The ideology of social peace is still working

India’s millennia-old civilisation has asserted itself in this general election, placing constraints on the politics of hatred

Updated - June 14, 2024 02:14 am IST

Published - June 14, 2024 12:08 am IST

‘The defeat of the BJP in Ayodhya itself demonstrates the dysfunctional link between electoral politics and the invocation of Lord Ram’

‘The defeat of the BJP in Ayodhya itself demonstrates the dysfunctional link between electoral politics and the invocation of Lord Ram’ | Photo Credit: PTI

In a reaction to the invitation that was extended to the President of the Indian National Congress, Mallikarjun Kharge, to the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Uttar Pradesh Minister Yogendra Upadhyay is reported to have said: “They (the Congress) rejected [the] Ram Mandir invitation. If they do the same this time, then it will show their shallow mentality.”

The comparison between the invitation to the consecration ceremony of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya on January 22, 2024 and Mr. Modi’s oath-taking ceremony on June 9, 2024 shows, if anything, the same mentality that led Mr. Modi to deny, or at least doubt, while on the election trail, his own biological birth, and claim to be of divine origin.

Between an invocation and the election

Media orthodoxy has it that the fixation of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with Lord Ram is still bringing it huge electoral and political dividends, which has convinced the BJP leadership that this indeed is an inviolable truth. Any amount of empirical evidence to the contrary is dismissed as hypothetical at best, and/or false at worst. The ascendance of the BJP, from a mere two Lok Sabha seats in 1984 to a secular rise to 303 seats in 2019 is proof enough of the link with Lord Ram at its heart. What other proof is required?

The exploitation of Lord Ram for political ambitions was unambiguous in BJP veteran L.K. Advani’s famous statement in the middle of the launch of the rath yatra, that he was a political and not a religious leader, i.e., aiming at political, and not religious gains. In the timing of the installation of the statue of Lord Ram and the massive fanfare that accompanied it, followed by the consecration of the temple in Ayodhya on January 22 this year, it was clear that the proximity of the 2024 general election was the determinant. The link between the election and the invocation of Lord Ram, whatever the occasion, was forever highlighted rather than hidden. Yet, the failure of the link has been loud and clear on several occasions. On December 6, 1992, with the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the BJP’s top leadership must have imagined that the path to electoral victory now lay clear and unhindered. Assembly elections held in some of the main States in the Hindi belt, in 1993, led in the opposite direction: the BJP lost in Uttar Pradesh to arch rival of the Samajwadi Party Mulayam Singh Yadav (and Bahujan Samaj Party) and had to wait for a decade to return home. The wave of “liberating Ram Lalla” from the precincts of the masjid was feeble. There were electoral losses in Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh too. Its government in Rajasthan survived the debacle, though with a considerably reduced majority, as Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat had kept a distance from Mr. Advani’s rath yatra and the resultant events of December 6. The formation of the first BJP government in 1998 was not due to the Ram Mandir movement but more the result of infighting within the various constituents of the then ruling coalition. But learning a lesson from it and keeping Lord Ram out of politics would have required a rethink of the communal perspective, which is central to the Sangh Parivar. In 2014, there had to be camouflaging of the communal agenda using the more general slogan of vikas (development).

The Ayodhya result

In the 2024 general election, the defeat of the BJP in Ayodhya itself demonstrates the dysfunctional link between electoral politics and the invocation of Lord Ram. It was no ordinary defeat, for the BJP candidate lost by over 50,000 votes. The BJP’s Lallu Singh was a veteran, taking on a Dalit rival, Awadhesh Prasad. And this happened after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Sangh Parivar’s investment in the construction of the Ram temple and its location in politics.

The 2024 general election result shows that the Indian voter has expressed a repugnance for the politics of hatred, of divide and rule, and the politics of the Prime Minister himself, whose electoral rhetoric this time was indecorous. Where was the grace reflected in person, behaviour and language that one saw in the speeches of Prime Ministers like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee?

Will Mr. Modi, or the BJP as a party, or the RSS learn a lesson from Lord Ram? The people of India have made their preferred choices clear. It is very unlikely to happen. After the Supreme Court of India’s famous judgment of 2019 on the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute, which, among other things, had forcefully upheld the view that no temple, much less a Ram temple lay demolished under the debris of the masjid (a view advanced by several professional historians and archaeologists) and that the demolition of the masjid was a criminal act for which the guilty should be tried in a court of law, one still hears echoes of “undoing the injustice of 500 years” doing the rounds. Never mind what the historians and the Supreme Court have said.

A continuing legacy

In placing constraints on the politics of hatred, which is the hallmark of the Modi government, India’s millennia-old civilisation has asserted itself. In doing so, salience is due to the civilisation of our medieval centuries that has given us the legacy of numerous saint-poets, the Bhakti sants, who brought calm to the strained religious divide of rival gods by conceptualising one universal god where their rivalry gets submerged. For, in the midst of considerable bloodshed on the battlefields, between political and denominational factions extending over five and a half centuries, the first genuine communal riot between common people of different faiths — of which we have recorded evidence — happened in 1714, seven years after Aurangzeb’s death. Clearly, the ideology of social peace was working.

Harbans Mukhia taught history at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

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