NEW DELHI, Jan 11: The Congress by deciding to skip the consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on January 22 has not only provided easy ammunition to the BJP to attack the Grand Old Party as “anti-Hindu,” it has also risked division within its own ranks as a section of the party leadership had been supporting the Ram temple movement in the past.
The party’s public articulation on the invitation to attend the Ayodhya ceremony nearly 12 days before the event was as much meant to frame a position for its own leaders as it was to convey its decision. Party president Mallikarjun Kharge, chairperson of the Parliamentary party, Sonia Gandhi, and the party‘s leader in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, besides the former prime minister Manmohan Singh were among those invited for the grand ceremony.
The Congress in taking the decision to skip the grand ceremony have underlined that the Ram temple was a long-standing “political project” of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its political wing the BJP and that the centre was keen to inaugurate the project even before its completion only for electoral gains. It has claimed that the party has all the support for the Lord Ram being worshipped by millions but religion was a personal matter and should not be linked with any political party.
The party sought to link the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya to the politics of the BJP-RSS-VHP combine on the one hand, while it attempted to delink its politics from faith. But the party’s flip flop on the Mandir issue over decades doesn’t allow such strict separation. From claiming credit for opening the locks at the disputed site by the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1986 to promising a new temple at Ayodhya without disturbing the existing Babri Masjid in its 1991 Lok Sabha manifesto to the Narasimha Rao government assuring the Muslim community to build a new mosque post Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, the Congress and its leaders have been shifting their positions.
Even now, despite the statement from the top leadership, opinions are divided. A section of the party was keen to attend the event; a senior leader argued that the “the absence of the principal Opposition party will allow the BJP to target us as anti-Hindu and use it to polarise the electorate.” And the BJP has not wasted a minute in launching a scathing attack on the Congress branding the party anti-Hindu and anti-Sanatan Dharma allowing in a bid to alienate the Hindu votes which could decisively damage the party’s prospects in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Hours after the party issued the statement, Vikramaditya Singh, son of former Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister late Virbhadra Singh, who is the Public Works Minister in the present HP government, reiterated his earlier position of attending the event.
Earlier he had said, “My father was always in favour of Ram Temple movement. It is not a political issue for us; it is a religious matter. We are Hindu and taking our religion forward, and entrusting faith in our traditions is our culture, and we will keep moving in this direction,” Mr Singh had said.
Several other senior party leaders like Arjun Modhwadia, the leader of the Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly, also struck a discordant note. “Lord Shri Ram is a revered god. This is a matter of faith and belief of the countrymen. @INCIndia should have stayed away from taking such political decisions,” Mr Modhwadia said in a post on X on Wednesday.
Leaders of the Uttar Pradesh unit of the Congress too had announced plans to visit Ayodhya on the occasion of Makar Sankranti on January 15 to take a dip in the Saryu river and then visit the Ram temple and the Hanumangarhi temple. On November 9, 2019, the Congress Working Committee stated that it respected the Supreme Court verdict on the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute and when Randeep Surjewala, then the party’s chief spokesperson, was asked if the party favoured the construction of the Ram Mandir, the answer was a categorical “yes.”
The party would find it difficult to explain to the people if it favoured the construction of the Ram Temple in 2019, what has made the party to change its stance in skipping the inaugural ceremony. The Congress leaders particularly in the BJP-ruled states would find it very hard to secure a chunk of the non-committal Hindu votes and survive in the political ocean.
Meanwhile, amid outrage over the Tamil movie ‘Annapoorani’ for allegedly insulting Lord Ram, a case has been registered against actor Nayanthara, the film’s director and producers, and Netflix India’s content head Monika Shergill. The First Information Report, filed by a right-wing outfit in Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh, alleges that the accused hurt religious sentiments of Hindus, disrespected Lord Ram and promoted ‘love jihad’ through the movie.
The FIR was filed at the Omti police station by fringe outfit Hindu Sewa Parishad and names seven accused, including Nayanthara, director Nilesh Krishnaa, producers Jatin Sethi and R Ravindran, and Netflix India’s content hear Monika Shergill.
The movie, which released in theatres on December 1, began streaming on Netflix on December 29. After a backlash and several police complaints, it has now been pulled from the OTT platform. Two complaints against Nayanthara and others have also been filed in Mumbai by right-wing outfits Bajrang Dal and Hindu IT Cell.
The Jabalpur case, by Hindu Sewa Parishad’s founder and president Atul Jeswani, has been filed under Indian Penal Code sections pertaining to promoting enmity among groups on the grounds of religion, and common intent. In the FIR, the Hindu Sewa Parishad has alleged that ‘Annapoorani’ had hurt Hindu religious sentiments, insulted Sanatan Dharma and made baseless comments against Lord Ram.
It points to certain scenes in the movie, including one where Nayanthara, who plays the daughter of a temple priest, offers namaz wearing a hijab before making biryani. It also claims that, in one segment, a friend of the character played by Nayanthara “brainwashes” her into cutting meat, “claiming that Lord Ram and Goddess Sita also consumed meat.” Mr Jeswani also alleged that the movie promotes ‘love jihad’, which is a term used by some right-wing outfits to allege attempted conversion of Hindu girls and women by Muslim men.