Opinion: Demolition of Babri Masjid proves idea of India remains contested

There is a temple in Ayodhya and no sane person will consider removing it. So, the discussion is not about title, culpability, or where a temple should be built. The debate has boiled down to how and when. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

WION Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India Dec 06, 2017, 06.44 AM (IST) Kartikeya Sharma

The demolition of the Babri Masjid proves that the idea of India remains contested, and that the RSS wants to alter the character of the nation in its own image.

Ayodhya was the first successful experiment whereby Muslim votes became electorally irrelevant as a consolidated Hindu vote propelled the BJP to power under Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Ayodhya is also a reminder of the fact that accountability in politics is a faraway dream.

As of today, there has been no legal conclusion as how the conspiracy to bring down the disputed structure was hatched.

Ayodhya is also the first case where faith got the better of the constitutional imagination of the country. The violence which broke out 25 years ago challenged, irrevocably, the separation of state and religion. Religion has seeped into the political arena and mainstreamed a style of politics under which Muslims can live side-by-side with Hindus but will be politically disempowered.

Twenty-five years down the line, it has become okay to say the minority vote does not matter. This is not to say the Congress did not pamper minorities politically and created a rift at the grassroots level. In fact, Ayodhya should also be seen in the context of the Shah Bano judgement, and the subsequent intervention by Rajiv Gandhi which sent home the message that the mainstream parties discriminated against Hindus.

This was coupled with the Mandal agitation which, in the name of social justice, lifted opportunistic politicians into the chairs of power. It was this tension between Mandal and Kamandal politics that allowed Ayodhya to evolve into a political project.
Ayodhya further changed the character of Hinduism. Ayodhya is an attempt to build the identity of the Indian state around one sampradaya (sect) of Hinduism. Hinduism, unlike other religions, has a plethora of gods. Shakta and Saiva are two of the hundreds of sampradayas which exist in India.

Ayodhya also injected an element of ‘true to faith’ into Hinduism.

Ayodhya was an attempt to redefine the concept of a national around shared religious belief that would take us beyond caste-based divisions of the Hindu society.

Ayodhya is a challenge to Indian multiculturalism which is being belittled in the name of secularism and liberalism. Ayodhya is being used as a cure for casteism on which Hinduism rests. The idea is to dissolve internal deficits by creating a crisis of identity and future. Ayodhya was an attempt to redefine the concept of a nation around shared religious belief that would take us beyond the caste-based divisions of Hindu society.
The only worry is that 25 years down the line, Ayodhya is not a contested idea anymore. There is a temple in Ayodhya and no sane person will consider removing it. So, the discussion is not about title, culpability, or where a temple should be built. The debate has boiled down to how and when. Through consensus or judicial process?

I don’t call Ayodhya a wound either from the Muslim or the Hindu perspective. It is not an unresolved project. Ayodhya is the beginning of a bigger project which blends a crude majoritarianism and nationalism that is always trying to search for the "other" to validate itself.
The process is helped by the country's undemocratic liberal elites who fail to take into account how modernity is reshaping Hinduism in the country. They failed to see the crassness and corruption of the so-called social justice calls of the caste-based parties that only ended up perpetuating dynasties.

The liberal elites felt that they would be the solution to illiberal and majoritarian politics. That was not to be. In turn, the Sankritisation of OBCs created Hindu mascots out of them, further squeezing out the liberal elites who failed to understand that India had started to consider them as outsiders and the political project of Hinduism is the real thing. Today, Ayodhya is not about the birthplace of Ram, it is about Hindu vanity.

It is about a sense of power. It is about a sense of assertion. It is not about renunciation, which Ram did at the drop of a hat when asked to leave the throne for Bharat. There is no maryada either. Afterall Ram has been known as the maryadapurushottam Ram. Maryada was crossed when one political class wanted to bring down the mosque and the other wanted to cooperate so that the problem would get resolved.
The nation cannot retrace its steps. That is not possible, although we are coming close to the horrible and morbid politics of Pakistan which differentiates between its own people.

It is a choice which India will have to make. The truth is that the temple will stand in Ayodhya forever, but the challenge is what we make of it.

Can we come together and pray that similar violence in the name of God never takes place. It will require sanity from both sides. It will require forgiveness from both sides.

(Disclaimer: The author writes here in a personal capacity).

Kartikeya Sharma

Kartikeya Sharma is Political Editor at WION. When he is not working, you will find him travelling, reading or cooking.