It has been twelve years but I still remember that day very clearly. I had my career goals set perfectly in front of me. I was studying to be a chartered accountant, interning at one of the Big Four auditing firms in Ahmedabad. As a fairly privileged middle-class upbringing with focus on scoring good marks and getting into good colleges, I was hardly interested in politics. Till I got a phone call from Gandhinagar one day in 2008. “CM saheb vaat karshe, (CM sir will speak to you)” the person on the other line said.
My earliest memories of politics is seeing images of former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda sleeping in the Parliament in newspaper. I was too young. It was only later I read up on how Sonia Gandhi was instrumental in forming and collapsing that government. For years of unstable governments followed by a decade of policy paralysis.
It was only in 2004 when I was old enough I started understanding politics better. My first vote was in Gujarat state assembly elections in December 2007. As a secular, liberal, middle-class individual, I thought mixing religion with politics would polarise our country even further. It would be years before I would understand that in India, religion is politics and the polarisation is to such an extent that we’ve return point of no-return.
By 2008, the preparations for 2009 general elections had already started. L K Advani was the Prime Minister face for the BJP. I had always held him responsible for 2002 riots. I believed that had he not led the Rath Yatra in the 90s, and had the Babri Masjid not have been demolished, perhaps I would not have to be apologetic for 2002 riots. And really, why can’t we just have a hospital or a school there? I’m sure God resides in our hearts, I thought, and does not really care for a temple when there is so much poverty around.
While my family has always been BJP supporter, we hardly discussed politics at dinner table. Except my aunt. She was active in politics in Surat and once even fought and won corporation elections. But that was it. In 2008 during Raksha Bandhan, she was visiting us. She said that all BJP karyakartas were going to the CM residence him a Rakhi. I asked her if I could tag along. She agreed.
I quickly wrote a 4 page letter. I wrote to the Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi that we need to move beyond the Ram Temple. I told him that the world is going through major climate crisis and we will run out of non-renewable energy resources soon and that there is poverty and malnutrition that needs to be addressed. I asked him whether the temple is really needed. That can we not focus on the bigger picture?
When we reached Gandhinagar, there was a serpentine queue to meet the Chief Minister. Unlike everyone else, I was not carrying a Rakhi. I was meeting the Chief Minister of my state demanding answers, not my brother on a festival. I folded my hands and handed him the letter. I told him that I have written something as a voter and as a citizen of India and I would be grateful if he goes through it. He passed on the letter to the gentleman standing next to him and few minutes later we were on our way home.
Four hours later, as I sat in my room, I got a call where the person on the other line said that the Chief Minister will talk to me.
Narendra Modi had read a letter written on paper by a completely random girl who just walked up to him and told him she had something to say.
The then Gujarat Chief Minister asked me what made me think that he does not have concerns regarding the environment, which I very prominently pointed out. He told me about the green energy and how Gujarat has the highest carbon credit in the country. Chief Minister Narendra Modi told me about the solar panels above the Narmada canal and the plan of rooftop panels.
On my question on the Ram Temple, he said that it is about faith. When crores of Hindus believe that Bhagwan Ram was born there and there should be a temple at a place where it once stood, it is our duty to reclaim what is ours. “But what about issues like poverty and malnutrition? Aren’t they more important than the Mandir?” I asked. Narendra Modi told me that poverty and malnutrition along with scores of other issues are equally important and are being tackled. He told me that for one thing to be achieved other need not be sacrificed.
It made sense. My chief minister’s answers satisfied me. I Googled about all the claims he made regarding infrastructure and environment and the state government was indeed implementing them. In 2012, Gujarat continued to lead in carbon credits. In 2019, Gujarat launched an emissions trading scheme so as to encourage industries to bring down air pollution. Since then I started paying a closer attention to the things going on around me in the political landscape. In 2008 it was in pipeline and in 2019 the state govt owned Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam (SSNNL) announced will set up a 100 MW canal-top solar power generation project on the branch canals of river Narmada at an estimated cost of Rs 100 crore.
Alas, the BJP lost 2009 elections. It was hailed as defeat of the ‘communal forces’. It was then that I started noticing that the BJP is more or less ‘reacting’ to the action of the then ruling party which thrived on ‘appeasing’ the second largest majority community in India. That it was the then ruling party which believed that the Muslims have the first right on resources. That while they claim that everyone is equal, some were more equal.
Over the years, I saw how mainstream and international media went out of its way to downplay the Godhra carnage where 58 Hindus were burnt alive. Following the carnage, widespread communal riots took place in Gujarat where thousands lost their lives. However, even after all these years, there is a section of media which downplays the carnage and spreads falsehoods such as the fire was ‘set from inside’ the car. Many also claim that the fire was ‘accidental’ and the Muslim mob was wrongly accused. A Judicial Commission set up to enquire into the incident had found that it was indeed set on fire, and courts had sentenced several people based on this. Recently, a special SIT court convicted one Yakub Pataliya in the 2002 train burning case and awarded him life imprisonment. Prior to that, a trial court had convicted one Farukh Bhana and one Imran Sheru for setting the train on fire.
But entire community was painted communal by the same people who cry themselves hoarse that terrorism has no religion. It is as if terrorism has no religion only if the perpetrator is a Muslim. But, entire Hindu community needs to be ‘ashamed’ for a crime committed by any Hindu. As if the ‘biggest minority’ religion not only has first right on resources but also right to innocence.
To add to the vicious narrative, I learnt that it was not L K Advani who was responsible for 2002 riots. That the neighbouring Congress-ruled states did not offer us help when Modi reached out to them.
That Ashok Gehlot, Digvijaya Singh and Vilasrao Deshmukh of Congress in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra sat and watched as my state burned.
In 2014, I was sure Narendra Modi would lose. Not because he was wrong but the perception regarding him on social media and mainstream media was such that perhaps the country would not elect a leader who is perceived to be so ‘communal’.
On 15th May 2014, this image was circulated in the media from CMO Gujarat. The tall BJP leaders had come to meet Modi. Media circles were rife with rumours that they were there to make Modi ‘understand’ to not be too adamant if there is no clear majority. That should the BJP reach out to Sharad Pawar if it falls short of clear majority, he should perhaps soften up. Sharad Pawar, as we know, ‘invented’ an extra bomb blast in 1993 in Mumbai to promote ‘Hindu Muslim harmony’.
Nobody knows what was discussed there except these people.
But stranger things have happened. Narendra Modi won with a thumping majority.
By this time, I had understood that Mandir has to be built and that too at Ayodhya. Because Babri mosque, like many other Islamic and Mughal structures in India, was built after demolishing the Hindu temple. If Mandir can be demolished to make way for a mosque, a Mandir can come up on the land reclaimed. I was still not sure it would, though.
You see, the principles of taking the backseat because you belong to the ‘majority’ religion are so deeply ingrained that deep down I was sure the Supreme Court will rule that a school or a hospital will be built there. Because we are just too afraid of ‘offending’ and ‘hurting religious sentiments’ of people. For years we have shied away from asserting ourselves as a Hindu lest anyone mistake us for ‘communal’. I always thought the Ram Mandir will be an election promise, not because the BJP does not have the will but because we have bigger bullies who’d rather let the country burn if it paints Hindus as the violent, extremist community.
In November 2019 when Supreme Court ruled in favour of Ram Mandir, I still could not believe it. That ‘Mandir Wahin Banayenge’ is not a slogan anymore but it will be a reality.
Today we are few days away from Bhoomi Pujan of the Bhavya Ram Mandir. The Gujarat Chief Minister who told me to have faith will now be there as Prime Minister of our great nation. Because after decades of waiting, Ram Lalla is coming home.
Those who want the mosque or a hospital, well, they can make one too. Just across the Sarayu and pray to Lord Ram from a distance.
Because whether you like it or not, Mandir Wahin Ban Raha Hai.
Ek hi naara, ek hi naam, Jai Shri Ram, Jai Shri Ram.