When the year began with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announcing, introducing and passing a Constitutional Amendment introducing a 10 per cent quota for the upper-caste poor, we should have known this would have been a year in which just about anything could happen. The massive mandate Modi’s government was given in the Lok Sabha polls in May only cemented this impression.
And so, this weekend, following a landmark Supreme Court verdict, it became clear that Ayodhya is going to get a Ram Temple on the spot where an organised Hindutva mob in 1992 demolished a 16th-century mosque, known as the Babri Masjid, sparking riots around the country.
If you’re unfamiliar with the history of this case, here’s an extremely basic recap: For over a century, Hindus and Muslims have clashed over this spot in Ayodhya where the Babri Masjid stands, with the Hindus claiming it is the birthplace of Ram, one of the avatars of Vishnu. In 1949, Hindutva organisations conspired to place a Ram idol in the mosque, effectively turning it into a makeshift Hindu temple and leading to a court case over who owns the land.
Then in the 1980s, the BJP and its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, used a nationwide campaign for the building of a Ram temple on the spot as a means of whipping up passions (and sparking off violence), culminating in mass-scale vandalism that demolished the mosque on December 6, 1992. Since then the case had been in court, although it has always been politically volatile, with the BJP promising a Ram temple.
Many faultlines about Indian politics and society were exposed by the case, from the tremendous emotive power of Hindu nationalism to the difficulty other political parties have had in defending secularism, from India’s insistence on turning back to disputes from centuries ago to the growing marginalisation of Muslims. This reading list should get you caught up on the background.
On Saturday, the Supreme Court sat on the weekend to pronounce its decision in the case, after a record 40 days of arguments and two abortive attempts at mediation.
The short version of the verdict: The land goes to the Hindus, and the government has to set up a trust that will oversee all activities on it, including the construction of a temple. To make up for the mosque demolition, the Muslim parties will get another plot of land, double the size, but somewhere else — to be decided by the (BJP-run) state government.
The political implications are myriad, some of which Shoaib Daniyal has collected here.
Here’s my thread on Scroll.in’s coverage of the judgment and The Weekend Fix also collected the most interesting reads from around the web on the subject yesterday.
Even earlier this year, before the elections, there were some people who believed that a Ram temple might not be built in their lifetimes, partly because the promise of one seemed more potent politically than the temple itself.
Yet, things have moved swiftly since then. Modi managed to unilaterally alter the position of Jammu and Kashmir (though until the people of the Valley are free to speak their mind, the fallout of that move remains unclear).
Now, the Supreme Court has cleared the decks for a Ram temple. The question to ask is: What next? Article 370 gone, Ram temple on the way, what could the Modi government have in mind following this?
Its socio-cultural agenda is, to some extent, clear:
A pan-India National Register of Citizens, as Home Minister Amit Shah has been promising for some time now, along with the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which combined would essentially mean state-sanctioned harassment of Muslims.
A Uniform Civil Code: A long-standing right-wing demand that seeks to abolish the personal law of individual religions, essentially forcing minorities to follow the laws of the majority.
An anti-conversion law: Another old demand, in place in a few states, that ties into the Hindu Right’s belief that poor Indians are often converted to Christianity through “bribes”.
In many of these cases, the question is not if but when. Will the BJP find it useful to push everything now, in the hopes that it can blunt the impact of what appears to be a severe slowdown? Or will it hold on to some of these moves, so that they can be used as selling points ahead of major state elections, or even the Lok Sabha polls in 2024?
So much has been accomplished by the Hindutva forces in the last 10 months that it is hard to predict what comes next. But what is clear is that, despite setbacks at the state-level and an economic slowdown, on the national stage, the BJP’s flag is flying high and for now it can attempt to accomplish just about anything.
This article was originally published in Scroll.In and has been reproduced with permission. Illustration: Nithya Subramanian