Now That the Hindus Have Won

In the days leading up to January 22, I could not sense any genuine mass euphoria among temple-going Hindus over the consecration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. There was a sense of importance attached to the day, like an approaching festivity, and few had any quarrel with the government for goading them to observe remote ceremonies or ordering schools and even the stock market to shut. But I sensed no religious fervour among true devout Hindus.

All around me there has been the spectacle of euphoria but not real euphoria. In my colony a security guard was deployed to go around distributed scented candles with the brand name “Ram”. I cannot think of two entities more culturally distant than Ram and scented candles, and I do not even know why scented candles exist as an object in the first place, but I just shut up and accepted it.

Of course, some people are exhilarated, and “some people” in India could be millions. My cab driver, in fact, arrived wearing a saffron cap with images of Lord Ram on it. He was playing a holy song. I asked him to turn the music off as I do every time I get into a car. Only after I said it I thought there could be trouble. He gave me a look, but switched off the music. Then he rechecked my name on the app, looked at me again in the rearview. But we quickly became friends, and I even conducted taxi-driver journalism on him.

He did not change my view that at a mass level there is very little true euphoria. I have not been able to convince anyone about this view, but even Hindus who dispute me are not euphoric themselves. They say other Hindus must certainly be filled with passion for the event, but they personally do not know anyone who is so moved by Ayodhya the way Hindus were in the 1990s.

As I write this piece, I feel I am in a time that is very similar to the years when religions were born, or at least when legendary temples and mosques were dreamt into life. This was perhaps how the Konark Temple was consecrated—an emperor willed it, and on the day of the consecration, the whole kingdom had to know, even though only VIPs were invited to the holy site, and surely all schools were shut. After Mir Baqi built the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, surely the whole city came to a standstill for its inauguration. And I wonder if in those days too, the political act of creating a temple or mosque failed to stir mass religious fervour.

A few days ago, a friend told me that it is in the nature of belief that spectacular places of worship, like the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, or Notre Dame in Paris, do not have the same religious gravitas as pilgrimage sites, which are usually small, austere and serious places of worship. This is true, but I feel there is a more immediate reason why there is so little mass religious zeal around the temple. The coolness is a sign that devout Hindus know they have won India back, finally, in a crucial way; a cultural war that raged for centuries is over. Even though a sense of Hindu victimhood survives as a convenient emotion, I feel that in sober moments few doubt that Hindus are more equal in India. If the crowning glory of the victory, in Ayodhya, has been met with equanimity, it is because victors wear victory easily.

Now that the Hindu side won, what is the meaning of it all? What’s next for India?

In a best-case scenario, I hope we at least become the Hindu version of the UAE, where the dominance of one religion underpins a vague secular modernity on the surface that is required to attract Western investments and protect impoverished migrants. In that way, the ‘secularism’  of, say, Dubai is not as farcical as that of India. Dubai’s secularism exists, and within its narrow boundaries it is even consistent. Today, outside the West, only the supremacy of one religion  can guarantee some sort of meaningful secularism in a region. So, there is a chance that we might become that sort of a place.There is an argument that this cannot happen because India’s Muslim minority is too big and too local, unlike the non-Muslim floating populations of the UAE. A misfortune of Muslims in modern India is that their size, which makes Hindus wary of them, does not offer the Muslim community any advantage any more. They are too large a religious group to be co-opted and too fringe to alter politics.

As things stand, Muslims have replaced Dalits as the country’s true underclass. Dalits, in their worst eras, could at least escape their caste if they could escape “the den of evil,” as Ambedkar called the Indian village, and seek cultural anonymity in cities. Muslims in India cannot do that. Also, most Dalits were never exposed by their names. Today, even the richest or the most educated Muslims are marked by their identity. Any communal riot somewhere or a perceived terror-attack can make the whole community anxious across India.

For centuries in India, Hinduism was the indisputable background hum, and caste was the individual’s actual social identity. Before the Muslim invasions, Hinduism was so fundamental to India that elite Hindus freely experimented with Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism and scores of faiths and cults that have vanished, without the fear of losing their Hinduness, as records suggest. What never changed for most individuals was their caste. That civil war within Hinduism will continue despite the spectacular resurgence of the religion.

The new Hindu swag will also not alter the fact that cultural free speech has almost entirely disappeared in India.  This is a very different society than what it was ten years ago. Then Indians enjoyed some kinds of free speech not because of any ideals, but because of Indian inefficiencies. In the melee of Indian life, some freedoms percolated down to people. Now cultural governance appears to be very organized.

I wish roads and lane discipline came under Hindu culture. But all the things that save lives and improve the quality of modern life in India do not fall under the ambit of religion or politics.

(Stay longer and read other pieces. Consider contributing to support the site as I work on ways to expand its scope.)

share with your friends.

Subscribe for Latest Updates

Support this Website

I plan to sustain a type of non-activist writing through the generosity of readers. You can give any amount.