Every year I look forward to August 15 to commemorate the day when my country was liberated from the foreign yoke, to celebrate the day every Indian was set free to shape his or her own destiny. But this year -- in the run-up to the 73rd anniversary of our Independence -- our Prime Minister has given me, and many others, a lot of food for thought.
A few days ago, while laying the foundation of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, Prime Minister Modi told the nation that just like August 15, 1947, the day independent India was born, August 5, 2020 would go down in history as a red letter day, a day when millions of Indians (read Hindus) were liberated from centuries of humiliation heaped on them by foreign invasions.
There is no denying that the Ram temple at Ayodhya was a political movement the BJP had spearheaded and millions of Hindus had supported over the years. The laying of the foundation for building a Ram temple no doubt fulfilled the aspirations of millions of practising Hindus. But what troubles me is that the Prime Minister compared the project of building a Ram temple with the task of nation-building in a free India!
How obnoxious was the comparison! Our freedom movement was led by Mahatma Gandhi who is acknowledged as the most inspiring world leader of the 20th century for making India’s fight for freedom a role model for the rest of the world, whereas the Ram temple movement was led by a string of puny politicians who are condemned worldwide for sullying India’s name by their unvarnished communal campaign.
The abiding principle of Gandhi-led freedom movement was non-violence and love, not hatred for even the most implacable enemy. The Ram Janambhoomi movement, on the other hand, built itself into a crescendo by preaching violence and spreading ill-will against the Muslims.
Mahatma Gandhi was a deeply religious man; he called himself a proud Hindu. His idea of Hinduism was inclusive and universal. However, the Hinduism that the leaders of the Ram temple movement preached – to build a temple by demolishing the mosque – was unapologetically sectarian and definitional. Gandhi spread the nectar of love by uplifting the Hindu religion; the dubious leaders of the Ram temple movement debased the Hindu religion by carrying the pot of poison.
I must say I was aghast to hear our Prime Minister compare August 15, 1947 – a day the Indian nation was born with a Gandhian vision to build pluralist, diverse and all-inclusive India -- with August 5, 2020, the day he presided over a function that celebrated the triumph of exclusion, bigotry and a majoritarian India!
That is the thought dominating my mind this Independence Day: are we staring into an abyss where the foundational values of a free India that encompassed us all, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, would give way to an India that denies itself to some Indians patently on communal considerations?
Is this the India Mahatma Gandhi had led to freedom in the first place?