On 22 January 2024, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, performed the consecration ceremony of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. It was the Pran Pratishtha of Ramlalla (child deity). According to the Sanatana Dharma, Pran Pratishtha is an 'infusion of life', that is 'prana', into the idol of a deity in a temple. It is Ramlalla Virajman in the sanctum sanctorum - a living deity to whom devotees will pray and offer prayers. The Pran Pratishtha ceremony began with singing the famous Gandhi's bajan Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram, Patit Pavan Sitaram, without Sitaram in the Garbhagriha of the Mandir. The question that came to my mind: Why is the idol of Ramlalla installed in the sanctum sanctorum instead of Lord Ram and Sita, which would have been more appropriate? Then I understood that, by installing the idol of Ramlalla, the organisers of the consecration ceremony were justifying the idol of Ramlalla reportedly found in the central tomb of the Babri Masjid (which was actually smuggled in on the midnight of 22 December 1949). The Mandir is built on the same spot where Ram is claimed to have been born thousands of years ago, before Christ, though no archaeological evidence suggests that. So, it is the 'return' of Ramlalla to his abode.
It was Narendra Modi's show; the cameras focused exclusively on him throughout the ceremony, getting all the limelight. No one else was visible: no President of India, no central ministers, no opposition leaders, no Shankaracharyas - the Dharma Gurus of the Hindu faith - and no L. K. Advani, the patriarch of the ruling party, credited for galvanising the Ram Mandir Movement. It is the rise of Hindu Republicanism - a de facto Hindu Rashtra - and the burial of Secularism and constitutional democracy, with Modi assuming the dual role of the Head of the Government of India and also assuming the role of a mukhya yajmana of the Hindu faith, which is pluralistic and not a monolithic or monotheistic religion, sidelining the sadhus and sants.
Most of the selected invitees who attended the ceremony did so out of fear of consequences should they fail to attend, to form an audience to cheer Modi. He claimed to represent the whole country of 1.4 billion people of different faiths. The consecrating ceremony, held on the eve of the general election, was converted into a political event to garner the votes of the Hindu community and not a religious and spiritual event in the true sense. Or else how could one understand the ceremony held on 22 January, not on Ram Navami, that too when the temple construction is incomplete, ignoring the objections raised by Shankaracharyas - the followers of Adi Shankaracharya who revived Hinduism - the leaders of the four nodes of Hindu faith!
After the conclusion of the Pran Pratishtha ceremony, Modi addressed a public rally. He said: "Today in Ayodhya, only the idol form of Shri Ram has not been consecrated. This is also the lifeblood of unwavering faith in Indian culture as manifested in the form of Shri Ram. It is also the embodiment of human values and highest ideals. Ram is the faith of India, Ram is the law of India, Ram is the consciousness of India, Ram is the thinking of India, Ram is the prestige of India, Ram is the glory of India, Ram is flow, Ram is eternal, Ram is Vibhu-vivid, Ram is all-pervasive, the world, the universal soul. Hence, when Ram is revered, its impact does not last for years or even centuries, it lasts for thousands of years" (IE 23/01). No leader before Modi has come to epitomise the appeal of religion and politics like him.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta has summed up the event: "The Pran Pratishtha marks the consecration of Hinduism as a political religion. It is not just a moment where the state, which has pulled all its mighty power behind this event, ceases to be secular. It is also the moment where Hinduism ceases to be religious. Prime Minister Narendra Modi now donning the mantle of Hindu kingship, has the ability to get millions of people to play their parts for an audience of One, with all institutions, corporations, sects, civil society, media singing the same tune. Ram has been transformed from a radiant glow of righteousness into something merely instrumental: A litmus test for national loyalty. You now have to swear allegiance to the Imam-e-Hindi or else" (IE 22/01).
Mehta continues, "The content of this new Ram Rajya is, for a moment, found in a logic of retaliation and blood, rancour and division, that India's post-1951 constitutional ideals sought hard to avoid. The only content to the new dharma one can see on the horizon is to intensify the logic of the 1930s: To create an ethno-nationalist state with its cult of power and violence, its worship of purity and concentration of power. It produced devastating wars in Europe, and the partition of India. We are consecrating our own collective narcissism in the image of God". A senior journalist, Neerja Chowdhury, says, "PM Modi drew a new line - a Ram Rekha - redefining the relationship between the state and religion, flagging off religious, not just cultural, nationalism. As a force for change" (IE 23/01).
The Supreme Court, in its judgement on 9 November 2019 on Ayodhya, while permitting the construction of the Ram temple, said that there was no evidence of a temple being demolished to construct the Babri Masjid and that the demolition of the Masjid on 6 December 1992 was a criminal act. Following the demolition, thousands of innocent people were killed in the riots since then. No punishment is given to those responsible for the demolition of the Masjid. They are moving freely with impunity. Narendra Modi, in his address, should have atoned for the criminal act to pacify the Muslim community, which feels insecure and beleaguered in an assertive Hindu India. No genuine reconciliation or rapprochement between the Hindus and the deeply hurt Muslims would be possible without a sincere apology from the Head of the Indian Government for what happened in 1992. The triumphalism would only aggravate the social discord. The construction of the Ram temple is not the end of the Mandir-Masjid dispute. The disputes relating to Mathura and Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi are already in the Court. The Places of Worship Act 1991, which is supposed to put an end to the Mandi-Masjid disputes post-Babri-Masjid demolition, is not honoured by the members of the Sangh Parivar and the Hindutavadis to keep the pot boiling.
The politicisation of Ram has hurt the temple's innocence. How will the true bhakts of Purushottam Ram reconcile to the Ram temple standing on the Babri Masjid's demolished structure?
Rajmohan Gandhi observes that the "love for Ram" was not the mandir project's central drive. Nor was love for human beings. The fuels of anger and revenge were stronger…also embedded into this history is deception (the smuggling in of idols in 1949, followed by propaganda that the idols materialised on their own) and coercion (the demolition of the Babri mosque despite promises that it would not be harmed). The Mandir will have to find ways of liberating itself from its messy history. Perhaps someday a Hindu will prostrate before the idol in the new temple and beg forgiveness for the offence of 1949 and 1992" (HT 24/01).