Political expediency cannot be blamed for All India Congress Committee general secretary Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra’s volunteering to pledge her support to the Ram temple project in Ayodhya and calling it a symbol of national unity.
Even political novices are aware of the energy and efforts Hindutva forces have spent for the project, and the blood of innocent people they caused to spill across the nation after Lal Krishna Advani mounted the “Ram rath” in the 1990s.
Even a distant observer of Nehruvian legacy, leave alone his political heirs, will not miss the objection the first Prime Minister of India raised when President Babu Rajendra Prasad chose to attend the consecration of the renovated Somnath temple in Gujarat, for the celebration of a community is rightfully theirs, not of a secular state nor its head.
That the temple is coming up on a spot where Babri Masjid once stood, and the apex court had sanctioned its construction there only after calling the vandalism at the Masjid, including damage done to it in 1934, placing of idols under its central dome in 1949 and its destruction in 1992, “egregious violations of rule of law”, would have been reason enough for the Congress leader to hold back her horses, instead of joining forces with those who are out to display “triumphalist bigotry”, as another senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor would put it.
Protagonists of the Indian National Congress, save Pandit Nehru, have displayed a congenital tragic flaw when they were told to act on the contentious Ayodhya issue, and Ms Gandhi can be seen as no exception.
Rajiv Gandhi, then Prime Minister and Congress president, did it twice: in 1986 when he ordered opening of the locks of the disputed site which his grandfather had shut down and then allowing the shilanyas in 1989. P.V. Narasimha Rao, then Prime Minister and Congress president, watched in silence when karsevaks razed the minarets in 1992. The Congress’ attempts were clearly to hunt with the hounds and run with the hare, but it failed, miserably and naturally.
The party that had placed itself at the secular liberal side of the polity lost pathetically when it chose to run the rightist course, for the people had a better lineup to represent that ideology to opt for.
Ms Gandhi and those in the Congress who smart at being not invited for the programme in Ayodhya owe the people an explanation how their interpretation of national unity as seen in the Ayodhya project squares with the “the ideals Lord Ram epitomises: justice for all, righteous conduct, fairness and firmness in all dealings, moral rectitude and courage”, as Shashi Tharoor would put it.
It is time the Congress realised that secularism is not a standalone idea; it’s very much part of a larger project which seeks to recognise every human being shorn of all the artificial classifications such as caste, religion, sex, region and so on.
The party has to make a choice whether it sides with that grand project. Otherwise, the bhajans heard at Ayodhya could be the requiem for the grand old party of Indian politics as well....