The avowed goal of the Sangh outfits BJP and RSS to bridge the gap left by history in case of Ayodhya’s Lord Rama’s temple is now on its way to being fulfilled. This is also said to have once somehow been the case with Gujarat’s Somnath temple.
Yet, the fact that the Gujarat shrine was opened in 1951 after its reconstruction by the then President Dr Rajendra Prasad stands out in sharp contrast to August 5 foundation-laying ceremony at Ayodhya. Unlike what was the case with the Somnath temple, the present occupant of Rashtrapati Bhavan President Ram Nath Kovind is going to stay away from tomorrow’s ceremony at Ayodhya.
The Wednesday’s show at Ayodhya is mainly going to be that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s. Only a few other peers are tipped to join him due to uncertainties brought by the COVID-19 crisis.
The fanfare with which the temple construction is to begin had made the organisers of the event flaunt the coveted invitation to the ceremony for weeks, only to by and by cut down the list to the bare minimum. But at no stage was there any talk to invite the President on the lines of Somnath temple, though LK Advani had once begun his famous Ayodhya stir from the far off Somnath Mandir to fetch a great degree of symbolic assertion to his move.
Somehow, what looks like cold shouldering of President Kovind could not remain muted as the countdown to the event at Ayodhya began. It became public when an Indian scholar and columnist teaching at a Swedish University Professor Ashok Swain questioned this. On July 20 he posted a tweet, saying “In 1951, India’s President Rajendra Prasad was invited to inaugurate newly built Somnath temple in Gujarat? Why in 2020, India’s President Ram Nath Kovind has not been invited to inaugurate the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya? Is it because this Ram is a Dalit?”
In 1951, India's President Rajendra Prasad was invited to inaugurate newly built Somnath temple in Gujarat?
Why in 2020, India's President Ram Nath Kovind has not been invited to inaugurate the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya?
Is it because this Ram is a Dalit?
— Ashok Swain (@ashoswai) July 20, 2020
This was soon followed by Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati’s allegation about the inability of those given the task of looking after temple construction to include any of the priests from Dalit community in the inaugural ceremony of the temple. She posted a series of tweets to convey her point. She called for inviting Swami Kanhaiya Prabhunandan Giri, saying it would have made a positive impact and would have been in line with the Constitutional design of creating a casteless society.
Miffed by the absence of Dalits in the Mandir project, she exhorted them saying, “Instead of getting into these debates, the Dalit society suffering from casteist neglect, contempt and injustice should focus more on labour/deeds for their salvation. In this case (that of the temple) also, they should follow the path of their Messiah Param Pujya Baba Saheb Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar. This is the advice of the BSP.”
Unlike the BSP chief, Modi’s team’s Dalit ministers like Ram Vilas Paswan and Ramdas Athawale have preferred silence over keeping Dalits away from steps being taken for construction of the grand temple at Ayodhya.
When asked about this and other related issues Dalit rights activist and founder of NACDAOR (National Confederation of Dalit and Adivasi Organisations) Ashok Bharti said, “Paswan’s son Chirag has described Dalits like him as descendents of Shabri. She was a poor caste woman who according to legend had fed Lord Rama during his exile from Ayodhya. But such assertions by Dalits are shrewdly ignored because of the exclusivist mindset of dominant Hindus. Keeping the country’s President off from the much hyped Ayodhya’s foundation-laying ceremony is a glaring incongruity since the BJP had flaunted his ascent to the top post as its love for justice and fair play. Sadly, these do not go beyond mere tokenism when it comes to Dalits. This is the case with Ayodhya too.”
The Mandir, according to Bharti, may inspire the government and pliant sections of the media rather than the people at large. “It’s going to bring no relief to their daily struggle to keep their body and soul together,” he opines.
(The writer is an independent journalist based in Delhi. He tweets @abidshahjourno).