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25 years since Babri Masjid demolition: For RSS and VHP, Ram Temple in Ayodhya symbolises emotional space for Hindus, not anti-Muslim sentiment

Author: Swadesh Singh
Publication: Firstpost.com
Date: December 6, 2017
URL:   http://www.firstpost.com/politics/25-years-since-babri-masjid-demolition-for-rss-and-vhp-ram-temple-in-ayodhya-symbolises-emotional-space-for-hindus-not-anti-muslim-sentiment-4244761.html/amp?__twitter_impression=true

Public sphere is defined as a discursive space in which individuals and groups associate to discuss matters of mutual interest and, where possible, to reach a common judgment about them on a public platform.

Every social identity aspires to have a voice in the mainstream to discuss, to participate, to exercise political power and to influence opinion. But often the mainstream refuses to make way and what happens next is predictable yet hardly ever foreseen. The muted section pushes its way ahead, creating its own parallel space and leading to what can be called a split public sphere.

The emergence of Dalit movement in India could be seen as a good example of a split public sphere which made ground for Dalit art, literature and theatre, and which eventually muscled its way into the mainstream.

Ram Janmabhoomi movement is also an equally apt example of such a split public sphere. It thrust on to national screens the Hindu identity that had hitherto remained banished from public sphere.

Ram Janmabhoomi movement created a space for debate and discussion about issues related specifically to Hindus. Prior to the movement, issues concerning this religious section — from conversion to untouchability, demolition of temples to their trusteeship — were met with stoic silence. Before 1980s, newspaper The Hindu and ‘Hindu’ rate of growth were the only popular references to the term ‘Hindu’ and both had nothing to do with its primary meaning — the geo-cultural identity with a living tradition of thousands of years on the land between Himalayas and Indian ocean.

Ram Janmabhoomi Movement

The story of the birth of this movement and the way it split the public sphere invariably leads us to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates. The RSS was founded with national rejuvenation as the core and Hindu ethos as the force. RSS and its other organisations like Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Vanwasi Kalyan Ashram started many projects for the development of downtrodden and poor Hindus (in particular) and for everyone in general.

VHP was founded on the Krishna Janmashtami of 1964 with Guru Golwalkar, Swami Chinmayananda, Maharaja Vadyar of Mysore as founding members. These were all notable people in their own streams and were brought together by the feeling of a lack of public sphere to discuss issues related to Hindus. Contrary to what many may claim, the interests of these people were neither political nor personal. For example, right after its foundation, the VHP leadership convinced the Sant Samaj of India and passed a resolution against untouchability in the organisation's first meeting that was attended by Shankaracharyas and Mahamandleshawars. Similarly, in 1970s, RSS Sarsanghchalak Balasaheb Deoras declared if untouchability is not a sin then there is no sin in the world.

It is important to understand that for the RSS and the VHP, the issue of Ram Janmabhoomi did not just entail reconstructing one shrine in a place called Ayodhya. It was more a symbol of national reconstruction, of claiming a physical and psychological space that Hindus had been denied for centuries. Unfortunately, the movement came to be seen as an attempt to tear down another community, blacking out its basic purpose which was to jolt the nation out of its state of selective amnesia.

It is on record that when the structure at the disputed site in Ayodhya was demolished not one of the hundreds of other mosques in Ayodhya and Faizabad were touched.

At its Palampur convention, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) adopted a resolution to build a temple at the birth place of lord Ram. The then BJP president LK Advani started a Rath Yatra from Somnath — where a magnificent ancient shrine had been rebuilt after the Independence — to Ayodhya. The clear message for Hindus, in the growing split public sphere, was that while the Ram Janmabhoomi had been demolished 450 years ago when the country fell in the hands of foreign invaders, time had now come to reclaim freedom and profess and practice Hindu culture and tradition without fear or shame. But, of course, the mainstream missed it all together.

Under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, Congress had moved away from the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and tried to formulate new ideals that were more ‘secular’ in tone and texture. Slowly, it came to be observed that this secular fabric was inclined towards minorities and specifically away from Hindu identity. Nehru's understanding was one reason, vote bank compilations was another, either ways it pushed Hindus out of public sphere.

The Hindu cause eloped from the mainstream entirely after the demise of Sardar Patel. It was thought that Nehruvian consensus was antithetical to the Hindu cause. From academic texts, curriculum, public debate, newspapers to art and architecture, the idea of ‘Hindu’ was quietly erased knowingly and unknowingly.

After the cases of conversion in Minakshipuram, the RSS deputed VHP to ensure temple entry and construction of temples for Dalits in Tamil Nadu. They also decided to start a movement for national rejuvenation to enlighten people about the glorious tradition of this civilisation. They took up the issue of reconstruction of Ram Janmbhumi temple as a symbol of national pride (Ram Mandir ka Nirman Rashtriya Swabhiman ka Prateek Hai).

In this backdrop, first the RSS and the VHP, and later the BJP, started the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Ekatma Yatra was organised by VHP in 1984. In 1989, Ram Shila Pujanstook place in different parts of India in large numbers. These Shilas (bricks) were brought to Ayodhya by Karsewaks. Advani also declared that he will perform Karsewa in Ayodhya on 30 October 1990. But he was arrested by the then Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav in Samastipur, Bihar. On 2 November 1990, the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Mulayam Singh Yadav gave order to fire at karsevaks on Saryu bridge.

Hindu in Public Discourse

Since 1989, construction of a Hindu Shrine in Ayodhya became the subject of debates and discussions in different quarters and acquired considerable public attention. Newspapers and magazines began to track developments on the issue while editorials dissected the Ayodhya logjam. In Universities like JNU and DU many talks, seminars were organised by both the sides. The campus which used to discuss virtues of Marx, Lenin and Mao was now discussing secularism and communalism. Vivekanand, Savarkar and Golwarkar also became the subject of discussion on mess tables. Cultural nationalism and secular nationalism emerged as two poles in every intellectual arena. Advani, Malkani and others coined the term pseudo-secularism and minority appeasement which gained much currency.

This was also the time when many intellectuals and journalists, who were not RSS workers or BJP sympathisers stood up for the cause of Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya. Girilal Jain, Karanjia, Chandan Mitra, Swapan Dasgupta are some of the names who began to write heaps in favour of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

This was the time when BJP won governments in many states and became the principal Opposition party in Lok Sabha. It also became evident in early 1990s that the BJP was going to come to power sooner or later. ABVP, the student wing of RSS, also won elections in many campuses especially in a campus like JNU. In 1993, first ABVP candidate won central panel seat in JNUSU.

It is not as if there were no organisations working for Hindu cause. There were many like Ram Krishna Mission, Bharat Sewashram Sangh, Chinmay Mission and others. But these organisations were dependent on the government for land and grants and chose a somewhat subservient manner of functioning.

It was the Ram Janmabhoomi movement that brought Hindu cause to the light, made way for Hindu awakening by creating a Hindu Public Sphere where debate, deliberation, discussion about the Hindu issues became a norm.

- The author teaches Political Science in Satyavati College of Delhi University
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