Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi believes that the Ram temple movement, which catapulted the BJP to the national stage, was a symbolic liberator for Dalits and a move towards achieving social harmony.
In his recent book, ‘Samajik Samrasta’ (social harmony/complementarity), Modi recalled that a Dalit from Bihar – and not some upper caste religious leader – had performed the shilanyas (foundation stone-laying ceremony) for the Ram temple at Ayodhya in 1989.
“The shilanyas – on November 9, 1989 – for a grand Ram temple was performed not by some religious head or mahant, but by a Dalit from Bihar. It was not just for the cause of laying the foundation for the Ram temple, but social harmony itself. It was a signal for cultural revolution,” Modi says in his book.
Clearly, Modi has sought to redefine what was seen as a socially divisive Hindutva campaign as a socially inclusive one in terms of caste, thus justifying the Ram temple movement with a fresh spin.
The book – the cover of which depicts a smiling Modi with BR Ambedkar in the backdrop – focuses on issues such as empowerment of Dalits and tribals, gender equality and village development. It seeks to project Modi, who has until now been seen as the poster boy of Hindutva and capitalist growth, as an exponent of the rights of marginal groups.
The project makes political sense, considering that Gujarat is currently jostling with problems such as malnourishment and tribal backwardness, despite the high growth trajectory.
Already an icon of the Hindutva constituency and the Gujarati middle class, Modi has also made calibrated attempts to reach out to Muslims – who are wary of him – by showcasing that Gujarat’s growth has benefited everybody.
However, Modi’s latest bid to associate the Ram temple movement with social justice and Dalit empowerment is unlikely to go down well with Muslims. What’s more, it may not impress ally Janata Dal (United) either, which considers Modi “communal”.