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A proud moment for any Hindu, having waited patiently for a period spanning no less than five centuries! In the last four decades, much political importance was attached to this issue as the case was being fought in court by religious heads and politically by the BJP, culminating in L K Advani Ji’s rath yatra of Sept 1990. The BJP pledged to rebuild the Ram Mandir in successive election manifestos, unapologetically and without fear of being labeled “anti-secularists”. It is no wonder that they became “untouchables” in Indian politics for years to come! During the first five decades after independence, the sanctity that the word “Secularism” had assumed in Nehruvian ‘socialist’ politics only rose under the rule of his daughter Indira Gandhi when she surreptitiously inserted the adjectives “Secular and Socialist” into the constitution, while Parliamentary watchdogs were silenced and jailed across India during the draconian Emergency regime she ran from 1975 to 77. Within that ideological box, professing to be a “Hindu” was likely to be greeted with sneers in ruling circles. The aftermath of the emergency and later the Bofors scandal and the weakening of the Congress party gave rise birth to various BJP governments but the system in place forced them to put the Ram Mandir project on the backburner twice, notwithstanding the popular mandates they had been given. In effect, the secularist taboo prevailed against the public will! During that period, regional parties were few and weak and the Congress and its allies had divided the population into ‘vote banks’; most prominent among them were the ‘poor vote bank’, the ‘minority vote bank’, the ‘secular left-liberal vote bank’ and last but not the least the ‘caste vote bank’. This politics had worked quite well for them for almost five decades. The poor vote bank was too economically dependent to question them and contest government policies. The secular vote bank was well-educated and made up of English-speaking, liberal left-leaning intellectuals who wished to maintain the status quo so that they could continue to enjoy the fruits of government largesse. The third most powerful was the Muslim vote bank which was given special concessions, allowed to keep its separate laws, and provided with financial facilities. The Minority Commission and the Waqf Board were set up to this end. These three vote banks kept Congress in power for most of the sixty-five years following independence. No wonder the Nehru family-Congress had a free run, election after election, and ruled India almost uninterruptedly except for brief interludes.
However, by the second decade of the present century, the BJP’s trademark challenge to ‘pseudo-secular’ politics was given a more inclusive label under Narendra Modi’s ‘sabka saath sabka vikas’ and came to define ‘New India’. But why did that happen? We can see that something else was happening. The so-called ‘Hindu Rate of Growth’, characteristic of the country’s economy until the end of the twentieth century had allowed the country to stand on its own feet but had badly failed the poorest of the poor and even foreign creditors. A major transformation was needed.
Whereas during the nineteen fifties, China and India accounted for almost equal shares of the world’s economic output, India kept much lower growth rates than her big northern neighbour until the late eighties. And then came the 1991 shocker when the Chandrasekhar government had to pledge the 67 tons of Gold reserves held at the RBI to borrow a meager $2.2 Billion as it came to the brink of default on its external balance of payment obligations. The Indian public was outraged and panicked. Finance Minister Manmohan Singh under Prime Minister Narasimha Rao then unleashed IMF-mandated economic reforms in July 1991, thereby blazing a trail leading away from socialism using ‘Structural Adjustments in the Mixed Economy’, paving the way to ‘Capitalism’, if not yet fully implementing it. The Indian public by and large supported these reforms intended to help the country come out of the quagmire that it was thrust into. Within the next 7 to 8 years, the veneer of the economic reforms spread over the socialistic structures, but the State still held on to the diktat of Socialism mandated by the Constitution, despite the increasing irrelevance of those outdated economic dogmas. Thus the “Manmohanomics of Disinvestment” during the decade of the 1990s opened the door to private capital and boosting public consumption became a major policy goal under this doctrine. The results were there for all to see. The almost four decades of 2-2.5% yearly GDP growth average described as a Hindu Growth Rate had been replaced by 6-8% annual growth, bringing to the country hitherto unseen and rapidly spreading prosperity. Yet, China which had initiated its reforms in the late seventies had gone far ahead of India but as this process in any country’s development had proven to be irreversible, India is no exception. When the BJP came to power near the end of the twentieth century, Vajpayee Ji carried the liberalization under his ‘India Shining’ brand. BJP almost lost its bearings after its surprise defeat in 2004 and took a few years to come to terms with it. The ‘UPA I’ coalition government had started on a promising note, Manmohan Singh who was the Prime Minister carried on even more vigorously with his earlier economic strategy and thereby ensured the election of UPA II. However, as a result of its liberal, pro-business policies and poor regulation enforcement the regime was bedeviled by multi-billion-corruption scandals that made it to prime-time news daily. Private Capital was everywhere & a consumption-based ‘Capitalist’ economy was well entrenched and the expanding middle class was becoming used to world-class goods and services. Only strategic and capital-intensive sectors were kept out of the reach of private investors: Defence, Railways, Irrigation, and Highways remained largely untouched, even though halting efforts were made to privatise them too.
How Narendra Modi changed the landscape:
Come Narendra Modi, with his now famous ‘Modinomics’. He started with deep Structural realignments & adjustments in version 2.0. Old laws and government working methods & some entrenched traditions (like the budget presentation date, railway budget merger into the main budget, etc) were buried fast. The population at large could not understand him initially as he embarked on the popular politics of sadak, bijli, paani, toilets, gas, and homes for the poor! But this was different. He was on a ‘mission mode’ to reach saturation levels instead of cascading these benefits in a staggered manner that Congress had championed, which was the ‘normal and assumed way of government working methods’, in which a telephone or a gas connection could take 4 or 5 years to materialize. Modi was in a hurry to achieve his roadmap vision that was clear only to him. The general population could not imagine that he was doing something from the grassroots, THE structural adjustment and ‘building of a nation’ from the ‘drawing board’ for the largest constituency which had been left mostly high and dry – the poor – the section that had remained largely ignored by the powers-that-be under the ‘Nehruvian model of Socialism’, the “Garibi Hatao” slogan of Indira Gandhi and the ‘Manmohanomics model of Mixed Economy aka Capitalism’. The assumed false identity of “दरिद्र नारायण” had bestowed a modicum of ‘self-respect’ to those ‘being and remaining’ poor and this had largely worked quite well for the old regime. The poor felt their existence was still worthwhile, after all, Sudama had been poor too but also friends with Shri Krishna! However, Modi had come from this background, and boasting of his origins made him dear to this least privileged classes. Congress only helped by making fun of him, labeling him a ‘chai waala’, fit only to sell tea at Congress conventions. Modi launched schemes meant to provide the basic amenities of life of which the majority of the population had been deprived all along. Interwoven with his strategy for the upliftment of the poor was the building of ‘New India’ platform through a “Bottom Up” approach instead of the ‘Top Down’ approach. Opening almost fifty million bank accounts for those who had never had one was one such scheme that few understood and most leftist liberals thought it was more of a gimmick than a game-changer. However, in the larger scheme of things Modi had in mind, that was an essential precondition for the seamless financial inclusion of this poorest section into the mainstream economics of the country. Successive years of Digital India development have showcased this strategy to the world at large.
Old Temples as Economic Assets:
Cultural Renaissance and Revival leading to the rebuilding of the Ram Temple:
During the medieval period, India’s economic clout in the world was financed mostly by the ‘temple banks’. The temple economy was so strong that a large part of marine trade & merchant fleet ships were financed by it. They acted as banks and provided finance for infrastructure and commerce but then came the plunder and destruction of these temples under Mughal rule, reducing the country’s financial might. The Indian position in the world fell drastically. And in the following centuries, our wealth was looted and expatriated to England and her other colonies. Almost $45 Trillion in current value were extracted as per some reliable estimates and a substantial part of it was looted from the temples. So, during that period our cultural and religious assets and heritage suffered and lost their shine. This aspect of colonial exploitation was mostly left unaddressed in the Nehruvian Socialistic political economy as he diverted large parts of the available capital towards building the public industrial assets, while also sending a powerful message that he was least interested in the cultural and other religious assets and their rejuvenation. The cultural reconnaissance was not his calling. In his vision of India, the building of economic public assets, defined by him as ‘Temples of Modern Democracy’ took priority. His famous declaration that he was a Hindu by accident made his economic policies look ‘secular’ and therefore he did not want President Dr. Rajendra Prasad to attend the Somnath Temple consecration ceremony as he did not wish the government to take part in it (though it was his government that sanctioned Somnath’s resurrection on the national budget and in the end, Dr. Rajendra Prasad did not give heed to his advice and went to Somnath).
During the 1990s, coinciding with economic liberalisation, the attitude towards our cultural assets was changing in India. Our palaces and forts many of which were left in ruins were brought back to life through the adoption of hotel re-classifications laws. The revival of ancient cultural assets began in all earnest. However, our religious assets were still left untouched, but they could still be milked for public financing and without making any investments in them. Earlier Rajiv Gandhi had balanced the famous Shah Bano judgment to appease Muslims by taking up the case of the Ram Temple to pacify Hindus. Some earlier projects for temple restoration were carried out, like the Haridwar ‘Har ki Paudi’. But still, as a nation, were never thinking of building new ones. Why should we build when we have plenty of them already? was the secular thinking. Moreover, the ‘secular fabric’ was not disturbed (though mosques sprung up unhindered and there are about 7,00,000 of them today i.e. 242 mosques for every 1 Lakh Muslim population as against 6,48,000 Temples approx., i.e. 53 temples for every 1 Lakh Hindu population according to statistics from Times Now and Umar Ujala)
How Narendra Modi Embarked on Religio-Cultural Reconnaissance:
Come Narendra Modi armed with the BJP manifesto promising to build the Ram temple in Ayodhya and a court case not moving in the courts for want of English translation for centuries-old Farsi documents and due to various other hindrances created by proxy lawyers for Congress and the Left. He started the Kashi Vishwanath corridor enhancement project at the outset. It was a move going beyond ‘palace restoration’ to the enhancement of a religious site. Subsequently, the Ujjain Mahakal corridor was also given a complete makeover. Some State governments such as Odisha & Assam also took up such projects. Corridors for Jagannath Temple and Kamakhya Temple among others were built. With speedy implementation, the old, dusty and narrow lanes & bylines of Kashi temple became a thing of the past, giving way to broad open roads and a corridor directly linking Maa Ganga to the Kashi Vishwanath temple. Now pilgrims can visit the area without hassles and with access to modern amenities. The temple economy has flourished in more ways than one. The tourism footprint increased manifold and religious tourism to Kashi surpassed the R&R tourism to Goa. Similarly, Modi has built the Kartarpur Sahib corridor to link with the holy Kartarpur Gurdwara in Pakistan. But these all were enhancement projects and not new constructions. The Court case about the Ram temple was speeded up by the Yogi Adityanath & Modi governments by fulfilling court requirements and in 2019 a judgment was handed out in favour of the Hindus fighting the case. Soon after came the fulfillment of the BJP manifesto about the Ram temple in Ayodhya, the consecration of which was carried out on 22nd Jan’24. This has created a new pilgrimage center, a religious structure of immeasurable importance to Hindu religious beliefs. Sanctioned by the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court, it has given impetus to the drive to build new cultural and heritage landmarks. In times to come, we shall see more cultural and religious renaissance, adding to the “Modern Temples of Democracy” as envisaged by Jawahar Lal Nehru. The wheel it seems has come full circle now that India is regaining its lost temple economy.
Hail India, Modi’s India, New India that is Bharat.