Ides of August

Ides of August are come and gone. Once again. Though new declarations made each year from the Red Fort sound exciting, India continues to wait for the fruits of its tryst with destiny prophesied in 1947.

At the Red Fort event of 1947 (held that year on August 16) the first prime minister of course cautioned that “we have a long way to go.” The day before at the Constituent Assembly, he had conceded that in our tryst with destiny the time had come to redeem our pledge, “not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially.” In 2020, the current prime minister has assured that in two years when free India turns 75, “we will be able to celebrate the redemption of those pledges.” India and the world would be watching keenly.

August is truly august for India. The month has now added a saffron letter day to the national calendar with the prime minister performing bhoomi pujan for the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya on August 5. Well, the definition of secularism has acquired varied hues across the globe and India is entitled to have its own with a tinge of saffron. However, lessons from world history tell that the separation of church and state is not about ignoring the majority religion but rather insulating it from tyranny of the political government. Protection of minority religions is just a natural corollary. It is the majority religion and its institutions which are vulnerable.

A case in point is the Ramakrishna Mission which went to the Supreme Court pleading it is not a Hindu organization and should be allowed to run its educational establishments free from government control like minority institutions are. The court disagreed but the case underlines the reality that the majority religion requires protection, not by the government, but against it. Indeed, cartoons float in the social media on how government leaves minority institutions alone but interferes with those of Hindu faith. That being so, the euphoria in certain Hindutva quarters on the prime minister occupying centre space at the bhoomi pujan is probably a self-goal.

In his speech following bhoomi pujan, the prime minister likened the temple movement to India’s freedom struggle. Quite clearly, he was suggesting a proxy so that RSS can make up for its absence in the independence movement. That is how community mission is hijacked to serve political agenda when the separation between church and state is breached. Again, after the temple functionaries decided to invite the prime minister, it was the government which dictated who else should and could be there. For now, it may appear that the government is toeing the religious line but soon it will be the other way round. Politically aligned religious institutions will have to conform to centrally prescribed practices because a uniform edifice is easier to manage. This can come only at the cost of sacrificing local flavours. Irrespective of which side of the debate one may be, in Kolkata where I live, nobody can miss that in temples dedicated to various deities, decorative buntings and devotional music have recently changed uniformly. Also, “puja” has become “pujan.”

Be that as it may. Superseding those of 1947 we now have the promise of Ram Rajya. A dream just as good if not better. It may be significant that the prime mister chose to end his speech at bhoomi pujan with Jai Siya Ram instead of Jai Shri Ram. After all, a blemish in otherwise pristine glory of Ram Rajya is the king abandoning his wife. Over the ages, Ram bhakts have atoned for this injustice by popularising a greeting where the wife’s name is given the place of precedence. This should augur well even for a secular Hindu rashtra because Jai Siya Ram is heart warming while Jai Shri Ram is chest thumping.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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