Nandi’s eternal waiting in Gianvapi is a symbol of sadness, perseverance and hope for civilization. The hope is not only for the gods to be restored to their rightful places and the rebirth of temples, but also for an end to the denial and delusion that have plagued the Indian political system for far too long. Kashi wallet open and closed like Mathura and many others. There is no real debate about the fact that these mosques were constructed after the destruction of temples by Islamic warlords in the Middle Ages. The only “controversy” is the artificial political rhetoric, academic obfuscation and deception that Islamic religious supremacy has joined. The Islamists’ claim about occupied Hindu sites with force and violence is untenable, immoral and, as in the case of Ayodhya, illegal.
But Islamic supremacy and aggression provide ideological cover by the usual suspects from the left and liberal spectrum. This has been a trend since the 1920s. The Kashi case is portrayed as a struggle between religious obstruction and modernity, and calls are made to reject the past to build an enlightened secular future. This argument is flawed both in theory and in theory. First, it is about truth and justice, not modernity or obstruction. Second, it assumes the existence of a normative model of modernity or universal values such as secularism, and the only task is to enforce it forcefully. Third, it assumes that the past is dead, and that setting a deadline of August 15, 1947, can decide between the old and the new.
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It is a liberal illusion that the past, present, and future are disjointed. But the past continues to shape the present and the future. No society can be separated from its unique and past path. Ignoring the complex social formations and relationships between societies that have developed over centuries can only lead to disasters, as is repeatedly demonstrated around the world. Hindus and Muslims share a turbulent past that has not been explicitly acknowledged. There has never been an honest Hindu-Muslim dialogue despite their disagreement with the big questions that exist today as a political community. No amount of academic maneuvering and interference can change the facts on the ground.
Obsessive calls for secularism have no legitimacy when they are always propagated in the service of the Islamic cause and never used to challenge the Islamic agenda. Secularism is also an uncomfortable fit outside Western Europe and America, which their unique experiences have generated. There is mounting evidence of a crisis of secularism around the world. It is not the fault of those societies or people who were not secular enough. It is because of the unrealistic expectations of societies whose historical experiences, development and intellectual traditions are at odds with secularism. India does not have a word for secularism in any classical language because the concept or idea has never existed. India has managed its unparalleled diversity and pluralism using its own framework.
Secularism is under great pressure when dealing with the presence of two Abrahamic religions in a system of government. And it becomes a harbinger of discord and conflict when other non-Abrahamic religions also exist because they prefer the expansionist Abrahamic religions over other religions. The doctrine of “essential structure” is itself a violation of the constitution’s infrastructure because the constitution did not envisage such an arbitrary doctrine or grant a veto to an unelected judiciary.
A challenge to the Place of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991 may still have some legitimacy if not for the violent protests against anti-farm laws and open riots in opposition to the Civil Aviation Act backed by those now claiming the sanctity of the legislation passed by Parliament. The 1991 law is very harsh. It is passed without any consultation or consideration with the affected communities, forbids judicial review, imposes arbitrary retroactive date-fixing, and blocks the constitutional and legal path to justice for an entire community.
Then there is the argument for protecting the post-1947 social and political pact with its secular socialist core. Such nostalgic arguments wrongly assume that the old system is worth saving, that it has popular legitimacy and that it can be salvaged. It only produced misery and regular riots. It cannot produce economic growth, social advancement, or cultural renewal. It was always a top-down imposition by an extremist minority of urban elites and collapsed as the deepening of democracy accelerated after the 1980s. It cannot be saved, not least by the sheer incompetence of its heroes, the preoccupation with the mockery of Hindu beliefs, the demonization of Hindus, and the ridicule of their own civilized anxieties and aspirations. They are trying to do to Shiva what Brahma and Ayodhya have done for decades. They clearly do not understand Shaivism or the undercurrents and fault lines at work.
The way forward is to accept the burden of the past and restore Hindu sites – the only moral thing to do. Big deal, something that should have been done in Ayodhya in the ’80s itself.
(The writer is the National Vice President, BJYM)