In a secular democracy, the mainstream media has become a zealous fundraiser for the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. While it has often opposed the appearance of any religious symbol belonging to minority communities in the public sphere, it has never restrained itself from campaigning for the Hindutva forces. A recent example is the ongoing fundraising campaign for the Ram Temple.
On January 16, 2021, Dainik Jagran (National) carried a seven-column lead story on page seven about the President RamnathKovind donating five lakh one hundred rupees for the construction of the Ram Temple. The Hindi daily also carried an image of Govind Dev Giri (treasurer of Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust) showing the cheque from the President. Not only Dainik Jagran but other newspapers also covered the story prominently.
For example, The India Express gave first-page coverage. It wrote that “President Ram Nath Kovind on Friday donated Rs. 5,00,100 for the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, as the Ramjanmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust began a nationwide campaign to collect donations”. Several chief ministers also gave contributions. “The sources said the Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Trivendra Singh Rawat respectively; the Governors of Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand, Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, Bandaru Dattatreya, Draupadi Murmu, and Baby Rani Maurya respectively; and Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel made donations on Friday”, The Indian Express reported.
In order to justify the involvement with the government and the state machinery in the construction of the Ram Temple, the media wrote a sentence that the donation by the President made in his “personal capacity” (vyaktigatrup se). But the media does not want to tell us the truth that the way the donation of President Kovind was advertised through the media was a purely political act. The President is the first citizen of India and also the Head of the State. If he pays a donation to any religious activity, it carries a big legitimacy for the act. It creates also an impression that the President has become a patron for the act. In a secular democracy, a person holding a constitutional post is absolutely free to profess a religion or not to profess any, but he should not be seen to be patronizing any particular religious activity. Such an act goes against the secular Constitution of the country that forbids the state from associating with any particular religion.
The media is conspicuously ignoring these points. It does not want to accept the fact that the RSS is planning to collect funds from 10 crore families as reported by Dainik Jagran (January 8, p. 6). The media is also silent about the fact that the same Hindutva forces were responsible for a religious frenzy that tragically culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid and killings of a large number of people in violence related to the temple agitation. The media does not want to accept the fact that the Ram Temple agitation was purely a political movement for gaining power for Hindutva outfits. Those who have any doubt about it can read a recently published autobiography by the former RSS activist BhanwarMeghwanshi. His biography titled “Main EkKarsewakTha” (I was an RSS volunteer) narrates how the upper caste Hindus organized Dalits and lower castes to participate in the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya; but they kept themselves and their own children away from participating in it.
Collecting donation for the construction of the Ram Temple is less a religious act and more a political one. The campaign is aimed at generating less wealth than votes. The Hindutva forces have got a great opportunity to reach out to each and every corner of the country and mobilize people in its support. They would not only project themselves as the Rama bhakta or devotees to Lord Rama but call its opponents and opposition leaders as Ravana. The donation campaign may also create law and order problems. A news report published in the Urdu daily Inquilab (January 15, p. 15) says that the Hindutva fanatics organized a motorcycle rally in Bulandshahar, UP, in the name of collecting funds for Ram Temple but ended up raising anti-Muslim slogans and asking them to leave the country.
During the anti-CAA protests, the same media donned the role of a great champion of “secularism”. It rejected a peaceful mass movement on the pretext of the use of religious symbols. For example, the media alleged that during the anti-CAA protests the activists raised the slogans in favor of Allah and women sat on the protest sites in a burqas. If invoking the name of Allah by some activists, if it is true, amounts to a violation of secularism, is not a donation for the construction of a religious place by the people holding constitutional posts and high offices against the spirit of secularism? Are not holding a rally in the name of collecting donation for building a religious place and raising inflammatory slogans against the religious minority against secularism?
The media is still silent about these questions. For them, the religiosity promoted by the Hindutva forces seems to have become a new normal and is now synonymous with the national culture. For instance, Dainik Jagran (January 16) carried a picture on its lead story in which government officers are doing pooja before sending corona vaccine to vaccination booths in Mirzapur in eastern Uttar Pradesh. How could public officers be justified in doing pooja at public offices? Had the media taken it a “normal” event if the same officers would have recited the verses from the Bible or offered namaz? Sadly, the mainstream media, in a secular democracy, continues to ignore and it is increasingly becoming a new zealot for the Hindu religion as defined by the Hindutva forces.
(Abhay Kumar is a Ph.D. from JNU. He is broadly interested in Minority and Social Justice. Earlier, he held a Post-Graduate Diploma in English Journalism from The Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi, and worked as a Delhi-based reporter with The Indian Express. You may write to him at email@example.com).