Ayodhya is no longer a Hindu-Muslim issue, but a battle to reclaim the liberal Hindu soul

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Twenty-five years after the Babri Mosque demolition, India looks chillingly different than what it used to be until 1990

December 6th is a dark chapter in modern India history. It was on this day, exactly a quarter century ago, that India lost its political innocence and entered a new phase of blatant use of hate politics as an election-winning strategy. It was the day when medieval era Babri Mosque was pulled down by a Hindu crowd in Ayodhya to build a Ram Temple on the site of the razed mosque.

Dramatic transformation overwhelmed Indian politics since the crowd that had gathered in Ayodhya pulled down domes of Babri Masjid, a move that had the blessings of the top Sangh-BJP leadership, with apparent support from the state security machinery. India is still a de jure secular state. But it has turned into a majoritarian polity in the wake of December 6th, 1992. Minorities were then signalled to keep themselves on the sidelines as anything and everything concerning them was viewed as ‘appeasement’. As years rolled on, Muslim massacres like the 2002 one in Gujarat turned into an accepted stepping stone for leader like Narendra Modi to graduate from state politics to national scene and assume power in Delhi as the prime minister.

Many may and many may not agree, but India within 25 years after Babri Mosque demolition resembles a Hindu Pakistan, though it is still not an official theocratic state like our western neighbour. Centuries old Indian ethos of liberalism, multiculturalism and peaceful religious co-existence were openly challenged with tacit state encouragement with practices like mod lynching and vigilante crowd entering the kitchen to dictate food habits. The Indian media turned a mere state spokesperson rather than being the watchdog of Indian democracy.

India was no longer the India of its founding fathers’ dreams in the past twenty-five years. Nehru was mocked for his modern vision; Congress was declared a worthless party and a benefactor of minority communities’. Communalism peaked with events like Muzaffarnagar riots in the guise of ‘Love jihad’ --- an euphemism for the medieval practise of honour killing.

It was thoroughly un-Indian. It was no ordinary change. It was virtually a civilizational transformation of India shunning its modernity to embrace not even its ancient heritage of Hindu cosmopolitanism but moving towards a neo-theocratic state. This kind of a paradigm shift both at political and social levels could not have been possible just at the will of a political fringe. It was a calculated and cold-blooded strategy of the Hindu social establishment led by the RSS.

I firmly believe that the Sangh took this calculated step in response to the challenge posed by the Mandal politics. Mandal was not sheer OBC-quota politics. It turned the ancient Hindu caste hierarchy upside down. It was a challenge to the upper-caste dominance of entire Hindu social order. It was a quiet OBC coup against the established Hindu order, including the faith.

No social establishment tolerates such a fundamental transformation without a fightback. The Muslims society, for instance, is still fighting back its defeat with the rise of Western modern industrial civilization that pushed Islam to margins. It is clinging to its lost glorious past in the guise of ‘fundamentalism’ that has now morphed into jihadi terrorism. So, how could entrenched Hindu social order have given in to the rise of OBCs and Dalits without a fight!

Fought it did. But it engineered a ‘Hindu enemy’, the Muslim, who conquered ‘Hindu India’; who plundered ‘Hindu temples’. The established order cleverly turned the caste Hindu battle into a civilizational Hindu-Muslim war. Ayodhya was an ideal place to convert the tussle into a ‘Ram versus Allah’ contest. The established social order was restored with OBCs joining hands with the upper castes to fight back the ‘Muslim enemy. The caste divide was peppered over though tentatively.

The social establishment within the Hindi speaking Indo-Gangetic plains deserted the Congress and hitched onto the BJP from 1990s onwards which led to almost wilting of the party of independence in this region. Elections, at least at the provincial levels, were fought either on caste or communities line which has not been the overt Indian electoral practise so far. New politics of Hindutva initially captured urban areas under L K Advani’s tirade against secularism which he successfully dubbed as pseudo-secularism.

In came Narendra Modi in 2014, who is a charismatic mass leader with brilliant command at demagoguery. He turned out to be much more seasoned than Advani. He was not only a Hindu ang rakshak but was also the man who tapped into the emerging middle-class dreams and sold his development plank to the masses with the subtle message of the ‘man who could fix the Muslim enemy’. Modi pushed the Hindutva narrative into rural areas. The new establishment party BJP was now a pan-India phenomenon.

Twenty-five years down the line, the Ayodhya narrative is at its full play. It is no longer a tentative strategy. It is full time politics led by Modi-Bhagwat duo. The caste issue has been pushed under the carpet at least for now. Laloos, Mulayams and Maywatis have been disempowered. The ‘Muslim enemy’ is looming large over Indian political horizon. But the Hindu society has not been able to resolve its caste dilemma which could hit it hard anytime again.

But it has not been the traditional Indian political narrative. India is essentially a modern state in the making. Its constitutional democracy has deepened to the grass roots levels. It has a strong industrial base and a huge middle class which cannot afford to be permanently wrapped up into communal politics that pushes Indian economy and progress backwards. After all, the Hindu society has gone through renaissance while the Muslim social order is still stuck in medievalism. It is now linked to modern global order. Pull-it-backwards permanently into hate politics cannot be an ever- winning strategy.

Twenty-five years after Babri Mosque demolition, India looks chillingly different than what it used to be till 1990. Its minorities, especially the Muslims, are paying a huge prince being pushed to be virtual second-class citizens. Yet I have hope. Modern India will rise sooner or later. There are already signs of this kind of resistance in Gujarat where 2017 assembly election is fought more on economic issues than on a community plank.

But it is a long battle ahead. Ayodhya is no longer a sheer Hindu-Muslim issue. It is now a battle of Hindu soul which needs to find a solution of its ancient problem rooted in its caste system. Politicians alone cannot resolve it. It is for the liberal India to stand up and bring India back to its middle path which has been the hallmark of Indian civilization for centuries. Till then, India may witness many more December 6,1992-like events wrapped in hate politics. Surely, India cannot give up its modernity. So, there is hope at the end of the dark tunnel.

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