Ayodhya’s tryst with destiny
Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the first brick of the Ram Mandir at a grand “bhoomi pujan” ceremony in Ayodhya on Wednesday, and said that August 5 will stand as a symbol of the commitment of several generations that devoted their lives to the construction of the temple, just as August 15 symbolises the sacrifices of countless Indians for Independence.
Modi spoke of Ram as a thread of India’s unity in diversity, referring to the multiplicity of Ramayanas across the country, highlighting Ram’s appeal across the world, and distilling Ram’s messages — of social harmony, non-discrimination, care for the poor, protecting those who seek refuge, and commitment to the motherland. He also said that the more power a nation has, the greater is its capacity for friendship. These were all messages widely read in sync with India’s contemporary governance and security priorities.
In the backdrop of the protracted political, social and legal dispute that has marked the issue of the Ram temple, Modi added that the temple should be constructed on the foundation of mutual love and brotherhood, and it was only through everyone’s participation (“sabka saath”) and with everyone’s trust (“sabka vishwas”) that India can achieve development for everyone (“sabka vikas”). He also pointed to the economic benefits of the temple for the wider Ayodhya region, where pilgrims from across the world would come to pray.
The beginning of the construction comes after a 135-year-old legal dispute culminated when the Supreme Court, last November, awarded the disputed land to Hindu parties. It also comes in the wake of a three-decade-long mobilisation by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological affiliates, and the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 -- an act declared illegal by the same SC verdict -- that led to communal violence and deaths in various parts of the country.
The event was preceded by days of preparation and festivities in Ayodhya. Modi landed in the town on Wednesday morning, visited the Hanuman Garhi temple, planted a tree, participated in the rituals associated with bhoomi pujan, and then released a special postal stamp on the occasion.
He then addressed a select audience, carefully curated due to pandemic-related restrictions, but his speech was beamed across the country. The event also saw the participation of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat as a special guest — a rare occasion when the PM and the RSS chief shared the stage and spoke on the same platform. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and the head of the Ram Temple trust, Nritya Gopal Das also spoke at the function following the bhoomi pujan ceremony.
Adityanath welcomed the guests, highlighted how this day had arrived after waiting for five centuries, and emphasised that it had come through peaceful, constitutional and democratic methods. The wishes of India’s 135 crore [1.35 billion] people and the Sanatan Dharma followers have been fulfilled,” he said.
Bhagwat spoke of a sense of satisfaction and joy at seeing the temple being constructed. “Today is a new beginning of a new India,” he said. “There is a wave of joy in the country now...”
Modi used a 40kg silver brick, donated by Das, for the ceremony and presented a kalash (holy pitcher) made of five metals for the ceremony. The event happened under a canopy decorated in shades of red, yellow and gold.
In the audience sat 175 guests, drawn from 135 spiritual traditions and eminent citizens from Ayodhya. Of the three Muslim invitees, only Iqbal Ansari -- the son of the oldest litigant in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit, Hashim Ansari -- attended the event. “Lord Ram belongs to everyone. Ram temple will also bring overall development to Ayodhya,” said Ansari.
In his address, Modi spoke of how it was an emotional day for all Indians, many of whom could not believe that they could see this moment in their own lifetime. He said that “Ram Lalla” (the child deity), living in a tent, will finally find a home in a grand temple, and Ram Jamnabhoomi would finally be free of the cycle of breaking and rebuilding.
The PM spoke of the power of Ram, and in what appeared to be a reference to the belief that a temple was demolished to construct the Babri mosque, he said, “See the power of Ram. Structures got demolished; every effort was made to erase his existence; but Ram is still etched in our minds. He is the basis of our culture.” The Ram temple, Modi said, was a “modern symbol”, a symbol of faith, a symbol of national sentiment, a symbol of the collective power of the people, and the process of temple construction was a process of bringing together and uniting the people of the nation, and connecting the past with the present.
Alluding to the diverse appeal of Ram, he referred to the different Ramayanas read and recited across the country, and the intersection of Ram with Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism. Modi spoke of Ram’s following globally, spanning from the Muslim-majority Indonesia to neighbours such as Nepal and Sri Lanka and even Iran and China. He said, “Ram belongs to everyone; Ram is present in everyone.”
The PM highlighted Ram’s qualities of truthfulness and bravery, and claimed social harmony constituted the basis of his rule, and there hadn’t been an ideal ruler such as Ram in the world. He said Ram had espoused the values of mutual love and brotherhood — and this should be the basis of the construction of the temple. He praised the dignity with which everyone had followed and abided by the SC verdict last year, and the need to respect everyone’s sentiments.
Chronicling the messages of Ram’s rule, Modi spoke of how this was Gandhi’s ideal of Ram Rajya and it was what India was following. These included how no one should be left poor or unhappy; how men and women should be equally happy, without discrimination; how farmers and those engaged in livestock farming should be happy; that elders, children and medical personnel should be protected (a message he said was reinforced by the coronavirus pandemic); that those who seek refuge must be protected — a possible reference to CAA; and that through power and fear, the capacity for peace increases. “That is why the stronger our nation becomes, the more secure it will be and there will be peace and friendship.”
The Congress said it was a day for people to come together. “Congress consistently believed in resolving the Ayodhya issue either through dialogue or through acceptance of the verdict of the court. That’s the only way in which mature democracies and multicultural societies resolve conflict...today is a historic day when India is witnessing a closure to the issue,” said Congress’s Pawan Khera.
While Congress president Sonia Gandhi did not comment on bhoomi pujan, she asked party leaders to speak on it on all media platforms so that the party’s message reaches out to the people, people familiar with the development said. “Moreover, the CWC resolution is already there and that is the official stand of the party,” a party leader said on the condition of anonymity.
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said he hoped future generations would tread the path shown by ‘maryada purushottam’ (an adjective for Ram referring to his commitment to justice and dignity for all). Bahujan Samaj Party president Mayawati said it was unfortunate that Ayodhya, a city of many religions, was in the news for the dispute for years.“However, it is nice that the Supreme Court ended the dispute and this also, to some extent, stopped politics that some parties were indulging in,” she tweeted.
All India Muslim Personal Law Board secretary Zafaryab Jilani said the ceremony won’t change the reality and that, for the board, the site would continue to be treated as mosque land. “We are quiet because we had said that we would respect the law of the land and go by the court’s verdict,” Jilani said.