Modi Heralds a New Narrative for India
Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF

Prime Minster Modi’s seminal speech on the occasion of Ram Mandir Bhumi Poojan at Ayodhya on 5 August 2020 had several messages which need to be understood and analysed. The start of the construction of the Ram temple is a watershed moment in independent India’s history. It will set the tone for future political and social developments in the country. Bhoomi Poojan brings to closure a movement for the construction of the Ram mandir temple, which had claimed several lives. Hopefully, the temple, being constructed after a binding judgement of the Supreme Court will help end the polarization in the society and take the country forward leaving behind bitter past.

The Prime Minister’s speech had political as well spiritual content. The political message was that we should work together for building a new India in a spirit of cooperation, inclusiveness and brotherhood. The temple should provide a healing touch. The spiritual component of the speech highlighted the eternal and universal values that Lord Ram stood for and which are as relevant today as in the past.

The Bhoomi Poojan marks the culmination of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement which was set up with the aim of building the Ram Mandir where once there was a temple which was destroyed by the invaders to build a mosque in the 16th century. The mosque or what has been called a disputed structure was itself was destroyed in 1992 by the Karsevaks triggering a wave of violence in many parts of the country. With the bhoomi pujan done, a grand temple will be built in Ayodhya. The Ram Janmabhoomi movement yielded immense political dividends for the BJP which emerged as the strongest political party with majority in the parliament in the two terms under PM Modi. The earlier phase of the movement was assertive and aggressive, marked by violence and polarization. Thereafter, there was the long wait for the judicial process to conclude. Supreme Court delivered the judgment in 2019.

Building a fresh narrative, the PM likened the Ram Janmabhoomi movement to India’s freedom struggle in which large number of Indians sacrificed their lives. The struggle for the mandir is now said to be five centuries old, older than the freedom struggle. The PM signaled that the Ramjanam Bhoomi movement will undergo a transformation. Hopefully, the strident elements in the movement will become sober as the mandir construction proceeds.

In a speech marked by erudition, the PM explained and extolled the values of Lord Ram and Ramrajya. Ram is seen not as a mere deity but a symbol of national unity and brotherhood, cutting across all regions and religions and having a world wide appeal. Thus, in Ram India has another national and global symbol, rooted in its old civilization and heritage. The message of Ram – compassion, justice, amity, equity, self-restraint, service, social harmony, special attention to the poor, truth and honesty - is universal and worth emulating by everyone and not just the Hindus. “Ram is present everywhere Ram is for all”, he said. He was confident that the temple construction will unite all in India. It will create amity and harmony.

There is also a message that the success of the movement has given the self-confidence to Indians to undertake difficult tasks ahead. Temple construction will give the confidence to build an Atmanirbhar Baharat or self-reliant India in the future. The ethos of Ram will inform the development of modern, aspirational India. There is no contradiction between traditional values and modern aspirations. The temple will be a source of strength for all Indians.

Modi noted that the message of Ram is well understood the world over through the numerous versions of the Ramayana which are still read in different parts of the world. It will be the responsibility of Indians to reinforce the values of Ram for the well being of humanity. During the course of his speech Modi also recalled major religions directly or indirectly by mentioning the places and their religious significance.

Modi’s message has reignited the debate on the meaning of secularism in India. The opponents have decried Modi attending a religious ceremony in his official capacity as the Prime Minister. This action they said violates the notion of secularism. They ignore the fact that in the past also high dignitaries have attended religious ceremonies in full public view. Others point out that the addition of the word secularism in the constitution was an afterthought. In India European style secularism – strict separation of church from the state – is impossible. For instance, the state continues to provide subsidies to the Haj pilgrims. India has many religions. Secularism which denies and negates India’s civilizational values and ethos cannot be right for India. Hinduism is a secular religion which does not deny or negate any other religion.

There are some who fear that majoritarianism is taking hold in the country and democracy is in danger. They say that on 5th August a new Republic based on Hindutva ideology was born. The construction of the Ram temple is a manifestation of that tendency. The protagonists reject this charge on the grounds that the constitution of India remains supreme. Nothing has changed. The temple is being constructed only after the Supreme Court delivered a judgmentafter a long argument and wait. It was a unanimous and well considered judgment by a bench of the Supreme Court. The charge of majoritarianism is an overreaction.

These debates will go on. At times they will be acrimonious. Fortunately, the country has remained peaceful so far and is likely to remain so. Ordinary people are relived that the dispute has been resolved. Politicians will and activists will continue to spar. Most political parties have accepted the argument that Ram is the supreme manifestation of Indian values and culture. Millions upon millions of Indians love him, adore him. Nobody has a disagreement there. The criticism is entirely political in nature and should be expected in a free democratic society. Unlike before, no political party has opposed the construction of the temple.

What happens in the future cannot be accurately predicted. But the signs are encouraging. If those who participated in the movement eschew triumphalism and genuinely embrace those who may be unhappy and sulking, the temple will bring in reconciliation. But politics can be unpredictable. Modi in his speech was confident that the construction of the temple will unite the country.

Gandhiji talked about Ramrajya. Ramrajya is fair, just and value based good governance. It is inclusive governance. New India should be based on these values. Every Indian aspires to Ramrajya. Who would not? As always, the intent and implementation of the values will be most important.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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