to display his true colours (he stopped hiding them a long time ago). The majority of Indians are Hindus; but thanks to the vision and ideals of our Constituent Assembly secularism was allowed to flourish with (at least theoretically) all religions treated with respect and allowed to grow. In a last ditch effort more than three hundred leading citizens of the country urged the Prime Minister not to participate in the bhoomi pujan saying, “ The Constitution of India makes it clear that the government and Prime Minister should remain neutral to, and above all religions, thus upholding the values of secular India. The Prime Minister going to Ayodhya to lay the foundation of the temple undermines our secular framework, and clearly endorses the majoritarian Hindutva agenda, despite his claims of building an inclusive India. It implies the negation of the Constitutional values. Mr. Modi is not just an individual citizen. As the Prime Minister and head of the government today, he should take special care to make sure that he is not seen as partisan towards with one faith or religion. This is especially as, notwithstanding the court verdict, Ayodhya continues to be a disputed issue”. Besides this, there have been several others who have protested the Prime Minister’s presence at the ‘bhoomi pujan’.Of course, the Prime Minster cared two hoots about what they or for that matter anybody else said!
In the pathbreaking judgment of 1994 of ‘ S.R. Bommai vs Union of India ’ , secularism was recognised as part of the basic structure of the constitution; Justice Jeevan Reddy held that the constitution does not recognise or permit mixing religion and state power, and the two must be kept apart. The judgement states, “ if the Constitution requires the State to be secular in thought and action, the same requirement attaches to political parties as well. The Constitution does not recognise, it does not permit, mixing religion and State power. Both must be kept apart. That is the constitutional injunction. None can say otherwise so long as this Constitution governs this country. Introducing religion into politics is to introduce an impermissible element into body politic and an imbalance in our constitutional system. If a political party espousing a particular religion comes to power, that religion tends to become, in practice, the official religion. All other religions come to acquire a secondary status, at any rate, a less favourable position. This would be plainly antithetical to Articles 14 to 16, 25 and the entire constitutional scheme adumbrated hereinabove. Under our Constitution, no party or Organisation can simultaneously be a political and a religious party.”
India is a secular democratic country in which there is a clear division between the State and Religion. Our Founding fathers and the Constituent Assembly ensured that. Now that the Prime Minister has participated in the bhoomi pujan means that he has not only desecrated what is sacred and secular in the country but he has destroyed it.
In a rather strange coincidence, exactly 120 years ago (on 5 August), Rabindranath Tagore, our visionary Nobel laureate wrote a poem “Deeno Daan”. It was also about a temple. It has been going viral these past few days; (Here is a loose translation of some of the excerpts)
“There is no god in that temple”, said the Saint.
The King was enraged;
“No God? Oh Saint, aren’t you speaking like an atheist?
On the throne studded with priceless gems, beams the golden idol,
And yet, you proclaim that’s empty?”
“It’s not empty; it’s rather full of the Royal pride.
You have bestowed yourself, oh King, not the God of this world”,
Remarked the saint.
The King frowned, “2 million golden coins
Were showered on that grand structure that kisses the sky,
I offered it to the Gods after performing all the necessary rituals,
And you dare claim that in such a grand temple,
There is no presence of God”?
The Saint calmly replied, “in the very year in which, twenty millions of your subjects were struck by a terrible drought;
The pauperized masses without any food or shelter,
Came begging at your door crying for help, only to be turned away,
They were forced to take refuge in forests, caves, camping under roadside foliage, derelict old temples;
And in that very year
When you spent 2 million gold to build that grand temple for your God,
That was the day when God pronounced:
“My eternal home is lit by everlasting lamps,
In the midst of an azure sky,
In my home the foundations are built with the values:
Of Truth, Peace, Compassion and Love.
The poverty stricken puny miser,
Who could not provide shelter to his own homeless subjects,
Does he really fancy of giving me a home?”
That is the day God left that Temple of yours.
And joined the poor beside the roads, under the trees.
Like emptiness of the froth in the vast seas,
Your mundane temple is as hollow.
It’s just a bubble of wealth and pride.’
The enraged King howled,
“Oh you sham cretin of a person,
Leave my kingdom this instant’.
The Saint replied calmly,
“The very place where you have exiled the Divine,
Kindly banish the devout too”.
Prophetic words indeed! The Prime Minister would do the nation a great service by reading it and realizing that the great sages of old still speak to us and expect us to act wisely!
*( Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights and peace activist/writer. Contact: [email protected])