January 15, 2024
📰 FEATURE STORY
Should the Opposition attend the Ram Mandir inauguration?
Note: Happy Makar Sankranti/Pongal! We are taking a day off today, hence we will not be publishing this newsletter tomorrow. See you on Wednesday!
Preparations are in full swing for the inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. It’s a day many have been waiting for. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP have shared their excitement for the historic occasion. Invitations have gone out to politicians and celebrities, and the media is waiting to see who shows up.
What about the Opposition? Leaders like Sonia Gandhi and Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge were invited. Lest we forget, we’re in an election year. The Ayodhya temple issue has been nothing but controversial and fraught. After a couple of weeks of probably deliberating, Congress decided to decline the invitation. The CPI(M) followed suit. Is this a mistake on their part?
In October 2022, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced that about 50% of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya was complete. He declared the temple a dream for which the movement began in 1949. The first phase was inaugurated in August 2020 by Modi. The next phase, the garbha griha (sanctum), by Yogi in June 2022. On January 22, one of the BJP’s flagship agendas under the current government will finally come to fruition.
To understand this issue better, we need to travel back in time. The first police complaint was filed in 1858 by Mohd Salim against a group of Nihang Sikhs who had written “Ram” on their nishan inside the mosque. The first legal case was filed in 1885 when Mahanth Raghubar Das sought permission to build a temple. One can even go back to the observations of English businessman William Finch in early 1600 when he documented his observations of devotees visiting ruins in Ramkot, Ayodhya.
What makes this history tricky is disputed accounts of what was originally there at Ayodhya. Some claim the Mughal emperor Babar razed a Hindu temple to construct a mosque called Babri Masjid over it in the 16th century. Some accounts from Muslim writers that speak of demolishing temples against idolatry and intentions of building mosques in their place have been disputed.
That didn’t deter the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP). In 1989, they laid a foundation stone at the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site. Interestingly, this happened with Rajiv Gandhi’s blessings, but they didn’t obey his orders to conduct the ceremony outside the disputed site.
In 1990, LK Advani began his rath yatra, perhaps the most important milestone in the Ram Mandir movement. He travelled from Gujarat’s Somnath to Ayodhya to educate and rally people for a Ram Temple. The BJP’s vote bank increased to 120 in the 1991 general elections. Communal tensions arose in some states as Advani was arrested in October 1990. The yatra culminated in thousands of right-wing Hindu kar sevaks climbing the Babri Masjid and demolishing it.
A subsequent investigation found the BJP and Hindu outfits like the VHP, Shiv Sena, and Bajrang Dal responsible. The issue naturally went to the courts. In 2019, the Supreme Court awarded the site to Ram Lalla and stated it was Lord Ram’s birthplace. It also ruled that the Centre would allow a five-acre plot in Ayodhya for a mosque.
The time has finally arrived for the temple to be inaugurated. As the day approaches and the invitations are sent out, the Opposition, which has opposed the temple and highlighted the harm that communal violence resulting from the issue has wrought, is in a tricky position. The CPI(M) stated that religion is a personal choice and not be used for political gain.
VIEW: No need to give it credence
With all the religious overtones to the occasion, it’s quite clear the Ram Mandir event is a political spectacle for the BJP. It’ll likely take centre stage during the BJP’s campaign for the upcoming election. There’s no reason for the Congress, opposition parties, INDIA bloc, or whoever is in favour of a secular India to attend and give any validation. The Ram Mandir movement was always meant to undermine India’s secular credentials. The Opposition shouldn’t get distracted by Ram temple politics.
Now, since this has turned out to be a political issue with elections coming up, the equation for the Opposition is tricky. The BJP has somewhat successfully painted them, including Congress, as anti-Hindu. While some in Congress want to counter that by taking cues from Modi, others, like Rahul Gandhi, want a more nuanced approach – distinguish between Hinduism and Hindutva. In recent elections, Kamal Nath and Bhupesh Baghel followed the former and lost. It serves no purpose for the Opposition to follow any sort of Hindutva-lite tactic. The idea that not attending the ceremony makes a party anti-Hindu is the wrong way of looking at it.
Speaking of Congress specifically, they were probably between a rock and a hard place. Ultimately, its ‘respectful rejection’ is definitely calculated and right. The decision is a mix where principle meets practical and political considerations. Any endorsement of this event would fly in the face of what the opposition INDIA bloc is trying to project itself as – a unified secular front. The alliance is still getting its bearings electorally. Anyone from it attending would be an own goal.
COUNTERVIEW: It’s an important event
If the Ram Temple inauguration is a political event, so is the Opposition’s response to the invitations. Stating “religion is a personal choice” is just cover for not wanting to alienate a section of the population as elections near. The decision is a clear case of vote-bank politics centred around the hatred of one party and one man. On the Congress specifically, not everyone was happy with the decision to decline the invitation.
Part of the Opposition’s struggles in responding to the invite is an example of them not having an adequate response to the BJP’s strengths with Hindu voters. Opposition parties and leaders staying away is probably a surrender or tactical retreat. By not attending, they’ve given Modi, the BJP, and the RSS a win. They’ve given them endless talking points for months to come.
There’s clearly a political calculation to be noted. But to what extent will this event affect the election? An ABP News and CVoter survey showed that 52% stated the Ram Mandir ceremony would influence voters’ preferences. For the Congress specifically, 63.8% of respondents said the party should attend the ceremony. 55% said the decision not to attend will hurt the party’s chances in the upcoming election.
- Ayodhya Ram Mandir’s Journey Before And After Babri Masjid Demolition – Outlook
- How the Ayodhya Ram temple became a mandir of the masses – India Today
- A Ram Mandir dilemma for INDIA bloc parties – India Today
- Rejecting Ram Temple Invite Might Hurt Congress Now, But… – NDTV
- Are we making too much of Congress declining Ram temple inauguration invite? – Deccan Herald
- BJP rolls out the Ayodhya welcome mat. Opposition walks into the boycott trap – The Print
- Ram Mandir: Modi’s Hindutva Credentials are Soaring. What About the Opposition? – The Quint
- I say this as a Bharatiya Muslim: Congress rejection of Ram Mandir invite is hypocritical – The Indian Express
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The Opposition shouldn’t attend the Ram Mandir event.
b) The Opposition should attend the Ram Mandir event.
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