Lens on New India

By Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay
Speaking Tiger, Rs 699

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its political arm, the Bharatiya Janata Party, are hopeful that the ‘inauguration’ of the incomplete Ram temple at Ayodhya would consolidate the Hindu vote in favour of the incumbent regime in the run-up to the general elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi thinks that whipping up religious fervour with the pran pratishtha of the Ram mandir would divert attention from a slew of pressing problems: India’s economy is not exactly in the best of health; youth unemployment is high; farmers continue to agitate despite harsh measures to suppress them; foreign affairs are messy; and large sections of industry, notably the micro, small and medium enterprises, are yet to fully recover from the disastrous impact of demonetisation and the draconian lockdown of March 2020. Moreover, Modi knows that not all Hindus, who comprise around 80% of India’s population as per the 2011 census, are happy with him, the head of a government with a demonstrably majoritarian mindset. They argue that for democracy to improve, the Opposition has to be stronger and less divided. Nor are they comfortable with a contentious electronic voting system. The prime minister thus knows that he cannot afford to lie back and relax and that 2024 is not a done deal as yet, notwithstanding claims to the contrary by his propagandists. Hence, the continuous need to whip up religious sentiments.

These aspects of contemporary India are explained lucidly and comprehensively by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay who has been closely tracking the RSS, the BJP and Modi for several decades. His latest book is a must-read for all those seeking to understand the political processes in India in the context of not just the November 2019 judgement of the Supreme Court but all that preceded it — the unlocking of the gates of the temple in 1986 when Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister, Lal Krishna Advani’s rath yatra and the demolition of the Babri masjid in 1992.

Written in a racy and easily-comprehensible style, Mukhopadhyay recounts all the relevant facts as a reporter would. As a critical commentator, he also contextualises them in broader social and political contexts. Mukhopadhyay explains why the Ram mandir and Hindutva remains the BJP’s political “fallback plan” and how a mythological hero became god and then a political icon.

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