The truth behind Ram mandir agitation

Markandey Katju

The Ram mandir issue has again picked up momentum as the Lok Sabha elections approach, and it is obviously connected to the latter.

The Supreme Court is being blamed by many people for procrastinating over the Ayodhya dispute, and there have been some protests outside the court premises. Whichever way the Supreme Court decides on the Ayodhya title dispute, the BJP—which thrives on communal passions, and whose fortunes have been declining lately—hopes to benefit by the decision, thinking it will lead to a massive upsurge of communal feelings.

What is the truth behind all the brouhaha over the Ram mandir? In my opinion, the Ram mandir issue is no issue at all (despite our ‘masala-seeking’ and largely sold-out media projecting it as such!).

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The real issues before the country are massive poverty, galloping unemployment, widespread farmer distress, record and rising child malnutrition, almost total lack of proper healthcare, good education for the masses and so forth. Let us consider some of these issues:

Narendra Modi had promised in his 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign that if the BJP came to power, his government would create 2 crore jobs annually. But far from doing so, unemployment has reached record heights, as all reliable data indicates. It is believed that demonetisation alone destroyed 2 crore jobs, and tens of thousands of medium-scale and small-scale industries.

Farmers suicides have crossed 300,000, and farmer agitations have mounted (there have been rallies even in the national capital Delhi) protesting against the Modi government’s failure to implement the Swaminathan Commission report (which Modi had promised to do) to fix the minimum support price of food products at 50 per cent above the cost of production.

Child malnutrition figures, as per the Global Hunger Index, show that over one-third of the world’s malnourished children are Indian children. As much as 47 per cent of our children are malnourished, a figure far above even sub-Saharan countries like Somalia and Ethiopia, and we now have the distinction of being ranked at 103 out of the 119 countries studied by the Global Hunger Index, having further slipped after the BJP came to power in 2014 (we were ranked 97 in 2016 and 100 in 2017).

Our education system is in a shambles. There is no doubt that India has some excellent institutions like the IITs, but these are minuscule. The vast majority of our schools and colleges are in a terrible condition, with few having proper teachers and facilities.

About healthcare, the less said, the better. There are no doubt some state-of-the-art hospitals in big cities, but these are exorbitantly expensive and simply out of reach for the masses, who often have to go to quacks.

This being the national scene, what can our political leaders, who have no solutions to these real issues, do? They can only seek to divert public attention from these real issues to non-issues like cow protection and building a Ram mandir, the whole aim being to whip up communal passions in the hope that this would get votes.

It is said that the Ram mandir issue is vital as it is connected to people’s aastha (faith). No doubt, most people in India are religious, and many have faith in lord Ram. But there are thousands of Ram temples in the country, so why a Ram mandir at the particular spot where the Babri Masjid existed? It is said that Ram was born at this particular spot. But Ram was a mythological figure, so how can it be said he was born thousands of years ago at this very spot? So why all this hue and cry?

The real reason is this: it is well known that in most states in India, votes are largely cast on caste and communal lines. In many states, particularly big states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the vote bank of the BJP is the Hindu upper castes (Brahmins, Rajputs, Banias, Bhumidhars, etc.), which are collectively only about 20 per cent of the population.

Now to win an election, one needs at least 30 per cent votes (it is not necessary to get 50 per cent votes as others are divided), but 20 per cent votes are certainly insufficient. So to win elections, the BJP requires an additional 10-15 per cent votes. That is only possible if at least a section of OBCs and SCs join in (Muslims will, of course, never vote for the BJP) and this is possible only if communal feelings run high. It was this formula that catapulted the BJP, which had only 2 seats in the Lok Sabha in 1984, to getting 183 seats in the 1999 elections.

In the original Ramayan of Valmiki, which is in Sanskrit, Ram is not a god but a prince who later became king of Ayodhya. It was only 2,000 years later, that he got transformed from a human being to a God in Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas written in the 16th century, and in some other vernacular works (though in the Assamese Ramayan, called Saptakand Ramayan, written by Madhav Kundali in the 14th century, he is not depicted as a god). But since most people do not know Sanskrit, they do not know this fact. When the original Ram is only a human, what is all this hue and cry of building a temple for him? Temples are only built for gods.

In my opinion, the present raking up of the Ram mandir issue is a desperate gambit by a party, whose president once spoke of ruling India for 50 years, but which is now seeing power slipping out of its hands. However, in view of the people’s anger and distress over the BJP’s total failure to do anything about the real issues facing the nation, I doubt that this diversionary gambit will succeed.

The article was published in The Week

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