By Dhurjati Mukherjee
The temple town of Ayodhya is all decked up. The Prime Minister performing the bhoomi pujan ceremony for construction of the Ram temple today gives political overtones to the ‘religious’ ceremony. The Ram Janmabhoomi Teertha Kshetra trust has issued 175 invites, but there will be more people to partake the celebrations in the midst of the pandemic. Such fanfare when 3 lakh cases have been recorder in just 12 days raises many an eyebrow. Moreover, in a country like India, committed to secular principles, any show of majoritarianism in respect of religion and through actions is definitely not welcome.
The understanding of ‘Hinduism’ of our present political leaders, who use the term ‘Hindutva’ is quite different from the interpretations of religious scholars, mostly wedded to Swami Vivekananda’s line of thinking. As is well known and has been repeated often, Swamiji talked of religious unity and in line with the thinking of his guru, Ramakrishna, who observed that there are various ways to reach the divine, who is one and the same.
These religious thinkers and also their followers, like Swami Rangathananda, wanted religion to unite people and motivate them to engage in social and communitarian work for the welfare of the oppressed and deprived sections of society. The present Secretary of Ramakrishna Math and Mission at Bhubaneswar had told the undersigned that working for the community and helping the poor, in whatever way possible, is also an important religious activity. But is seems the current genre of politicians want to use religion, not something to be followed in letter and spirit, to divide the population for political ends to remain in power.
A journalist-turned-BJP parliamentarian wrote sometime around 2017-end that the government is “proud to flaunt Hindu inheritance”. While there are several interpretations of Hinduism, the article did not elaborate which aspect of it his party is proud of, but justify its pro-Hindutva stand. Obviously, his party is not in consonance with those who affirm that Hinduism is not a religion, in the narrow sense of the term, but a way of life.
The present trend to raise a false sense of nationalism based on Hindu religion would not take the country forward. Being a nation, where education levels and quality standards are low, people do not completely understand or foresee the government’s actions, such as the foundation-laying ceremony, as a means to divert the attention of the masses from pressing social, economic and health issues affecting the nation today.
The devastation caused by COVID-19 to the national economy, triggering massive job losses and affecting vital sectors, has been so deep and profound that experts cannot predict when normalcy would return. Aware of the present critical scenario, the government prefers to play with people’s sentiments by injecting a false sense of nationalism based on religious lines. Honestly, these are extraneous to the grim reality today, with unemployment and hunger staring lakhs in the face.
It is wrong to believe that ethics, morality or adherence to religious principles is the motive behind the construction of the massive Ram temple. Rather, it’s all just a show of how deeply the party in power is committed to religious principles. However, this too is not the case in reality as gradually over a period of time the politicians’ principles and integrity stand to be questioned. This is demonstrated by the alleged ‘horse trading’ we are witnessing in the power games recently played out in States like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and now Rajasthan, not to speak of Goa and some States in the North East.
According to reports, the going price for a State legislator in Rajasthan to switch parties is alleged to range between Rs 15 and Rs 25 crore, a staggering sum if compared with the country’s annual per capita income of $2100. ‘Judgment and conscience’, are forgotten or totally lost. A voter, who opted for his local representative and a set of ideas, is not surprised anymore to see his MLA switch to another party, which stands for opposite principles!
Another aspect during these difficult times which begs attention is the huge expenditure to be incurred for the construction of the temple, which will have five domes and a height of 161 feet. So far it remains in wraps. It’s quite obvious small donations of a few hundreds of rupees as projected by devotees would not be sufficient. Already the silver brick (weighing 22.6 kg) to be used for laying the foundation of the temple has cost over Rs 14 lakh at current market prices. Come to think of it, the resources could have instead been gainfully used for much-needed social development work, specially related to the pandemic and reaching out to the downtrodden.
However, this is not what the ruling establishment has on its mind at present. A section of political scientists point out, and quite rightly, that the timing of the bhoomi pujan coincides with the ensuing Bihar Assembly elections, which are to be followed by those in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. It is also projected that a part of the temple would be ready by 2022-end, a few months before the next Lok Sabha elections in 2023. Does this all not suggest that the timing of the temple construction is to whip up passions by showcasing the government’s adherence to Hindu religion and its ultimate agenda of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’?
One can easily discern the poor judgment power of our politicians in deciding priorities before them and more so at such a critical phase in human history. No other country in the world would have ventured to take such an irrational decision of constructing a temple complex when the country is faced with acute financial crisis and also when most States are clamouring for funds from the Centre to meet the huge health expenditure due to the increasing nature of the pandemic.
Religion used constructively has definitely a role in society — that of unifying the masses and extending them a helping hand — but it should not be used for political gains, particularly when the Constitution’s Preamble clearly speaks of a secular State. It is no secret that civil society activists are pretty much unanimous in their opinion of the present government i.e. it’s bent on destroying the secular and democratic fabric of the nation. The politicisation of the foundation laying ceremony of the Ram temple is one such step, among others.