Ram Mandir, Ayodhya Ram Mandir, Ayodhya. Photo: Prime Minister's Office / GODL - India

Indian politics cannot be reduced to communal divides, argues Sabeena Ibrahim

“Thousands of youths are unemployed, and over half of the population is below the poverty line. Illness and illiteracy are rampant, but it would seem from recent events that none of these problems exist. The only issue India faces is that of temples and mosques.” Not much has changed in India since AB Bardhan made this speech in 1990 campaigning against Advani’s Rath Yatra; A BJP-led movement that mobilised Hindutva sentiments against Babri masjid which eventually led to the demolition of the Babri Mosque on 6 December 1992. 

Still viewed as one of the darkest days in the history of Independent India, the destruction of the Babri Masjid, a 16th century mosque in Ayodhya, witnessed the worst communal violence in India since the partition of the sub-continent in 1947. The organised violence was coordinated by the far-right RSS and VHP who form the core of the Sangh Parivar – an extensive network of Hindu nationalist front organisations that includes the BJP – that promotes the communalist and national chauvinist ideology of Hindutva. The BJP’s Narendra Modi has been prime minister of India since 2014 as the Sangh Parivar has grown across India and internationally. But it was not inevitable then. And the BJP’s continued reign in power is not inevitable now. 

Today, thirty years later, the Ram Mandir, one of the biggest promises of the BJP, has been built on the ruins of a 16th-century mosque demolished by that right-wing mob in 1992. Accompanied by state holidays, leading Bollywood celebrities, and live telecasts, the Prime Minister of India consecrated the incomplete and partially scaffolded Ram mandir in India built in place of the Babri Masjid. Even though the media focus was on the broadcasting of the prime minister’s well-orchestrated ceremonies and rituals, we mustn’t forget sufferings of those who lost their homes and enterprises without adequate compensation, in the process of beautifying the Ram Mandir surroundings. From the media narrative, one might think it is only Muslim sentiments that have been hurt by building a Temple on the grounds where a mosque was demolished. But the Hindutva Agenda has broader implications – affecting not only Muslim sentiments but also exacerbating the suffering of Lower-caste Hindus, Christians, and everyone else from minority and underprivileged backgrounds as well as anyone who endorses the secular Idea of the Indian constitution.

A series of hate crimes unfolded after the opening of the Ram Temple, which was built to stop violence once and for all according to the Supreme Court of India. The inauguration not only started a new set of hate violence, mob vandalising, and crimes, but slashed fresh wounds in Kashi and Madura which also extended to churches being targeted. The manipulation of religious sentiments for political gain, leading to hate, violence, and riots, is an age-old, inexpensive political token and is undoubtedly a serious concern that must be addressed. However, it should not overshadow the more substantial and prevalent issues that directly impact the lives of thousands of people. Politicians using religious rhetoric to divert attention from socioeconomic challenges and garner votes is a disservice to the citizens who seek genuine solutions to their everyday struggles. While it is true that religion can be a sensitive and sometimes manipulated issue, it is important to recognise that most Indians are more concerned with the practical and immediate problems that affect their prosperity. The focus on religious matters by news media, social media, and television can sometimes create a distorted perception of the nation’s priorities.

Amidst the disappointment stemming from the prevalence of Hindutva narratives and propaganda in the media, we need to focus on pressing social issues and articulate a different vision for the future.
The national growth rate has decreased significantly in the past 9 years. India has slipped to the 93rd position in the Global corruption index. India’s rank in press freedom is 161 out of 180 countries. Targeting of journalists and independent news media along with conglomerates like Adani Group supported by the government taking over media outlets have made ‘Indian democracy’s fourth pillar’ rickety.  It is battering down of basic, fundamental, democratic rights — the right to organise, the right to protest, the right to march, the right to speak, and even the right to publish according to Delhi-based historian Mukul Kesavan.

While media propaganda may attempt to sway public opinion, the resilience of the Indian working people lies in their ability to critically assess information and engage in informed discussions. It is worth being reminded that in the previous election, the BJP secured only 37 percent of the votes, indicating that a significant majority of Indians opposed their Hindutva-centric political agenda. While there may be concerns about increased influence due to substantial investments in media propaganda and temple construction, there is hope that a renewed collective consciousness will emerge. 

 The idea of a theocratic India might be one that the RSS wants you to believe in, but it is not what the majority of Indians believe in. And to show this the Indians must hold onto their constitutional rights firmer than ever. The constitution calls India a secular and democratic republic and people have the right to protest constitutionally. The masses of India should exercise this right voice their disagreement and demonstrate where their faith truly aligns. We have seen this in the popular movements like the general strike and farmer’s protests which succeeded despite repression from the Modi-led government. 

The millions of workers who joined the general strike in 2022 against Modi’s Austerity measures won the support of India’s poorest farmers. Those same farmers in turn left Modi’s Agricultural laws in support of giant agribusiness in tatters following a formidable national campaign of protests and blockades. This is a testament that “educate, agitate and organise” is the way towards emancipation and freedom. This participatory approach not only strengthens the democratic fabric but also ensures that the government as well as the opposition remains responsive to the diverse needs of its citizens. 

Here-in lies the power to defeat the RSS-VHP-BJP axis: the solidarity and united struggles of the oppressed and exploited across ethnic and religious lines against neo-liberalism and the communal politics of division.

We are just a couple of weeks from the elections being announced. The key is to build a left that is anti Hindu chauvinism but is also against Modi’s neoliberal agenda. A left that can build on the huge struggles of the oppressed and is serious about real change. We need to let the voices of disagreement and resistance keep rising- only this will save our democracy.

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