Beyond Ayodhya

Topics Ram temple | Ayodhya | Narendra Modi

A decades-old dispute and the fight by the Sangh Parivar was finally settled when Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for a Ram temple at Ayodhya on the site of the Babri Masjid, which was destroyed in 1992. Inevitably, the event has been an opportunity for triumphal celebration by those who subscribe to the brand of religious majoritarianism. In that context, the prime minister’s speech at the inaugural ceremony partially reflected this understanding. When Mr Modi said a grand temple would now be built for “our Ram Lalla, who has been living under a tent for many years”, chants of “Jai Siya Ram” reverberated in the air. He was, however, bang on when he said, “Social harmony was the core principle of Lord Ram’s governance. The construction of the Ram temple is an instrument to unite the country.” This was an important message, more so when it comes from a politician who was powered to India’s prime ministership on the back of his championship of this key element of the Hindutva agenda. 

Together with the near-nationwide ban on cow slaughter, the reading down of Articles 370 and 35A, which gave Jammu & Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, its special status, and the banning of triple talaq, the building of the temple allows Mr Modi to claim success for several significant Hindutva projects in his six years in power. Now that these have been realised, it is critical that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its affiliates follow through on the prime minister’s words with deeds that genuinely reflect the values of social harmony and unity. 

Both for the BJP and the freelance elements that comprise the Sangh Parivar, the building of the temple and the creation of a new township around it offer a unique opportunity to jettison cynical vote bank politics and embrace meaningful reconciliation. India has many pressing issues to tackle, and it is imperative that the national effort should be focused on binding everyone together to fight the real economic and social problems. With gross domestic product projected to shrink drastically for the first time in four decades, the prime minister urgently needs to focus on ensuring that millions of Indians who have lost their jobs as a result of a national lockdown induced by the pandemic do not slip back into poverty. The challenge will be greater because some of the earlier decisions such as demonetisation and the hasty implementation of the goods and services tax had slowed economic growth, which resulted in higher unemployment even before the pandemic struck. 

Therefore, it is important that the focus should now be on containing the pandemic and enabling a sustainable economic recovery. In the given context, it is axiomatic that social and communal harmony is vital if Mr Modi wants to make India a magnet for domestic and foreign investment that will enable higher sustainable economic growth for an extended period and lift people from poverty. To achieve this, however, the political discourse has to rise above narrow majoritarian ideas as too much Hindu triumphalism and politicisation of religious differences will disrupt internal social cohesion and unity. Ayodhya offers the ruling party an excellent opportunity to move on and build an inclusive and prosperous India.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel