India witnessed a `shilanyas’ on August 5, 2020, that trampled upon the `shilanyas’ of the Indian Republic performed by our freedom fighters with their blood and sweat over seven decades ago on August 15, 1947.
The shilanyas laid at the dawn of the independence gave India the distinct identity of a progressive nation with deep roots in its socio-cultural ethos developed over the centuries and ‘sarvadharma sambhav’ at its core. The shilanyas which was performed a few days ago will make it a mirror of regressive theocratic nations.
Credit goes to the Sangh Parivar for scripting an issue that in the past three decades brainwashed a vast section of Hindus to the extent that they are rejoicing over an act that lays waste the ideology of founding fathers, which developed during the freedom struggle and shaped our Constitution that guarantees fundamental rights to every citizen.
In this destruction, the role of the Congress that ruled the country for the better part of the post-independence era will be remembered as a catalyst that started the fire and has now chosen to flow with the current.
The way bhoomi pujan or shilanyas of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya was converted into a government event and held under the patronage of the Sangh Parivar chief, it formally ended (as of now) the era wherein secularism was considered as one of the guiding principles of the Indian State.
The final blow came when the organisations that played no role in India’s freedom struggle likened the Ram temple movement with the Indian independence movement. And, the people, who have chosen to wear blinkers, celebrated without even realising that the freedom struggle not only overthrew British Raj, but also ushered in cultural, social, educational, political and constitutional awakening.
However, there is no dearth of people, although relegated to a minority, for whom secularism or ‘sarvadharma sambhav’ is still a way of life. The ideology, I believe, will revive someday and become the dominant force again.
The Congress is an equal partner in the crime. By signing off her message to the people on August 4, on the eve of the shilanyas with “Jai Siyaram”, Priyanka Gandhi picked up from where her father left on November 3, 1989, when he promised “Ram Rajya” at the launch of his Lok Sabha election campaign from Faizabad-Ayodhya to pander Hindus. The public meeting was held a week before the first shilanyas performed by Sangh Parivar after getting permission from Rajiv’s government.
Priyanka’s move may give some direction to the grand old party which remained entrenched in a dilemma for three decades whether to endorse Lord Ram publicly or not and eventually pushed itself to the fringes. But sadly, it also comes as the acknowledgement that “secularism” died with Jawaharlal Nehru and now the organisation has abandoned its remnants as well.
The capitulation of Congress, even if tactical, assumes importance because secularism, despite being pursued in its pseudo form or as minority appeasement, provided some hope to overoptimistic individuals and institutions still having faith in constitutional values.
RAGHUPATI RAGHAV RAJA RAM, ISHWAR ALLAH TERO NAM?
Priyanka’s statement read “Since time immemorial, Lord Rama’s character has been the thread to connect humanity…. Lord Rama belongs to all and wishes for everyone’s welfare… Gandhi’s Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram enlightens all…. Lord Rama, Mata Sita and Ramayana are like a ‘Prakash Punj’ in our cultural and religious memories… Bhoomipujan for Ram Lala’s temple should be on an occasion of national unity, fraternity and cultural confluence…”
Unlike “Jai Shree Ram”, the religious-political slogan coined by Sangh Parivar and popularised by Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana TV serial, Indira Gandhi’s granddaughter chose “Jai Siyaram” – a term used by people of all castes and communities in the Hindi heartland to greet each other for centuries. It also conforms with the Hindu traditions of prefixing consorts’ name with that of gods’.
In contrast to “Jai Shree Ram” that paints Ram’s warrior image, “Jai Siyaram” pictures a suave, calm and composed family man – a Maryada Purshottam – that evokes love, devotion and bhakti instead of anger.
Priyanka also tried to balance her cleverly worded statement by invoking Mahatma Gandhi’s “Gandhi’s Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram”, while leaving out the next line – “Ishwar Allah Tero Nam”. The slip seemed intentional.
The statement was followed by the party’s social media campaign in which an agnostic Nehru’s great granddaughter’s photoshopped images standing with folded hands before Lord Ram and Mata Sita were made viral.
The manoeuvre made an impact. Soon after the shilanyas ceremony, Hindutva votaries including Narendra Modi chanted “Jai Siyaram and Siya Pati Ram Chandra Kee Jai” to pre-empt any ploy to usurp their copyright on Lord Ram. At the same time, Modi did not forget to stoke Hindu chauvinism with observation “Bhay Bin Hoye Na Preet” – a clear message that the `warrior mode’ will continue.
Now, the fear is, “Jai Siyaram” too will be politicised.
What Priyanka seems to be planning is nothing new. After Nehru, Congress flourished by peddling soft Hindutva and nationalism to create a Hindu constituency. However, Rajiv lost the plot while trying to balance between Hindu and Muslim communalists.
Rajiv’s reluctance to openly take credit of opening the locks of the site – rechristened as “disputed” after idols were placed in the Babri Mosque clandestinely in 1949 – and allowing temple shilanyas also led to the party losing its base in an atmosphere increasingly turning into a communal frenzy.
Besides, Sangh Parivar injected a heavier dose of the intoxicant that Congress once used to its benefit. The post-independence second generation had little idea of the ideals that shaped India’s freedom struggle and there was no inspiring figure to remind them about it. And, thus began the era of majority appeasement.
The “heavy dose” in the form of Rath Yatra followed by Babri mosque demolition catapulted Sangh Parivar to assume power in many states and later at the Centre in 90s and early 2000, but the Congress led coalition came back to power in 2004 and remained seated for the 10 years. In fact, in UP, the party even won 21 seats out of 80 in 2009, highest after 1984.
It forced the Parivar to bring a new variant in 2014. Earlier, inoculated on occasions, now doses were administered daily with the media converting every single event or issue into a divisive debate. It continued even today.
As a result, one after another, pillars of democracies changed colours and majoritarianism replaced the republic. The opposition parties are now too scared to even talk about secularism. Priyanka’s latest move in just another example.
Rajiv lost 1989 election and perhaps would have lost a few subsequent ones as well, but, I think, he had the ability to win back public support by pulling out another intoxicating variant of the hat like her mother Indira who deftly played communal and nationalism cards – be it Bangladesh liberation war or polarisation politics in Punjab and Kashmir or her regular visits to Hindu shrines and religious figures. Rajiv’s untimely demise closed that option.
Since then the Congress has been in a dilemma. Although the sympathy wave following Rajiv’s assassination in 1991 brought the party to power again with PV Narasimha Rao at the helms, it could never win a majority in Lok Sabha. Rao’s blind eye toward Babri Mosque demolition was nothing but the part of the dilemma. The party had the desire to take credit of the demolition, but not the responsibility.
Even after that, the Congress experimented with soft Hindutva several times to appease Hindus, including in the 2019 elections when Rahul Gandhi went on a temple-hopping spree, with little or no real benefits. Now, Priyanka is trying her luck.
As it is now clear that political parties have lost the courage to stand up against the majoritarianism, for the people who still believe in India of the dreams of Bhagat Singh, Subhas Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi and have the courage to pursue it, it’s a long walk through a dark tunnel.
The onus will be on the individuals who swear by constitutional values to keep them alive. For secular Hindus, the herculean task ahead is not just to save the country, but to protect Hinduism from the Hindutva onslaught. These Hindus will also have to cohesively stand with minorities to check any possibility of a counter reaction that may end up strengthening divisive forces.
Since Indians still revere those who fought for independence, but are misled by the distorted history made viral on social media, the best antidote would be to take life, works and ideas of our freedom fighters to the masses in different formats, ways and mediums. I am sure this will make people understand why those who kissed the noose advocated secularism, while those preaching Hindutva were writing apology letters.
The shilanyas on August 5, 2020, cannot be overturned, but the one done on August 15, 1947 can still be saved and preserved.