22nd of January 2024, the day chosen for the consecration of Ram ‘Lalla’ –the child form of one of most revered idols of faith for Hindus – in the holy city of Ayodhya, ‘reclaiming’ its place after decades-long legal battle culminating into the victory in 2019, may set the country on the road to a new political edifice. It could either be standing by the character based on true “sovereign, secular and socialist” democratic norms, or hastening to adopt the idea of a new India that identifies with a political choice on the basis of religion. But it is important to note that the prism to choose the either of these choices will have have to be under the ambit of Indian constitution.
Consecration, Ram Rajya and Idea of India
The live telecast of ceremonies in Ayodhya may be aimed at giving an opportunity to all those, who revere Ram not just as a deity or avatar of Vishnu, the creator but also those for who believe in the righteousness of the Maryada Purshottam (the man of dignity), to witness the momentum building up in the run-up to the consecration and thereafter for which they have understood through the concept of ‘Ram Rajya’.
There are also those from across the globe who hold India in high esteem as the largest democracy of the world. They are those who want to witness how the idea of India is held under the siege of state-sponsored religious ceremony of such large scale led by an elected head of a ‘secular-democratic republic’ with the entire country literally painted in saffron, which also happens to be the ruling party’s official colour.
A spectacle for all to watch how democratic institutions are decreed to declare national holiday, both the national and the state-influenced media dyed in similar colour while singing paeans of Ram Lalla carefully placed beside the political icon of contemporary India. The giant figure of this political avatar leading baby Ram to seat him in the new temple of Ayodhya is a well designed, well thought out and well advertised image for the idea of the ‘new India’ that has religion at the core of its politics.
The unparalleled faith of majority of Hindus in Ram and in the philosophies of righteousness as established by Ram ages ago is unquestionable but his adaptation as a symbol and ideology to claim power by a political party with religious ideology is what has led India to this difficult choice today – whether to regain the lost ground of secular democratic structure, or to be pushed further towards accepting the well-crafted majoritarian structure of governance that has religion at its core, where the temple and nationalism have been intertwined to appear as one.
The euphoria around the consecration ceremony may appear to be a deja vu movement of around 30 years ago in 1992 when a clarion call of ‘Jai Shree Ram’ led to the buildup of 6 December events when the place of worship of another faith was torn down. There is little difference though, 6 December 1992 was a test for India to choose between a faith that is very personal and has been practiced for very personal reasons under the defined individual boundaries and the faith which is derived from religion and crafted to suit a political ends with an eye on power by discreetly exploiting religious sentiments in the name of Ram and Ram Rajya.
With the demolition of a 16th century mosque by a frenzied mob, people gave in to their political masters’ maneuverings, unfortunately in the name of Ram, while opening a front for politics in the name of religion. The slogan of ‘Jai Shree Ram’ became a tool for replacing the sanctity of Hinduism with aggression of ‘Hindutva’.
The consecration ceremony of January 2024 is a reflection of what has been impeccably crafted for the past 30 years, a religious buildup under a political ideology, brick by brick. Although the January 2024 event has the sanctity of the order of the Supreme Court of India unlike the events of 1992, December 6, the political indulgence in an essentially religious ceremony, albeit sponsored by the state, calls for a constitutional scrutiny.
Ever since the idols of Ram Lalla were placed inside the mosque in 1949, during the tenure of the first prime minister of Independent India Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru, till the demolition of the mosque in 1992, successive governments intervened in the matter in their own ways in a bid to resolve the decades-old dispute between the Hindu and Muslims over the Babri Mosque-Ram ‘janam‘ bhoomi issue but there never had been an attempt to build a political ground to make an electoral capital out of the masjid –mandir issue by exploiting religious sentiments.
The orchestration around the event of 22 January 2024 has been the outcome of the period of around three decades between 6 December 1992 and 22 Jan 2024. During these years India vividly experimented with politics based on religion and this experiment interestingly happened under the very nose of the institutions which are responsible for restoring and maintaining constitutional ethics. Between 1992 and 2024, political developments with clear-cut mingling of religious sentiments have been enough to shake up the very ‘idea of India’ that is “diverse, inclusive” without any “state religion”, as defined by its constitution.
Idea of India, Power of state, and Religion in India
Thirty is years’ time is long enough to work on an idea, establish it, to reaping the harvest of electoral gains by playing on the sentiments. Political mobilisation around the consecration ceremony of the Ram temple at Ayodhya could have been a very emotive and pious moment for the people of faith who waited for this day for over 500 years, as they claim. This could have been a ceremony sans controversies had politics been kept at bay and the governance restricted its role to facilitating the arrangements.
Controversies surrounding the ceremony have much to worry about. One, it is a reflection on how the religion has been allowed to guide the politics of this country which could be a dangerous trend. Second, how politics in the name of religion could influence the electorate and perilously change not only the “inclusive” character of India but also has potential to upset the as well-defined balance or the equilibrium between the ‘power of state’ and the ‘right to religion’ in the preamble of the constitution of India.
The apprehensions about the indulgence of the elected government in the consecration ceremony are genuine and the logic that this is clearly an articulation to influence the electorate is valid as this blatantly goes against the statutes enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution that asserts India is a “secular” nation with no religion of the state.
But then this frenzy around the Ram temple has been in the making at least officially for the past 30 years. Who can we blame now when one political party under the nose of constitutional authorities has been exploiting the religious sentiments, scaling the electoral ladder and reaping the harvest of political benefits? Who should we blame when all this is happening for past three decades and no political party, not even those who styled as ‘socio-secular’ political alliance, mustered enough courage to pull up the government or the constitutional watch dogs for the trend, Who should we blame when lynching have been happening in the name of religion wrapped in political covers of parties in power?
Ecstasy over the grand Ram temple, minus the political indulgence, is justified but with the state sponsored religious ceremony. But what is next? Ram Rajya? Article 38 of the Constitution defines India as a ‘welfare state’, which ….
“...shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may, a social order in which justice – social economic and political – shall pervade all institutions of national life.”
The Indian constitution talks about “Justice, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity”. It also enjoins on the state the responsibility of “promoting the welfare of people”. India needs to revisit how and if it has failed the concept of ‘welfare state’ which is nothing but an inspiration from the ‘Ram Rajya’. The ‘Ram Rajya’ that the framers of the constitution visualised for the people of India.
The idea of India has become akin to ‘Ram Rajya’. Post 22 January 2024, once the Ram ‘Lalla’ is ensconced in his abode, the country should strive to choose the course where “power of the state’ is directed towards the ‘welfare of the people’ to deliver ‘justice’, ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’.