Ayodhya And The Future India

Indian Express, November 7, 1993
Back to the Origins
Edited by Jitendra Bajaj
Centre for Policy Studies, Rs.120/-
by K. Govindan Kutty

This is a provocative book. It provokes thought. The attempt is to review the events of Ayodhya in the context of a new search for Indian identity. The view and the review that this affords may extremist. Yet it has a ring of relevance no one who has concern for India’s future can ignore. What marks it out from similar dissertations is a total lack of inhibition.

The events of Ayodhya are complex, perhaps even more complex than generally believed. A measure of its complexity can be seen in the changing Indian response to them. The instant response to the demolition of the Babri masjid, or whatever else it was called, was more a cry of outrage than an expression of relief even by those who wanted it to go. It took some time for many to make bold to say that what had happened was, after all, good.

The initial mood of many who were arguing for a temple in place of that mosque in Ayodhya was one of apparent penitence. What those like L. K. Advani did and A. B. Vajpayee said when that structure was demolished in a fit of mob fury is a matter of recent memory. It was an event whose enormity unsettled for a moment even those who drew inspiration from it, retrospectively and prospectively.

Theoretical physicist Jitendra Bajaj holds a different view. So does historian Dharampal. Bajaj who has edited this volume with a brilliant introduction and Dharampal who has concluded it with an address of great intensity do not accept that India was a whit agonised by that convulsive event of Ayodhya. Bajaj says, “Our first reaction to this display of unbounded initiative on the part of the Indian people was that of immense relief”. Dharampalsays “when they demolished it… I really felt relieved”.

The complexity of that event is evident in their responses too. Bajaj, who found “immense relief” also says “thoughts about the morality, ethics and politics of the action were to come later”. Dharampal also qualifies that sense of relief. He likens it to “the kind of feeling one has at the end of a prolonged illness of an old man. There is sorrow, but there is also relief”.

The movement of Ayodhya is not seen as a mere move to replace a dilapidated mosque by a temple for Rama. It signifies a reassertion of the urge for Indianness. A “great turning around” to an Indian perspective, as Bajaj calls it; an event that forces us to “come to terms with ourselves”, as Dharampal sees it; a signal to “begin thinking in our own terms, in our own language, in terms of our needs, our aspirations”, as K. N. Govindacharya presents it.

This theme of belonging and alienness, posited by Ayodhya, runs through the volume. But not all views are alike. It records diverse responses to Ayodhya, ranging from those of Arun Shourie and S. Gurumurthy on one side of the spectrum to those of S. Guhan, Abdus Samad, Casimir Gnanadhickam on the other. The attempt of the Centre for Policy Studies, Madras, when it organised a series of lectures and discussions on which this volume is based, was to understand the meaning of Ayodhya, presenting all aspects of Indian opinion.

Guahan, a retired bureaucrat, is not impressed by all this philosophising on Ayodhya. He views it all as a political gimmick, “They were obviously on to a political strategy. It had absolutely nothing to do with faith or fact”. When he said that, Guhan had to do a lot of explaining; he was not speaking to any like-minded crowd. The questions hurled at him by agitated participants in the discussion as well as his answers are all part of this volume.

There is a painstaking study of the warped view of history and secularism, of state and society, of religion and politics that has taken hold of vast sections of Indian masses and elite down the decades. Bajaj speaks with an acute sense of revulsion about the “humiliating memorials” and the “burden of our historical defeats”. The argument is as forceful but no more than the irreversibility of history. When any case for Indianness is carried far back into the past, India may have to be content with its ancient sloth and still more ancient scriptures. The question Dharampal raises is excruciatingly valid: “Do we have a point to make as Indians? If we do not have a point to make as Indians, we should retire. We should give up.” Indeed we should. How far back in history do we go to make that Indian point, how much of modernity’s burden we shed to project that Indian identity, is the question. The question is always of limits and proportions.