Ram Temple in Ayodhya a victory for Jinnah

It is the right of Indian Muslims to remain Muslim with same constitutional rights

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks in Ayodhya, August 5, 2023

Who is the big winner from the inauguration of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya on January 22? The hindutvist PM, of course. Yet, is not the bigger winner Muhammad Ali Jinnah? For we are now an avowed ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and Jinnah always maintained that whatever its pretensions to secularism, independent India was in fact a ‘Hindu Raj’.

Gandhi sought to counter such a thesis by making Hindu-Muslim unity the fulcrum around which an independent Indian nation-state would be spun. In spiritual terms, this emphasis on Hindu-Muslim unity was expressed in the ineluctable belief that different religions are but different paths that lead to the same Truth. In political terms, Gandhi made Hindu-Muslim unity the leitmotif of the freedom movement, beginning with merging the demand for the restoration of the Khilafat with his non-violent civil disobedience satyagraha. In his personal life, his close associates included the Ali brothers, Dr M.A. Ansari, Dr Zakir Hussain and, above all, Maulana Azad. On the Dandi March, he stayed the last night before picking up a fistful of salt with a Muslim host and nominated Abbas Tyabji to lead the satyagraha in the event of his arrest. Above all, it was his designating Jawaharlal Nehru as his true successor that demonstrated his unwavering conviction that independent India, whether partitioned or not, could only be true to itself and its heritage by refusing to be a sectarian state. To this, Nehru added the coda that the state would have no religion. Now we have a prime minister who has displaced the four Shankaracharyas to emerge as the chief Hindu priest.

Nehru distilled the essential truth of the evolution of Indic civilisation as being inscribed on “ancient palimpsests” that are placed one upon the other without quite obscuring previous texts. From that arose a process of absorption, assimilation and synthesis that transformed military conquests into a composite heritage that drew the best from every source, victor or vanquished.

Moreover, it was precisely over the period of the Delhi sultanate (1192-1526) that the Bhakti movement (and its Muslim counterpart, Sufism) got under way. It was over six centuries of Sultanate and Mughal rule (1526-1858) that Ramanujacharya and Swami Ramanand, Sant Tukaram and Krishna Chaitanya, Sankardev and Ravi Das, Kabir and Surdas and Mira, and then the ten gurus of Sikhism defined bhakti as the most popular form of religion. Indeed, Acharya Goswami Tulsidas began his famed “Ramcharitmanas” in 1574 in Ayodhya in the very shadow of the Babri Masjid built in 1528, without once mentioning the destruction of any Ram temple. Now we have the vice president informing the JNU convocation that the “pain of 500 years has ended” with the inauguration of the Ram Temple. Yet, the biggest Ram bhakt of them all, Mahatma Gandhi, never felt that “pain”. He never mentioned the Babri Masjid and unlike the hindutvists celebrating what the Supreme Court has described as the “egregious violation of the law” in violently bringing down the masjid, actually ensured that all mosques and shrines of the Muslim community in Delhi were returned to the Muslims when, at partition, Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan started occupying them. Hence, argued Nehru, while Pakistan could become an “Islamic nation” if it wished, India would not follow suit by becoming a “Hindu nation”. It would remain “secular”. B.R. Ambedkar agreed and the nation concurred. At least till 2014.

What, after all, is “secularism”? At its most basic, it is the right of Indian Muslims to remain Muslim with the same constitutional and legal rights as Indians of other faiths. Now, under the assault of Hindutva authoritarianism and majoritarianism, that national consensus on a secular India is being radically transformed—in the direction that Jinnah had affirmed it would.

Source: The Week

Mani Shankar Aiyar

Mani Shankar Aiyar, a former Union minister who has held portfolios like Panchayati Raj, Petroleum and Natural Gas and Youth Affairs and Sports, is an MP and a social commentator.

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