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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 5 February 3, 2024

The inauguration of the Ram Mandir by the Prime Minister of the country has fateful implications for constitutional democracy | Vijay Kumar

Saturday 3 February 2024, by Vijay Kumar


The framing of the Indian Constitution, whose 74th Anniversary was celebrated last week, was a watershed moment for modernity through the preambulatory promise of liberty, equality and fraternity and guarantee of social, economic and political justice. The framing of the Constitution marked complete rupture from the past. Part-III of the Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all citizens. Right to Religion is also guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution, but is subject to public order, morality and health and other fundamentals rights. Though there is no water-tight separation between State and Church (religious institutions), a la, laicite in the France and the United States, yet, State neutrality in religious affair of a person is implicit, as would be evident from the articles following article 25.

Religion belongs to domain of private life and the citizen is entitled to profess his faith, subject to public order, morality and health. The Government is not supposed to dabble in religious affairs. Ram Janambhumi issue was agitated in Courts from pre-independence day and, eventually, the 5 Judge Bench of the Supreme Court decided in favour of Hindu group in November 2019. Once the temple dispute resolved through hierarchy of the courts, culminating in Supreme Court judgment, there was no impediment in the construction of the temple. But the manner in which the Narendra Modi government has hijacked the temple project and got involved deeply in it has grave implications for constitutional democracy and state neutrality in religious affairs. It is perfectly open to avowedly Hindu organizations/groups to get the temple constructed and inaugurated. But it is not open to the government, especially Prime Minister, to inaugurate it in his characteristically theatrical and grandstanding style by paralyzing the functioning of the State by declaring it holiday. Inaugurating the temple through vulgar display of political power goes against spirit of the Constitution, nay, the very ethos of Hinduism. The Prime Minister has not made any effort to temper the noxious and frenzied level of exhilaration. In fact, he acted as catalyst in creating abnormally toxic level of triumphalism. In the process, quintessential Hinduism has completely been submerged in toxic Hindutva, which is a political project.

Classic Hinduism vis a vis Venomous Hindutva

Hinduism has been evolving through eon of time and, in the process, has assimilated the core tenets of other religions. The vintage Hinduism is profound - even esoteric in some its aspect, diverse, resilient and tolerant , and no wonder, it was never subsumed by the power of the king. In complete contrast to this unique and all-encompassing catholicity and plasticity of traditional Hinduism, poisonous hindutva, as a political project, is narrow, exclusionary and downright sectarian. This will have consequential impact for the religion .Far from evolving in autonomous way, it will be subordinated by the dictate of political power. The many Islamic countries, and Israel, are obvious examples .

The inauguration of temple by the Prime Minister of the country – as distinguished from the priest or litigating hindu group- in ostentatious manner belittles the significance and sanctity of Lord Ram, who resides in the heart of every Hindu – even by non-Hindus, as epitomized by sublime poetry of one of the most gifted poets of urdu, Mohd. Iqbal. Lord Ram is known as a ‘Maryada Purshottam’, that is, epitome of righteousness, ethical, responsible, simple, and caring life, lived with equanimity and fortitude even in the midst of great suffering. The inauguration of temple in his memory, on the eve of parliamentary election, is nothing but a crude and brass act of politics undermining the solemnity of the occasion.

Religion Vis A Vis Spirituality

Finally, the grotesquely vulgar celebration of temple inauguration by deploying the entire state apparatus and resources will rob the sublime Hinduism off its spiritual richness and ethical resonance. The distinction between religion and spirituality is demonstrated through lives and works of two great Indians : Tagore and Gandhi. Tagore was born cosmopolitan and his universal outlook cannot be matched by anybody. The entire cosmos was his canvass. He brought the distinction between religion and spirituality in most telling manner in his classic “Geetanjali” and the play, “The King of Dark Chamber”. The latter play pertains to dialogue between two characters, Surangma, who was the maid servant of Queen, Sudarshana. Sudarshana, being wife of the King, was living in a big mansion. The idea of getting temple erected in some part of her big house entered into her head, and gradually became fad for her. She got completely inebriated with the project of temple and used to discuss it all the time with her maid, Surangma in respect of the kind of stone to be used and Deity being embellished with gold and silver. Being tired of constant talk of temple construction, one day the maid Surangma reacted sharply by telling the Queen Sudarshana that I am fixated with image of God all the time while working and, even during her sleep, and I don’t need the external trapping in the form of any statute adorned with gold and silver. It would be graphically clear to even lay person that who- between the maid and queen- was spiritually more evolved .

Just as Tagore elevated religion to the pedestal of humanism, Gandhi tried to uplift religion to the level of spirituality and morality. The heroic endeavor of Gandhi to initiate and promote inter-cultural dialogue by assimilating the sublime aspects of all religions is remarkable. For Gandhi, religion was meant to serve humanity by reducing injustice and suffering.

In hysteria created with full state power and resources of the present government, the disturbing report submitted by Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER) two days before the inauguration that brought to the fore distressing reality of younger students between age of 14 and 17 in rural areas cannot read and do mathematics, is swept under the carpet. This alarming report demonstrates the sense of priority of the present government. The amounts to the tune of billion dollars spent in the construction of the temple and its inauguration with all euphoria and fanfare cannot hide the ugly economic reality and sufferings of the poor epitomized by undernourishment, inflation and unemployment. The whopping amounts spent on the construction of temple and its celebration with all the pomp and pageantry could have been used for the construction of dozens hospitals and universities and hundreds of schools and colleges. Thus, the raucous manner of celebrating the temple inauguration demonstrates the perverse sense of priority of this Government.

Whereas the framing of the Constitution inaugurated modernity with the promise of equality and fraternity, the inauguration of Ram mandir by the Prime Minister of the country represents recrudescence of relics of the past- a past notorious for hierarchical and patriarchal social order and may usher the era of elected king.

(Author: Vijay Kumar, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India and author of the recent book: The Theory of Basic Structure” Savior of the Constitution and Democracy)

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