he Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is making a conscious effort to project the Ram temple as a symbol of cultural and national renaissance, functionaries aware of the matter said, asking not to be named. In line with this attempt, Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief, on Wednesday said the temple construction in Ayodhya is the beginning of a new India and will serve to establish the self-confidence needed for making India self-reliant. Bhagwat’s speech at the temple’s groundbreaking ceremony sought to de-link the shrine from religion and focused on Lord Ram’s values and teachings and how imbibing those could help India regain the past glory.
“It is a matter of joy that the auspicious beginning of building a Bharat [India] which is prosperous and ensures the welfare of all, starts at the hands of those who are at the helm of affairs in a system that is entrusted with the responsibility to bring this change.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the first brick of the temple at a grand bhoomi pujan (ground breaking ceremony) in Ayodhya on Wednesday.
The reference to the temple as a cultural icon and a unifying edifice, and Bhagwat’s assertion that Ram belongs to everyone are a continuation of the RSS’s outreach, the functionaries added. RSS does not want the issue to be seen as communal or polarizing, they said.
Ahead of the Supreme Court’s verdict in November that paved the way for the construction of the temple, the RSS launched a massive exercise to reach out to Muslims. Bhagwat met Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind president Arshad Madani to ensure peace and harmony following the verdict. Other senior leaders travelled across the country to meet a cross-section of people. After the verdict, Bhagwat said it should not be seen as a victory or defeat for anyone.
Referring to the temple’s cultural connotations, Manmohan Vaidya, RSS’s joint general secretary, said it will help people connect with their roots. “Till now the realization of the self was not allowed.”
Vaidya said the Ram temple, besides a holy shrine, is a symbol of India’s “glorious past, the epitome of cultural values and economic prosperity”.
He added it “will help people connect to our cultural roots to prosper economically and expand culturally as a model to guide humanity how to live together in harmony, peace, and prosperity in this ethnic, religious, culturally diverse world”.
RSS general secretary Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi last week said the groundbreaking ceremony at Ayodhya marks the completion of one part of the struggle but is also “a new beginning of a new era.”
BJP’s Rajya Sabha member Rakesh Sinha said Ram transcends the limits of geography and time and RSS’s definition of secularism consists of culture, which is historic and progressive in nature.
Still, it is difficult to overlook the religious aspect of the event an expert said.
According to Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Ajay Gudavarthy: “Construction of a temple does bring a sense of cultural celebration among a large section of the Hindus but one cannot deny a sense of humiliation among the Muslims and this is what makes religion a political ideology.”