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Divisive Narratives and Ritual Ridden Event for Launching Kashi Corridor Affirm Politics Rooted in Theocracy and not Secularism | S N Sahu

Friday 17 December 2021, by S N Sahu

The nation witnessed Prime Minister Modi launching in an orchestrated manner on 13th December 2021 the multi million Kashi Corridor project linking banks of Ganga with the shrine of Lord Shiva and providing relatively open space around the place of worship. The high octane publicity, normally avoided by spiritual seekers and pilgrims to the shrine of Kashi, remained central to Modi’s visit to temple of Kashi Viswanath. The demonstrative performance of rituals by him in full glare of the media and employment of Aurengzeb-Shivaji and Salar Masud-Raja Shueldev narratives in his speech was interpreted by commentators as part of his polarising strategy to reap electoral dividends in UP and other States where elections would be held early next year.

Polarising Narratives Employed While Launching of Kashi Corridor

He while recalling the crucial and rich contributions of Rani Ahilya Bai Holkar and Maharaja Ranjit Singh to rebuild the temple referred to Aurengzeb and stated that his attack on our culture because of his radicalism was responded to by Shivaji with full might. Some of those reflecting on political and public affairs expressed opinion that there was clear divisiveness in Modi’s juxtaposition of Aurengzeb with Shivaji. Explaining further they stated that putting Aurengzeb with Shivaji in adversarial terms solely because of their faiths aimed at transmitting to the people the non-existent notion of clash of cultures involving Hindus and Muslims. Prime Minister Modi also stated that another ruler Salar Masud, professing Islamic faith, was confronted by Raja Shueldev by employing all his strength to demonstrate the people’s unity. The underlying idea behind the projection of Muslim rulers of the past in perpetually antagonistic terms with Hindu rulers of that era is to use history for making people deeply conscious of the present fault lines caused by their faiths and losing sight of their shared culture and life style which unite them at multiple levels of their day to day existence.

Akbar’s Contributions for Restoration of Kashi Shrine Ignored

No doubt that some Moghul rulers were responsible for the destruction of the Kashi shrine. But there are also several others including Muslim rulers who played key roles for its reconstruction. It is rather tragic that Prime Minister Modi only flagged Aurengzeb- Shivaji and Salar Masud- Raja Shueldev binaries and wilfully lost sight of restoration of Kashi temple by Akbar’s finance Minister Todar Mal. The Supreme Court in its judgement in Sri Adi Visheshwara Of Kashi ... vs State Of U.P. observed on 14th March, 1997 that the temple construction was undertaken in a big way in 1585 by Raja Todar Mal, the Finance Minister of Akbar the great, the Mughal Emperor who was then Governor of Jaunpur.

While Unveiling Statue of Unity Modi Refered Only to Muslim Rulers of Prinecely States Refusing to Join Indian Union

It is not that for the first time Prime Minister is using such binaries. On 31st October 2018 he he did so by invoking Hindu religious idioms while unveiling the Sardar Patel’s statue, the Statue of Unity. On that occasion he said, had Patel not integrated the princely States to the Union of India Shiv bhakts (Devotees of Lord Shiva) would have faced hurdles to go on pilgrimage to the Somnath temple. He further added with emphasis that those desirous of visiting Hyderabad and Junagarah would have needed visas to do so. He was selectively referring to Hyderabad and Junagarh because those princely States were ruled by Muslim rulers. He deliberately flaged those two princely States to underline the point that without Sardar Patel’s historic role for unifying our country Muslim rulers would not have joined the Indian Union for forging the unity of India. Such selective picking up of princely States ruled only by Muslim rulers was done very consciously to create a narrative for targeting Muslims. People reading in between the lines of the narrative would get an impression that Muslims were coming on the way to unify India which got partitioned in the name of Islam and had Patel not played a critical role in integrating princely States India would not have been unified.

Princely Rulers of Hindu Kingdom of Travancore Refusing to Join Indian Union Ignored

While Prime Minister Modi pointed fingers at the princely States of Hyderabad and Juanagarh because those were ruled by rulers professing Islamic faith, he deliberately chose not to mention the princely Hindu Kingdom of Travancore, now part of Kerala. Its rulers refused to join the Indian union on the ground that the sovereignty of Travancore flowed from Lord Padmanav and He could not be made subservient to the sovereignty of India. They also cited the reason that Hinduism would be in danger if it became part of India. In fact the Hindu Kingdom of Travancore’s decision to remain independent was supported by Jinha and the rulers of Travancore appointed a trade agent in Pakistan. All such facts are part of Sardar Patel’s writings and a book “The Story of the Integration of the Indian States” authored by V P Menon, the trusted aide of Sardar Patel. Menon wrote in his book that the devotion of the Maharajah to Sri Padmanabha bordered on fanaticism. Sardar Patel asked the rulers of the Hindu Kingdom of Travancore as to how they allowed the Lord Padmanav, source of their sovereignty, to remain subservient to the suzernity of British authorities. Only after stern warnings of Patel those rulers decided to make Travancore an integral part of the Indian Union. These historical details are critical to contextualise the binaries employed by Prime Minister Modi while launching the Kashi Corridor and understand their polarising subtext.

Gandhi’s Observations on Kashi Temple

The Prime Minister referred to Kashi’s legacy in terms of its significance in the context of spirituality and invoked its inclusive identity encompassing key aspects associated with Buddhism and Jainism. Chief Minister of UP Yogi Adityanath and Union Minister for Tourism asserted that the mega Kashi Corridor constituted the fulfillment of vision of Mahatma Gandhi who was deeply pained by the unhygienic conditions and absence of open space around the shrine during his visit to Kashi in 1916. They said that those who gained power and position in the name of Gandhi sadly did nothing to fructify his vision which he articulated when he went to Kashi in 1916 to participate in the opening of the Benaras Hindu University. On that occasion he had observed with anguish, “If a stranger dropped from above on to this great temple and he had to consider what we as Hindus were, would he not be justified in condemning us? Is not this temple a reflection of our own character? I speak feelingly as a Hindu. Is it right that the lanes of our sacred temple should be as dirty as they are? The houses round about are built anyhow. The lanes are tortuous and narrow. If even our temples are not models of roominess and cleanilessness, what can our self-Government be?”

While BJP leaders are invoking Gandhi to provide justification for the execution of the Corridor and blaming previous regimes for not doing anything on the lines of his ideas, they are conveniently ignoring the approach of Gandhi to look within for ascertaining the reasons behind the sad state of affairs concerning Kashi temple. Gandhi being a genuine Hindu turned the searchlight inwards and held the Hindus responsible for the unacceptably dirty and congested surroundings of the sacred shrine at Kashi.

Muslims Denied Opportunities to Offer Namaz and Christians Attacked

Can the Prime Minister and BJP leaders learn lessons from Gandhi and not use polarising idioms to deepen the existing cleavages of society for enhancing their electoral prospects? They should be mindful of the manner in which Muslims in some of the BJP ruled States are being denied to offer Namaz in places earlier permitted by the Government and Christians in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh are being attacked for exercising their constitutional rights to pursue their faiths. During all such despicable attacks the Prime Minister is maintaining studied silence. Even while he was engaged in a highly publicity driven progarmme in Kashi to launch the corridor and put himself at the centre of that widely covered event he did not utter a single word condemning those who attacked Muslims and Christians in some of the BJP ruled States.

Ambedkar’s Words that Politics in India is Theocracy in Action are Becoming a Sad Reality

In fact the politics being pursued by the top BJP leaders through such programmes where rituals are being overwhelmingly given primacy at the cost of secular credentials of the Republic of India gives an impression that the separation between the State and religion is being compromised. Dr. B R Ambedkar presciently wrote in 1928 that "politics in India is theocracy in action”. The elaborate rituals performed by Prime Minister in Ayodhya while commencing the construction of the Ram Temple on the orders of the Supreme Court and later in Kashi on the occasion of the launching of the Corridor generate an unmistakable impression that politics flowing from such rituals is nothing but politics rooted in theocracy. It is not that only now the sinister phenomenon combining politics and religion is impacting public affairs in an adverse manner. We are painfully aware of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s act of laying the foundation of Ram temple in Ayodhya and the divisive Indian politics that emerged in subsequent periods completely poisoning the whole body polity and endangering the constitutional vision of India.

On 28th November 1947 while speaking at a prayer meeting in New Delhi Mahatma Gandhi had insightfully referred to the Government of India and said “It is a ‘secular’ government, that is, it is not a theocratic government, rather, it does not belong to any particular religion. Hence it cannot spend money on the basis of communities. For it, the only thing that matters is that all are Indians. Individuals can follow their own religions.”

All activities of the leaders occupying constitutional positions should be informed by ideals mentioned in the above paragraph of Gandhi. It means to uphold and adhere to the values rooted in religious pluralism and secularism which is the basic structure of the Constitution.

Gandhi’s Inclusive Approach Embracing Shrines of All Faiths

In fact Prime Minister Modi while launching the Kashi Corridor should have been guided by Mahatma Gandhi’s words articulated on 15th September 1940. He had said, “It hurts me to find St. Paul’s Cathedral damaged. It hurts me as much as I would be hurt if I heard that the Kashi Vishvanath Temple or the Jama Masjid was damaged. I would like to defend both the Kashi Vishvanath Temple and the Jama Masjid and even St. Paul’s with my life, but would not take a single life for their defence.”

Prime Minister joyously launches Kashi corridor and at the same time uses Aurengzeb- Shivaji and Salar Masud- Raja Shueldev binaries on the occasion. He never feels hurt for the denial of opportunities to Muslims to offer Namaz and of course is not concerned for the assault on christians in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and other parts of the country. It does not elebrate religious pluralism as evidenced in the statement of Gandhi that “It hurts me to find St. Paul’s Cathedral damaged. It hurts me as much as I would be hurt if I heard that the Kashi Vishvanath Temple or the Jama Masjid was damaged.”

Gandhi’s New India In Terms of Secular State a Categorical Imperative

Gandhi wrote on 31st August 1947 that there was urgent necessity for all to work “ for the creation of a secular State” so that “we could build a new India that would be the glory of the world”. Now that Prime Minister Modi is talking of New India and fast tracking the idea in every context he should be mindful of Gandhi’s New India conjured up in 1947. Central to that New India was his bold vision for creating a secular State that would be the glory of the world.

So while invoking Gandhi let the Prime Minister and BJP leaders dedicate themselves to strengthen the secular State which is now getting compromised by their own actions. In doing so they would uphold the cause of the Constitution and the lofty ideals associated with Mahatma Gandhi’s life and work. Any failure to do so would mean in the words of Dr. Ambedkar that their “politics is nothing but theocracy in action”.

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