Mani Shankar Iyer is now a Hindu, it seems!
Dr. Vijaya Rajiva
Mani Shankar Iyer was no match for the straight talking Jaibhagawan Goyal of the Rahstrawadi Shiv Sena. Ordinarily Mani dominates the debates with his loud talk , though often factually incorrect statements. His sang froid usually carries him through because he is locking horns with sophisticated debaters such as Swapan Das Gupta who may hold different views from him but are in some respects on the same wave length. But with Goyal he stood no chance. He became the mouse that tried to roar ! Shri Goyal sat there entirely at ease.
The occasion and the venue were NDTV's program The Big Fight ('Ayodhya 20 years' on Dec. 1, 2012). The question that the anchor raised was whether India has moved on from the Ramajanma bhoomi issue. Our mighty mouse began the show with what he thought would be an opening salvo against the fascists, the animals of the Hindutva movement, against everything he found distasteful about the aam admi Hindu . The reader should be reminded that Mani is self described as a Marxist and had he stuck with those social concerns (such as they are) one could sympathise with him. But no, he had to carry the battle into the enemy's camp as he saw it.
He began, at the invitation of the anchor, on the question of whether India had moved on from the Ramajanma bhoomi issue. He observed that the day the Babri Masjid was attacked by kar sevaks in 1992 was the worst day for independent India. However, what was a silver lining for him was the fact that the majority of Hindus disapproved of this act (so he surmised) and favoured what he called a 'composite' India where the Islamic contribution to Indian culture was appreciated and so were the contributions of the other religions of India. Ofcourse the fact that he had mixed up two separate issues, whether the mosque should have been destroyed and whether the Hindus of India had forgotten the Ramajanma bhoomi, did not bother our warrior. What was uppermost in his mind was that the Babri mosque was a contribution to India's culture !
Sitting right next to him was the formidable figure of Jaibhagwan Goyal. No mouse he. To the anchor's question whether the destruction of the mosque was a mistake, he answered categorically that it was no mistake, it is the birthplace of Lord Ram and the mosque had no business being there since it was built over a destroyed Hindu temple. His brief statement was greeted by applause by some in the audience. This was no surprise since after the moth eaten appearance of Mani and his by now shop worn arguments Goyal was clear about who he was and what his movement wanted, namely the building of the Ram temple.
Mani was truly agitated both at the applause for Goyal from members of the audience and at his own poor showing. He was used to a different kind of interlocutor. His body language showed his disgust at being in the presence of Goyal. He grimaced. He even appeared to be leaning slightly away from Goyal. Perhaps it was fear. But in his agitation he committed a faux pas.
He asked Goyal with great indignation who had given Goyal the right to speak for Hindus. Afterall he Mani was a Hindu !
Who gave you the right to speak for me as a Hindu, who gave you the right to speak for MY Hindu samaj , declaimed Mani in theatrical fashion !
The smooth talking Cambridge educated Marxist had suddenly turned into a Hindu ! He fulminated against Goyal for having committed a sin and that he would be punished for it ! Worse and worse, our Marxist was obviously invoking the Hindu principle of karma and rebirth. The biographical profile of him describes him as an atheist. On many public occasions he has said that he is an atheist. The self proclaimed Marxist and atheist has now turned into a Hindu it would seem !
His dismal performance on that occasion illustrates the very real difficulty that the Indian liberal and the Indian Marxist faces in the presence of a Hindu who rightly or wrongly believes that the Babri Mosque had no business being on the site of the birthplace of Lord Ram. In saying that the Babri mosque was a part of India's 'composite' culture Mani Shankar Iyer was actually saying that the destruction of a Hindu temple and the building of a mosque over it in 1527 by the barbarian invader Babur (descendant of Genghiz Khan) was a legitimate act. It is all part of the well known liberal narrative which seeks to legitimise the barbarian invasions of India.
Had he couched the argument differently it could have been made more palatable. He could have argued that the Babri mosque was indeed an act of barbarism and was intended to insult the sentiments of the Hindu population whom Babur had subjugated in 1525 by force of arms, but now let bygones be bygones and we can move on from that. But he could not, would not do that because it would have blown his theory of the 'composite' culture apart !
It would also mean that the other holy places of Hindu sentiment where similar barbarian destruction had taken place such as Kashi, Mathura, to mention the two major ones other than Ayodhya, and the hundreds of Hindu temples that had been destroyed, would have to be rebuilt.
Above all Mani had to speak to the gallery and to the vote bank.
A sensible Hindu who is not afraid of claiming to be a Hindutvadin is Dr. Subramaniam Swamy who has repeatedly pointed out that while it is not advisable for people to take the law into their own hands, a legal and binding decision to take down mosques built over Hindu temples can be achieved. The Ram temple in Ayodhya can therefore be rebuilt. Part of his argument is that the mosque is simply a place where the faithful congregate to worship. Muslims can worship even on a railway platform.
Whereas the Hindu temple is a place where the god is consecrated and continues to reside. Once the prana prathista takes place the deity is believed to be residing in the temple. Hence, its sanctity for the Hindu. Every Hindu , except the Indian liberal/marxist, knows that.
Until and unless Indian liberals/marxists come to terms with the fact that India is a Hindu majority country with a long civilisational history that is based on Veda Agama, their fulminations will have no meaning. Worse, it gives the minority communities the false feeling that their unreasonable demands are valid. Mani Shankar Iyer's flip flops from Marxist-Liberal to Hindu (when the occasion serves him) are opportunism of the worst kind . In the case of the NDTV program on Ayodhya he lost, owing to his mendacity , whatever credibility he could have mustered.
His continued service in the most corrupt government that India has seen is alone a testimony to his opportunism. One might also add that the eminence grise there is anti Hindu, not necessarily because of a deliberate plan (although that need not be ruled out) but because she and her family
are professed Catholics. During election time they sport the tilak but that as is far as their allegiance to Hindu India goes. Mani Shankar Iyer needs to acknowledge this and come to his own self recognition of why he fulminates against the aam admi Hindu and his/her tradition.
As for the general question : has India moved on from the Ramajanma bhoomi ? Not likely, since Hindus never forget their sacred temples. And as the previous program on CNNIBN showed, 70% of Hindus believe that Lord Rama is a central part of the Hindu ethos. Since the beginning of the Christian era there have been repeated attacks on the Ramajanma bhoomi and thousands have lost their lives in its defence. The story is not over and if Mani Shankar Iyer thinks it is over because of his fulminations he may be in for many surprises yet. A Muslim film personality recently said something eminently sensible : why fight over Ayodhya ? it is not sacred for us.
(The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university)