BJP president Nitin Gadkari's appeal to Muslims, to be generous towards Hindus and their sentiments and help them build a temple at Ayodhya and, in turn, be helped in building a mosque nearby, if they so desire, is definitely a welcome move especially after the religious fanaticism which had earlier led to the demolition of the 16th century Babri mosque. But the question is does it really matter to the huge ocean of Hindus and Muslims struggling for life and livelihood every minute in India? Do they really bother or have time to bother about the existence of a temple or mosque at Ayodhya when they don't have enough to eat, don't have the money to educate their children, and don't have access to proper medication and healthcare? Aren't there already enough mosques and temples, gurudwaras and churches, for the common man to worship in almost every locality?

In a secular country like India, religion and religious sentiments should be left to the individual. It should be a private affair, a personal connection with the almighty. We do not need a political organisation to deal with or represent our religious thoughts. There are already enough religious organisations for this purpose. Also, there are enough socio-political issues that require the attention of the political parties. We have had enough decay through casteism, communalism, corruption, criminalisation, etc. We have to take up genuine issues that our people face today. While we have enough religious places of worship, we lack enough hospitals or health centres and good educational institutions to serve the poor.

Why not use the disputed land in Ayodhya to build a health centre that would serve the poor for free? Probably, fanatical Hindus believe that since Muslims had built a mosque in a Hindu religious place, it is their right to demolish it and build a temple in its place.

But the fact is that in ancient and medieval times, the war-like tribes and communities followed the culture of replacing existing monuments which did not conform to their belief with those that promoted their own belief. According to some theories, the Aryans were the destroyers of the great Harappan culture and the whole of Indus Valley Civilisation. In those days, it was almost a norm that if a Shiva worshipper won a battle with a Krishna worshipper, then the former would replace all Krishna temples with Shiva temples. That can never justify a reciprocative action today.

Today the world is moving ahead in science and technology. It is time we stopped hiding our backwardness under the veil of religious sentiments and traditional culture and move ahead in this competitive world. We have a burning example in Pakistan showing what religious or cultural chauvinism can lead to. We cannot afford to commit the same mistake in India by encouraging similar lines of thought among any community, Hindus or Muslims or Sikhs or Christians.

Our diversity and our pluralism are our strengths. “True Secularism,” which in the Indian context means, not “Equal distance from all religions” or “Special treatment to one religion”, but “Equal tolerance of or equal treatment to all religions” in other words “Sarva Dharma Sambhav” as quoted by Gandhiji, is the key to nurture and build upon this strength and create an India we can honestly be proud of.

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