RIGHT Foot Forward

Ram Mandir, Sabarimala, Nehru Museum: How the war is now between 'my saffron' and 'your saffron'

Rahul Gandhi faces a challenge as he wants to don the mantle of a champion of women’s empowerment and 'janeudhari Brahmin' at the same time.

 |  RIGHT Foot Forward  |  7-minute read |   06-11-2018
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One would have thought that after Rahul Gandhi’s temple runs, saffron would be the flavour of the season. But it still remains a red rag for the liberals. Or, is it a case of 'your saffron' versus 'my saffron' now?

There are three shades of saffron, consuming the public mind-space at present.

rahul_110618112512.jpgSaffron is still a red rag for the liberals. (Photo: Agency)

First, the Ram Mandir, of course.

The second is Sabarimala.

The third, though not exactly in the same league, is the appointment of four new members in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) Society.

On the Ayodhya Ram Mandir issue, reactions from sections of the BJP, RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) were on expected lines. They want the government to pass an ordinance and clear the way for the temple. Meanwhile, over 3,000 saints and Hindu spiritual leaders gathered at Delhi’s Talkatora stadium on the weekend to deliberate on the way forward at Ayodhya. Again, this assembly too did not spring any surprises. The consensus view was — while dialogue is always desirable, in case of a stalemate, legislation is the only way out. They were not optimistic of a court-imposed resolution.

This might have been an event, orchestrated by the BJP to build the atmospherics for the ordinance or bill in Parliament. No doubt, the government has been put in a spot by the delay in the Supreme Court's hearing. Therefore, instead of using the BJP and RSS’ own loose cannons, it was a smart idea to shoot from pious shoulders.

However, it is not the BJP alone that is caught in a quandary.

ram-mandir_110618112115.jpgDeliberating the way forward on Ayodhya. (Photo: India Today/Qamar Sibtain)

The Congress, too, with its new-found “bhakti” has painted itself into a corner.

In fact, its dilemma may be in many ways worse than that of the BJP.

Had it been only the RSS, VHP or the ultra-right elements of the BJP, the Congress would have found it easier to counter. But, now with the moderate right throwing their weight behind the Mandir ordinance, Rahul Gandhi may be a little lost for answers.

Statements like that of Shashi Tharoor saying, “Build Ram Mandir in your heart” fall flat with the believers. Sooner rather than later, the Congress will be forced to make its stand clear.

A clever strategy for the BJP could be to bring an ordinance first and then place it in Parliament in the coming Winter Session — much before the Supreme Court hearing resumes.

The ordinance would establish the BJP’s seriousness and might give them mileage before the state elections. The Congress would be caught in a Hobson’s choice on whether to protest over the ordinance. And, when the Bill comes up in Parliament, it will be undecided on which line to take. Obstructing the Bill and delaying it till the Supreme Court hearing begins will only strengthen the BJP’s position.

How far Rahul Gandhi had factored in these possible scenarios in his soft-Hindutva strategy will only be clear in the days to come.

Sabarimala is trickier.

If the Ram Mandir is a tiger the BJP is riding, then here the party may be accused of playing a dangerous game.

But again, the Congress is caught in its own bind — it cannot take a strong position on the Supreme Court judgment, nor can it be seen to be siding all the way with the protesters. Rahul Gandhi admitted to this during his recent interaction with the media in Indore.

sabarimala_110618112406.jpgSabarimala is a trickier issue, and the Congress is caught in its own bind. (Photo: PTI)

The Left-front government is not making the task any easier by its rough handling of the protesters. That poses a challenge for Rahul Gandhi, who wants to don the mantle of a champion of women’s empowerment and be a 'janeudhari Brahmin' at the same time.

The Congress is, therefore, relying on left-leaning intellectuals to do the sharp shooting, while it is staying clear from the line of firing.

Congress’ poster boy from Kerala, Shashi Tharoor, is happy issuing statements on the Ram Mandir sitting in distant Kolkata, but is nowhere on the scene of action. Other Congress stalwarts from the state, like AK Antony, are conspicuously silent.

For the BJP, Sabarimala is a much larger opportunity than just mobilising its support base in Kerala. Amit Shah and his team know, in the age of social and electronic media, there is bound to be a news spillover beyond the boundaries of the state. It will impact Hindu sentiments not just in the South, but in the rest of the country as well.

Therefore, there is a different war playing out in social and mainstream media. It is not a battle of trolls anymore. The argument of the liberals, of course, hinge on the rights of women and upholding the judgement of the Supreme Court. But, for once, they are being met with spirited counters that are not based on blind faith alone. One may disagree with the logic of the latter, but not dismiss them as bigots.

These argumentative RW voices are questioning the Central government for its passive position before — what they perceive to be — an insensitive and hostile state government.

From this spirited polemics, another narrative is emerging that cannot be easily ignored.

Talking of alternate discourse brings us to the saga of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML), which many regard as the last bastion of the Lutyens’ elite.

It would be pertinent to note that only four out of 34 members of the society have been appointed in the recent reshuffle.

Of the four, only three new appointees are replacements and one vacancy had arisen almost two years ago. However, the brouhaha seems to be with the choice of only one of the new members – Arnab Goswami. The other three eminent gentlemen appear acceptable to the commentariat at large, even if with some riders.

nehru_110618111624.jpgSurely Nehru's legacy is not so fragile. (Photo: Nehru Museum website)

One does not hold any brief for Arnab Goswami. But, if the argument is about dissent, then diversity of views ought to be its twin virtue in an intellectual forum. So, it must either be the intellectual insecurity of the thirty-odd remaining members or the formidable influencing powers of Arnab that's causing such distress in the old establishment.

Nehru’s legacy cannot be so fragile that it can be single-handedly demolished by a 'testosterone TV anchor'.

One may have differences with Arnab’s politics, but it would be difficult to fault him on his academic credentials (Masters in Social Anthropology from St. Anthony's, Oxford) except, as someone remarked in jest, he graduated from Hindu College and not St Stephen’s.

So, is it the person that is causing the difficulty? Would it have made a difference if another journalist of a similar professional background had been nominated in Arnab’s place? By publicly vetoing Arnab’s selection through the media, his detractors are only contributing to the theory that they treat Lutyens’ institutions as a 'closed club', which they fiercely protect from those seen as infiltrators lacking pedigree.

What we are seeing now is not so much a clash of ideologies, but a fight between two establishments. The old aristocracy is trying desperately to hold on to its turf and not allow trespassers in its territory. But, even after three centuries, Newton’s third law still holds true as much in the world of physics as in dialectics — whether some people like it or not, a second eco-system is unmistakably taking shape.

Like the Congress is beginning to rediscover Hindutva, it would do well to recognise, if not embrace this.

Indian civilisation always opted for synthesis. It is from dialogue — not denial — that a new middle ground will emerge. That would be the true Nehruvian way of joining forces to create a “New India”.

Also Read: Why the Statue of Unity is such a pain for the left and liberals


Sandip Ghose Sandip Ghose @sandipghose

Sandip Ghose is a writer and blogger on current affairs. Views expressed are personal and does not reflect those of his employer

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