That temple between your temples

No construction can happen without ‘deconstruction’. Certainly not in India, a cacophonous, or if you like, polyphonic democracy.

Published: 09th November 2018 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th November 2018 04:11 PM   |  A+A-

temple, religion, hinduism

Illustration: Amit Bandre

No construction can happen without ‘deconstruction’. Certainly not in India, a cacophonous, or if you like, polyphonic democracy. Even if it’s not as polyphonic as Dostoevsky’s Idiot (as read by the critic Bakhtin), where the self itself is split into multiple voices.

So there was no way Sardar Patel could come back into our lives quietly, standing lonely on a curve of the Narmada, without a bit of deconstruction. Not that a 597-ft statue is quiet. It fairly shouts. One is invariably led to wonder at the whopping cost involved, the strangely unirrigated farmlands abutting the river dammed up in his name, the hardscrabble lives of tribals in the vicinity. All that had to come into focus, and did so unerringly.

As India’s Iron Man—now encased in concrete, steel (and bronze from China)—looks down from his Olympian height, India perforce had to look around his well-sculpted form, the folds of his clothes, that tilt of his toenail. Exquisite detailing, no doubt. Much better than the Subhas Chandra Bose statue on a famous Kolkata roundabout, which I grew up looking at.

The upright golden tail of Bose’s horse, stretched in horizontal anxiety, and caked in brownish gore thanks to the heavy traffic fumes, could only evoke suppressed laughter among us children. We rarely ever noticed the famous man in his statuesque petrification. The mammoth Patel will surely have better luck and upkeep. Plus there’s no mainland traffic to pollute his image. 

So why could we not celebrate it unquestioningly? After all, we grew up learning the British left us divided and bleeding, and Patel unified the India we live in, corralling hundreds of unviable princely states. His clarity, persuasive skill and that iron will, those are surely to be feted? One reason the statue (unlike Patel) could not unite us—at least in its inaugural moment (in the long run, all naysaying will be forgotten)—is perhaps because India was not really invited. It was very much a Gujarat affair. As if Sardar had, paradoxically, been taken away from all of India and had his regional identity stamped all over him.

Gujarat, no doubt, has given and taken from us more than we care to admit. Take only Gandhi and Jinnah, for illustration. The Kashmiri Pandits of the Delhi durbar may ultimately wane on the larger canvas of history when compared to the impact the Gujarati mind has had on our polity. And Patel is part of that mind.

So it’s not just an electoral promise that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kept with the world’s biggest statue; he has reclaimed a historical space with the loudest possible statement. Modi is a politician and would obviously time his act such that the maximum electoral benefits accrue from it. Besides, in the rather unsettled economic and geopolitical world order we have, the construction of a statue is an achievable goal. Much easier, say, than to contain the headache of Chinese aggression and encirclement, Pakistani doublespeak, Sri Lankan fickleness, Trump’s sanctions, a tumbling rupee, an assertive judiciary, a rebellious central bank, a messy CBI or the armies of jobless youth. Or an Opposition that occasionally seems like it has found its mojo.

But to recreate a nationally acceptable slogan, will a tall statue suffice? Well, the way a Sardar of a more recent vintage is getting traction, it perhaps won’t. A temple has to be brought in—and what better than a Ram mandir, with resonance beyond political India? The time was ripe. And since the era of monopolies is over, can a Yogi Adityanath be left behind? Regardless of whether his pronouncements are scripted or suo motu. So what if the courts don’t play ball? Yogi wants a bigger statue, naturally. After all, it would be of no mere mortal but of divine Ram.

Yogi is also prepping to ratchet up the noise on the temple itself, with doable peripheral detailing. Like renaming Faizabad as Ayodhya. How can the bhavya mandir be built without reclaiming the name of the land on formal records at least? (Allahabad was conquered before, as a side relish.)

The BJP, which burst onto the political firmament with a heavily religion-flavoured movement like Ayodhya (and changed politics itself with that act), can hardly be expected to abandon the temple slogan. The practicality that power demanded, under a written constitution and balancing coalitions, had ensured the temple was on the backburner. But that’s in the past. How can the BJP let go of this moment, while it has governments both at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh, without raising the mandir pitch?

Those who say the temple will always be kept for stirring the pot and never built are short-sighted. Forget legalities. The psychological building of the temple has been going on unabated. So much so, the actual construction now almost appears as a fait accompli. That, however, does not mean public pressure cannot be built on the Supreme Court in the title dispute case. Political frenzy is always good for consolidation of Hindu votes, before an election. If not anything, a statue of Ram would be possible because of it by 2019, to reclaim public opinion and to gradually chip away at (or deconstruct) our moral dependence on the letter and the spirit of the Constitution of India. 

Also, however palpably devouts have been invited to envision ‘a grand temple’, it can’t be done ignoring the courts. Hence, another statue ... perhaps with a hand pointing forward to coming generations that will have no memory of Babri Masjid. The BJP is sharp enough to know it no longer needs power for a mandir to come up.

Any government, particularly a Congress regime under a temple-hopping Rahul Gandhi, could do the honours—perhaps armed with a legal order, if and when it comes. The way to mark out a difference for the BJP, and ensure its copyright is not violated, is to play up hard Hindutva. An ordinance, and a Dasarath Hospital, will help too. Where does that leave the Preamble? Exactly where it is. Construction and deconstruction can continue ever after.

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  • Stephen Billings

    This religious fervor over a temple that never was and with the destruction of a mosque must be curtailed. Indians must wake up to the reality that the BJP is a destructive force that will put India in harms way with this absurd insistence to build a Ram temple. Who happens to be part of a fairy tale story!
    2 months ago reply
  • badri narayanan poondi

    The author is first a journo and knows how to keep her readers around by criticising Modiji a fashion so successfully created and sustained by the major (pro leftist) media. Dr Sasi asks why no big statue for Gandhi who is at least reminded in official national functions. Patel is unjustly ignored by the INC like they did for all other (save Gandhi and Nehru family) leaders! At a time when fissiparous elements are too active perhaps govt desired to create a context to discuss Patel before the public. The learned author knows it yet she has the compulsion to play to gallery - after all people think that even judiciary is doing so often!!
    2 months ago reply
  • JS

    Perhaps this writer should read the other column article in today's Indian Express: "Patel deserves the statue
    2 months ago reply
    • Stephen Billings

      No human being deserves a statue that expensive. The money should have been used to build hospitals
      2 months ago reply
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