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From mosque to temple: An Indian tragedy

EducationWorld February 2024 | Expert Comment Magazine
Rajiv Desai– Rajiv Desai

The consecration of the Ram temple was presided by the prime minister himself like a medieval priest before an audience comprising the country’s who’s who. It was a collective takedown of India’s precious secular ethos

Nearly 75 years after India awoke “to life and freedom”, Jawaharlal Nehru, who uttered these stirring words celebrating India’s independence, is once again the centre of attention. Prime minister Narendra Modi and his acolytes have spent almost their entire time in government trying to diminish free India’s first prime minister, a farsighted leader with the vision to understand that his country could survive and thrive only as a secular democratic republic.

Now under control of bigots, India lurches from event to event in the hands of men, desperately trying to outrun their inability to govern. It’s true Modi and company have had the experience of running the Gujarat state government, a successful venture judging on economic development data. But as many point out, the Gujarat model was established much earlier, starting with Dr. Jivraj Mehta, the first chief minister who took office in 1960 after the old Bombay state was divided on linguistic lines.

Under Mehta and later Hitendra Desai, both medical doctors, Gujarat became well-known for its efficient state and private enterprises. From petrochemicals and fertilizer to textiles and plastics; from capital goods and consumer products, Gujarat sowed the seeds of the revolution finance minister Manmohan Singh celebrated in his pathbreaking 1991 budget. The result: the economy boomed, overflowing with jobs, goods and services.

In Gujarat, the early signs of a crypto fascist state also emerged. A latent Hindu revivalist movement grew into hindutva, a political platform focused on reaching out to groups left behind in the rush to modernity. Shrewdly mixed with undertones of fear and prejudice, the call to hindutva appealed to many voters. It also served as fodder to anti-minority extremists. Riots erupted all over cities and towns of the state and spread over north India. The denouement was hordes of political cadres of hindutva parties overran and demolished the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh in 1992.

The growth and spread of their retrograde manifestos threaten to change perceptions of India from an advocate for peace with visionary leaders into a witches’ cauldron, bubbling with dishonest toil and deadly trouble. To keep global criticism at bay, the plan seems to be to cultivate developed countries with multibillion weapons purchases, and mesmerise their leaders with the charms of India like the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort, spectacles like Republic Day with its parade and regalia.

But mostly, it is about keeping India diverted by dubious statistics on the economy and even more dubious claims to the wonder that was India. These are published by the media which has transformed from guardians of democracy to lapdogs prevented from “barking with a juicy bone”.

The most recent event staged and publicised by the regime’s media mavens was the “consecration” of a new Ram temple built on the ruins of the Babri masjid. The prime minister himself presided over the ceremony like a medieval priest before an audience comprising the country’s who’s who, including top Bollywood stars. It was a collective takedown of India’s precious secular ethos.

Among the many questions quivering on many lips were: is this the end of the Republic on its 75th anniversary? A Republic founded and established by the leading lights of politics of a golden age — Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, others. What about the Constitution shepherded from conception to adoption by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar? And its carefully nurtured gems: independent Parliament, Judiciary, Press?

All fair questions. However, it seems unlikely that anyone in the present dispensation is allowed, or even equipped, to answer.

Over half a century ago, philosopher-writer Arthur Koestler in his dystopian tour de force novel, Darkness at Noon, wrote of the moral hazard of a totalitarian state. In the book, he questioned the totalitarian system established in the Soviet Union betraying the promise of an egalitarian paradise. At a time when communist ideology had established itself and divided Europe on ideological lines, his powerful book was splash of cold water: refreshing for some, disruptive for others.

Hindutva is about belief; its proponents say it was suppressed during centuries of elite rule. It will entertain no questions because its proponents way of righting wrongs go back beyond British colonial rule to the Mughals who ruled over India with swords and skulduggery.

The seductive argument underlying this is as follows: secularist leaders who took charge after the British left, could do no more than establish a Western style governance system totally unsuited to the Indian way of life. Hindutva is here to bring back an era of sacred chants and holy men and tall leaders, who like Lord Rama of Ayodhya, are blessed by the gods.

For its proponents, this prescription may be spiritually fulfilling but for a nation trying to make its way in the 21st century, it spells disaster.

Also read: Ram Mandir: What teachers should teach

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