Power and piety are as incompatible as devotion and debauchery; yet, power politics uses piety for its legitimacy, with the latter not being able to counter or even moderate the former.
How different would the avenging Hindu be from his own memory of the marauding invader if he razes the Gyanvapi or takes over the Shahi Idgah mosque?
For the devout Hindu, Krishna is a unique personal god: he’s endearingly prayed to as Infant Krishna (like Infant Jesus for the Catholics); he’s loved and longed for as the lover prince Radhakrishna or Radha’s Krishna; he’s the awesome charioteer wielding the chakra; and then he’s also the Gita-giver, the philosopher urging us to carry on with nishkama karma. So, his mythical birthplace is of immense importance to a Hindu, and I had the opportunity to take my mother on a pilgrimage to the holiest of holy lands for a Krishna bhakt. She was heartbroken after the visit to Mathura and Vrindavan, and not because of the Shahi Idgah mosque. In fact, she did not even notice the mosque — she was upset because of the pigs and the dirt and the squalor. She couldn’t place her dear Krishna in the real-life Vrindavan and the filthy path leading to the Yamuna, and lamented that she should never have made the trip, for it defiled the pristine picture of Krishna of Vrindavan in her mind’s eye.
Things would have become better, and hopefully cleaner, in the last two decades after that visit to the Yamuna front. However, for pious Hindus, the Shahi Idgah mosque does not exist, just as the Gyanvapi mosque is invisible in their quest for Shiva in Varanasi. They only see Krishna or Shiva while they seek the bliss of a holy communion. But politicians or the avenging Hindu can only see a mosque jutting into the holiest of holy temples, and so it has to be razed. It is a question of perspective, what one wants to see or what one is forced to see: power or piety. They only see marauding armies of alien people invading and humiliating their ancestors and ruling over their lands for a millennium: a subjugation of the Hindu populace by cruel Muslim rulers, with the impoverished subjects post facto being denied all agency.
The communalisation of a nation’s imagination and memory gets complete when the dominant political messaging refuses to acknowledge the template that invaders, be they Mughals or the British, used to rule India — no invader has ruled India without the help of local chieftains. While Islamists hail Aurangzeb and Hindutvavadis denounce him with equal force, both are curiously silent on the kings of Rajputana who fought wars and won territories for the Mughal emperor. Every war involved destruction and loot, and places of worship would have been obvious targets. But why did the rajas of Rajputana not stop the destruction at Mathura? After all, Mathura was less than 10 days’ distance for the Rajputs even by the Roman marching standards. The project to erase the role of Hindu kings in the imperial Mughal army is aimed not just at communalising the memory of medieval India, but also at weaponising the imagined ‘hurt’.
Communalised memory as a political weapon cannot be stopped by the law; instead, the law is being subverted to suit the agenda of the avenging Hindu. It is not clear whether this time around the story of the destruction of Hindu temples in Kashi and Mathura is being retold in videos that are getting circulated on WhatsApp groups for political mobilisation or to change the character of Hinduism for all times to come. The Hinduism that coexisted with invasions and conversions was a resilient religion that constantly got reformed from within, allowing space for dissent, self-doubt and correction. It was this space that Gandhi used to campaign against the practice of untouchability from within the Hindu fold. And this space also allowed everyone to question Hindu practices, including militant practitioners and preachers of other religions, wooing converts. The new project to erase all signs of medieval coexistence, terming them as symbols of slavery, can only lead to complete intolerance of ‘the other’.
Socially, this can only lead to strife whereas politically it cannot accrue the ruling dispensation more power that what it already has. Then why attempt this defacement of our composite culture? Is it an attempt to announce the political triumph of Hindutva? If it is so, Hindus should stop taking pride in being tolerant, inclusive and all-embracing; the concept of vasudhaivakudumbakam now rings hollow. And this attempt to criminalise history through the courts makes a mockery of the rule of law. An avenging Hindu cannot be expected to honour the precepts of the ‘Places of Worship Act 1991’ or the Ayodhya verdict of the Supreme Court that said, ‘In preserving the character of places of public worship, Parliament has mandated in no uncertain terms that history and its wrongs shall not be used as instruments to oppose the present and the future.’
While the Sangh Parivar communalises the memory of medieval battles, the Opposition has lost its connect with the masses and cannot even address them meaningfully to tell them to be reconciliatory and generous towards their own history and to be reasonable to their neighbours. To see a Shivalingam in a fountainhead inside a wuzu pond is to demean Hinduism and its magnificent temples all across the country. If only those who surveyed the wuzu pond had visited the Brihadeeswara temple of Thanjavur, they would not have belittled the idea of a Shivalingam.
How different would the avenging Hindu be from his own memory of the marauding invader if he razes the Gyanvapi or takes over the Shahi Idgah mosque? Or is his intent to reinvent Hinduism and recast it in the mould of his own imagined enemies who smash idols as part of Semitic practices? Whatever be the grand plan, it ill behoves India as a nation to get its courts to order the survey of medieval mosques to find a phallic symbol here or a piece of Krishna’s land there. We have more pressing matters to attend to, like controlling inflation, creating jobs and securing our borders. The Economist magazine’s cover last week said it all — India’s moment: Will Modi blow it?
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