January 24, 2024


Is Ram Mandir a blow to Indian secularism?

(Image credit: PM’s Office, GODL-India, via Wikimedia Commons)

Anticipation built, and the day has finally come and gone. It was a star-studded event filled with politicians, actors, and cricketers. Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally fulfilled a long-standing dream for many Hindus and inaugurated the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya. It’s a day that will certainly go down in history.

Should it? Perhaps, but not for the right reasons. The temple’s past is contentious, to say the least. Is the Prime Minister’s involvement in such a blatantly religious event in a secular country appropriate? India is a secular republic and should aspire to remain so. Does the Ram Mandir extravaganza undermine that?


In a 1928 speech to the Indian Statutory Commission, BR Ambedkar described Indian politics as “nothing but theology in action”. The inauguration of the Ram Mandir is being celebrated as a national event. State governments and official agencies rolled out notifications, ordering half-days or declaring a holiday.

The night of December 22-23, 1949 started a chain of events that gave rise to one of the most contentious issues in Independent India. What began as a group of 50 people breaking into the Babri Masjid mosque and placing an idol of Ram culminated in a grand spectacle of the Ram temple’s inauguration with Modi as the MC. Along the way, thousands died due to communal clashes in the aftermath of the mosque destroyed by right-wing activists.

What also happened was the BJP’s rise. However, the temple issue didn’t take a prominent role when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was Prime Minister of a coalition government from 1999 to 2004. It had to be put on the back burner. The BJP’s 2014 and 2019 manifesto stated the government would explore all possibilities within the Constitution’s framework to build the Ram Temple.

The Ramjanmabhoomi project reached a culmination of sorts with the Supreme Court’s verdict in 2019. It allowed for the temple’s construction. It also put an elected government in charge rather than a religious trust or organisation.

India has a complicated relationship with the word ‘secular”. During the 1948 debate in the Constituent Assembly, Professor KT Shah wanted the word secular included in the preamble. Members agreed that India should be a secular state but the word wasn’t added. It was added to the Preamble to the Constitution during the Emergency. The forty-third and forty-fourth amendments that reversed several changes made during the Emergency didn’t touch the changes made to the Preamble.

Secularism in the Constitution has been appreciated by some but criticised by others. One point of contention is the word’s foreign origins. Others were concerned about its inapplicability to the Indian context. There’s a line of thinking that secularism must be viewed as a response to institutionalised religious domination. The concept of separation of church and state exists elsewhere, but the lines are blurred.

In the context of the Ram Mandir event, what’s the role of secularism in India? Ideally, democratically elected governments shouldn’t adopt or endorse a particular religion at the expense of another. Does it mean India has an established state religion?

VIEW: India’s secular credentials are intact

Generally speaking, some have misconstrued the meaning of secularism. India was predominantly a Hindu nation for thousands of years and is now home to millions from different religions. Christian-dominated Western countries follow secularism in governance but remain Christians in private. They support the Church. In India, support for or the mention of Hinduism is seen as non-secular and attached to the subjugation of minorities. It’s a myopic view.

Part of that myopic view is that the consecration of the Ram Mandir is a big step toward establishing Hindu supremacy. For many, that’s not the case. It’s in fact the culmination of efforts to revive the ancient Indian heritage. That naturally involves the revival of some aspects of Hinduism, which has flourished in India for thousands of years. Some don’t see the temple as merely god’s home but as an institution. They also serve many socio-religious purposes for people and a society comprising different religions.

The concept of secularism seen and observed in countries like the US, France, or the UK can’t be blindly applied to India. US Presidents place their hand on the Bible while taking the oath of office. It’s no less secular. The Somnath temple saga was when secularism was first tested. It was rebuilt with the public’s support. Former Congress leaders like PD Tandon and Indira Gandhi attended temple consecrations.

COUNTERVIEW: Erosion of secular principles

For all the talk of Lord Ram and the temple, there’s no ignoring its violent and controversial past. There was little mention of the past events during the celebrations. The temple and the movement for its construction revolve around some of the most divisive issues of religion in modern India. For international and domestic observers, it’s a significant step in Modi and the BJP’s efforts to stamp India as a Hindu nation. It’s another nail in the coffin for India’s secular credentials.

The temple consecration should be seen in a broader context of other controversial political moves. This includes the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) and the repeal of Article 370 for Jammu & Kashmir. The common thread among all these is that they work against Indian Muslims. By extension, they’re meant to strengthen the status and interests of Indian Hindus. For many Muslims, the destruction of Babri Masjid remains an open wound.

The Ram temple is the perfect instrument for the BJP to polarise the population and the electorate along religious lines. It’s also obviously political, coming a few months before the Lok Sabha elections. The goal is to create a bloc of voters whose sole focus is negative identity – who you are against. The BJP has succeeded in co-opting religion for political purposes and romanticising a former allegedly thriving Hindu civilisation. It’s an obvious attempt to move away from constitutionalism and toward Hindu religious majoritarianism.

Reference Links:

  • Ram Mandir and Ayodhya – A perspective – Times of India
  • 1976 and 1993—the two moments in Indian history that show secularism’s fall from grace – The Print
  • Understanding secularism in India – Times of India
  • On Modi at Ram temple, Opposition stir is pot calling the kettle black – The Indian Express
  • India Is Unveiling Its Controversial Temple of Ram. Here’s What to Know – Time
  • PM Modi in Ram Temple Pran Prathishtha: End of Secularism as ‘Distance’ Between State and Religion? – The Wire
  • Does the Ram Mandir of Ayodhya Mark the Decline of Secularism in India? – Australian Institute of International Affairs

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) The Ram Mandir isn’t a blow to Indian secularism.

b) The Ram Mandir is a blow to Indian secularism.


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