Sometime in the mid-1980s, the then RSS chief Balasaheb Deoras had asked the assembled leaders of the organisation from all the states a simple question: “Should the RSS plunge fully into the Ram Janmabhoomi movement or allow it to be led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas (the body of saints it had promoted)?”. When the assembly unanimously supported the idea of the RSS fully plunging into the movement, Deoras was supposed to have warned them one final time that entering the movement is a one-way street and there won’t be any moving back until the goal is achieved.
So when we in the RSS took the decision to join the movement, we knew well that it had to be a movement to the finish. And the finish that we had envisaged was the building of a magnificent Ram temple at the spot, which is described historically as the birthplace of Bhagwan Ram. The decision of the RSS to join the movement has completely transformed the character of it from that of an ostensibly religious one to a movement for national self-respect and honour. The BJP joined the movement subsequently, through its famous Palampur resolution of 1988.
When the movement was launched, we didn’t have too many arguments to satisfy the “eminent intellectuals” of our country and abroad. We were inspired by the simple yet profound desire to see the Ram Mandir come up on the very spot which was believed to be his birthplace. There stood a structure, a non-functional mosque and a functional temple, described as the Babri Masjid. Babar was an invader, and a structure in his name, that too on a spot revered by the people as the birthplace of a legendary figure like Ram, was a sufficient enough reason for millions of ordinary Indians to join the movement. Logic came later; arguments and evidence were developed later. In fact, the most significant arguments in favour of the Ram Mandir were all developed gradually by people who had nothing to do with the RSS or the BJP. On the academic front, foreign scholars like Koenraad Elst, a Belgian, were at the forefront, advancing propositions in the temple’s favour. Eminent scholars of Indian origin like Nirad C. Chaudhuri and V. S. Naipaul too lent their support subsequently. But for the majority of ordinary Indians, it was a simple emotional, civilisational appeal — Ramlala hum aayenge, mandir vahi banayenge; jahan Ram ka janam hua, mandir wahin banayenge.
Nearly three decades later, the one-way road still hasn’t come to an end. It has crossed many milestones — there were serious efforts to have a negotiated settlement, the controversial structure got demolished and court cases piled up. Are we near a settlement? We seem to be closer to a verdict by the country’s apex court. The future of the Ram temple depends on the verdict and the popular response to it. As a general rule, the nation should wait for the court order and obey it. However, efforts have been started by some “eminent intellectuals” to influence the verdict. A group of them have written to the Supreme Court exhorting it to not deliver a verdict in favour of any one community. Almost all of these eminent intellectuals have, at some point, opposed the temple movement. Hence their sudden activity, pretending to be neutral, causes a lot of suspicion.
It is heartening to see more and more sane voices from among the Muslim community emanating in favour of an amicable settlement. For the larger national society, the Ram temple issue is more of a question of national honour and dignity.
There was nothing surprising about the BJP, with its strong cultural nationalist credentials, to support the RJB movement. But the most important political support for the temple movement came in 1989, when the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government not only allowed permission for laying the foundation of the temple but also deputed a senior minister, Buta Singh, to personally attend the ceremony.
In the 1989 and 1991 elections, there was a buzz about the RJB movement. But it had more to do with the pseudo-secularism being practised by many parties in the country. One great service that the RJB movement rendered at that time was to generate an intense debate on the country’s ethos: “Cultural nationalism with true secular credentials based on equal respect and non-appeasement” versus “pseudo secularism with minority appeasement”. The BJP lost elections in the Hindi heartland states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh after the demolition of the controversial structure. Yet, it had succeeded in capturing the public imagination on the crucial question of true secular values.
Having won this battle, the BJP had turned its attention to other important issues before the nation. Ram Janmabhoomi remained the ideological sheet-anchor for the larger nationalist movement of which the BJP has been an integral part. However, the party turned its attention to larger governance issues and went on to become the ruling party in 1996, 1998 and 2014. Contrary to the perception of a section of the intelligentsia, the BJP’s concept of cultural nationalism represented identity, dignity, freedom and unity. Good governance and development became the mantra of the party. It was this mantra that brought the phenomenon that is Narendra Modi to the forefront.
The tragedy is that the principal Opposition party is still stuck in identity politics. Just as Rajiv Gandhi found political virtue in officiating over the shilanyas ceremony in 1989, Rahul Gandhi thinks that temple-hopping is the new panacea for all his problems. The Congress’s problem is that instead of looking for a Modi, they are trying to bring back a Rajiv Gandhi.
In Ayodhya, there is a functioning temple for Bhagwan Ram at his birthplace today. The wish of the national society of converting the makeshift temple into a magnificent one will soon be fulfilled through greater consensus and goodwill. Meanwhile, the country’s politics has to focus on the dignity, freedom and unity of this great nation.
(The article was originally published in Indian Express on December 6, 2017. Views expressed are personal)