What worries me most about the Ram Temple

Ram Temple Ayodhya

The Ram Temple is all set to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi on January 24, 2024. For obvious reasons, this event will be milked to its full extent by Mr. Modi’s party. With general elections around the corner,  BJP will leave no stone unturned in projecting Ram Temple as Modi’s achievement. Pro-government mainstream media and right-wing cyber warriors will be hyperactive in spreading this message. How far this will help them win the elections is difficult to predict, but it will definitely be a huge shot in the arm for them.

In today’s India, questions like: Is it appropriate for the government of a secular democracy to exploit the inauguration of a place of worship of a particular community for its electoral furtherance have lost relevance. Communal polarisation is the main, if not the sole, rallying point for the right-wing BJP. And they are quite capable of brushing aside any voices that oppose their blatant exploitation of majoritarian religious sentiments. A pliant media makes sure that they get their way every time. In other words, whether anyone opposes them or not, they are going to exploit this issue to the hilt in the coming election.

As this is a matter that everyone is aware of, the opposition parties must have thought about ways to counter the right-wing propaganda. Barring a few like DMK, RJD, and TMC, most of the others, including INC, will be resorting to  soft hindutva. Needless to say, that approach will be suicidal, like Kamalnath’s soft hindutva campaign in MP. But the grand old party seldom learns from its mistakes, so it’s futile to expect Congress to act differently this time.

Ram Mandir Trust has invited 7,000 guests for the inauguration. This includes 3000 VVIPs and 3000 seers. The VVIP list includes politicians, industrialists, movie stars, cricketers, and dignitaries from 50 different countries. The trust will additionally feed one hundred thousand saints and devotees every day for 30 days prior to the inauguration. Apart from this, VHP, the belligerent Hindu organisation, has announced plans to invite 10 crore Hindu families from across the country for consecration ceremonies. The total population of the temple town is 2.5 million, and we should expect a crowd many times the size of Ayodhya’s population to be present in the town during that period. Any untoward incident will lead to unimaginable, unprecedented, and very dangerous consequences around the country and even beyond.

At this juncture, it will be wise of us to remind ourselves of what happened in this country after the Babri Masjid Demolition. After the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, communal riots broke out all over the country. Over 1,000 Indians lost their lives in December 1992 itself. The Bombay riots that happened in January 1993 were even more deadly. This was a planned attack on Muslims by a regional party. More than 900 of our fellow citizens lost their lives in Mumbai itself. Damages caused by violence to the livelihoods and aspirations of people can never be quantified. The worst was the harm that the demolition and resultant violence caused to the soul of this nation. India changed for the worse after the demolition.

The far deadlier Gujarat riots of 2002 also had an Ayodhya connection. The Godra train burning and murder of karsevaks returning from Ayodhya, which many reliable experts refer to as a staged, led to unprecedented brutal killings. Many acts of unimaginable savagery, including diabolic violence against women, were reported in the state. In a gory incident of rape and murder, 19-year-old Bilkis Banu, who was pregnant at the time, was gang raped by a few dozen rioters who killed 14 of her relatives, including her 3-year-old daughter. Though the official death toll was 1044, The Concerned Citizens Tribunal put the figure at 1926, while many other sources reported that over 2000 Indians, mostly Muslims, were massacred in the riots. Actually, it’s wrong to refer to the violence as riots, as it was a pogrom aided by the state and aimed at the Muslim community.

In the 1995 elections to the Maharashtra State Assembly, the right-wing alliance of the BJP and Shiva Sena defeated the Indian National Congress and formed the first non-Congress government in the history of Maharashtra. In the State Assembly polls of Gujarat in December 2002, the Modi-led BJP won 127 seats out of the total of 182. There have been other instances where communal riots have led to right-wing electoral victories. In India, there is a definite correlation between communal conflict and right-wing electoral success. In other words, any communal disturbance after the inauguration of the Ram Temple will result in a landslide victory in the general election of 2024 for Modi & Co.

The India of today is not the India of 1992 or even 2002; we are a divided house today. Venom of communal hatred fed regularly in dangerous proportions by India’s right-wing has permeated much of India. The situation is especially bleak in the Hindi heartland states. Engineered or spontaneous, any communal disturbance will spread all over India in no time. In a matter of hours, things can get totally out of control. The extent of the violence will be beyond anything we have experienced in the history of independent India. The scale of death and destruction will be unprecedented. What will be left of our country after such a devastating conflict is difficult to predict. But the prospect of such a calamity is quite real.

It is this possibility that is worrying me most about the Ram Temple.

Shakeel Mohammed P.A. is a social worker based in Kochi.

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