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Subtle Message

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There were many subtle messages, and some obvious ones, communicated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the gathering at the Ramjanmabhoomi Temple bhoomi pujan in Ayodhya on Wednesday. It began with his repeated exhortation of ‘Jai Siyaram’, instead of the political ‘Jai Shri Ram’. ‘Janaki Mata’ occupied as much space as did Ram in his speech. This was an important distinction he made between a religious function and a political one. He also was inclusive in every aspect, taking the opportunity to thank those who accepted the Supreme Court’s verdict with grace and dignity as Indians should. At the same time, he reminded everybody that only the strong could be compassionate, generous and loving. He extolled the virtues of Ram and exhorted people to emulate these in their everyday lives for the wellbeing of ‘all’.

He and RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat were right in pointing out that the occasion was important from a civilisational point of view. It was a symbolic milestone in overcoming the pain inflicted on the Hindu psyche by the destruction over centuries of temples by invaders and oppressive regimes. The Hindu has survived partly by forgetting and forgiving, adopting an amnesiac approach to history, but treating the wounds is also an important objective to revive and prosper. There is a case for a ‘truth and reconciliation commission’ in India, similar to that formed in South Africa to right the wrongs of history. It would be in the spirit of the anti-racist movement ongoing in the US, these days. This requires, of course, the writing of a complete history of India, instead of the heavily redacted one of the present (in which all evils flow from ‘Brahminism’).

Unfortunately, politics stands in the way. For many, such thinking is ‘majoritarianism’, and ‘secularism’ requires appeasement of even the most fundamentalist and unconstitutional demands merely because those supposedly representing the ‘minorities’ are making them. It stems from the fear of confronting uncomfortable and inconvenient truths. However, as the PM pointed out, Ram requires acceptance of the truth, however difficult that might be. It needs dialogue and debate ‘in the right place, the right manner and at the right place’. Modi’s detractors will nitpick on some minor element in the speech and blow it up to further their narrative, when they should be accepting the invitation to contribute to the furtherance of knowledge on the subject. In the meanwhile, however, the concrete reality of the Ramjanmabhoomi Temple will inspire the necessary attitudinal change in the days and years to come.