The mainstream media — particularly Hindi newspapers — instead of critiquing the Prime Minister Narendra Modi for performing Bhoomi pooja (groundbreaking) of Ram Temple in Ayodhya, is chanting Jai Shri Ram. It has again failed to uphold the constitutional principle of secularism.

On August 6, a day after Bhoomi pooja ceremony, almost all Hindi newspapers carried pictures of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on their front-page and accepted the Hindutva narrative that the Bhoomi puja in Ayodhya had put an end to 500 years of waiting. The narrative was almost the same in these Hindi dailies.

They also constructed the image of Modi as the sincerest person and the main force behind the temple construction. Some of them lifted the lines from the Ramacharitamanasa and the Hanuman Chalisa, the Hindu religious texts written by sixteenth-century poet Gosvami Tulasidasa.

Several pages inside the newspapers were also devoted to reporting how the whole country was celebrating the Bhoomi pooja. These dailies also carried stories and pictures about Lord Rama’s devotees, who are celebrating the Bhoomi pooja in a gathering. The devotees were seen doing pooja, lightening up lamps, burning firecrackers, holding out motorcycle rallies, and distributing sweets. These events seem to be a violation of the COVID-19 guidelines. The newspapers did not raise a single objection to it. Even in their editorials, they got carried away in Hindutva tide. The occasion was also used for Pakistan-bashing by the media.

With the Bhoomi pooja ceremony held on August 5, the Ram Temple Construction works get underway. But what has disappointed secular India is the public presence of Prime Minister Modi in Ayodhya along with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. The spirit of the secular constitution of India warns the pubic officials not to get publically associated with any particular religion. Violating the principle of secularism, the Prime Minister not only performed the Bhoomi pooja but also propagated the divisive agenda of Hindutva forces in his speech.

The visit of the Prime Minister to Ayodhya and the later celebration in large groups, as reported by the media, may cause the further spread of the coronavirus. The latest figure says that 2,156,169 people have been tested positive with 43,484 deaths. While India stands at the third-worst hit countries by Covid-19, followed by the USA and Brazil, the media leads from the front in celebrating the Bhoomi puja and praising the Prime Minister.

The Hindi newspapers not only made the Bhoomi pooja event as the lead story but also gave several pages to the issue. The reports were carried out with pictures that the whole nation as well as the Hindus living abroad were united in celebration. Other media reports also tried to appropriate non-Brahminical currents, creating an impression that they have also become “devotees” of Lord Rama. In short, the Hindi newspapers went off for a celebratory chanting of Jai Shri Ram, forgetting that millions of countrymen are reeling under the corona pandemic.

For example, Hindi daily Dainik Jagran (National, August 6) gave full front-page coverage to the Bhoomi pooja event. In one of the pictures, carried on the front page, Prime Minister Modi and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat could be seen sitting on the pooja. In another picture, Modi was lying prostrate before the deity. Dainik Jagran’s headline reads,

“राम काजु किन्हें बिनु मोहि कहां बिश्राम”

(Ram kaju kinhen binu mohi kahan Bishram.)

Without doing Lord Rama’s work, I cannot have rest

The headline is taken from Sundara Kand, the fifth chapter of the Ramacharitamanasa. Sundara Kanda is the description of the heroism of Lord Hanuman. When He was searching for goddess Sita, who had been abducted by Ravana, He was asked by a mountain Mainka to “relieve Him of fatigue”. On hearing this, Hanuman touched mountain Mainka with his hand and made obeisance to him with these words: “There can be no rest for me till I have accomplished Rama’s work”.

By taking the example of Lord Hanuman, Dainik Jagran tries to portray Modi as Hanuman. He could not have rest without getting Lord Rama Temple constructed. Modi, the Hindi daily would say, is different from other leaders and he is a real devotee of Lord Rama.

In its reporting, Dainik Jagran claims that the whole country is celebrating this moment and they are all immersed in Ram Bhakti (devotion to Lord Rama). However, the occasion was also used to present Indian history from an anti-Muslim perspective. The newspaper, following Prime Minister Modi’s speech, contends that the Bhoomi pooja function has been realized after a long wait of 500 years. Note that the Hindutva forces launched a massive mobilization in the 1980s around the Ram Temple-Babri Mosque dispute and claimed that the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was built up after the demolishing the Ram Temple by the Muslim rulers.

The report of Dainik Jagran also refers to the demolition of the Ram Temple, an unsubstantiated fact by historians. Look at the opening lines of the report by the Dainik Jagran,

“रामजन्मभूमि पर मंदिर तोड़े जाने के जिस संताप का सामना रामनगरी पांच सदी तक करती रही, उसका परिमार्जन बुधवार को प्रधानमंत्री नरेन्द्र मोदी ने राम मंदिर निर्माण के लिए भूमि पूजन से किया.”

(Ramjananbhoomi par mandir tode jaane ke jis santap ka samna ramanagari panch sadi tak karti rahi, uska parimarjan Budhwar ko Pradhanmantri Narendra Modi ne Ram Mandir nirman ke liye bhoomi poojan se kiya.)

The Prime Minister renovated the Ram Temple by performing Bhoomi pooja (laying foundation) on Wednesday. The demolition [of the Temple], done five centuries ago, had kept the city of Rama in grief.

Note that the newspapers are just reproducing the claims of the Prime Minister Modi. Speaking in Ayodhya, he did not forget to mention that the Ram Temple has become “free from the centuries-old chain of destruction and resurrection”. Speaking after laying the foundation in Ayodhya, he, as reported by The Indian Express, openly made a reference to the destruction of the temple: “The whole country is ecstatic and each heart is illuminated. The entire country is emotional and overwhelmed to be a part of history and witness this long-awaited historic moment. The centuries of wait is getting over today. Crores of Indians, I am sure are unable to believe that they could be a part of such a momentous occasion in their lifetimes. Ladies and gentlemen, dignitaries, the time has come when a proper temple can be provided to the deity of Lord Rama by moving it from the make shift tent and canopy, where it was kept for decades. A grand temple will now be built for our Lord Rama. Today, the Ram Janmabhoomi has become free from the centuries-old chain of destruction and resurrection”.

Historians have disputed the claim of Hindutva forces about the temple destruction. Eminent historian Harbans Mukhia, in a recent article, has argued that neither Mir Baqi, Babur’s noble nor Babur himself made any reference to the temple. The first reference to the temple, according to Mukhia, was made as late as 1822.

Negating all historical evidence, the Hindutva forces demolished the Babri Masjid in a broad day-light amid the presence of national and international media on December 6, 1992. Sadly, the Supreme Court, in its November 9, 2019 ruling, awarded the disputed site to Hindus. Most unfortunately, those who demolished the mosque and incited and abetted violence that took the lives of thousands of innocent people remain unpunished till today. These bitter facts are conveniently ignored by the media.

Hindi daily Haribhoomi (New Delhi, August 6, p. 1), similarly, made the Bhoomi pooja as the lead story. Two pictures of Modi — performing pooja along with RSS Chief Bhagwat and lying prostrate before the deity — were carried. It has also made a line of Ramacaritamanasa as its headline,

उपजा जब ग्याना प्रभु मुसकाना

(Upaja jaba gyana Prabhu musukana)

When the wisdom comes upon [His mother], Lord smiles

The line is taken from Bala Kanda of Ramacharitamanasa where Lord Rama, as a child, is being described as “the gracious Lord”, “compassionate”. When her mother Kausalya experienced the revelation, Lord smiled. By citing lines from a religious text, the Hindi daily tries to play the Hindu card. It also carries a statement of Modi in a bold letter that “Ram temple will give the message of brotherhood. And this is the symbol of our culture and modernity”.

Haribhoomi, like most of Hindi newspapers, carried stories about people celebrating the Bhoomi pooja. For example, the Hindi daily, on page 5, had several pictures along with reports in which people were seen applying tika (applying vermilion on forehead), distributing sweets, conducting hawan pooja, and distributing sweets (ladoo). The newspapers did not raise a single point that such a gathering might further spread the coronavirus.

It is reported that Hindutva forces are deliberately taking their celebratory procession through Muslim localities and they are trying to provoke the minority communities. The Hindi dailies even failed to ask the administration how could people be allowed to gather to celebrate the Bhoomi pooja at the time of the corona pandemic when the schools are closed and the metros are not running.

Jansatta (August 6, p. 1) also made the event as a lead story. With the picture of Modi performing Bhoomi pooja, the headline reads,

मन मंदिर में राम

(Man Mandir men Ram)

Lord Rama is in the temple of the heart.

Navbharat Times (New Delhi, August 6, p.1) also borrowed a line from The Hanuman Chalisa. The Hanuman Chalisa is composed of forty chaupais on Lord Hanuman. The book is a Hindu devotional hymn (stotra) addressed to Lord Hanuman. It is believed that Tulasidasa, the author of Ramacharitamanasa, wrote Hanuman Chalisa in the Avadhi language in the sixteenth century. Hanuman Chalisa is very popular among the Hindus of north India and they often recite it. Look at Navbharat Times’ headline lifted from The Hanuman Chalisa,

राम काज करिबे को आतुर

(Ram kaaj karibe ko Aatur)

[Lord Hanuman] is keen to carry out the work of Shri Ram

In the inside pages, Navbharat Times published the pictures of the devotees lightening up lamps, burning firecrackers, holding motorcycle rally, doing hawan pooja in group. The headline reads,

 

दिल्ली में दिवाली, खूब जले दिये और आतिशबाजी

(Dilli men Diwali, khoob jale diye aur aatishbaazi)

Diwali is celebrated in Delhi, lots of lamps were lit, firecrackers are burnt.

The occasion was also used for Pakistan-bashing. Navbharat Times ran a separate story (August 6, p. 6) and claimed that Pakistan has fretted about the laying foundation of the Ram Temple. Look at its sensational headline,

“मंदिर की नींव रखी तो चिढ़ा पाक, नेपाल से आई बधाई”

Mandir kee neenv rakhi to chidha Pak, Nepal se aai badhai)

Pakistan has fretted about the laying foundation of the temple; Nepal sends congratulatory messages.

Note that India’s relation with Nepal has become soured over the boundary issue. Nepalese Prime Minister K.P Sharma Oli recently laid claim of Lord Rama by saying that the “real” Ayodhya is in Nepal, not in India and the birthplace of Lord Rama is Thori, a place in southern Nepal. Despite that, the Hindi newspaper spared Nepal from attack and primarily targeted Pakistan.

The reporting of Hindi Pioneer (New Delhi, August 6, p. 1) was not much different. It also had a line from a devotional song (aarti) to Lord Rama. It was written by Gosvami Tulasidasa.

श्री रामचन्द्र कृपालु भजु मन हरण भवभय दारुणं

(Sri Ramachndra kripalu bhajamana harana bhavabhaya darunam)

Worship Lord Rama, who is Kind. He removes sorrow, pain, fear and scarcity.

Pioneer also published a story (p. 4) that Gurugram (Gurgaon) has turned saffron and the chanting of Jai Shri Ram ranted the sky of the city. It also carried the story of people holding saffron flags and they were standing in a group. Many of them were without masks.

Rajasthan Patrika (Jaipur, August 6, p. 1) and Amar Ujala (New Delhi, August 6) also carried the Bhoomi pooja as its front-page story. With a headline “Sab ke hain Ram, Sab men hain Ram” (Ram belongs to everyone and Ram is in everyone), the Hindi daily published a big picture of Prime Minister Modi doing pooja. On page two, Rajasthan Patrika published the picture of firecrackers in Jaipur with a headline,

“भादो में दिवाली सी दमक उठी गुलाबीनागरी”

Bhado men Diwali si damak uthi Gulabinagari

In Bhado (a Hindi month in rainy season), Pink City (Jaipur) gets illuminated like Diwali.

Rashtriya Sahara (New Delhi, August 9, 2020, p. 1), similarly, carried a big picture of Modi laying prostrate. Its headlines were as follows,

मोदी बोले राम

भारत की मर्यादा

रामजन्मभूमि मुक्त, देश राममय

(Modi bole Ram

Bharat ki Maryada

Ramjanambhoomi mukt, desh Rammay)

Modi chants Ram

Ram is the dignity, code of conduct

Ramjanambhooki freed, the country gets immersed in devotion to Lord Rama

Hindustan Hindi (New Delhi, August 6, p. 2) carried a picture of Modi bowing at the stairs in front of deity with a headline “Loktantra ka Mandir” (the temple of democracy) and “Maryada ka Mandir” (the temple of dignity and code of conduct). How could a temple, a place of worship, be associated with democracy, a modern institute based on universal franchise and idea of equality? The daily also carried several stories claiming that “the echo of Ram Temple is being heard from New York to Nepal”. On page six, Hindustan carried a story about how Indian-Americans are celebrating the Bhoomi pooja by lighting up lamps. Dainik Bhaskar (August 6, p. 11) calls the celebration of the Bhoomi puja as a national celebration (rashtra parva sa ullas).

Punjab Kesari (Ludhiana, August 6, p. 2), claimed that the issue of temple construction as also widely covered by the international media. It also carried a story of burning firecrackers brightening up the sky in Jodhpur. In a separate story (p. 2), Panjab Kesari claimed that Prime Minister Modi, by doing Bhoomi pooja has recorded in his name in history. The daily gave details about how he took a great interest in Ram temple mobilization.

According to the daily, Modi has taken the temple construction as his mission since 1990. The daily hopes that Modi would also be a witness to the final construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Prabhat Khabar (Ranchi, August 6) devoted most of its pages to covering the Bhoomi pooja. It also carried the statement of Budhu Pahan, an Adivasi in which the person expressed his deep sense of happiness that 11 Pahan Adivasis had gone to participate in the Bhoomi pooja from Ranchi. Budhu Pahan also claimed that the Adivasis of the village were fortunate that the sacred soil from the Sarna places has been taken to Ayodhya. A large number of Adivasis worship nature and they call their religion Sarna, distinct from Hinduism.

The English dailies also made the Bhoomi pooja as the lead story. Several English newspapers were less open in propagating Hindutva agendas. They chose to report the event. But they also failed in their duties to question the establishment for publically associating with the religious activities. For example, The Times of India (New Delhi, August 6, p. 1) had this headline: “At bhoomipujan, PM likens Mandir campaign to freedom struggle”. Pioneer (English, New Delhi, August 6, p. 1) sounded like the Hindutva leader in its lead story. “Foundation laid to realise dream”. The Asian Age (New Delhi, August 6, p. 1) ran a headline that “PM Modi lays first brick to Ram Rajya”. The daily also carried story how Advani, the main face of Ram temple mobilization, had not been invited to attend the function and with this, Advani’s “isolation” from the party seemed to be “total”. The absence of Advani and other BJP leaders from Bhoomi pooja give weightage to the claim that the BJP is controlled by a single leader. The Indian Express (New Delhi, August 6, p. 1) had a front-page story on the Bhoomi pooja with the headline: “Modi marks the Mandir”. The Hindustan Times (New Delhi, August 6, p. 1) ran a front-page story, entitled “Ayodhya’s tryst with destiny”. The daily also published a separate story about how the opposition parties projected themselves as “the devotee” to Lord Rama. For example, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted “Lord Ram is the ultimate embodiment of supreme human values,” Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee commented that, “Our country has always upheld the age-old legacy of unity in diversity, and we must preserve this to our last breath”. Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi chief minister, and AAP leader, posted a comment that “May we continue to receive Lord Ram’s blessings. May his blessings also help the country get rid of poverty”.

Among the English newspapers, Telegraph (Kolkata, August 6, p. 1) made the violation of secularism as a central issue. It also raised a fundamental point that in a secular state the state and the church are separated. It lamented that “Raja (the king) and Rishi (the clergy) are no longer separate in the Republic”. Noted journalist Sankarshan Thakur, writing the lead story for Telegraph, expresses his concern in the following words: “The nation witnessed from Ayodhya on Wednesday the ritual merger of Church and State — rishi and raja — as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, elected head of a constitutionally secular state, turned de facto mahant to perform the ground-breaking rites of the Ram temple and declared all of India “Ram-maya”, or suffused with Ram.”

Unlike Hindi dailies, Urdu dailies did not make the Bhoomi pooja issue as a big issue. Some newspapers even did not give it a place on the front-page. Several Urdu newspapers also raised the issue of how Bhoomi pooja violates the principle of secularism. Inquilab (Mumbai, August 6, p. 1) in its lead-story also attacks the silence of the secular opposition party. “Ram Temple Bhoomi pooja: the silence [about the violation of secularism] of the opposition parties is support [to it] (Ram Mandir Bhoomi pooja, secular parties ki khamoshi tayeed). It rues that the Congress party repeatedly claimed that they too had placed a role in the construction of the Ram Temple”. Siasat (Hyderabad, August 6, p. 1) did not make the Bhoomi pooja as the lead story on the front page. In its report, the Urdu daily questions the claim of Prime Minister Modi that he believes in development (Vikas purush). Its headline critiques the establishment. “The new India of Vikas purush Modi: The place where the Babri Masjid stood yesterday, tomorrow a Ram Temple will be there” (Vikas purus Modi ka naya Hindustan: Kal Jahan Babri Masjid thi, kal wahan Ram Mandir Hogi”. Etemad (Hyderabad, August 6, p. 1) made a story out of the statement of Asaduddin Owaisi in which he termed the Bhoomi pooja as the defeat of secular forces and victory of Hindutva forces. Kashmir Uzma (Kashmir, August 6) did not give space to the Bhoomi pooja on the front page and it was published as a small story on page 7. Salar (Bengaluru, August 6), however, carried a small story of the Bhoomi pooja on the first page. Aag (Lucknow, August 6), on the other hand, made the lead-story out of the bhoomi poojan. It also carried a picture of Modi, Yogi, and Bhagwat along with the story.

Apart from reportings, the editorials of the Hindi newspapers also accepted the Hindutva narrative. Dainik Jagran wrote an editorial (August 6) that welcomed the act of the Ram temple construction in Ayodhya. It saw the construction of the temple as promoting national unity and helping the nation reach the zenith (shikhar) of superiority (utkarsh). It also carried an opinion piece by RSS chief Mohan Bhagat besides the editorial. In his piece, Bhagwat claims the temple construction as the beginning of a new India. Jansatta’s editorial (August 6) claims that the beginning of the construction of the Ram Temple has brought joy everywhere. It has also claimed that the Ram temple is an issue of faith for Hindus but some political interests had been responsible for delaying the process of the temple construction. Jansatta found fault with some “political interests” but it did not write a single line as to how the demolition of the Babri Masjid was a criminal act and betrayal of the constitution by the supreme court and the Hindutva leaders. Navbharat Times (August 6), in its editorial, issues all praise for Prime Minister Modi and his government for bringing cultural nationalism to mainstream politics. The abolition of article 370 and the construction of the Ram temple have been seen as the core agenda of Hindutva forces and their achievements by the BJP government earns the kudus from Navbharat Times. The daily completely ignores the fact as to how the politics of cultural nationalism is exclusionary and divisive. Haribhoomi (August 6), in its editorial, uncritically accepts the Hindutva narrative of history. It gives the fabricated narrative that the Ram Temple was demolished in 1528 and the mosque was built on that. While it praises Modi for fulfilling the aspiration of people, it equates the British, liberal and secular forces as impediments to the realization of the Ram temple. Pioneer (August 6) also wrote an editorial and called the Bhoomi pooja as a big achievement. It also recounted the history of “long-struggle” and Hindutva leaders and praised their efforts. Rashtriya Sahara’s editorial (August 6), called the Bhoomi pooja as the beginning of a new India. Hindustan, in its editorial, similarly followed the Hindutva line and argued that the construction of Ram temple has been a long dream and its realization has cheered people.

The English newspapers also penned their editorials on the Ram temple issue. The Indian Express (August 6) was not vocal in criticizing the Prime Minister for violating secularism and giving the temple construction a priority amid the corona pandemic. But, it did raise a few questions about the threat of “majoritarian triumphalism”. “But as the ruling party at the Centre of a diverse nation, the BJP must be mindful of the dangers of majoritarian triumphalism. Even the Supreme Court, which paved the way for the temple by giving the disputed site to the Hindu side, described the 1992 destruction of the Babri masjid as illegal. The demolition case continues in court. At Ayodhya on Wednesday, there was no mention of the debris of the mosque that lies under the proposed temple, or of the exclusions of faith-based politics. These need to be acknowledged and addressed. Only then can the invocation of national unity — by virtually the entire political establishment today — ring sincere”.

Deccan Herald (August 6) did take up the issue of secularism but it chose to spend its full energy on attacking the Congress for not upholding secular principles: “That the temple is coming up on a spot where Babri Masjid once stood, and the apex court had sanctioned its construction there only after calling the vandalism at the Masjid, including damage done to it in 1934, placing of idols under its central dome in 1949 and its destruction in 1992, “egregious violations of rule of law”, would have been reason enough for the Congress leader to hold back her horses, instead of joining forces with those who are out to display “triumphalist bigotry”, as another senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor would put it.” The editorial asks the Congress to realize that “secularism is not a standalone idea; it’s very much part of a larger project which seeks to recognize every human being shorn of all the artificial classifications such as caste, religion, sex, region and so on”.

The editorial of Telegraph (August 6) highlighted the issues of the black day of December 6, and the divisive politics associated with the Hindutva project. It also questioned the claim if the Ram temple would lead to fraternity: “In his address on the occasion of the bhoomi pujan at the soon-to-be-built Ram temple in Ayodhya, the prime minister, Narendra Modi, made an important point. The edifice, Mr Modi said, must be built amidst a shared feeling of brotherhood. Curiously, an objective assessment of the resolution of the Ram temple issue — the legal case had dragged on for decades, accompanied by widening fissures in India’s body politic — would reveal that amity was rare, almost absent, among the contesting parties. One possible reason for this absence of fraternity can be attributed to what took place on that dark afternoon of December 6, 1992. The demolition of the Babri Masjid, supposedly in an orchestrated attempt by vigilantes, brought down with it the foundational vision of the republic that was once committed to protect the principle of secularism. The mandir’s adherents have, time and again, drawn attention to the Supreme Court’s order that removed the hurdles on the path of temple construction at the site of the mosque. The judgment, it must be admitted, was unanimous. But the unanimous verdict notwithstanding, the court had been forced to acknowledge that the wanton destruction and desecration of the mosque were infringements of the law”.

In conclusion, the Hindi dallies, irrespective of their different banners, have accepted Hindutva lines. It is unfortunate that, instead of making reference to the constitution, they are resorting to citing religious scriptures to satisfy the triumphalist majoritarian sentiments. The English dailies, in their reportings, did not question the dominant narratives. In their editorials, some of the English newspapers made half-hearted criticism of the establishment. Several Urdu newspapers have raised the issue of destruction of the mosque and violation of secular principles in their coverage. Some Urdu dailies have chosen to send the event to the inside pages.  In general, the coverage of the media has been disappointing. The question of violence, death of innocent people associated with the very birth of the temple mobilization are nowhere in the public domain.

(Abhay Kumar is a Ph.D. from Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is broadly interested in Minority Rights and Social Justice. Earlier, he held a Post-Graduate Diploma in English Journalism from Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi and worked as a reporter with The Indian Express. You may write to him at debatingissues@gmail.com)


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One Comment

  1. Avatar Jaspal Singh Sidhu says:

    Comprehensive analysis