TO the sound of conch-shells and revelry that undermined every norm prescribed to fight a raging pandemic, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told his followers in Ayodhya on Wednesday that the world was looking to a new India as a self-assured nation. The claim was not about a new vaccine for Covid-19 or a magic wand to arrest the steep economic slide. It was not even about his conquest of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5 last year, when he annexed and broke the state into two.
Mr Modi ascribed a new self-assured India to the proposed temple. The Supreme Court chief justice, who authored the verdict in favour of the temple and against Muslim claimants to the land where the Babri Masjid was razed in 1992, was appointed member of the Rajya Sabha within a few weeks.
The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’s presence was palpable with its head Mohan Bhagwat given a place opposite the head priest who chanted the mantras in Sanskrit. The world is thrilled with this event, Mr Bhagwat told the assembly that comprised a large presence of sadhus.
The unofficial curfew behind the concertina wires challenged the claim in Srinagar. The condemnation did not come only from former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti whose jail term was extended by another three months. It was the view of a large section of Hindus, not to speak of others.
Analysts noted that August 5 was chosen as the date for the bhumi poojan though the ritual had already taken place as one of Rajiv Gandhi’s more criticised moves at par with his overturning a Supreme Court decision that alimony be allowed to Shahbano, a Muslim divorcee. Mr Modi looks set to face even more vehement criticism.
“The date,” wrote Siddharth Varadarajan in The Wire news portal, “chosen consciously by baleful men to humiliate the people of India whose independence on August 15 they never fought for — will go down in history as a day that celebrates the triumph of vandalism and destruction over renewal and regeneration, crime and illegality over law and justice, fiction and fabrication over reality and truth.”
On the appointed day, when India slept, said Varadarajan, “the people of Kashmir awoke to curfew and unfreedom. On the appointed day, a group of criminals — who should be in prison for having planned and orchestrated the demolition of a 450-year-old mosque — basked in the freedom they have to build a temple at the same spot. Their temple, and not Rama’s and certainly not India’s.”
Writer Arundhati Roy confined her gaze to Kashmir. In a scathing piece to coincide with the anniversary of the annexation, she noted in The Guardian: “In the year that has gone by, the struggle in Kashmir has by no means ended. In just the past few months media reports say that 34 soldiers, 154 militants and 17 civilians have been killed. A world traumatised by coronavirus has understandably paid no attention to what the Indian government has done to the people of Kashmir. The curfew and communication siege, and everything else that such a siege entails (no access to doctors, hospitals, work, no business, no school, no contact with loved ones), lasted for months. Even the US didn’t do this during its war against Iraq.”
Scholar Bhanu Pratap Mehta slammed the prime minister’s claim that the proposed temple represented India’s unity in diversity.
He wrote in Indian Express that the event was predicated on terrorism. “In consecrating you (Lord Ram) at Ayodhya, they want to dislodge the different forms in which you reside in our inner citadel, one no invader has been able to breach, and replace it with a new Teflon deity, manufactured by a political machine. So the temple is dangerous or unnecessary. You know this temple is founded on something akin to an act of terrorism, the razing down of a mosque. You know this temple is not a product of piety, but retaliation and revenge for an event centuries ago.”
There could hardly be an association between Shaivite Kashmir and Vaishnavite Ayodhya, but Allama Iqbal had linked them with a rousing poem to Lord Ram, in which he called Ram Imam-e-Hind, and a verse that described Kashmir’s falling on bad times under a callous political order even before Indian independence. On Wednesday, as Hindu supremacists blew conch shells in Ayodhya, Allama Iqbal’s soul would perhaps be wounded by both events.
Iqbal is admired in mythical ways in Kashmir, the land of his ancestors. The lines from the book Armaghan-e-Hijaz or The Gift of Hijaz by the poet and philosopher perhaps best narrate the story of Kashmir even today.
The verse and its translation published by Haris Zargar goes thus: Aaj woh Kashmir hai mehkoom-o-majboor-o-faqeer/Kal jise ahl-e-nazar kehte thay Iran-e-Sagheer (Today that land of Kashmir, under the heels of the enemy has become weak, helpless and poor, once known among the wise as Little Iran).
Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2020