Hey Ram

Apparently there’s a talk within the BJP that if Modi were to play a role in the national politics, he would be portrayed as a very polarising figure. However hard they try, they won’t be able to shrug off this image. So a group within the BJP believes that the best defence must be offence. Translated in plain language, it means, let’s play the same game. If they call us Hindutva, we will be Hindutva. If they call us anti-minority, we will be anti-minority.

The signs of this have already started appearing. Today, Amit Shah, considered as the right hand man to Modi, has told the journalists that if and when Modi becomes the prime minster, the Ram Temple will be built in Ayodhya.

It is not clear whether Amit Shah said it in full earnestness, or if tomorrow he was going to say the ‘media have misquoted him’. Regardless, this is a very dangerous tactic to choose for a general election. We don’t know how communal Gujarat is. Judging by the intensity of the pogrom, we can guess how serious they are. Such a disastrous and widespread riot can never take place in a place like Tamil Nadu or even in Kerala, where Muslims constitute 23% of the population. In Gujarat, they form only 5% of the population.

Indians rarely identify themselves as Hindus. They frequently identify themselves as Tamil, North Indian, South Indian, Brahmin, or any other such identity more often than claiming themselves as Hindus. The term itself is quite fluid, referring more to a geographical grouping rather than a religion. It is not even clear whether Dalits, who form about 17% of the population are to be considered as Hindus or not, because scripturally, they are outside the caste system, and they are right when some Dalit intellectuals claim that they are not Hindus. There are so many strands in Hinduism, and so many traditions and practices that it is quite difficult to unite them under a single cause. There is no Bible or Quran or a prophet for everyone to identify with. Against general belief of some westerners, Gita is not the holy book of Hindus. It is just an annexe in one of the epics, representing a specific philosophical practice. Most of the Hindus haven’t read the Gita and don’t know what it says. Arguably, more than half of Hindus won’t even know the mythological or the philosophical context of it. Also, just to clarify, Adi Shankara is not the prophet of the Hindus. He was not even a prophet of the Brahmins.

In this context, it is not possible to unite all the Hindus of the land in Rama’s cause. It is as artificial or hyperbolic as a newspaper headline ‘A Billion Prayers’ for a cricket world cup. Not even 200 million people watch the match.

In another angle, as much as the politicians would like to trumpet, the people don’t look at Christians and Muslims as minorities. In fact, until the Hindutva become a national phenomenon, people hadn’t even used the word ‘minority’ to refer to a non-Hindu. To me, my Christian or Muslim friend is as Indian as I am. Sometimes I think a Sikh is more Indian than I am!

The temple cause made sense in the late 80s when the economic and sociological mood of the nation suited it. Even then, Ayodhya remained largely a North Indian phenomenon or, more precisely, a Hindi-belt phenomenon. Until the demolition of the mosque, the cause had helped BJP gain prominence. Demolition was their greatest mistake. It’s like killing the golden goose. It weaned away all the secular-minded, non-violent population, who are the majority of the population. Many, including some scholars, believe that the demolition helped BJP come to power in the centre. I believe otherwise. If the demolition had not happened, BJP would have come to power sooner. Because of it, they lost power in Uttar Pradesh, which they are yet to gain back and also lost an opportunity to spread in other parts such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu which consists of far more educated and secular population than Bihar or UP. In the late 90s, the BJP came to power because the Congress was very weak and, because BJP was willing to put Ram in the cold storage, some regional parties were willing to prop it up.

Even today, if BJP were to come back it would be because of public’s anger against Congress more than their love for Modi, who for all his GDP growth figures and inflated developmental records, is not fully welcome among the secular-minded moderate Hindus, who are, thankfully, the majority here. It’s like what happened in Karnataka where people wanted BJP to lose and they didn’t care if the benefit of that anger was going to go to Congress. There is a possibility that the reverse of it can happen in the General Elections. Also, albeit botched up, those development records are what making Modi somewhat acceptable and not his Hindutva attitude.

If BJP were to think that a communal agenda is the need of the hour and if Modi, their campaign chief, were to buy it, it would be the best gift they would be handing out to the Congress. For their own sake, let us hope that tomorrow Amit Shah claims that he was misquoted.