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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 1 New Delhi December 23, 2017 - Annual Number

Padmavati, Polygamy, Ram Mandir: How do we Stop the run of Faith?

Sunday 24 December 2017

by Diptendra Raychaudhuri

“We will construct it. It is not a populist declaration but a matter of faith.”—Mohan Bhagwat on Ram Temple (at VHP Dharma Sansad at Udipi, Karnataka on November 24, 2017)

Every election brings out the socio-economic reality in much more perceptible terms than in other times. Seen from this perspective, this year’s Gujarat Assembly election will be remembered for long, as it has churned out different truths from within a polity that earlier seemed a monolith. Be it caste-based resentment against the system itself, or people’s burgeoning impatience with a capitalist development model that creates and heightens expectations and aspirations over time, what stumble out signify different, even contradictory, pulls. A lot many reports and articles on such subjects flooded the media before the election. But, unfortunately, the most striking feature of this election, reducing the Muslims to almost an outsider status, has not been highlighted the way it deserved to be.

Since Sonia Gandhi’s ‘maut ka saudagar’ jibe backfired in the laboratory of Hindutva in 2007, the Congress changed tack, allowing ex-RSS Shankersinh Vaghela to dominate the party in the State. Now that Vaghela has left the main Opposition party, one expected the Congress under a young Rahul Gandhi to stand by its principles, and talk about every marginalised section, including the Muslims. But, while Team Rahul chose everyone, from the Patidars to Thakors to Dalits, to challenge the narrative of ‘development’ in Gujarat, the Muslims were left out. Though one out of every ten in Gujarat is a Muslim, for the 182-member State Legislature the Congress and its allies fielded only six Muslim candidates (the BJP, obviously, no one). Rahul Gandhi visited innumerable temples, and declared himself to be a Shiv-bhakt. The RSS dream of bringing the Hindu at the centre-stage of politics is now finally turning into a reality. The fight in Gujarat shaped up with time as one between the old and known Hindus and a new entrant in the fold. The contrast with Uttar Pradesh is staring at us, and begging for a suitable answer.

It is not difficult at all to discern the reasons of political marginalisation of the Muslims in Gujarat. They have become a burden in the State where the RSS narrative of Hindutva dominates the minds of the people. So, no more does the Congress dare to undertake a KHAM experiment (or it could have been KHAMP this time: Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim and Patidar) in Gujarat: it has supplanted it with KHAP. Muslims are not a part of the story, for they would anyhow vote for the Congress (except in the Kutch region). This has a much wider ramification to limit it to Gujarat or to discard it as an election strategy. What happens if the whole country, like today’s Gujarat, accepts the RSS narrative? And, if the RSS-VHP commences construction of the Ram Mandir at the disputed site in Ayodhya in October, 2018 without any legal sanction, would the Congress or its Shiv-bhakt leader dare confront it? What would happen if a Bill comes in Parliament to nullify the court verdict (like in the Shah Bano case of the 1980s) for making way for construction of a ‘Grand Ram Temple’ at the disputed site at Ayodhya? Would the Congress support it? Would they stage a walkout, thereby clearing the path of its approval?

Understanding Hindutva as a Question
of Faith

Seen from a wider perspective, it all logically brings us to the question whether faith will be supreme in this country or the constitutional guarantees to liberty, dignified life and equality? If Gujarat is any indication, like the BJP Rahul Gandhi too has chosen faith and not secularism as the driving force of politics. To understand the ramification of it, we need to understand how the Hindutva propagated by the RSS is being strengthened by the faith-based societal system of the Muslims. If the situation further deteriorates, it may create an environment where the minorities may truly become second- class citizens.

As it now manifests itself, the Hindutva narrative has three aspects:

First, like any socio-religious narrative, it is based on faith. As Lal Krishna Advani put it thirty years ago, and Mohan Bhagwat is repeating now, building the temple at the Janmabhoomi is a matter of faith, and therefore not negotiable.

Secondly, though pitched as a socio-religious concern, it influences politics quite strongly. Since the BJP, under Atal Behari Vajpayee, main-streamed the party by shunning confrontational issues, HIndutva is influencing politics tangentially. The BJP is not likely to be directly involved in the next Ram Mandir movement aimed at constructing the temple, but its support will surely be evident in many ways. If needed, it will (or it will have to) bring a Bill in Parliament to acquire the disputed land and give it to Ramlala. In return, the BJP will benefit immensely. If the Congress does not create hindrance to it, the party will make way into the Hindutva umbrella, as a junior partner though.

Thirdly, any faith-based narrative thrives only when there is another narrative too (the followers of which can be called ‘they’ as opposed to ‘we’). It draws sustenance by competing with and cornering the other narrative. So long, the other narrative that the RSS fought was that of a combination of the Muslims and secular-liberals. Now, if the Congress decides to follow the Gujarat 2017 model in the next general election, it will not challenge the RSS’ Hindutva narration anymore. What happens then?

In case someone thinks that the Congress party cannot give up its secular-liberal plank for soft Hindutva, one should be reminded that the Congress has a long tradition of accepting and even strengthening the Hindutva narrative on its own. Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s opposition to the Age of Consent Bill, Vallabhbhai Patel’s endeavour to rebuild the Somnath temple, Sanjay Gandhi’s demolition of the Turkman Gate slum, Rajiv Gandhi’s Ram temple moves, and Narasimha Rao’s inaction during the razing of the Babri mosque are just some glaring examples of a few such acts. Thus a quick change of stance by the Congress is quite expected from the age- old party. However, if it is not the Congress or the ‘pseudo-seculars’, then who will provide the other narrative? In other words, who will still be out there to challenge the RSS narrative? It will be the Muslims, who already have a different faith-based system for themselves (like instant talaaq, polygamy, and so on). The majority narrative will find justification of everything it does, including the construction of the Ram temple, as all these are questions of faith like that of the minorities. The irrefutable logic will be: if ‘they’ can enjoy the free run of faith, why not us! And then Padmavati has to be banned as part of identity politics of a sub-nationality under the Hindutva umbrella, for ‘they’ too succeeded to ban The Satanic Verses as part of their faith-based identity politics.

Muslims will be targeted for their ‘privileges’, and the singular example that will be cited is the Muslim’s ‘prerogative’ to marry four times. As time passes, the Muslims will be looked down more as ‘dirty people’ by all the other Indians because of their right to polygamy which a minuscule section of them exercises. The victim of this attitude will be the vast majority of Muslims who are secular, and do not have more than one wife.

Faith or Constitution?

Thus to elevate ourselves from being dumped in a situation like the one I have described in the last section, we need to decide now, if possible by 2018, whether faith will reign supreme in modern India, or rights to personal liberty, to equality, and dignified life. If right to equality is supreme, none of the Indian women can be denied any right that the men enjoy. If men of a community claim the right to marry four times, it has to be given to both men and women. Otherwise, polygamy has to be abolished. Ditto for all other unequal practices prevalent among Hindus and the others in relation to marriage, inheritance and so on.

Our political system has failed to give an answer to the question. When Jawaharlal Nehru limited his effort to modernise the Indian society only to the Hindus (and Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists), he in fact validated the Hindutva version put forward by V.D. Savarkar, the Hindu Mahasabha leader, who argued that all religions born in the soil of the Indian subcontinent are to be bracketed in the word ‘Hindu’. Savarkar’s political aim for advocating this broad Hindu version was simple: dividing the society between ‘we, the original inhabitants’ and ‘they, the outsiders’. While disputing and challenging this Hindu theory of nationhood vehemently, Nehru in practice activated Parliament to reform the personal laws of only ‘we, the original inhabi-tants’. ‘They’, mainly the Muslims, were left to be governed by the medieval dark laws of their respective religions.

Just after independence, B. R. Ambedkar sought to have a Uniform Civil Code for India to make it a modern nation. The Muslim members of the Constituent Assembly opposed the idea vehementy. When Nehru brought Bills to bring marriage, divorce, inheritance of the Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs under state super-vision, J.B. Kripalani, the socialist, urged him to provide the Muslims with the monogamy shield too, claiming the community was ‘prepared for it’. The Communists, like Bhupesh Gupta, too urged to make it ‘far-reaching’. Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee of the Jana Sangh openly said: “I know the weaknesses of promoters of this Bill. They dare not touch the Muslim minority... But of course you can proceed with the Hindu community in any way you like and whatever the consequences may be.” The Hindu Mahasabha’s N.C. Chatterjee wondered what was the need of a Hindu Marriage Act if India was a secular nation, and if polygamy was bad why were ‘our Muslim sisters’ not being rescued from the ‘curse’?

Nehru had no answer, and what followed was simple. The society was left to have two different sets of people: the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, who were governed by modern civil laws (not entirely though), and were encouraged to modernise themselves further through the legal and judicial process; and the ‘others’ (mainly the Muslims) were left to perpetual backwardness, a breeding ground of fundamentalism. The fundamentalists domi-nated the entire socio-political life of the common Muslim in India, and after a revival of Islamic fundamentalism starting from the Islamic revolution in Iran, they became daring enough to confront the system. It was evident in their confrontational attitude against the Supreme Court on the Shah Bano verdict. What happened then was a blot on Indian history: the verdict was reversed by Rajiv Gandhi, and the funda-mentalist Muslims defeated the highest court of the land. The whole thing was a question of faith that asserted itself again against a fictional novel, and succeeded to ban The Satanic Verses.

In reaction the Hindu fundamentalists presented their question of faith in the form of the Ram Mandir movement. They too won, and by their sheer numerical strength. The Babri mosque was razed to the ground. And now the second phase of the temple movement is in the offing. The question of faith will be presently expressed through the construction of the temple. Once again, it is likely to get support of a large chunk of the Hindus who have waited for twentyfive years to settle the question through the legal procedure. The recent Dharma Sansad of the VHP has hinted at building the temple next year in unequivocal terms.

The Supreme Court must come clear 

As is the situation now, the political system does not have the strength to stop the run of faith in this country. So, as the guardian of the Constitution, the Supreme Court will have to take a call.

In the instant triple talaaq case, the highest court of the country failed us. Two out of the five judges made it clear in their verdict that if faith infringes upon freedom, dignity and equality, it has to be curbed. That is quite in line with the thoughts of a modern nation. But the other three upheld the supremacy of faith. Out of those three judges, one felt that instant talaaq does not have the sanction of faith, and so he too favoured banning it. If he felt it enjoys the sanction of faith, instant triple talaaq (banned in many, many Muslim countries) would have stayed.

France, lauded as the seat of secularism, banned hijab. In a different culture, we do not have any problem with hijab or ghunghat. But, we do have problems with polygamy, legal or illegal. We do have problems with building a temple at a disputed site only because it is a question of faith. So, the Supreme Court must decide whether faith is supreme, or the spirit of the Constitution. If it decides in favour of faith, the future of modern India will become uncertain. If the Supreme Court decides in favour of the spirit of the Constitution, all the anti-fundamentalist forces of all religions will have the strength and will to fight the fundamentalists. Apart from the issues mentioned so far in this article, many other issues remain where we have to curb the run of faith, including injustice against women inherent in all religions and the Khap or caste panchayat’s medieval verdicts on social issues.


The elites may get frustrated today to see a part of our population going to the extremes against a film that they have not even watched. It is not the fault of that condemned population. Back in the 1980s, the elites who ruled the country tampered with the system to allow the run of faith at the cost of the Supreme Court. It sent out a clear signal: if you can assert your communal identity, your faith-based demands will be acceded to by the state (because the ruling party needs votes). First, it was the Muslims who succeeded, then the Hindus (by razing the mosque with impunity), and now the Rajputs. In India, faith does not depend on a codified book, for the Hindus have many, and the tribes have none. Faith for the communities coming under the Hindu umbrella varies from region to region. If the Supreme Court fails to curb the run of faith, we may see much more weird demands coming up in future. So, instead of vilifying the Rajputs, we have to look inward, and rectify all the mistakes of the past.

Ideally, neither Padmavati, nor The Satanic Verses should face any ban, and a temple at a disputed site should come only through the due process of law. Ideally the governments should not dare to disrespect the Supreme Court by rejecting its verdict through legislation. To achieve this ideal situation, the Supreme Court must assert itself. Once this happens, people will not have the courage to raise such demands. Ideally, if one community’s leaders think one’s faith is hurt, it should issue an appeal to boycott the object, be that a book or a film. It has no right to impinge upon anyone’s right to see a movie or read a book. Whether we can advance towards that ideal, now depends on the Supreme Court. If it fails us, it may be too late.

Left to the politicians, India’s journey towards modernity may be greatly hampered. Gujarat 2017 is just a promo, the real drama will unfold over the years, and that may end up in a tragic blow to our dream of building a modern, unified and strong India.

Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a freelance journalist and author. He can be contacted at dip10dra[at]

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