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Ayodhya and the challenge to equality

In elections to three State Assemblies of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh late last year, candidates of the Muslim faith won 11 of the 520 seats in play. That would seem a modest tally, by no means evidence of disproportionate political influence. The myth of a pampered minority, though, refuses to die. On the campaign trail last November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the Congress party of pressuring Supreme Court judges, on pain of impeachment, to delay a final decision on the Ayodhya title suit. The charge stems from a lineage of propaganda invented by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which holds the Congress guilty of the cynical politics of Muslim appeasement. Secularism in India has been variously characterised, though few of these have done justice to the vigour with which the issue was debated in the Constituent Assembly. In the aftermath of Partition, seen as the outcome of the community-based template of political competition introduced under British rule, secularism was an article of faith across the ideological spectrum, though only in a limited definition as a seamless sense of national identity. A superfluity Minority representation was discussed at length and set aside as a superfluity. There was no case for assured representation on communal lines, since the guarantees of equality before the law and access to public services and employment would ensure fair outcomes for all. Ananthasayanam Ayyangar put it thus, addressing an interlocutor from the minority community in the Constituent Assembly: “I am a Hindu and if you allow me to represent you, I will come to you at least every four (sic) years. Similarly a Muslim man can come to Hindus. Ultimately, we will all come together.” For Sardar Patel, the possibility of both separate communal electorates and assured representation was unthinkable, no less than an incentive for certain citizens to “exclude” themselves and “remain perpetually in a minority”. Equality embraced the right to be different, though not a difference in rights. Exceptions would be granted only where classes of citizens were known to have suffered a deficit of social and cultural capital on account of discrimination through history. The construct of a “minority” segued into a notion of social and educational backwardness, remediable over generations through procedures of affirmative action. These were formulations steeped in unwitting upper caste privilege, a sense that the Constituent Assembly — elected on a very narrow franchise and voided of its more eloquent minority spokespersons by Partition — spoke for a true nationalism at risk of dilution by sectarian demands. A narrower identity In the real world of dislocation and trauma, Partition witnessed a number of local vigilante efforts to inscribe a narrower identity on the incipient nation. The surreptitious introduction of idols into the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, where a dispute over building rights on an adjacent site had simmered since the late19th century, was one such act, though by no means the only one. It is on record that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote insistently to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh at the time, Govind Ballabh Pant, insisting that the idols smuggled into the Babri Masjid should be removed. Less known is his suggestion in a 1949 letter to the Minister, Mehr Chand Khanna, of a wider problem involving the expropriation of a number of Muslim places of worship. Nehru’s insistence on the reversal of these intrusions gradually receded from the attention span of governments at the State and local levels. Ayodhya, like numerous other incidents from the time, would have faded into the distant recesses of memory had not the politics of waning upper caste hegemony and the decline of the Congress provided occasion for it to spark back to life. If equality was a constitutional promise impossible to reconcile with upper caste hegemony, identity was a serviceable alternative. From about the 1980s, the seamless spirit of the Indian nation that was so much a concern of the Constituent Assembly, gave way, at least in electoral competition, to the construct of a nation of multiple identities, contending for influence over the whole.

Source  : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/ayodhya-and-the-challenge-to-equality/article26198666.ece

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