Herald View: In Ayodhya, the birth of a temple, the death of a culture

It’s the kind of 'vikas' that will showcase best-in-class highways and reduced travel time, and so what if our human development indicators are close to worst in class?

Redevelopment as a replacement project: (left) the iconic image of kar sevaks demolishing the Babri Masjid, vs model of a futuristic new Ayodhya mosque shorn of all Indo-Islamic architectural inflection (photo: National Herald archives)
Redevelopment as a replacement project: (left) the iconic image of kar sevaks demolishing the Babri Masjid, vs model of a futuristic new Ayodhya mosque shorn of all Indo-Islamic architectural inflection (photo: National Herald archives)
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Herald View

It’s not just ‘compulsive contrarians’—that breed of dissenters made famous by the late Arun Jaitley—who find the celebratory fervour of The Grand Inauguration on 22 January distasteful.

We’ve heard echoes of our reservations among the old residents of Ayodhya, among those uprooted and cast aside as collateral damage, people like Ram Avtar, Sapna Madhukar and Mohammad Umar, because the old town must make way for the ‘New Ayodhya’—a monstrosity in the making, with its new international airport, seven-star communes, luxury hotels and multi-level parking complexes and all the rest of the tourism infrastructure that media is so breathlessly reporting.

It is not even just the old residents who are being tossed aside in this political project masquerading as a pilgrim-town makeover.

It is an exercise to obliterate the old way of life in Ayodhya, the old resting heartbeat of its culture that held dear the town’s history of an easy togetherness of communities. It is the erasure of a tehzeeb that made possible greetings like ‘Eid ki Ram Ram’ (it’s true, believe it or not!).

This political enterprise is an attempt to wipe out the culture that made it possible for a Ramdhun like ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram...’ to contain a phrase like ‘...Ishwar Allah tero naam’.

It’s an attempt to rewire the popular understanding of the story of Ram, to see him as an angry, militant god who delivered the god-abiding from the demonised ‘Other’.

Who the Other is in the BJP–RSS’s idea of a Hindu Rashtra is no secret.

What they want you to forget is that ‘Ram Rajya’—a phrase the prime minister was bandying about freely on his tour of the nation ahead of the ceremony on 22 January—was not simply about “holding your head high” in some drug-induced hallucination about our civilisational greatness or about India’s imagined ‘Vishwaguru’ status just because we say so.

‘Ram Rajya’ conjured a time, place, ethos where every citizen had justice, where even the royal subjects (who weren’t yet citizens, as we are, of an elected democracy) could question and criticise the king; a time of happiness and peace and plenty, writing of which the Bhakti poet Tulsidas (1511–1623) used the words ‘paraspar preeti’, or mutual affection, among the people.

Irony died a thousand deaths the day ‘Ram Rajya’ became a BJP–RSS invocation.

The naked triumphalism of slogans like ‘mandir wahin banaya hai’ (we built the mandir exactly where the masjid once stood) leaves you in no doubt about what kind of ‘Ram Rajya’ we are ushering in.

An Uttar Pradesh government advertisement crows about ‘restoring’ the glory of this ancient city.

As we know only too well by now, when they talk about ‘restoring’ any part of India to its past glory, it’s time to worry. What it means, oftener than not, is a cycle of contesting claims for property and machinations that will join the dots between takeover and makeover—in the same way as a mosque made way for a temple in Ayodhya.


On the face of it, the UP government advertisement is about turning Ayodhya into a tourist paradise, with all the bells and whistles mentioned above.

This happens to be a tested model of vikas (development), the kind that many well-heeled NRIs love—a key feature of this model is an efficient international airport and smooth roads to their five-star luxury hotels (“India is changing,” you might hear them say, with a gleam in their eyes).

It’s the kind of vikas that will showcase best-in-class highways and reduced travel time, and so what if our human development indicators are close to worst in class?

It’s the model of vikas that has recklessly pushed for four-lane highways in the Char Dham Pariyojana—never mind that it has destroyed the fragile ecology of the Himalayas—because it’ll fan religious fervour to political advantage and bring in tourism crores besides.

It’s the kind of vikas that makes a lot of us puff up with pride about our civilisational greatness.

A redeveloped Ayodhya of spanking new saffron buildings that replaced the old city of Faizabad, its architectural language straddling temple/palace and international tourist photo-op (photo courtesy madhurima.nandy.56/Facebook)
A redeveloped Ayodhya of spanking new saffron buildings that replaced the old city of Faizabad, its architectural language straddling temple/palace and international tourist photo-op (photo courtesy madhurima.nandy.56/Facebook)

The Ayodhya Master Plan 2031 speaks of projects worth a staggering
Rs 85,000 crore over the next decade to upgrade infrastructure.

See, if you care, this grandstanding in the context of all the people who have lost their homes or small shopkeepers and petty business owners who have been asked to move to make space for road-widening projects and suchlike.

Think of this vikas in the context of Ayodhya’s neighbouring down-at-heel districts of Gonda, Shravasti, Bahraich, Barabanki...

Think of all their ‘dirty unwashed’ millions and ask what good it is to whom that food and FMCG major Adani Wilmar will serve ‘bloom’-shaped jalebis for The Grand Inauguration.

Surely, the government’s spreadsheet warriors, busy projecting the crores to be made from a booming religious tourism economy and painting rosy scenarios of a new prosperity in these pilgrim centres, have budgeted for this?

God save us from this ‘Ram Rajya’!

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