The inauguration ceremony of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya today closes a chapter of the political Hindutva-isation of India that starts with Rajiv Gandhi’s unlocking the Babri Masjid in 1986, L.K. Advani’s Rath Yatra in 1990 and the demolition of the Babri Masjid two years later, and ended with the sweeping electoral successes of Narendra Modi in 2014 and 2019, 12 years after the Gujarat riots.
In this interview, Dr Faizan Mustafa, Vice Chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad talks about the legality and propriety of Prime Minister Modi inaugurating the Ram Temple, given that he is the head of government in a country that calls itself secular, and what secularism means in a country where the state often manages places of worship, religious institutions, and pays the salaries of those who run them.
Can Prime Minister Modi attend the inauguration of the Ram Temple as the PM of India?
The Constitution does not tell us where the Prime Minister should go and not go. The Constitution does not say that the Prime Minister cannot go to a religious event. It is not there in the text of the Constitution.
There is something called legality, constitutionality and propriety. If you are a secular state then you are supposed to be a religion neutral state. Since the Prime Minister signifies the state, the overt public participation in any religious event is not the ideal thing to do. But we don’t live in an ideal world. I recall that when (then President) Rajendra Prasad went to Somnath Temple (its inauguration in Gujarat in 1951 at the invitation of Union Minister K.M. Munshi), (Prime Minister Jawaharlal) Nehru publicly criticised it.
Prime Minister Modi has gone to the UAE mosque. He has gone to a number of churches. And every year, Prime Ministers, even PM Modi, do send a chadar to Ajmer Sharif (Dargah). Unlike other leaders like L.K. Advani and Uma Bharti and Vinay Katiyar, who are founders of the temple movement, one has to appreciate that the Prime Minister did not go to Ayodhya even once in the last six years. You will recall that Rajiv Gandhi — the Congress Party is supposed to be a secular party — in 1989, kick started his Lok Sabha election campaign from Ayodhya which was a very clear signal to the Hindu majority. Rahul Gandhi went to all the temples while campaigning for the Gujarat election.
We are speaking of the PM.
Ideally, a Prime Minister of a secular state should not attend publicly any religious event of any religion. Ideally, it should be done only in a private capacity. But legally there is no prohibition on him attending as PM. But I think if the President of India (Ram Nath Kovind) goes there, it would send a very big signal because the President of India represents everyone.
What does secular mean in India?
The state and the religion will be separate but we did not adopt the two sword theory or wall of separation between church and state. State will not be irreligious but religious neutral. State cannot go nearer to one religion at the expense of another religion.
In the Constituent Assembly debates on Freedom of Religion, one member from Assam, Saadullah suggested that you insert this word that everyone will have the right to profess and practice their religion privately. That word was not agreed to. I believe if that word was there in Article 25, much of these problems would have been sorted out.
In the name of rejection of Jefferson-ian secularism, where a wall of separation is erected between church and state, we say that in India we keep equal distance from all religions and all religions are allowed to flourish. We have completely deviated from the classical model of secularism. A number of state governments today pay salaries of pujaris and imams and priests. A number of state governments spend millions of rupees on religious events and functions. There are madrasas which are financed by the state. Now, I recall the UP government saying that anyone who will go to Mansoravar will be given a Rs 1 lakh subsidy. There is a subsidy for Christians to go to Jerusalem in some states. Haj subsidy has been abolished. But the state is spending so much on religion. Every successive government has always interacted with clergy. They will interact with Hindu groups, sadhu-sants, Muslim ulema. They will not interact with Muslim intellectuals or Hindu intellectuals. That is not right. It is politics around religion. That is why the Yogi government is leaving no stone unturned in claiming the entire credit of Ram Temple and BJP is also doing the same thing.
The facts are that in 1949 when the idols were installed, it was Nehru at the helm of affairs in Delhi and Govind Ballabh Pant, a Congress Chief Minister in UP. The Congress government in UP did not remove those idols. Then, the gates (of the mosque) were closed by a court order and every day the worship of the installed idols happens in the morning and evening. Then in 1986, it was the Rajiv Gandhi government that got the gates opened by a strange order of a district judge in Faizabad. Then in 1989, the shilanyas (foundation laying ceremony) happened, the Congress government was in power (in the centre and state). Rajiv Gandhi launched his election campaign from Faizabad (in October 1989) and promised Ram Rajya just to appease the Hindu voters. Then in 1992, it was the Narasimha Rao government at the Centre and the Babri mosque was demolished because of his inaction. The Congress deserves if not more, an equal credit for the construction of the temple.
Can UP state organise the inauguration ? ( The Ram Janmabhoomi Teertha Kshetra Trust has been set up by the central government to manage the construction of the Ram Temple as per the direction of the Supreme Court).
The Supreme Court asked the government to create a trust for everyone to be given representation. Since the Supreme Court rejected the claim of Nirmrohi Akhada which was fighting this case for 150 years, they want them to be included. To ensure there is no mismanagement of funds and there is transparency. But the trust is not a government.
Ultimately, a lot of offerings are going to come to the Ram Temple. It is a matter of time before it overtakes Tirupati and the Vatican. The government will have to eventually pass a law for Ram Janmabhoomi, as it has passed a law for Puri, Vaishno Devi, Kashi Vishwanath temple, Tirupati, and that law will create a board that will manage money only for the temple. Government will see there is no corruption in the management.
Therefore the UP government’s over-enthusiasm is absolutely unwarranted. It is a private religious event of a trust in which the UP Chief Minister and Prime Minister or any other leader may go but the entire state machinery is not to be used. The kind of orders that district officials have issued clearly indicate that the event is a 100% government event. In law, we say res Ipsa liqutor — the thing speaks for itself.
What about security?
The state sometimes has to make arrangements because of law and order — like the Kumbh Mela and Amarnath Yatra. But when you don’t even have a crowd, you don’t have a reason for law order. Only 175 people are coming. Let the trust manage it.
Even the invitation card mentions that the Chief Minister is going as a guest. But he is acting like the host. He is not the host. The trust is the host.
Doordarshan is broadcasting the inauguration ceremony live.
If it is news the Doordarshan can make it live. But you know how Doordarshan has been acting in the past few years. They live telecast the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) chief’s (Mohan Bhagwat) Dussehra speech (in 2014).
We are discussing things that are not so important. The important question is should a secular state tilt in favour of one religion. The answer is no. In the last few years, do we get that impression? The answer is yes.
It is an important question. It is going to be broadcast live. It could hurt the sentiments of Indian Muslims who remember the destruction of the mosque.
The stated position of Indian Muslims has been they will accept the judgment of the court. There has been no protest from the Muslims. They have shown their belief in the rule of law.
This is a temple that is going on the spot of a razed mosque. As an Indian Muslim, are you not hurt by that.
No, I am not personally hurt by it. I wrote a number of articles where I said very clearly that the Supreme Court could not have given any other judgment.
The Supreme Court said that since this is a small piece of land if both of them are allowed to pray there, no one will be able to pray freely. My problem is not with the final order of the court. My problem is with the reasoning of the court when the court says that Muslims could not prove the possession of their mosque before 1860. That is not right. I have a problem with the Supreme Court putting a heavier burden of proof on Muslims and accepting just the beliefs of the other parties.