By Malay Mishra in Puri, August 13, 2020: The foundation stone laying ceremony of the Ram temple at Ayodhya on August 5 was a monumental event of no mean consequence. While a large section of the Indian populace in the country and some parts overseas celebrated the beginning of the temple construction as an act of Hindu salvation, some other voices both in India and abroad mourned the event as the beginning of the end of Indian democracy and its most important constituent, secularism.

Observers have pointed out that this has been out and out a BJP-RSS project, that the temple whenever it stands resplendent in its 161 ft height will belong to the Sangh more than to the Hindu population and even less to the country as a whole marked out for its phenomenal diversities. The latter today lie buried under the assault of muscular majoritarianism, a brute concoction of numbers peddled gratuitously by a fawning media and fanned by institutions rendered impotent in a functioning democracy as envisaged by our constitution makers.

Interestingly secularism had been hotly debated in the Constituent Assembly, whether it should be included in the basic structure of the constitution. The overall consensus under the chairmanship of Dr Ambedkar was that it was understood as a sacred and inviolable part of the constitution and therefore redundant to form part of the preamble. It was understood that the cornerstone of a democracy kept the equal rights and interests of all the diversities without any discrimination, and the constitution was accordingly framed. Much later through an amendment were the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ slipped into the preamble under the stealth of a national emergency.

The beginning of the temple construction, where the Prime Minister of a democratic nation was seen in the attire of a Hindu seer donning a mukut and performing all the rituals around the foundation stone laying, playing the roles of a yajman, chief guest and head of the government and taking ownership of the much awaited event all to himself, could have sounded the death knell of Indian democracy and true beginning of a Hindu Rashtra long in the making. The demand for temple construction on the holy site, where the Hindu God Rama was born by demolishing the 450-year old historic monument attributed to the first Mughal emperor Babar which stood exactly on that site, could date back to 1949 when an idol of Ram Lalla (the infant Ram) was mysteriously placed in the premises.

And thereafter started years of litigation as to who owned the title to the property suit of the 2.33 acres land, the Hindus or the Muslims. Until it was finally resolved with the controversial decision of the highest court of the land in November 2019 by awarding the property to those who the court recognized were the ‘egregious violators’ of law.

This is not the place to go into the history of the Advani-led Rath Yatra of the late 1980s pushing through the euphoric Hindu mobs in the Hindi-speaking hinterland on its way from Somnath to Ayodhya and in the process beginning the process of communalisation on a national level leading to riots, arson and killings on a scale never seen before. The movement had its apogee in the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 when thousands of so-called kar sevaks found their way up the mosque and broke stone after stone with their hammers and pickaxes under the benign eyes of both the state and central governments to the cries of Ek dhakka aur do.

I remember that day distinctly. I was then posted to our Embassy in Washington and was woken up from sleep by a familiar voice on the telephone, that of our former Ambassador, a distinguished Hyderabadi who prided in calling himself a secular Muslim. Abid Saheb, as we all knew him, was disconsolate. “They have destroyed the soul of India,” he murmured, “the Babri Masjid is demolished”. The gravity of the news took a while to seep into my early morning stupor, and then the news coming from all news channels aggravated my uneasiness as I got up to understand what really has happened.

Indeed the soul of secular India had been destroyed. If today people mourn the loss of secularism with the foundation stone laying at Ayodhya they should have foreseen that such an event was to happen someday. Perhaps it was a surprise that it happened sooner than expected. All the instruments of the state, the judiciary, the media, the bureaucracy, the invigilating agencies and above all the Hindu majority played along to see that it happened soon, a long standing agenda item of the BJP-RSS combine stood accomplished.

The concern for all right thinking citizens of this country is, what next? How far will the current regime go in alienating a minority community from the national mainstream negating history as it were? PM Modi was acting out his part as the RSS pracharak more than the nation’s prime minister, he had to play that glorious role to posterity when the nation stands buffeted by the twin disasters of a sagging economy thanks to the deadly pandemic and the Chinese dragon bellowing on our northern frontier with its nefarious geo-political ambitions.

The Ram temple will be built at break neck speed, the bricks are already there, the model stands approved and the trust set up with frenzied speed will go on to actualize a monument singing paeans to the beloved God of the Hindu pantheon, the Maryada Purushottam. Yet the migrants will continue to be effaced, the students will be deprived of knowing their history of democracy, secularism and human rights under the New Education Policy and the institutions will stand to be further corroded. India will continue to grapple for a place at the high table as a developed nation, but will it develop its moral and ethical quotient?

History stands witness, history will answer.

The writer is a former Ambassador, social commentator and public intellectual. He writes blogs and occasional columns

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