One of my most soothing childhood memories is of my mother reading aloud the Ram Katha (the story of the ancient, mythical or not, King of Ayodhya).
A woman of the most extraordinarily acute practical intelligence, never easily
fibbed or taken in, and always watchful of the disingenuous or scheming charlatan, I recall how that act of reading melted the sharp and mistrusting edges of her intellect, brought tears to her eyes, and transformed her into the semblance of an all-forgiving saint. The radiance from those readings was often such that those in the room that included our Muslim helpers along the periphery forgot we were Hindus or Muslims and were rendered naked human beings struggling for love and understanding.
As I look back, my own socialization in Hinduism resides in those early contexts in which, after all, stories about gods and deities had but one object-to disable hatred and selfishness, and engender a warm empathy towards all things animate and inanimate. The gods seemed mere instruments to furnish enlightened human purposes.
And I believe this would go for most people in India who call themselves Hindus.
All that was sought to be changed in 1990 as India's party of the Hindu right set out to make of Ram a political icon around whom a new State was to be forged-informed not by love or understanding or accommodation, but hatred, exclusivity and physical force. Leading within two years of Advani's abrasively menacing Rath Yatra (travels atop a warlike chariot, with cut-outs of Ram not as my mother saw him but now as a Shatriya warrior with an arrow stretched in the bow) to the water-shed desecration and demolition of a more than four hundred year old mosque. And leading, let it be remembered, to the gratuitous killing of some two thousand Indians who were no part of that politics.
That reality was, in a tribute to the ordinary Hindu, to be repeatedly underscored as the BJP came to lose one election after another, following some initial gains. No more stern rebuke to the Hindu far-right agenda than the fact that to this day the inhabitants of the town of Ayodhya and of Faizabad generally retain inter-communal harmony and bonding of a kind which nothing that the fascist falange could do has impaired. They remain of my mother's party, and wish a pox on the trouble- shooters and hatred- rousers who invade their enlightened social togetherness from "outside." And the Hindus and Muslims of Ayodhya also remain seamless at home, on the street, in the work-place both in their devotion to Ram and in their collaborative life and work experiences.
Seeking from a platform of medievalist animosity, paradoxically in close embrace with segments both of India's own big-business interests and neo-liberal foreign marauders, to dislodge the State from its mainline Constitutional commitment to secular and modernizing democracy, the Hindu right has sought to keep the Ayodhya issue alive, namely its "nationalist" call to build a grand temple to Ram at the very site of the demolished Babri mosque, since it is their unproven and unprovable claim that Ram was born at the very spot where the main dome of the mosque stood.
Which, of course, is not the real purpose.
The real purpose is to iconically and thumbingly demonstrate to Indian Muslims that India must be acknowledged to be in essence a Hindu nation; and that, more than Mecca, it is Ram that Indian Muslims must do obeisance to. All that true to the teachings of the old RSS chief, Golwalker, who, picking up from the racist Nazis, had decreed that the Indian State be a racially defined State rather than one that owed allegiance to the history either of the Indian National Movement for freedom from colonial rule, or to those antecedent secularizing and democratizing histories of England and Europe that sought to create non-discriminatory citizenships and rights thereof.
To the extent that Gandhi endorsed and led those efforts of the anti-colonial Indian nationalists while remaining the most exemplary Hindu through all his personal and political concerns, he offered a great difficulty to the fascists. Which, after all, necessitated his assassination.
Yet such is the force of India's syncretic history, and of the conjoint battle for freedom from British colonial rule, that while in power the BJP has had repeatedly to jettison its promise to the electorate that once in power it would see that the grand temple was built at the site of the demolished mosque. For the reason that none, bar one, of its coalition partners in government would stand for it. In consequence, it remains embarrassingly impossible for the BJP to counter the criticism that its main devotion is to political power rather than to the god, Ram. The canny wisecrack will also say that the temple does not get built because Ram would not approve of the proceeding in the first place.
All these decades, in the meanwhile, a title-suit has been argued in the courts. To wit, a judicial determination has to be made as to whether the site of the demolished mosque belongs in law to the contending Hindu or Muslim organizations.
For some sixty years that suit, a la Jarndyce vs Jarndyce of Dickens' Bleak House, has seen twists and turns. But, finally, the court in question, dismissing all further attempts to procrastinate, is due to deliver its judgement on September the 24th.
Two decades from the demolition of the mosque, Indian ruling classes have come to harbour a different sort of dream, one that seeks a full realization of the material status that a devoted alignment with a neo-liberal "reformist" era promises to the endowed and the enterprising. And a whole new generation of young middle class Indians seem on board.
In that changed historical context, only the tea-party segments of the Hindu right seem still to retain that fervent desire to carry the politics of the Ayodhya "movement" forward.
Given that reality, and the reality that the BJP retains power in states like Bihar, where elections are due in a couple of months, in partnership with allies who do not share its Hindu-sectarian orientation, the BJP has chosen to lie low, without making the unequivocal averment that it will accept the judicial verdict. That in stark contrast to the Muslim organizations who have repeatedly stated that, were their case to fall in the coming judgement, they would go in appeal to the higher court whose final findings would be accepted without demur.
The stated position of the Hindutva forces remains that were the final court verdict to go against them, parliament must legislate that the temple be built, since mayhem, alas, will not do it.
A momentous test for the State and for several other agencies is thus in the offing in a weeks' time from now.
As far as the Muslim organizations and the polity generally are concerned, it may be reasonably assumed that a negative verdict will not yield street violence. The Babri Action Committee has clearly enough made public what they will do, namely, go in appeal to the Supreme Court of India.
Alas, despite the seemingly low-key postures now being struck by even the ideological patron of the Hindu right, the RSS, such an assumption could be fallacious in their case, given the record of its murderously lumpen storm troopers like the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, and the Ram Sene.
The governments of the day, both in the state of Uttar Pradesh and in Delhi may well be tested.
Should there indeed be only fringe protests from the Hindu right, both the Congress party and the government it leads at the centre may pick up courage to quell the mischief without any great opprobrium from the "Hindu" electorate. Should, however, things blow out of reckoning, the old canny calculations may yet again come into play. And that would tell us that, despite the above-board secular convictions of the Congress President, Sonia Gandhi, there remains within the Congress party an unwillingness to confront Hindutva fascism without regard to electoral considerations.
Contrarily, should the court deliver in favour of the Hindu contenders, the task may be no less trying, for the reason that typically celebratory shenanigans-complete with the distribution of sweets, bursting of fire-crackers, and humiliating gestures made towards Muslims, orchestratedly noisy temple trumpetings, could bring out the same results that might come if the verdict were to favour the Muslim litigants. The legendary and time-tested modalities of engineering communal strife perfected by the RSS could then be set in motion.
For a State and government already besieged with secessionist violence in Kashmir and Left-wing extremism in several states, a fresh communal conflagaration might be the proverbial last straw, especially if the fascists succeeded in drawing to their purposes armies of the jobless and sundry other victims of neo-liberal economic immiseration. Such an old and tested modus operandi that, telling such victims that not the political economy practiced by the ruling classes but the cultural and religious "other" is at the root of their problems.
Perhaps most importantly, given a touted new India, the ones most severely tested would be those that occupy the liberal middle ground. It will remain to be seen whether or not they will come to the fore with the same resolve as they did at the time of the terrorist attack on Mumbai on 26/11/2008. And whether the corporate media that now is seen to strike a "progressive" cord plays out that cord with full force or does the customary dance of equivocating between parties to the dispute, all in the name of "fair-minded" coverage of events. What makes that question well worth the asking is the fact that the corporate media retain more than a soft corner for the market-friendly BJP.
Interestingly, a demolished mosque and a likely mosque now trouble the hearts of the strategically partnered democracies of India and the United States of America.
Will the Indian State measure up to the outstandingly principled position enunciated by Barack Obama?