New Delhi: After almost two weeks of indecisiveness, the Congress on Wednesday (January 10) decided to boycott the consecration ceremony of the new Ram Janmabhoomi Temple on January 22. The party released a statement, saying that Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, and former president Sonia Gandhi, who were invited to attend the ceremony, have declined the invitation to what, according to them, “is clearly an RSS/BJP event”.
“Lord Ram is worshipped by millions in our country. Religion is a personal matter. But the RSS/BJP have long made a political project of the temple in Ayodhya. The inauguration of the incomplete temple by the leaders of the BJP and the RSS has been obviously brought forward for electoral gain. While abiding by the 2019 Supreme Court judgment and honouring the sentiments of millions who revere Lord Ram, Shri Mallikarjun Kharge, Smt. Sonia Gandhi and Shri Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury have respectfully declined the invitation to what is clearly an RSS/BJP event,” the statement read.
— Congress (@INCIndia) January 10, 2024
For many, who viewed the construction of the temple atop the dome of the demolished Babri Masjid as the most stark symbol of injustice in democratic India, the Congress’s decision will come as a delayed but welcome relief. It was surprising that the Congress, which had been politically critical of both the Ram Janmabhoomi movement led by the Sangh parivar and the subsequent demolition remained so much in doubt before eventually declining the invitation.
Its indecision over the last two weeks came across as not merely unethical and inconsistent with its own politics of multiculturalism but also displayed a sheer lack of courage among the party leaders to take on the choreographed publicity blitzkrieg around the Ram Janmabhoomi temple by the BJP.
It was amply clear from the very beginning that the hype around the consecration ceremony of a temple, which is fated to remain a polarising symbol even in the future, was a blatant attempt by the Narendra Modi-led BJP to consolidate its own ranks and manufacture a mass hysteria to deflect attention from the more pressing issues of common people.
That the saffron party had decided to perform the consecration ceremony even when the temple construction is not even fully complete was a clear indication of how the BJP was trying to milk the epochal event for its own electoral gains. Why the Congress could not point that out to the public persuasively is a question that many may continue to ask even now.
In fact, the whole hype generated by the Modi government around the Ram Janmabhoomi temple appears to be repetitive at best. In September 2023, the prime minister used a special session of the Parliament to inaugurate a similarly incomplete Parliament building and table the historic women’s reservation Bill which had no scope to be implemented before 2029. The grand posturing came months ahead of five crucial assembly elections.
Now, when the 2024 Lok Sabha elections are months away, the prime minister is all set to be the principal jajmaan (patron) in the consecration ceremony. Electioneering is written large all over the optics created by the BJP.
The Congress seemed to cower under the fear of offending Hindus if it took a principled stance against the hype created around the temple – something that only showed the opposition in poor light. This, when the party lost miserably in the recent elections held in the Hindi heartland despite adopting a soft-Hindutva approach. The indecision appeared even more cowardly at a time when Congress leader Rahul Gandhi will soon embark on the second leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, centred around communal harmony and constitutional values.
However, after much deliberation, the party has now done what is consistent with its own positions. It now needs to take its decision forward by mounting an ideological opposition to the palpable communal frenzy that is sought to be advanced with the success of its Ram Janmabhoomi movement, aided and abetted by judicial sanction. There are already strong voices within the larger Sangh parivar that the demolition of Babri Masjid was merely a beginning in the long list of mosques that will be targeted in the future. Sangh parivar leaders have already started to advance communally polarising narratives around mosques across India. The Gyanvapi mosque controversy in Varanasi, the case against Mathura’s Shahi Idgah mosque, and Baba Budangiri Idgah in Karnataka, Sunheri mosque in Delhi, and many similar Islamic shrines have become suitable sites to keep India perpetually polarised along religious lines.
Who else but the biggest opposition party can counter such a narrative? The Congress needs to own its politics unapologetically, display an ethical strength to oppose BJP’s majoritarian narrative, and give voice to the voiceless of Modi’s Naya Bharat.
Prafulla Ketkar, editor of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s mouthpiece Organiser, candidly pointed out in his latest editorial that the celebrations by the Sangh parivar for the pran-pratishta (consecration ceremony) of Ram Lalla in Ayodhya were not simply the culmination of the decades-old Ram Janmabhoomi movement, but the beginning of a “reconstruction of national consciousness”, a process where economic growth is necessarily accompanied by the so-called Hindu cultural resurgence. In other words, Ketkar believes that the consecration ceremony was a surefooted step towards “reclaiming” Indian civilisation from the clutches of Enlightenment values on which our founding fathers sought to build an independent India.
It was India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who dived into the values of Enlightenment ~ rule of law, liberty, equality, fraternity, progress, tolerance, constitutional government pursuit of knowledge, and most importantly, separation of state and religion – to dream of a truly modern India. The religious polarisation around the Ayodhya event may be an appropriate moment for the grand-old party to reconnect with its roots and stand up on its own feet – at least for the 60% of Indian people who did not vote for the majoritarian politics of the BJP.
The decision of the topmost Congress leaders to decline invitation to the pran-pratishtha ceremony in Ayodhya has shown that the grand-old party can still think beyond narrow electoral politics, and can build and consolidate an ideological opposition to mindless majoritarianism of the Sangh parivar.