22-kilogram silver brick marks the symbolic laying of the foundations of what is promised to be a grand temple to Lord Ram at the spot in Ayodhya where the disputed Babri Masjid once stood. There are those who see this as the culmination of a long battle to reclaim the site or protect it. One side lost, the other won. There are also many who say that both sides, and all those in between, lost. Such have been the wages of using religion to divide the people. Those from the winning side are led by the Prime Minister in Ayodhya. But is it the end of a battle or merely a milestone, albeit an important one, in a battle that continues to rage in the hearts and minds of many citizens?
“Since man is a moment in astronomic time, a transient guest of the earth…a composite of body, character and mind…,” as the historians Will and Ariel Durant wrote, we must ask not only of the celebrations or frustrations of today but equally of how the act of today might stand in the light of a latter-day assessment. That will of course depend on who makes that latter-day assessment, or when it is made, and that may well depend on which way India goes from here. This is significant because the events of today carry the colour of a conquest, not the mark of conciliation or cooperation. It is not insignificant (though it may well be a coincidence) that August 5 also marks the first anniversary of the removal of Article 370 in the troubled state of J&K. There are barricades across J&K and a curfew for two days. There are laddus being distributed in Ayodhya. The imagery is just too stark to be missed. But what we do tend to miss is that in the midst of all this, China has crossed the line.
The Prime Minister’s party can now say they met the electoral promise as outlined in the 2019 manifesto: “We reiterate our stand to explore all possibilities within the framework of the Constitution to facilitate the construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya.” Now that the electorate gave the BJP a mandate, and a robust one to boot for a second time running, the story had to be drawn to a close. The long-running serial had to end. And for the BJP, it’s in good time as well. This is as close to the important Assembly elections in Bihar as it could get. The inauguration of the temple itself is set for a time that will be close to the next national elections.
In the longer term, the dynamic that the colour of a conquest unleashes cannot be easily fathomed. To understand this, we can look back to ask how and why is it that the Indian cultural ethos, the belief systems, the philosophical base of the most fundamental of inquiries into the nature of the universe – all of this has taken birth, grown root, flowered, survived, even thrived through millennia without any hint of a conquest from the side generating this mighty body of knowledge? This is the knowledge that has informed generations on the path to good living. So, do we now need militant Hindutva to “protect” what the most-violent of invaders could not destroy? Or will this variety of “protection”, mixed with a generous amount of naked political self-interest and a lot of prejudice, be the exact kind of attack that will undermine this heritage?
It is well said that “no civilization anywhere in the world, with the probable exception of China, has been as continuous as that of India. While the civilizations of Egypt, Babylonia and Assyria have disappeared, the ideas emanating from the Vedic times continue to be a living force in India.” That comes from the official Indian Gazetteer recordings on Hinduism, which also notes: “Receptivity and all-comprehensiveness, it has been aptly stated, are the main characteristics of Hinduism. Since it has no difficulty in bringing diverse faiths within its ever-widening fold, it has something to offer to almost all minds.”
The strength of Hinduism, said Monier-Williams, lies in its “infinite adaptability to the infinite diversity of human character and human tendencies.” He wrote: “It has its highly spiritual and abstract side suited to the philosopher, its practical and concrete side congenial to the man of the world; its aesthetic and ceremonial side attuned to the man of poetic feeling and imagination; and its quiescent, contemplative aspect that has its appeal for the man of peace and the lover of seclusion.” There is peace, not violence; poetry, not militancy. That is the way the story has often been told, and offers a sense of pride, and is celebrated. That is also the secret of long-haul survival and growth in an everlasting inquiry into the human condition.
Who should understand this better than the RSS, not only at the top but across the line with some of the acclaimed professionals and high achievers who are among its ranks – officially as members or the many who offer unofficial support from the outside? A story helps illustrate this well. This is from the time the RSS was banned by the PV Narasimha Rao government after the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid. In Nagpur, in an interview around those days with this writer, a functionary of the RSS was completely unperturbed. He said it did not matter that the RSS was banned; the organisation could well take another name and continue with its work. What he understood quite correctly was that an organisation is not about outward structures and forms, which can be banned, but about the thought that cannot be banned. It is the thinking that will continue to exert and generate its own energy and action.
The question therefore is what are we thinking today? How do we look at the rich heritage of Indian thought that has enlightened the path for so many for so long? Will militant Hindutva, marked as it is by violence, pushed by power, and driven as an agenda at the cost of goodwill and togetherness, make for a nation that modern-day Indians would want?
Some will say that today is probably not the best day to ask these questions. Or maybe it is! And if we do ask them, the answers might tell us that August 5 may not be the greatest day in the history of India.
The writer is a journalist and a faculty member at SPJIMR. The Billion Press.