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Communalism

Modi's Strange India of Celebrations and Superstition

Modi’s policies have justified the creation of a theocratic Pakistan. India keeps losing one battle of ideas after another. First, by becoming a Hindu Pakistan and then by reshaping an ancient faith tradition as Abrahamic Hinduism.

Consecrated in Ayodhya as Dev-Raja (god-king), Narendra Modi returned to his office in New Delhi to ostensibly clear the files piled up due to his temple-hopping. Some humans had accorded him divine status.

A Ram Janmabhoomi Trust official declared that Modi is Lord Vishnu’s avatar. Modi’s idol was installed in the first Modi Mandir some years ago. If there is a parliament of Hindu Gods, they may formally welcome a new entrant into their fraternity.

Scholars say the concept of God-King is rooted in the indigenous tradition. They used to say this about democracy. It has been said that history is a fluid creature and is easily contaminated. Authoritarian regimes edit and airbrush history books as the key to political legitimacy. 

The narratives about the Babri Mosque and the Ram Janmabhoomi movement validate this view.

The prime minister has emerged as an object of veneration. L.K. Advani, BJP’s one-time top leader, said Modi was chosen by God as his instrument for the Ayodhya event. “God’s instrument” is a term used by Modi for himself in his election speeches. Time and again, he highlights his connection with the Divine. He hears the call of the Divine. One widely circulated poster shows the life-sized Modi escorting child Ram back to the temple.

The Union Cabinet members joined in the worship of the Mahamanav – superman – who presides over their meetings. They expressed their feeling of spiritual bliss “aatmic anand” flowing from Modi’s feat. They adopted a resolution calling Modi the harbinger of a new era who achieved what the Indian civilisation had dreamt of for 500 years. 

Some called Modi the “fifth Shankaracharya” because he took the prime position at the religious ceremony. This goes against a basic tenet of Hinduism that each person should follow his or own dharma, specific duty, and conduct. The king should follow his raj dharma and a priest or saint should do his religious duties. But in this strange scenario, religious leaders are making political statements and a prime minister is lecturing on religious matters and talking of the divine. 

Modi mobilised the people all over India by calling upon them to light diyas on January 22. The BJP wants the “return” of Ram to be remembered by the masses till the coming parliamentary elections. Modi thinks big. He says the day will be remembered for a thousand years. 

In his speech at the consecration, Modi talked of the “Kalachakra”. He did not explain whether it was simply a reference to the Wheel of Time or to the intricate Buddhist tantric practice. Modi’s speech writer must have studied the generation stage of this practice involving the visualisation of oneself as a deity within the context of a mandala. There is no interest in complex theology, so Kalachakra is not discussed in social media.

The Ayodhya spectacle was organised on a grand scale. The state played a big role. It deployed thousands of folk artistes to entertain the guests. Half a day’s holiday was declared by government offices on January 22. Devotional songs were played on the TV channels and through loudspeakers. Life-size cut-outs of Modi were seen hanging on the roadside poles. Millions of saffron flags were waved with exultation and with hostility towards “the other”. Knowing what Modi stands for, they demonstrated fake religiosity on roads and in colonies without fearing police action.

A wave of triumphalism led them to shout provocative slogans in front of Muslims in Mumbai which led to violent clashes. Some mosques attracted mobs shouting that every child must say “Jai Shri Ram.” A gag asked the government to build more mosques because what Ram devotees like most is to chant outside mosques. Elsewhere, Ram devotees climbed atop a church and planted a saffron flag above the cross. A set pattern of organised lumpenisation and religious polarisation marks Indian democracy. Mobocracy is no longer a dirty word. 

Right-wing activists plant a saffron flag atop a holy cross, in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh, on January 21, 2024. Photo: Special arrangement

The Ayodhya spectacle served the purpose of energising Modi’s electoral base through a religious show. Drowning in the rising sea of faith, Hindus admired the razzmatazz of the epoch-making politico-religious carnival. They were struck by Modi’s sartorial elegance, his event management, and his effort to remain in front of the camera lens. Even while praying, he faces the camera while the idol is on his side. Modi hates to show his back to the camera. 

The shiny Ayodhya temple saw politicians, singers, dancers, decorators, celebrities, film stars, choreographers, speech-writers, saints, and billionaires. Masons and carpenters will be back to complete the temple. Some say that their work will defile the consecrated temple. Ayodhya’s transformation has impressed all, barring those whose houses were destroyed for widening the roads. The demolition of small temples and mosques for the same purpose did not hurt religious sentiments this time! The temple town now has an airport and new luxury hotels. The Vatican will have to spruce itself, to compete with the Hindu Vatican. 

Posters and billboards in Ayodhya, in the run-up to the Ram temple consecration ceremony. Photo: Sabah Gurmat

After political Hindutva was unleashed 10 years ago, a wide gulf developed between liberal and conservative Hindus. The consecration divided even the devout Hindus. Modi’s status in the ceremony was questioned by religious scholars who explained how consecration must be performed as per the sacred texts. Also, they questioned the decision to have it done in a temple that was incomplete. To telecast the image of the Prime Minister, the camera was allowed inside the sanctum-sanctorum of the new Ram Temple which shocked the traditionalists. Consolidation of the Hindu votes is an essential element of the BJP’s electoral strategy. But the rituals at the Ram Temple caused a rift among the Hindus instead of uniting them. This division may do no harm to Modi as these traditionalists will not vote for a secular party. 

Modi has reasons to be immensely satisfied with what he achieved by having the half-built temple consecrated before the parliamentary elections. Modi tracks his internal enemies and saw the challenge coming from Adityanath, fast emerging as a rival Hindutva icon. By demonstrating his pre-eminence in the temple, Modi cut the Yogi to size and ensured that the UP chief minster does not rob the Hindu Hriday Samrat crown from him. Even the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat found it necessary to praise Modi for his tapasya preceding the ceremony. Bhagwat will stop looking for an alternative to Modi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes part in the consecration ceremony of the Ayodhya Ram Temple. Photo: Screenshot from DD News broadcast.

The roar of faith has sealed the people’s ears to the voices of reason. Not to shout “Jai Shri Ram” is an anti-national act. An Age of Superstitions has dawned. No Arya Samaj leader such as Swami Agnivesh countered such warnings. In the present atmosphere, no one will dare to write on how Ram behaved with his wife, a popular theme of feminist prose and poetry written in Hindi.

In this weird India, bizarre scenes are witnessed daily. Some feel embarrassed by all that is going on, such as an airline parading its crew dressed as Ram, Laxman and Sita or the government buses playing songs in praise of Ram. Those Hindus who are not attracted to Hindutva feel anguished about the mixing of religion with politics, violent assertion of majoritarianism, oppression of a minority and progressive destruction of India’s secular constitution. Many live in fear.

Critics say the governments focus on religious issues, doing little about widespread poverty, hunger, and ill-health. Some hospitals in Delhi decide to close for half a day because of the ceremony in the distant town of Ayodhya. One later withdraws that order in the face of protests. Many unprivileged Hindus keep telling the TV interviewers that they want jobs, hospitals, and schools, not temples. An old cartoon by R.K. Laxman shows the board of a government-run “Temple and Mosque Construction Company”, with the common man outside asking when the nation will be built!

Observing the quest for personal power in India bordering on imperialism, one recalls Rudyard Kipling’s story and the famous film The Man Who Would Be King. The growing tribalism and the emergence of a new god in India remind of Kafiristan. Kipling has written about two British rogue soldiers who took over Kafiristan, whose tribe, mesmerised by the white skin, anointed one of them as god. The white Britisher is subsequently found out because he marries a tribal woman. Out of fright, she bites him and his bleeding face makes the tribe realise that he is no God but a mortal.

Modi has ensured that the Indian diaspora does not remain untouched by his magic. The wave of triumphalism reached distant lands and some Am-Indians in New York took out a procession hailing Ram and shouting an old slogan: “Ayodhya to jhanki hai, Kashi, Mathura baaqi hai”, reminding Indians that they must do the same to the mosques in Kashi and Mathura.

Hindutva activists have already turned their attention to mosques in other towns. It is being said that Hindus have “woken up” after centuries of sleep. God forbid if groups of Jains, Buddhists or Muslims were to emerge to agitate against their places of worship that were turned into Hindu temples.

The official march towards establishing a Hindu Rashtra has an external aspect. Such events are criticised by foreign media and send signals of religious intolerance in India. Modi’s policies have justified the creation of a theocratic Pakistan. India keeps losing one battle of ideas after another. First, by becoming a Hindu Pakistan and then by reshaping an ancient faith tradition as Abrahamic Hinduism!

Words of wisdom come from a villager in Haryana. He says what a scholar could have said: “Modi ji, Hinduism continued to survive centuries of foreign rule because religion was not associated with the ruler. If it were associated with a Prime Minister or President or King, it would have died after his departure. So please keep it out of your politics!”

L.K. Sharma is a senior journalist and author.