Arvind Kejriwal offers prayers at the Ram temple site in Ayodhya. Photo: By arrangement

By Alishan Jafri and Apoorvanand

The first batch of tirthyatris from Delhi to Ayodhya would have returned. They were special as the Delhi government had sponsored their spiritual journey. The inspiration for it came after the the Delhi chief minister visited Ayodhya and had a darshan of Ram Lalla.

He felt that the bliss he felt while having the darshan must not be only his. He said:

“I recently went to Ayodhya to visit Ram Lalla. While coming outside, I prayed to God to make me able to ensure every person in the country gets to visit Ram Lalla. In Delhi we are running Mukhyamantri Tirth Yatra Yojna under which the elders in Delhi are given the facility of tirth yatra free of cost. There is a list of 12 pilgrims and so far 36,000 people have taken advantage of the same. They are provided AC trains, AC hotels and food free of cost. After my visit to Ayodhya, we added Ayodhya to that list of pilgrims, and I am happy to announce that the first train from Delhi to Ayodhya will leave on December 3.”

We know when Ram Lalla appeared in Ayodhya. The act of prakateekaran (appearance) of Ram Lalla happened on the night of December 22 and 23, 1949.

Decades later followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, which was deemed criminal by the Supreme Court of India. It is a different matter that for reasons known to all of us, the Supreme Court rewarded those responsible for the crime with the land on which the mosque stood for more than 500 years. For Muslims and secular Indians, this site represents the memory of the first week of December 1992 and its gruesome and unjust aftermath. A victory of adharma. The chief minister chose Ayodhya as one of the pilgrimage sites he would help his constituents to visit with taxpayer money.

Kejriwal, while announcing the flagging off ceremony, presented himself as the modern incarnation of the mythical Shrawan Kumar who decided to take his blind, disabled parents to the four sacred tirths. He had no resources. So, he seated each one of them in a basket and tied them with a pole and carried it on his shoulders. Arvind Kejriwal thinks he is doing the same for the elderly of Delhi. One need not say how retrograde this metaphor is, which shows an elected representative as a benefactor and the elderly and disabled persons as deserving the patronage of the ‘son’. The invocation of the customary duty of a son to take his parents to the tirths is also to be noted.

AAP’s Hindutva politics

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo can defend himself by reading us the list of the 12 pilgrim sites that his government has identified for the followers of different faiths. But one cannot miss the significance of his move and his centre staging of Ayodhya. Ayodhya does have a place in the sacred geography of Hindus. It is called Ayodhyaji by the devotes. But it was not in the original list of the Delhi government, which had Puri, Rameswaram, Shirdi, Mathura, Haridwar, Kartarpur, the Golden Temple and Vaishno Devi. Ayodhya was added to it when Kejriwal and his colleagues returned from Uttar Pradesh after launching their campaign for the assembly elections due in that state in 2022.

As part of the campaign, they took out a Tiranaga yatra, to pay homage to the Ram Lalla virajman at Ayodhya. It was very clear from the move that AAP wanted to marry nationalism with the ideology of Hindutva which worked through the metaphor of the Ram temple – which is actually a victory memorial of an imagined war in which Muslims were trounced. Kejriwal put it upfront when he said that his darshan of Ram Lalla prompted him to add Ayodhya to the list. So, it is not Ayodhya in the traditional imagination but the Ayodhya which had displaced Faizabad that he wants his Hindu elderly to visit.

Critics pointed out that in 2014, Kejriwal had cited his nani (grandmother) to say that her Ram cannot dwell in a temple which has been built after breaking a masjid. That is the past, he would say. In the past two-three years, he has been aggressively pursuing the politics of Hindutva. To call it ‘soft Hindutva’ is utter naivety, if not foolishness.

Last year, he organised a Laxmi Pooja where he took asan as a king and his ministers flanked him as darbaris. The set was erected at the Akshardham temple in Delhi. This year too, he issued a call to perform Diwali Puja at home. The Hindu published a report about the ad published on the occasion: “Hearty congratulations on the occasion of Diwali. We will welcome Lord Ram together – but we will not burst firecrackers, we will not cause pollution,” Kejriwal says in the ‘Dilli Ki Diwali’ ad. “All 2 crore of us Delhiites will perform Diwali Puja together at 7 pm. Please join me in the puja from your homes… May our Delhi forever enjoy Lord Ram’s benevolence. Jai Shri Ram,” the chief minister concludes.

The chief minister wants all ‘Dilliwalas’ to perform Puja. He does know that all Delhiites are not Hindus. He could have asked all of them to participate in Diwali but to tell them to do puja is certainly not a slip of tongue. It is a conscious and clever way to present Hindu religious acts and customs as the Indian way of living which followers of other religions should adopt to prove their Indianness. It also makes them defensive as any attempt to not be part of it would automatically put you in the category of dividers.

But a legitimate question arises, as a chief minister, can he even ask the two crore Delhiites to read namaz on Eid? To many of us, it would sound awkward – whereas the first exhortation looks perfectly normal. This is what AAP is doing – normalising a thinking which treats Hindutva as a way of living.

In the same vein, by asking the Hindu elderly to go to Ayodhya to have darshan of Ram Lalla at the site of the demolished mosque, which only seven years back was a sin in his eyes, he is validating the cosmology of Hindutva where violence and not the search of the sacred is at the centre.

In Uttarakhand, AAP declared that it will make a fauji (soldier) its chief minister. He said that the people wanted a deshbhakt fauji (patriotic defence officer) and not a neta (politician) as their chief minister. So, he will create ‘Bhole ki fauj’. He also promised to make Uttarakhand the spiritual capital for Hindus.

Why this is dangerous and cannot work without demonising Muslims is clear from what the AAP has been doing. It maligned the Shaheen Bagh movement, it demonised Muslims and portrayed them as villains when it held Tablighis responsible for a spike in COVID-19 cases.

AAP MLA Raghav Chadha claimed that Bajrang Dal activist Rinku Sharma was killed for chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’. Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia echoed the statement, saying: “It is unfortunate that murders are taking place for saying ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and the BJP keeps mum. Today, it has become unsafe to say even ‘Jai Shri Ram’ in the country. If this slogan cannot be raised in India, then where should one raise it? In Pakistan?” This is language befitting an RSS man.

So, the ‘Ayodhya move’ is not just a ‘smart’ one taken in view of the election. It is based on the understanding that the Hindu electorate can only be mobilised through religious appeal – and one that is tinged with hatred for Muslims. It is not for nothing that AAP is silent about the attack on jumma namaz in Gurgaon, Haryana, a state of interest for the party. Or, attacks on churches have not elicited any response from it. The rally calling for elimination of Muslims also failed to move AAP.

By flagging off the first batch of pilgrims to Ayodhya to have a darshan of Ram Lalla in the first week of December, close to December 6, AAP is sending a clear message. It is definitely not a comforting message. Not for Delhi, not for India.

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