EPW Editorial


The Sangh Parivar seeks to push its extraconstitutional agenda under the guise of law.


Mohan Bhagwat, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief, in his annual Vijayadashami address stressed the demand for a bhavya Ram Mandir, citing national interest and self-esteem of the nation. Bhagwat’s call to bring a law to build the mandir is a move to encash the issue for electoral mobilisation of voters in the five state assembly elections as well as in the general elections in 2019. This call looks desperate considering that the issue of the land title is under the consideration of the Supreme Court. It means Bhagwat’s call effectively seeks to supersede the judicial procedure.


Invocation of national interest and “self-esteem” in Bhagwat’s speech is nothing but euphemism for the Sangh Parivar’s sectarian interests and its attempt at electoral self-aggrandisement. Considering that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha, this demand could have been made anytime in the last four years, but it is obvious that it has been raised at this point with an eye on the forthcoming elections. Bhagwat’s invocation of Ram Mandir as an embodiment of the “sentiments of crores of countrymen” suggests that the Sangh Parivar through the BJP would seek to rake up the mandir issue in an attempt to consolidate votes around the politics of Hindutva.


Notwithstanding the threatening tone and bluster, this is actually a defensive position in lieu of growing discontent with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. With the promise of “acche din” proving to be elusive, it is understood that the Sangh Parivar and BJP would harp on the agenda of communal polarisation and consolidation. It would not be correct to say that they are harking back to it for they had never moved away from it in the first place, as some liberal cheerleaders of “Vikas Purush” Narendra Modi would have us believe. Furthermore, popular legitimacy constructed around Modi was never entirely about “vikas” or “acche din” as the Hindutva agenda was always suffused with it. With the legitimacy around his developmental image eroding, ensuring that his legitimacy is maintained around Hindutva, is a political necessity, and invoking the Ram Mandir demand is a step towards that. Beyond immediate electoral calculations, raising the Ram Mandir demand at this juncture also suggests a longer political game of maintaining the centrality of Hindutva in political discourse irrespective of the electoral defeat or success of the BJP. If one sees this address along with the public relations exercise in Vigyan Bhawan, Delhi conducted last month, then this strategy for lasting hegemony can be grasped. Liberal commentators who were gleefully welcoming Bhagwat’s superficially pluralist platitudes are now expressing dismay over this “return” to a divisive agenda. There is no contradiction between the two speeches as they form a part of a coherent political strategy going beyond elections. Even though the mass discontent over economic issues is pronounced, such discontent is not visibly active/actively visible against the divisive agenda of hatred. Therefore, it is very much possible to build popular legitimacy around Hindutva issues even with a changed electoral scene and alignments. This is particularly so due to the absence of an effective counter to Hindutva from major opposition parties, particularly the Congress. The Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee’s stand on the Sabarimala issue, which appears to be identical with that of the Sangh Parivar, evokes discomfort regarding its ability to uphold constitutional values when they come in conflict with supposed matters of faith, sentiment, belief, and tradition.


For the Sangh Parivar, establishing the primacy of faith over the court verdict in Sabarimala based on the Constitution is crucial to set the tone for the Ayodhya case. If the Sangh Parivar is brazenly resorting to extraconstitutional methods of mob frenzy in Sabarimala, as it had done to conspiratorially demolish Babri Masjid, the demand for a law to build the mandir is equally extraconstitutional, albeit couched in formal legal language. If such legislation were to be moved, it would be tantamount to promulgating theocracy by stealth. Considering the BJP’s numbers in the Rajya Sabha and also the possibility of disquiet among NDA allies, it would appear unlikely that the government would actually go ahead with such a course of action. However, the BJP is not a typical right-of-centre conservative party that abides by the rules of the game; only an ostrich or a Narasimha Rao would believe in its outward commitments to that effect. It is a reactionary party controlled by an organisation with the political project of building a Hindu rashtra, which is antithetical to constitutional democracy.


Therefore, such an attempt is not inconceivable on their part, primarily to have a rallying point to whip up frenzy than to actually make a legislative move towards building the mandir. Opposition parties in general, and the Congress in particular, would face the test of upholding constitutional secular principles over faith or belief. Bhagwat has already thrown the gauntlet by saying that the opposition cannot oppose the mandir as the deity is revered by the majority. On the other hand, the Congress is hesitant to associate with as anodyne a statement as that by Congress Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor, that “no good Hindu would want [the mandir] to be built by destroying another’s place of worship.” The Sangh Parivar’s long-term hegemonic designs for Hindutva cannot be countered by sidestepping its challenge, as seems to be the case with the Congress’s stand on the Ayodhya issue or, even worse, by embracing the Sangh Parivar’s position as it has done in the case of Sabarimala.

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