At the historic Bhoomi Pujan of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared the stage with two of the most important votaries of Hindutva, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat, and Yogi Adityanath, the sutradhar (host) of the ceremony who is also the saffron robe-wearing Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.
With Bhagwat foregrounded at the ceremony, it seemed that at least for today, the Sanghhas won the contested debate on the Hindutva idea of India versus the secular ideals of the constitution.
The most significant point made by a suitably clad Modi in saffron ombre made was to draw a huge analogy between the Ram Mandir "karsevaks" (those who worked for the Ram Mandir) and India's struggle for independence. All BJP handles across social media latched on to this comparison. Modi made an excellent speech, even by his stellar oratorical standards, drawing on the historicity of Ram across the world and restating his "sabka saath sabka vikas" vision (which we often don't see in the acts of his government).
Modi repeatedly said that Ram "belongs to the whole country". He also made timely references to coronavirus saying it has shown how everyone has to work together and cooperate. The speech was measured and thoughtful.
Modi prostrated himself in a "dandavat pranam" (full body prostration) to pay homage to Ram. It was also a tribute to the RSS whose "pracharak" (full-time volunteer) he once was. This was Modi's first trip to Ayodhya in 29 years. He had apparently decided that he would only go to Ayodhya once the courts approved of the construction of the temple.
Nritiya Gopal Das, the head of the temple trust, seemed to allude to this when he said "Ek aur Modi, ek aur Yogi, Mandir ab nahi banega toh kab banega (we have Modi on one side and Yogi on another. If the temple is not built now, then when?"
The biggest takeaway of the grand and minutely choreographed ceremony was the conflation of Yogi with Modi. Yogi at 48 is virtually the Sangh-designated heir and successor to Modi, not least because he is running the politically most significant state of Uttar Pradesh which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha. A very senior RSS leader told me, "Who can be possibly more 'bhagua' (saffron) than Modi, whom we consider the tallest PM of India with his historic decisions on Kashmir and Ram Lalla, but Yogi? If Yogi becomes PM, India will be painted saffron."
Even the time, 12.44 pm (rahu kalam), when the brick was laid and the date was not a political choice made by the Modi government and the wider Sangh. It has been exactly a year since the Modi government repealed the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (Article 370) and reduced it from a full-fledged state to the two union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. August 5 will go down in the annals of the Sangh as a red-letter saffron day as it fulfilled two of its most cherished and foundational goals with the repeal of Article 370 and the construction of the Ram Mandir on the same day. Modi, who is hugely conscious of his place in Sangh history, has clearly made a bid to go down as the most important Sangh PM in India's history.
The third goal on the wish list of the Sangh, a uniform civil code (UCC), could also become a reality by the end of this year. Top sources say as the BJP increases its numbers in the Rajya Sabha, there will be virtually no impediment to this major change. A tired and out-of-ideas opposition is expected to tamely go along as it has on the Ram Mandir.
The Sangh, which is now in pole position in India, or as they insist you call it, Bharat, also sent a message with those not invited to today's inauguration. L K Advani, founder and President of the BJP and the politician whose Rath Yatra for the Ram Mandir which left a trail of blood across India in 1992, was not invited. Neither was Murli Manohar Joshi, prominent Mandir votary. Both are under-trials in the criminal case of the destruction of the Babri Masjid.
The Sangh has still not forgiven Advani for his lapse in calling Jinnah "secular" on a visit to Pakistan in a vain bid for image reinvention. The Sangh has come along very far in its journey now that no hard-line BJP leader needs a soft "mask" anymore (Atal Behari Vajpayee, the first BJP PM, was once memorably described as a "mukhota" (mask) by RSS ideologue K N Govindacharya). The BJP leadership now competes for RSS attention with the most hard-line approach on Hindutva.
So, what next? The campaign for the UP elections scheduled in two years has clearly begun and the BJP has a huge head start. For the moment, at least, coronavirus and its uncontrollable spread, the Chinese aggression and the imploding economy have been forgotten as Modi delivers on his socio-cultural agenda.
As the Sangh occupies the imagination of India, the opposition is wiped out of ideas and energy. That perhaps is the biggest success of the Sangh and all the shades of saffron on offer.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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