Politicising Ayodhya

´Ram Janm Bhumi, Police Station starts

As the day of reckoning on the Ayodhya dispute draws near, Sangh Parivar organisations have again begun chanting slogans for a Ram temple on the site, despite the fact that this demand, along with the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid, has caused major setbacks in politics in India. While people grappled with this emotive issue, economic policies beneficial only to the corporate sector were implemented and the 'real' issues of the people – poverty, unemployment, the paucity of resources, the agrarian crisis and corruption, for instance – were pushed into the background. The United Progressive Alliance's (UPA) rise to power after the defeat of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the 2004 general elections was fortunate: with the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), forest rights and the forthcoming Food Security Act, there is at least some semblance of policy-making in favour of the common citizens of this country. Had the NDA continued in power, it is not clear whether the country would have moved beyond the issues of Ram temples and Ram Setu.

Communalism vs democracy
In a sense, the origins of 'terrorism' in India can be traced to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, which was followed by a series of bomb blasts and other incidents of terrorism. The then CM of Uttar Pradesh, Kalyan Singh, made a mockery of the commitment given to the Supreme Court to protect the Constitution. An impression was created at the time that 'Islamic' organisations were responsible for all terrorist activities. It was revealed later, however, that Abhinav Bharat, an organisation associated with RSS, was behind terrorist incidents in Malegaon, Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, Khawaja Moinuddin Hasan Chisty's Dargah in Ajmer and the Samjhauta Express. Moreover, the fact that a host of Muslim youth are languishing in jails all over the country merely on the basis of suspicion while not a single person involved in the Babri Masjid demolition has been apprehended also reflects the 'communalisation' of various governments and administrations.

Communalism is not compatible with the concept of democracy because not only is it sectarian, it can also degenerate into fascism. To derive political mileage out of people's religious sentiments is utterly unethical. The High Court's judgment on the Ayodhya dispute should be respected by all parties, with the option of approaching the Supreme Court in case of disagreement. Instigating religious feelings by taking to the streets, on the other hand, would be unconstitutional. This, however, has not stopped Sangh Parivar organisations, which have already become active over this issue. Hanuman Chalisa recitations in some temples of Ayodhya are demanding the construction of a Ram temple; text messages are being circulated, and statements are being issued by leaders of Hindutva organisations. Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) President Ashok Singhal has claimed that stones are being cut at Karsewakpuram in Ayodhya for constructing a temple, and that the work is already half complete. With the judgment still pending, such actions are actually tantamount to contempt of court, and the court must take suo moto notice of this issue.

Imagined problems

On guard: Security forces on high alert prior to the judgment.

The Babri Masjid-Ram temple issue, meanwhile, is far from real, and has actually been foisted on to the people of Ayodhya and the country. A dialogue with common people in Ayodhya reveals that they are indeed sick of the issue which has adversely affected their lives. The continuous presence of security forces in the area is cause for tension, with the danger of curfews being imposed at the slightest provocation. Many families, including Muslims, are involved in the temple-centred economy of Ayodhya, from growing flowers offered in temples to making other materials used during worship. The unrest in the area, however, has caused a decline in the number of worshippers even at temples other than the makeshift Ram Lalla temple at the disputed site.

If the Sangh Parivar is actually interested in constructing a Ram temple in Ayodhya, why does it not do so on VHP-owned land in Karsewakpuram? Why is it necessary to construct a temple on the disputed land? In reality, the Sangh Parivar finds itself in a bind with respect to the Ram temple construction issue. So far, this issue has only been used to promote the politics of the BJP. If they were really interested in making a Ram temple, they would have demonstrated the kind of political will which Mayawati has displayed in UP: she has built Dalit memorials on government land, with public money – but only after formulating suitable laws. The Sangh Parivar, meanwhile, was never really interested in constructing a temple – the organisation merely wanted to exploit the issue politically, and this would not have been possible once the temple was built.

The UP government should deal strictly with anyone trying to take political advantage of the upcoming court decision; Hindutva forces cannot be given a free hand to provoke communal riots in the country. While the heightened activity of Sangh Parivar indicates that these organisations might not accept a decision which goes against them, peace and harmony can prevail if the state and central governments put their foot down and people refuse to be moved by communal instigations.

~ Sandeep Pandey is a social activist based in Lucknow. He was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award (often termed as ´Asian Nobel prize´) in 2002 for the emergent leadership category.

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