The freedom movement for Indian independence and a free India stood against the mighty British Empire and sounded the death knell for colonialism across the world. By comparing it to an agitation to build the Ram temple, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has devalued the freedom struggle.
Mani Shankar Aiyar has asked of Congress leaders, “……rather than competing with them to determine who is more Hindu – the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)? We should be asking instead who is more secular, the Congress or the BJP?” (The Hindu, 6th Aug 2020) This question, however, is as much for the BJP as it is for the Congress itself. While posing this question, the Congress needs to be confident about what secularism has achieved for India.
The BJP has ridiculed the Congress and other parties for practicing pseudo-secularism, even though it pitted Hindutva against secularism. An alternative to pseudo-secular practices is secularism, and can never be any sort of religious identity-based politics. The Congress and other parties, perhaps due to their guilt from having deviated from true secularism, never mounted a counter-attack on the BJP by explaining what India has gained from secularism.The freedom movement and secularism were closely intertwined, and one cannot view either of it in exclusivity. More importantly, secularism and independent India’s unity and integrity depended upon each other. If the Muslim League’s focus on a religious minority resulted in the partition of British India, it was independent India’s secularism that led the country to tremendous stability and democracy. The negation of secularism is equivalent to undermining the unity and integrity of the country. However, undermining secularism is impossible without devaluing the country’s independence struggle. Therefore, it was obvious for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to equate an agitation to build the Ram temple with that of India’s freedom struggle. By doing so, the Prime Minister attempted to lift the temple agitation to the level of freedom struggle. But this has resulted in the devaluation of the grandness of the freedom struggle by comparing it to the agitation of lumpen and frenzied masses.
The freedom movement not only achieved sovereignty for India, but also enacted one of the best constitutions in the world. It resulted in India adopting democracy and the rule of law, along with promoting scientific temper and secularism. The Prime Minister compared the temple agitation with this grand phenomenon, and that is unthinkable. The temple agitation wanted to build a temple for Lord Rama on the site of the mosque. Subsequently, it succeeded in demolishing the mosque and now it will certainly build a grand temple on the same site. The covert intent of the temple agitation has been to institute the rule of the majority under the garb of democracy; justifying mob frenzy against the rule of law; establishing superiority of faith over scientific temper, and replacing secularism with Hindutva as the state ideology.
Mahatma Gandhi’s emphasis on truth and non-violence was the central pillar of India’s freedom movement, whereas the temple agitation has been mostly based on myths, falsehoods and violence. The entire agitation was built around the myth that the Babri Mosque was built on the exact spot where Lord Rama was born. Even when the Supreme Court failed to acknowledge that the disputed site in Ayodhya is the birthplace of Lord Rama, there was no outrage from the saffron brotherhood. Rather, the Chief Justice who delivered the verdict was honourably nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the Modi government. The same verdict did not verify the claim that the Babri Mosque was built over the temple or by destroying the temple, and yet this is a falsehood that has been spread like wildfire by the temple agitation. Furthermore, despite there being no proof that the temple was razed to make way for the building of the mosque, the new temple will be sold to the adoring public as the birthplace of Lord Rama and as a symbol of revenge over Babar.
Those who stood against the temple agitation precisely argued that there has been no historical or archaeological evidence about the exact birthplace of Lord Rama or the destruction of the Ram temple on the disputed site. The Supreme Court, in the same judgment, condemned the act of the demolition of the mosque in 1992 and asked that the guilty should be punished. The violence involved in the destruction of the mosque and in the temple agitation in general was unprecedented in post-independent India. The temple agitation, as led by the RSS and its affiliate organizations, has been the anti-thesis of India’s freedom movement. On this count, it can be compared only with the Muslim League’s agitation for a larger than proportionate share of power for the Muslim community. The Muslim League’s demands were based on the myth of religion as the basis for power sharing, false perception about the intent of the Congress leaders, hatred for the majority community and the justification of violent methodologies.
One of the most difficult, and hence very significant, achievements of the Congress party in the aftermath of freedom was to reject the trap of being the mirror image of Pakistan. This was only achieved with democracy and secularism. The temple agitation succeeded in undoing it with majoritarianism and Hindutva. It has almost repainted India as the saffron mirror image of the green shades of Pakistan. Wherein the Muslim League’s Two-Nations’ Theory collapsed with Pakistan’s partition in 1971, its mirror image politics in India will also meet its logical end. The question is how much damage it will do to India in the process.
India came into existence on 15th August 1947 as an independent country, and immediately aspired to be a modern society. In this context, the Congress should ask the BJP what the fate of the freedom movement would have been if it was built on the belief system and methods of the temple agitation. The Congress must tell everyone loud and clear that it was never in favour of any agitation for the temple, but always advocated patience for a judicial verdict on the matter. The Congress can ask the BJP the simple question as to what would have happened if the Supreme Court had not awarded the Hindus the disputed site for the construction of the temple. Would the BJP have willingly or grudgingly accepted another verdict the way all the parties opposed to the BJP have accepted it now? The least the Congress must ask the BJP is the question as to whether Mahatma Gandhi would have approved of the methods of the temple agitation. It leads us to the oft-repeated yet fundamental question as to why the father of the nation was killed in 1948. Wasn’t his murder committed on the grounds of secularism? This is a question that is bound to surface, along with many others, because the Prime Minister has compared the temple agitation with the freedom movement.
सदर – सत्योत्तरी सत्यकाळ
परिमल माया सुधाकर
7th Aug 2020