January 21, 2024

January 22: Merging State and Religion

THE consecration of the Ram temple at Ayodhya on January 22 will symbolise the merger of State and religion under the rubric of Hindutva.  Central to the `Pran Pratishtha’ of the idol of Lord Ram will be the role of prime minister Narendra Modi, underlining the fact that this is a State-sponsored event. 

The Ayodhya ceremony is to proclaim Hindutva as the State ideology.  Both in the run-up to the consecration and the mobilisation of pilgrims to Ayodhya, there is the intertwining of the efforts of the State and the Sangh  parivar.

The timing of the Ayodhya event has obviously been decided with a view to make the maximum gains for the BJP in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections which are due in April/May.  From the nationwide observance in homes and temples on January 22, the plan is to bring pilgrims and supporters from every state and parliamentary constituency to visit Ayodhya, a process which will go on till the end of March. 

But there is a deeper purpose to the entire project of the Ram temple and the reconstruction of Ayodhya town. It is to symbolise the convergence of Hindutva and State power.  The identification of Narendra Modi as prime minister and the progenitor of Ram Rajya is complete with his leading role in the consecration of the Ram temple.  He is the chosen one of god and the people.  Modi has himself stated, “God has made me an instrument to represent all the people of India during the consecration”. This is the divine right to rule, Hindutva style. 

The Ram temple, nation and State have all been morphed together.  A constant theme harped on by prime minister Modi is that the temple is a symbol of national unity and national sentiment. This is an assertion of Hindutva nationalism.

The CPI(M) was the first national political party to decline the invitation extended to its general secretary to attend the January 22 ceremony at Ayodhya.  The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) had stated that: “It is most unfortunate that the BJP and RSS have converted a religious ceremony into a State sponsored event directly involving the prime minister, the UP chief minister and other government functionaries. A fundamental principle of governance in India as reiterated by the Supreme Court is that the State in India, under the constitution should have no religious affiliation. This is being violated by the ruling regime in the organisation of the event.”

This clear stand of the CPI(M) had an impact on the attitude of the entire secular opposition to the event.  Consequently, no leader of any of the major secular opposition parties is attending the event.  The running theme in declining the invitation by these parties is that it has been made into a political event. 

The effort of the BJP-RSS and their faithful servitors in the corporate media to brand the opposition parties as anti-Hindu has not found much purchase among the people.  For one, people can see how the BJP, as the ruling party, is blatantly seeking to milk the devotees’ faith for petty political gains. But the main reason why the charge of `anti-Hindu’ will not stick is because the four Shankaracharyas of the main Hindu Peeths –  Puri Govardhana Peeth, Jyotir Math, Dwarka Sharda Peeth and Sringeri Sharda Peeth – have made known their intention not to participate in the ceremony at Ayodhya on January 22. 

The Shankaracharyas of Puri and Jyotir Math have made public statements expressing their disapproval of the way the consecration is being undertaken either by ignoring the Shastras or because the construction of the temple is incomplete.  The Puri Shankaracharya was more explicit in questioning the role of the prime minister in a religious ceremony. 

There can be a deeper underlying reason for the reservations expressed by the Shankaracharyas.  The RSS and its various outfits like the Vishva Hindu Parishad have been working to re-mould Hinduism into a centralised religious order, what Romila Thapar termed as “syndicated Hinduism”. This goes against the very nature of Hinduism which is a vast ocean of diverse beliefs, practices and deities.  The political project of Hindutva is antithetical to this multi-plural Hinduism.

The edifice of the new Hindutva State is being constructed with the full backing and collaboration of big business in India. The corporate sector is being represented at Ayodhya by a vertible who’s who of big business, starting from Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani. 

There are some well-meaning secular personalities who feel that acquiescing in the State-sponsored Ram temple event would bring about a closure to the protracted and divisive conflict emanating from the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute.  They are mistaken.  Already the Hindutva outfits have begun the legal battle to open up the disputes in Kashi and Mathura.  With a degree of judicial connivance, the matter which was conclusively closed by the Places of Worship Act, 1991 has now been re-opened with the same ruse of archaeological surveys to establish what existed before, under the mosques in Varanasi and Mathura. 

There is still an insufficient realisation of the long game being played by the RSS and the Hindutva forces, which is to eventually convert the Indian republic into a Hindutva republic.  That is why the ongoing project of merging religion and State for political purposes must be opposed and met with a firm and principled defence of secularism. 

(January 17, 2023)