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  Opinion   Columnists  14 Jan 2024  Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | Modi’s Ayodhya overdrive: Will dreams match reality?

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | Modi’s Ayodhya overdrive: Will dreams match reality?

The author is a Delhi-based commentator and analyst
Published : Jan 15, 2024, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Jan 15, 2024, 12:05 am IST

It is now a recognisable signature of Prime Minister Modi that he does not believe in anything low key.

Saffron flags bearing images of Lord Ram, Lord Hanuman and the upcoming grand temple on display in front of shops along Ram Path, in Ayodhya. Ahead of the Ram temple consecration ceremony in the holy city, demand for such flags has risen manifold. (PTI Photo/Kunal_Dutt)
 Saffron flags bearing images of Lord Ram, Lord Hanuman and the upcoming grand temple on display in front of shops along Ram Path, in Ayodhya. Ahead of the Ram temple consecration ceremony in the holy city, demand for such flags has risen manifold. (PTI Photo/Kunal_Dutt)

It is difficult to draw a dividing line between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s excessive enthusiasm as the Ram Mandir gets consecrated in Ayodhya on January 22, and the preparations being made by the Shree Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust, the Central government-appointed committee to look after the functioning of the temple. The Prime Minister went to Ayodhya on December 30 to inaugurate the international airport, to flag off the Vande Bharat and Amrit Bharat trains from the temple town, preceded by a roadshow where he was showered with flower petals by the crowd. And he had announced projects worth Rs 11,100 crores for the development of the place, and Rs 4,600 crores for projects in other parts of Uttar Pradesh. He has been claiming in his characteristic declamatory manner about the revival of India’s cultural glory by turning the pilgrim centres into star destinations of tourists from India and abroad. Of course, he included Ujjain and Varanasi along with Ayodhya as part of the cultural economic boom.

This sense of exultation, bordering on ecstasy, in the speeches and gestures of Prime Minister Modi can be traced to his instinctive grasp of the importance of the Ayodhya temple, which has been a longstanding part of Bharatiya Janata Party’s political agenda. And with the Lok Sabha elections barely months away from the inauguration date, the Prime Minister wants the drums to be beaten louder than ever about the temple, and he wants to be seen as closely associated with every aspect of it. He had deputed Nripendra Misra, his confidante and principal secretary, to head the temple construction committee, because he did not want to leave it to any other organisation. The credit for constructing the temple had to be claimed by the Prime Minister. The temple trust is a nominal one till the time of inauguration, a proxy for the Prime Minister, and it is he, through his trusted aides, who is orchestrating the triumphal opening ceremony. Narendra Modi outshines Lord Ram as he leads from the front the preparations for the mega event.

It is now a recognisable signature of Prime Minister Modi that he does not believe in anything low key. It has to be as loud as it can be, and he does not feel embarrassed by the fact that he might be overdoing things, or that it can turn out to be crass and vulgar. He is the artist of political bling, leaving behind the big fat Indian weddings and the Bollywood extravaganzas miles behind. To what extent will the constructed and inaugurated Ram Mandir at Ayodhya influence the Lok Sabha polls this summer? Prime Minister Modi wants to turn this into an effective campaign theme, and the razzmatazz he has been creating surrounding Ayodhya is done with this in mind.

The BJP has benefited from the Ram temple card in Uttar Pradesh for more than 20 years now. Now that the temple is there at last, will it still fetch votes? Uttar Pradesh has turned into an almost unassailable fortress for the Hindutva party. How much more will the temple card add to the party’s kitty? Given that Prime Minister Modi is orchestrating the temple inauguration with a grand political intent shows that the party still wants to play on the sentimental quotient that the temple issue evokes in the state as it is not sure of its achievements on the economic and governance fronts in Uttar Pradesh.

This also extends to the other Hindi heartland states, except for Bihar. That after 10 years in power, Mr Modi and the BJP are forced to fall back on the old Ayodhya temple theme should come as a disappointment. But Mr Modi is not too worried about these niceties. He is quite focused on winning the election, and any issue that comes in handy is good enough. The temple issue is as good as any.

What is of great curiosity is his idea of turning Ayodhya into a point of revived Hindu national glory and to make it a point of international attention. Here is the inflection point when realism tips into vainglory, and fantasy takes over. This is the natural path of right-wing nationalism that Mr Modi and the BJP, with support from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, travel, and this is the political cul de sac.

The big talk of India riding the two horses of modern technology and antiquated tradition takes a beating because technology is based on science and a certain attitude of mind. It requires that you do not look back but you look forward. A country, a party and a leader who hark back to a glorious irretrievable past, and indulge in talk of the great achievements of the past, cannot be moving towards the future. But the BJP remains deeply anchored in India’s imagined past, and without an understanding of its intellectual treasures, which are of great sustenance. The right-wing worldview is warped because it invokes a past which cannot be reconstructed. The hoopla around the Ram temple in Ayodhya is a desperate attempt to invoke what was a utopia of poet Valmiki’s imagination, his artistic vision of a tale of human fortune and frailties. To take the Ram story in an unthinking crude manner, one ends up creating a Disneyland of Ayodhya, the small town which had seen its days of glory and honour in the days of the Buddha and the Jain Tirthankaras, of political importance in the late Gupta period.

The inability to distinguish between the past and present, of dreams and reality, is the infirmity of the national mind, and it leads to sharp discordance in the day-to-day life of the people. Indians have over the centuries carried their mythology in their minds while leading their life in the present, and did not allow the myth, with its emotional resonances, to come in the way of dealing with daily challenges. The RSS, the BJP and Mr Modi are leading the country on a slippery path where the past glories are being sought to be revived in a kitschy manner, and not allowing the people to lead normal lives. What the mythological past of India transmits is a sense of values, and Indians have lived with those tales and values without having to resort to these acrobatics of theatrical recreation.

Tags: ayodhya ram temple, ram temple consecration ceremony, prime minister narendra modi