“In Delhi, where amidst the exploits of an ancient Hindu king, Qutub Minar stands like a club of pride, such arrogance hurts the mind; or in Kashi, where to insult the Hindu puja, Aurangzeb established a mosque, there I see neither beauty nor well-being. But when I stand in front of the Taj Mahal, the debate does not cross my mind whether it was a feat of Hindus or Muslims. Then it appears as a feat of mankind“, wrote Rabindranath Tagore in Japan Yatri (translation of the author of this article).
Besides being a great litterateur, Tagore was one of the greatest nationalist minds in British India and was also a secular humanist and philosopher. The above lines written by him while praising Buddhists in an article reflects the dominant mindset of Hindus for centuries.
However, Tagore or other like-minded nationalists never thought of demolishing these “spirit-harming” structures. They would have been equally pained if a temple had been built in the midst of great Muslim architecture. They were really secular and didn’t hesitate to call him a spade.
But, even before independence, the Hindutvawadis, mainly Hindu Mahasabha, RSS and Bhartiya Jan Sangh (BJS), presented the request to convert three mosques into temples – to restore the original status of the janmabhumi of Rama, Krishna and the original Visheshwara temple. from Varanasi. But these demands were not successful until the late 1980s.
In the 1952 general election, the combined vote share of the BJS and the Hindu Mahasabha was only 4.1% (BJS 3.06 and Hindu Mahasabha 0.95). Even in 1971, the last time the BJS conducted an election before merging with the Janata party, it got 7.35% of the vote, while its later avatar, the BJP, which split from the Janata party in 1980, obtained 7.74% of the votes. in 1984. Hindus were still following the path indicated by Tagore and others.
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But the scenario underwent a drastic change after Lal Krishna Advani took over the BJP and revived the ancient demand for three temples, and launched a campaign to resurrect Ram Janambhoomi. The rest is history. However, Advani was not a popular leader, which was evident when the BJP lost the election in 2009 with him as prime minister to the BJP to challenge Manmohan Singh. So how come he started a trend that changed the Hindu mentality?
The immediate trigger in the late 1980s were events like the reversal of Shah Bano’s verdict, the banning of satanic verses by Salman Rushdie by the government of Rajiv Gandhi, and Vice President Singh holding a darbar to Shahi Imam of Delhi for garnering Muslim votes, etc.
But the root of the Hindu assertion was deeper. In a nutshell, secular India has done a plethora of things that hurt the feelings of Hindus, and with India reclaiming its place of glory over the past two decades, the Hindu resurgence has picked up incredible speed.
Now, with the claim to find old Shiva Langa in a well inside the Gyanvapi Mosque, an action replay of the Ram Janmabhoomi controversy is unfolding. The Mathura debate was still in the queue, but unexpectedly Qutub Minar and Taj Mahal are also brought there.
However, the BJP, as the ruling political party, cannot be associated with these new churnings for itself. There are several reasons for this. First, any spiral of communal and social tension in the run-up to the 2024 national elections will jeopardize strenuous post-Covid recovery efforts, diminishing the popularity of the Narendra Modi government.
Second, the BJP juggernaut is also highly dependent on its performance as a leader. It is no longer an opposition party, but it is firmly in the saddle and, in people’s perception, will remain so for another decade thanks to a rudderless and leaderless opposition. He must deliver. After all, in the public perception, the art of government is limited to the well-being of the people, and mainly to the economic well-being of the people.
Third, stirring up passion is a dangerous game; and the BJP’s too close proximity to the Hindu resurgence can hurt its Hindutva cause, especially when they have already proven their point in Ayodhya. Finally, we must remember that history repeats itself, as Karl Marx said, first as a tragedy, then as a farce.
It is time for India to return to the secular nationalism of Tagore which asserts that insulting Hindus was wrong but leaves no room for righting historical wrongs. Muslims should also abandon the adversarial approach to the problem, and the two communities should try to resolve it amicably at the local level. Otherwise, many controversies could erupt, centering on the religious places that could overwhelm India’s coveted journey to regain its former glory.
(Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a Kolkata-based journalist and author)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.