August 15 vs August 5 vs August 7
Since dates are accorded importance by those in power, the milestones in the Hindutvavadis' conquest for superiority and privilege may become a new template for remembering India's past
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi lays on August 5 the foundation stone for building the Ram temple in Ayodhya, a new entry will be made in the register of dates important to Hindutva. It is possible, in times to come, August 5 could emerge as a competing template to that of August 15 for remembering our past.
India's freedom, in our memory, began with that memorable speech of Jawaharlal Nehru on August 14-15, 1947: "At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom." Nehru spoke of India's period of ill-fortune. "Nevertheless, the past is over and it is the future that beckons us now," he said.
In that speech, Nehru imagined India as an inclusive nation. "All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or action," he said. Nehru's was a bold assertion amidst the Partition violence.
Yet, a few still believe India may have attained freedom but it has not shed its slavish mentality. Around a fortnight after becoming the prime minister on May 26, 2014, Modi said in Parliament, "The slave mentality of 1,200 years is troubling us." His was not a stray remark. A year earlier, as Gujarat chief minister, Modi said on August 15, "From very early days since India became slave to others, this country has been struggling for almost 1,000-1,200 years."
India's enslavement, in the national consciousness, is dated to the East India Company's victory in the Battle of Plassey in 1757. Modi, however, pushed back India's subjugation all the way to Mohammad bin Qasim's conquest of Sindh in 712 CE. He is not the sole Hindutva leader who perceives Muslim rulers as foreigners who conquered and enslaved India.
For Hindutvavadis, it matters little that Muslims no longer rule the country or that they are among India's most marginalised communities. They think India will remain only notionally free, or suffer from slavish mentality, as long as Hindu sentiments are not privileged, their rights recognised as superior, and the symbols of their enslavement remain intact.
Among these symbols was the Babri Masjid, which was claimed to have been built on the orders of Mughal Emperor Babur after demolishing a temple that had stood at the very spot in Ayodhya where Lord Ram was said to have been born. From Hindutva's perspective, the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, symbolised the emergence of Hindus from the chrysalis of slavish consciousness.
For this reason, perhaps, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which mounted the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, would observe December 6 as shaurya diwas or bravery day until 2018. It was not celebrated last year because the Supreme Court's verdict handing over the Babri Masjid site to the Hindus trumpeted the Sangh's final triumph.
Just as August 8, 1942, the day on which the Quit India Movement was launched, was overtaken by August 15 in the calendar of momentous events leading to India's Independence, December 6 has been relegated in importance to August 5. It is possible another date such as the inauguration of the temple after its construction will be assigned even a greater significance than August 5.
Given the petition in the Supreme Court challenging the Places of Worship Act, 1991, which freezes ownership of all religious sites as had existed on August 15, 1947, it is hard to tell when Hindutvavadis will finally conclude that they no longer need to appropriate mosques to prove they have shed their slavish mentality. Such efforts will wound and scar India, as had happened between 1989 and 1992, the most militant phase of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.
This bloody past will be forgotten at the laying of the foundation stone for the Ram temple, which is just one expression of Hindutvavadis' quest to acquire what they think is real freedom. Its other expression is Jammu and Kashmir which, on August 5, had its special status annulled, its people placed under lockdown for months, their rights squashed, and their access to the internet still limited. It would seem the real meaning of August 5 is that attempts to overcome slavish mentality must also entail denial of rights to others, their humiliation.
As August 5 looms before us, it is not misplaced to wonder at the collective amnesia over yet another date — August 7. On this day 30 years ago, then Prime Minister VP Singh announced the implementation of 27 per cent reservation for the Other Backward Classes, altering the very structure of caste-class representation in government jobs. Indeed, what dates are remembered depends on their importance to those in power — and the version of history they wish to popularise. Those who tirelessly wish to create history should at least remember what Nehru said on August 14-15, 1947: "No nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or action."
The writer is a senior journalist
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The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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