In India, across the platforms, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of Ram temple in Ayodhya, a grand structure will be built at the spot which Hindus believed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram. This event marks the beginning of the construction of the temple. Prime minister Narendra Modi said it is “an emotional moment for India”. August 5th will certainly be recorded as the momentous day in Indian history. The rise of Jai Shriram reverberated in the city of Ayodhya, speakers boom devotional songs in praise of lord ram. Streets leading to the temple radiated decked with flowers and the fluttering of saffron flags filled the city’s skyline. The day would be truly groundbreaking if not for the pandemic. Clad in a gold silk kurta and a dhoti, PM Modi had to add a mask to his traditional attire. The venue and surrounding areas were cordoned off to keep the crowd away. Only invitees were allowed to enter the ritual area. Nearly, 170 spiritual leaders marked their presence at the ritual, and scores of devotees were watching on giant screens set up across the city.
There are big takeaways from this momentous event. We have three reasons here to justify how this Ram temple is a seminal moment for India:
Number one, it marks the major shift in Indian politics because now political parties will have to reinvent themselves, go beyond talking temples and mosques. Throughout the prevalence of this issue many have made political fortunes over a ram temple in India, some by promising it, others by opposing it still others by sitting on the fence and still more by offering mediation where none was required. It was those moments when the Ayodhya files kept moving from one court to another, political parties infused the issue which kept burning in election rallies. Of all descriptions, now with the foundation stone laid, parties and individuals will have to rebuild their political narratives.
The second reason is the debate of secularism vs pseudo-secularism:
India has been pushed to introspect through this Ram temple movement. Is secularism exploited as a political fig leaf for hiding minority appeasement? Was the state being unfair to the majority of Hindus? Let’s state a small piece of history. Secularism was a term left out by Ambedkar and Nehru from the constitution of India. But in 1976 during the controversial 42nd constitutional amendment, Indira Gandhi brought it in. With the approval of parliament, this became only an emergency law inscribed with letters as it failed in bonding the real essence. Secularism was a term used to describe the unique status of India having no state religion. It was a promise that no state will favor or patronize any particular religion at least in theory. But in practice, secularism was used to justify minority appeasement, at least in some cases. For example, in 1986 the Rajiv Gandhi government enacted a law to overturn the Supreme Court judgment in the Shah Banu case. The judgment allowed the maintenance of Muslims after divorce or talaq. The 1986 act diluted the judgment, it allowed maintenance only for 90 days after the divorce. Appeasement politics was evident. So Rajiv Gandhi tried to strike a balance for Hindus.
What did he do? He ordered the locks of Babri masjid to be removed in 1986 and the site was used for arthi or a prayer. This is how secularism was being used. The Ayodhya movement became the main matter of public debate replenished with emotions.
The reason number three why this is crucial is the issue of Ram temple made Hindus politically relevant in India. Before this Hindus were never really seen as a political force in India. Votes were cast on the lines of caste. Political parties appease the minorities which the ram temple issue made it to be more precise. The quest for a temple transformed the Hindus into a political force in India very similar to political Zionism. you could say this was the quest for a homeland that made the jews an important political force.
Now with the foundation for the temple been laid, what is the road ahead? Again we have here three broad points:
- The main objective of the temple should be to unite and not divide India. Reconciliation is the watchword for all parties of this dispute for it has bought political, legal, and social support to the Ayodhya temple. This should be the temple of harmony and not discord and the onus to achieve this harmony is on all sides.
- Number two is the development. The home of Indias most contentious and most awaited temple lies in a shambles. Ayodhya is in an urgent need of development. The state government has already made a special provision of 500 crores for an airport in Ayodhya, the city’s old railway station is being redeveloped at the cost of 100 crore rupees, another 85 crores rupee has been kept aside for other infrastructure development. The ram temple is expected to bring better connectivity, tourism, jobs, and revenue.
- Finally, the third point is the importance of soft power. The global connect of Ramayan. The temple should enable India to harness the international appeal of lord ram. The story of Ramayan has been told in a different version in different parts of the world. Ramayana links countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Cambodia to India. In a conference earlier this year, Indian authorities focused on a Ramayana yatra visa, India is trying to promote tourism to the sites linked to this epic. Ramayan circuit currently connects 15 cities and 15 sites in India and one in Nepal. Ram temple could become the catalyst for this circuit as the foundation stone has been laid.
For more than three decades, the idol was kept under a tent which was moved to a makeshift temple earlier this year. Ram temple will stand double the size of the original plan. The ram temple is set to be assembled in the Nagara style of architecture and will stand over 160 feet in height. For the foundation of the temple, 200 000 bricks inscribed with Lord ram have been sent by devotees over the years. It will be a three-story stone structure with multiple turrets, pillars, and domes. The temple is set to have five domes instead of two to accommodate more devotees. The cost of three hundred crore rupees is set aside for this project and it is expected to be completed within three years.
The Indian diaspora is in a celebratory mood. In the US they went on a march chanting Jai Shriram from the capitol hill to the white house. Religious places in California, Washington, Texas, and Florida have planned special rituals to mark the historic event. It was a groundbreaking moment today both literally and figuratively. This was a temple issue that was a mixture of politics, religion, and law for decades. And with the laying of the foundation of stone, an age-old issue has finally been put to rest in India.