Justice Markandey Katju –
The Ram Mandir issue has again picked up momentum as Lok Sabha elections approach, and it is obviously connected to the latter.
The Supreme Court is being blamed by many people for procrastinating over the case before it, and there have been some protests outside the Court premises. Whichever way the Court decides the BJP, which thrives on communal passions, and whose fortunes have been declining lately, hopes to benefit by the decision, thinking it will lead to a massive upsurge of communal feelings.
What is the truth behind all the Ram Mandir brouhaha? In my opinion, the Ram Mandir issue is no issue at all ( despite our ‘masala’ seeking and largely sold out media projecting it as such ).
The real issues before the country are massive poverty, galloping unemployment, widespread farmers distress, record and rising child malnutrition, almost total lack of proper healthcare and good education for the masses, etc. Let us consider some of these.
Narendra Modi had promised in his 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign that if the BJP came to power it would create 2 crore jobs annually. But far from doing so, unemployment has reached record heights, as all reliable data indicates. It is believed that demonetization alone destroyed two crore jobs and tens of thousands of medium and small industries.
Farmers suicides have crossed 300,000, and farmers agitations have mounted ( there have been rallies even in the national capital Delhi ) protesting against failure to implement the Swaminathan Commission report ( which Modi had promised to do ) to fix the Minimum Support Price of food products 50% above the cost of production.
Child malnutrition figures, as per the Global Hunger Index, show that over one-third of the world’s malnourished children are Indian children. 47% of our children are malnourished, a figure far above even sub Saharan countries like Somalia and Ethiopia, and we have now the distinction of being ranked at 103 out of the 119 countries studied, having further slipped after BJP came to power in 2014 ( we were ranked 97 in 2016 and 100 in 2017 ).
Our education system is in shambles. There are no doubt some excellent institutions like the IITs, but these are minuscule. The vast majority of our schools and Colleges are in terrible condition, with a few proper teachers and facilities.
About healthcare the less said the better. There are no doubt some state of the art hospitals in big cities, but these are exorbitantly expensive and simply out of reach for the masses, who have often to go to quacks.
This being the national scene what can our political leaders, who have no solutions to these real issues, do? They can only seek to divert public attention from these real issues to non-issues like cow protection and building Ram Mandir, the whole aim being to whip up communal passions in the hope that this would get votes.
It is said that the Ram Mandir issue is vital as it is connected to people’s ‘Aastha’ ( faith ). No doubt most people in India are religious, and many have faith in Rama. But there are thousands of Rama temples in the country, why a Rama Mandir at the particular spot where the Babri Masjid existed? It is said that Rama was born at this particular spot. But Rama was a mythological figure, how can it be said he was born thousands of years ago at this very spot? So why all this hue and cry?
The real reason is this: it is well known that in most states in India votes are largely cast on caste and communal lines. In many states, particularly big states like UP and Bihar, the vote bank of the BJP are the Hindu upper castes ( Brahmins, Rajputs, Banias, Bhumidhars, etc ), which are collectively only about 20% of the population. Now to win an election one needs at least 30% votes ( it is not necessary to get 50% votes as others are divided ), but 20% is certainly insufficient. So to win elections the BJP requires an additional 10-15% votes. That is only possible if at least a section of OBCs and SCs join in ( Muslims will of course never vote for the BJP ) and this is possible only if communal feelings run high. It was this formula which catapulted the BJP which had only 2 seats in the Lok Sabha in 1984 to get 183 seats in the 1999 elections.
In the original Ramayan of Valmiki, which is in Sanskrit, Rama is not a god but a prince who later became a king ( of Ayodhya ). It was only 2000 years later that he got transformed from a human being to a God in Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas written in the 16th century, and in some other vernacular works ( though in the Assamese Ramayan called Saptakand Ramayan written by Madhav Kundali in the 14th century he is not depicted as a god ). But since most people do not know Sanskrit they do not know this fact. When the original Rama is only a human what is all this hue and cry of building a temple for him? Temples are only built for gods.
In my opinion, the present raking up of the Ram Mandir issue is a desperate gambit by a party, whose President once spoke of ruling India for 50 years, but which is now seeing power slipping out of its hands. However, in view of the people’s anger and distress over the BJP’s total failure to do anything about the real issues facing the nation, I doubt that this diversionary gambit will succeed.
[Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own]