Why 300 Citizens Don’t Want PM Modi to Attend the Ram Temple Ceremony in Ayodhya


Why 300 Citizens Don’t Want PM Modi to Attend the Ram Temple Ceremony in Ayodhya

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

It’s a significant day in the history of India. After decades of litigation, a temple to the Hindu deity Ram will get started in Ayodhya today in a ground-breaking ceremony attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But can Modi attend the ceremony in his capacity as the PM? What does the Constitution of a “secular” India say?

In a last-ditch appeal, over 300 citizens – activists, journalists, academics, and members of the National Federation of Indian Women – have written to Modi to not attend the grand foundation ceremony of the Ram Mandir, as they believe this will “have long term negative ramifications for the democratic, secular fabric of the country”.

“The matter of faith and freedom of religion is a personal choice and a fundamental freedom of every citizen,” said the statement signed by Aruna Roy, the president of the National Federation of Indian Women, Annie Raja, secretary of NIFW, and Sutapa Bhattacharya from the Communist Party of India among others. It added that the principles upheld by the Constitution apply to the PM.

“The Constitution of India makes it clear that the government and Prime Minister should remain neutral to, and above all religions, thus upholding the values of secular India. The Prime Minister going to Ayodhya to lay the foundation of the temple undermines our secular framework, and clearly endorses the majoritarian Hindutva agenda, despite his claims of building an inclusive India. It implies the negation of the Constitutional values,” the appeal said.

“Mr Modi is not just an individual citizen. As the Prime Minister and head of the government today, he should take special care to make sure that he is not seen as partisan towards with one faith or religion.  This is especially as, notwithstanding the court verdict, Ayodhya continues to be a disputed issue,” it added.

The appeal also points to the ongoing pandemic and the official Unlock 3.0 guidelines which state that “social, political, sports, entertainment, academic, cultural, religious functions and other large congregations will not be permitted”.

It’s worrisome that priests of the Ram Temple and police officers preparing for the ceremony have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Though they will not be attending today’s event, Covid-19 cases in Uttar Pradesh have crossed the one-lakh mark.

An essay titled “Narendra Modi the Citizen Can Attend Ayodhya ‘Bhoomi Pujan’, But Prime Minister Shouldn’t” published in The Wire, says, “…. while there is nothing wrong with Modi the citizen attending the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the Ram Mandir, the same act may not be completely right for a prime minister.

As noted, the invitation cards refer to Modi’s official designation, and unless he makes an unequivocal declaration that he is attending the event in his individual capacity, his visit will be treated as an official one.”

But the Ram Mandir has long been a dream of the BJP. And for the PM and his ministers, attending the ceremony is just fulfilling the promises made to its voters.