Ram Mandir Bhoomi Pujan: Why Religion & Politics Must Not Be Mixed

In the history of India, the saffron brigade’s role in giving a religious colour to our politics stands out.

Published
Opinion
4 min read
Image of religious symbols and a neta’s cap used to represent the ‘mixing’ of religion and politics.
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5 August 2020 marks one full year of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, and along with it, a saga of inexplicable human rights deprivations and a sheer political game – or a dream that was long in the making by the RSS.

Our ruling government seems to want to mark this day by laying the foundation stone of the Ram Mandir, another long-awaited dream of the RSS, and an issue kept alive for political reasons, at the cost of striking at the heart of ‘secularism’ in India – a basic feature of the Indian Constitution.

A model of the Ram Temple that Hindu organisations want built on the site on which the Babri Masjid was destroyed. 
A model of the Ram Temple that Hindu organisations want built on the site on which the Babri Masjid was destroyed. 
(Photo: Reuters) 

Leaders can be religious, but when one occupies a high political office, one cannot use it to send a religious message. While visiting temples, gurdwaras, mosques and churches by political representatives is also fine, participating in the foundation ceremony of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, given its complex and sensitive history, speaks volumes of the ‘sinister’ gains one might have in mind –– using religion for political purposes.

Why Political Representatives Must Inspire Confidence In ALL Citizens

In May 2014, Mr Modi took oath under the Indian Constitution as PM, to protect people belonging to not any one religion but for ‘all manner of people’ and ‘in accordance with the Constitution’ – not according to any other manifesto or handbook. But was our PM really able to inspire confidence in all and sundry? All that he did was ‘play the political game’, and play it well.

Contrast this with Mr Nelson Mandela, who has been hailed as the world’s most respected leader and perhaps the 20th Century’s greatest leader. He was only too well aware of the neighbouring Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe’s style of dictatorship and did not want South Africa to follow the same footsteps.

Therefore, as soon as he came to power, he made ‘racial harmony’ a key objective in all his actions and symbolisms.

This did mean ‘forgiving and forgetting’ when it wasn’t easy, and leading South Africa on the course of a multi-racial society.

Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela.
(File Photo: IANS)

Similarly, in 1993, when the assassination of Chris Hani –– a leader of the South African Communist Party –– by a white man, led to widespread demonstration and call for revenge –– he who was recently out of prison, still negotiated for peace –– for he knew the value of peace.

How Saffron Brigade’s Idea of India Differs From That Envisaged In Our Constitution

In India, the biggest challenge for our polity is the mixing of religion with politics. If we look at India’s beginning as an independent constitutional republic, the ‘religious question’ was an important element in its making. If we look at where we have come and how we have evolved as a democratic republic in about seven decades, ‘religion’ still seems to be a very important question.

But in the history of India, the saffron brigade’s role in giving a religious colour to our politics, features distinctly.

Their idea of India is quintessentially one where its citizenry is equated with the membership of the dominant religious group. MS Golwalkar’s words give an insight into the idea of India that the Hindutva brigade have been cultivating carefully over decades, since the foundation of the RSS in Nagpur in 1925:

“The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence religion, must entertain no ideals but those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture... wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less an preferential treatment – not even citizen’s rights.”

Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the second Sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the second Sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

But one cannot help but notice how this idea of India is in contrast with the idea of India that the Indian Constitution espouses.

‘Tolerance’ In the Context Of Secularism

The question of co-existence of the Hindus (the biggest religious majority) and the Muslims (the biggest religious minority) in India, and issues that it gives rise to, are not new.

In 1931, in the backdrop of communal riots between the two communities in Kanpur, the Indian National Congress drafted the Karachi Resolution on Fundamental Rights, laying down the freedom to profess and practice any religion, thus laying down the roots of a secular Constitution which was to come later. Gandhi ji, while indicating the way ahead for India’s secularism –– championed state neutrality in daily affairs, clarifying that independent India will neither favour Hinduism over Islam nor vice-versa.

Gandhiji.
Gandhiji.
(Photo Courtesy: Biography.com)

He said: though Islamic and Aryan cultures are not mutually exclusive, we must recognise that Mussalmans look upon Islamic culture as distinctive from Aryan. We should therefore cultivate tolerance.

This concept of tolerance in the context of secularism seems to have taken very different dimensions in different countries.

(To Be Continued in Part II)

(Avani Bansal is an advocate, practising in the Supreme Court, and Secretary, All India Professionals’ Congress (Delhi). Write to her at advocateavanibansal@gmail.com. She tweets @bansalavani. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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