The cultural push and push-back questions
To remain relevant, irrespective of whether one donates for the Ram temple construction, Indians should ask a few questions of the fund collectors.
The RSS and its affiliate organizations, including the ruling BJP, have launched the most massive public fund collection drive for construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, which will be built by L&T and Tata Consultant Engineers.
In the last one month, at least five news items related to the fundraising campaign were noteworthy, even if not unexpected. The first was about riots in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat during the fund collection yatras, which have hardly been discussed in the public sphere. The second report was about the opening of the PWD Ram Temple Welfare Fund in Uttar Pradesh, which points to the future of governance in India or at least in its biggest state. The third news report was that of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) collecting Rs. 31 crores in three days in Gujarat. A Surat-based businessperson, Govindbhai Dholakia, alone has contributed 11 crores to the VHP’s drive. The fourth was about a few Congress leaders, such as Digvijay Singh and Praniti Shinde, daughter of Sushil Kumar Shinde, generously contributing to the Ram Temple construction fund. The fifth news is not really reported anywhere but is real and in your face - It is about the fear of consequences of declining monetary contribution, of being marked as non-cooperative, or even antithetical, to interests of the Hindus.
Whether there would be any adverse reaction against such non-cooperation, whether the first news item was about a reaction of this sort, and whether worse is to follow, is not yet clear. Even if this may be stretching the imagination, what option would one have if employees – of government and non-government sectors – were asked to ‘voluntarily’ contribute to the accounts opened for the same? The authorities having the access to the accounts will certainly know who the non-contributors were, as well as who has contributed how much. For the rich in the country, this becomes an opportunity to demonstrate their allegiance to the powerful rulers. In the days to come, we would witness many more Dholakias offering crores for the temple while the unwilling amongst the not-so-rich classes might mutely bear the burden. What option do dissenters, unwilling people and the poor have if the principal opposition party in the country is also swayed by the ruling party’s agenda? Ironically, it’s only the Shiv Sena that has openly questioned the timing, need, method and intention of this fund collection drive.
In the time of the pandemic when the government has postponed even all activities requiring door-to-door visits, including for important purposes such as census or anti-polio drive, the RSS and its affiliates have chosen to indulge in such mass contact activity. Aren’t they, then, behaving the same way that they very recently accused the Tablighi Jamaat of – of conspiring against the nation? Unable to defend the Modi government on a variety of issues, but unwilling to part ways with the ruling dispensation, the RSS has decided to give a push to its cultural hegemony agenda. There is also a question mark on the legitimacy of the volunteers and the sanctity and probity of the entire exercise. How does one identify who are the true volunteers collecting the fund; and what is the guarantee that people will not be duped in the name of the Ram Temple? A much more complex question is what if the true volunteers themselves are being led to believe that there is no political intention behind the fund collection drive, or even behind the Ram temple construction? If indeed there is no political intention, why did the Prime Minister require to perform shilanyas? Why does a political party – the BJP - also involved in fund collection and not leaving the task only to the ‘cultural’ and ‘religious’ organizations? The questions are many and their answers are not unknown. But the important practical issue at the moment is how to face the fund collectors if one is a conscientious objector or in disagreement in principle? Dialogue with the mob can be suicidal; however, the meek submission will also be destructive of self-dignity. Equally important is the need to reflect upon what causes a group of people to turn into an organized mob! Whether non-engagement and no-dialogue is a part of the problem? It is certainly not a part of the solution. In the absence of the prominence of any progressive agenda, the engagement is inevitably within the set framework of dominant Hindutva.
The construction of the temple is happening after the Supreme Court ruling. The same ruling, though, opined that destruction of the disputed structure called Babari Mosque was a criminal act. The ruling did not certify the claim of one of the parties in the dispute that the Ram Temple was demolished in the past to build Babari Mosque. The Supreme Court ruling also allocated a separate piece of land for the construction of a masjid. If one is not making any contribution towards the construction of a mosque, why should any contribution be made for the construction of a temple? It is all right if a Hindu would like to contribute for construction of a temple and a Muslim for a mosque. It is heavenly perfect if Hindus and Muslims contribute towards both – construction of a temple as well as a mosque. But isn’t it, shouldn’t it be, alright if as an Indian, one would not like to pay either for a temple or for a mosque? Given the dominance of Hindutva, this Indian is losing relevance in India. To remain relevant, irrespective of whether one donates for the temple construction or not, the Indians should ask a few questions of the fund collectors. The Indians must ask them whether they have donated any money towards their cause? If so, how much, and where is the proof? The Indians should certainly inquire about yesterday’s and today’s petrol prices and ask about tomorrow’s rise in prices. The least the Indians can ask the fund collectors is about the construction of a village by China on Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh. The most the Indians can ask them is whether they have paid salaries during the lock-down period to their home-maids and other workers.