Can Narendra Modi deliver more than nationalism
In midsummer 2020, in the middle of the corona lockdown, Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to Ayodhya. The small town in central India has turned into a political issue in the past few decades: the new temple for the Hindu god Rama is to be built here. Before that, the Babri Mosque stood there, destroyed in 1992 by supporters of today's ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party, BJP).
It was only in November 2019 that the highest court in New Delhi gave the green light for the construction of the controversial temple, which had been the subject of a legal dispute between the two religious communities in India for decades.
Modi had laid the foundation stone for the construction of the Rama Temple, for which his party and many Hindu nationalist organizations have been mobilizing for more than 30 years. The new building of the temple was one of the central promises of the BJP in the election campaign for the Indian lower house last year.
"This temple will become a symbol of our heritage, our unshakable faith," triumphed Modi, who once began his political career in the Hindu nationalist cadre organization RSS with the promise to devote his life to the struggle for a "Hindu India".
The day the foundation stone was laid at the supposed birthplace of the god Rama "has a similar meaning for the country as Independence Day," said Modi. Just as "every part of society supported the struggle for freedom", the building of the temple is based on the "cooperation of people from all over the country."
In the struggle for independence against the British colonial empire, the existing Hindu nationalist cadre organization RSS - it was founded in Italy in the 1920s on the model of Mussolini's "Black Shirts" - played no role. It did not come up against the two most popular personalities in the struggle for independence, who pursued a completely different political line: Jawaharlal Nehru, who later became Prime Minister of India, and Mahatma Gandhi.
Both had visited Europe and largely shared the anti-fascist attitude of their contacts there. Cooperation with the Axis powers Japan, Germany and Italy in the fight against the British colonial rulers was out of the question for them.
The reinterpretation of the struggle for freedom
The Indian Muslims, on the other hand, played a major role in the independence movement. Their share of the total population was then - the colonial empire also included today's Pakistan and Bangladesh - far larger than it is today. By comparing the struggle for freedom with the construction of the Rama Temple, Modi deliberately excludes the current 170 million Indian Muslims.
Even if two Muslim representatives were present at the laying of the foundation stone, they had little more than an alibi function: the religious minority of Muslims definitely did not mobilize for the construction of the Rama Temple, because since the destruction of the Babri Mosque In 1992 pogroms and lynchings of the religious minority multiplied, accompanied by the hate propaganda of many BJP politicians.
Modi's comparison is another symbolic break with the post-colonial legacy of the independence movement, which saw the new India as a secular, multi-religious state.
"There is no comparison between the freedom struggle, which was a unifying struggle in which all parts of the country took part, and the agitation to build the Rama Temple, which aims to polarize society and lead to divisions," says the editorial the Deccan Herald newspaper the day after Modi's speech.
Hindu nationalists have wanted to take control of the independence movement for years in order to increase its acceptance among the population. The ruling party BJP and its cadre organization RSS maintain a victim myth for this purpose. India has been invaded time and again by "foreign invaders" who oppressed the Hindu majority of the population: first by the Muslim Mughal rulers, and later by the British colonial rulers who ruled India until 1948.
Gandhi, the icon of the independence movement, is hated by many Hindu nationalists: They make him jointly responsible for the “division” of the former colonial empire in India and Pakistan. The Gandhi murderer Naturam Godse also invoked this ideology and accused Gandhi of being too compliant with Muslims.
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