From his 1919 backing for a revivalist campaign for the survival of the Caliphate in Turkey, to the close of his life, when he insisted on handing over a vast sum of money to the very Pakistan that was at war with India, Mahatma Gandhi was true to his saintly nature in turning the other cheek and much more at every blow received. Who but the Mahatma would advise the British people to open the doors of their houses to Hitler, or tell the Jews that it was best that they calmly accept what the Nazis had in mind for them, as by doing so, they would “transform hatred into love”? Many Jews did indeed accept their fates without protest, but the hatred that was so manifest in Nazi minds for the Jewish people only seemed to grow with each sacrifice of several hundred thousand of some of the most gifted individuals on the planet. And so it proved with communal relations in India. Rather than flock to the Congress Party and abandoning the Muslim League, more and more Muslims joined the Muslim League. With every effort at appeasement by the Congress leadership, it was M.A. Jinnah who became stronger and more determined on Partition. Eventually, despite his superlative inner qualities, the Mahatma failed to keep India united. Appeasement of the fringe failed to extinguish that exclusivist tendency, and instead, empowered it to a level where a small but intransigent segment of the Muslim community set the direction and the pace of events involving the community as a whole. Much as has been taking place in India since Jawaharlal Nehru and his successors (including A.B. Vajpayee) turned the concept of secularism upside down by enforcing a discriminatory set of edicts on Hindus, even while retaining such British-era atrocities as state control of temples.
In the present era, where evening entertainment is increasingly composed of watching talk shows on television, we see those who insist on purdah and on triple talaq, and who mourn the fact that the Wahhabi version of Sharia law has not yet become mandatory in India, get presented not as the pallbearers, but as the torch carriers of secularism. This despite the reality of the tactics of Nehruvian secularists having failed in their decades-long mission of seeking to keep India united. 2004-2014 was a period when India was ruled by Sonia Gandhi, who was a zealous enthusiast of Nehruvian secularism. This columnist predicted several times that such zeal on her part would lead not to a dimming of communal flames in India, but in their vigorous perpetuation, and so it has proved. Despite this, however, every day some “opinion maker” or the other insists on continuing with the very policies that have over nearly a century severely damaged the societal fabric of the subcontinent of India.
Through newspaper opeds, television appearances and interventions in the courts, Nehru-model secularists decry efforts at building a temple dedicated to Lord Ram at the site of his birth. They even debunk any notion of his existence, despite multiple historical proofs to the contrary. For them—in effect—the history of India began around a millennium ago, while what came before that was simply myth and legend. Fear that the courts may decree that a Ram Temple be constructed at the site where the Babri Masjid stood till 1992, has alarmed them, as in their view, such a temple would bring the “death of secularism” in our country. They are wrong. It is they who have, by slow degrees, been choking to death genuine secularism in India, by justifying and adding on to practices and decrees that are suffused with a discriminatory intent. Far from destroying communal harmony, such a temple would substantially calm the roiled waters of inter-religious strife in India. A similar act of divinely inspired grace and accommodation on the part of the Muslim community in India in the matter of handing over the original sites of the birthplace of Lord Krishna at Mathura and where the Kashi Viswanath temple stood (before it was destroyed) would diminish to vanishing point any latent impulses at communal hatred on the part of the Hindus of India. But for that to happen, the Muslim community will need to take back the veto that has long been exercised over their decisions by the small minority of Wahhabis within their midst, who oppose any act of grace and beneficence, any deed of mercy and compassion, and who constantly seek to poison inter-religious harmony in India, of course in the name of secularism.
Where in the priceless tenets made available to humanity by the Prophet Muhammad has it been said that it is an act of piety to erect a mosque atop the smashed edifice of a temple? Indeed, a case may be made that offering prayers within a structure built atop desecrated idols is a certain pathway to hell in the afterlife. Gestures of conciliation and reconciliation are what keep the peace in societies. An act of such surpassing nobility as handing over the Ayodhya, Mathura and Varanasi sites by Muslim brothers and sisters to the Hindu community, and subsequently building mosques elsewhere that would rival the finest in the world, would strengthen secularism in the country in a way such that it would be impossible for Hindu exclusivists (and there are indeed such) to any more gain traction. Once the Ram and Krishna places of birth and the original site of the Kashi Viswanath temple be restored to their former glory and significance, any effort (very often ISI-funded) by Hindu groups to seek to alter the status quo in respect of any other existing mosque should be met with police bullets.
Those seeking to put off to eternity the building of a Ram Temple at Ayodhya are wrong in their assumptions. Far from damaging secularism, such a temple would strengthen its roots and ensure communal harmony based on the reality of a common ethnic and cultural DNA between Indian and Indian, no matter the faith each subscribes to.