JAWAHARLAL NEHRU AND NARENDRA MODI: CONTRASTING IDEAS OF INDIA
On 11 May 1951, the Somnath Mandir (temple) in the Western India State of Gujarat was restored and reinstalled with a view to reviving it past glory and grandeur. It had been raided and razed by Mahmud Ghaznavi in the 1Ith Century when he came plundering the fabled wealth reputed to be stored inside the Temple. That attacked and other attacks on Hindu shrines followed later by other invaders as well.
The partition of India had been a severe blow to Gandhi and Nehru’s vision of an inclusive, secular India. Within the Indian National Congress, powerful right-wing lobby existed which harboured Hindu nationalist feelings. They had taken ill of the fact that India had been partitioned to create a Muslim Pakistan. Along with other Hindu nationalists, Congress right-wing supported the call to restore the Somnath temple.
None other than the President of India Babu Rajendra Prasad and Union Minister KM Munshi strongly supported that movement whereas Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was opposed to the Government of India getting involved in a communal movement and thus compromise the secular credentials of the nascent Indian democracy and instead establish a partisan Hindu Rashtra. The differences between him and his colleagues resulted in some bitterness. Nehru refused to perform the opening ceremony of the restored Somnath temple. President Rajendra Prasad therefore performed that ceremony.
Nehru’s refusal to take part in the re-installation ceremony of the mandir and his other secular politics were seen by right-wing Hindus as an affront to their sentiments and religion. Nehru was considered too Westernized, and pro-Muslim notwithstanding the fact that Jinnah had succeeded in getting India partitioned on a religious basis.
It was from the 1980s onwards that Hindu nationalism began to grow as an opposition force to Gandhian – Nehruvian secularism and pluralism. That movement gained momentum in the early 1990s when a call was given to avenge another outrage against the Hindu religion. It was alleged that the Babri Mosque at Ajodhya built in 1528 by the founder of the Mughal dynasty, Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, was the exact spot where Hindu god Lord Ram was born many millennia earlier.
In the early 1990s, the movement to avenge the great wrong done to Hinduism and Lord Ram gained momentum rapidly and on 6 December 1992 the Babri Mosque was raided by thousands of devotees and fanatics and demolished. It triggered riots and resulted in much bad blood between Hindus and Muslims (about 13% of the Indian population at that time). Protracted and tense litigation followed in the courts. In November 2019, the Indian Supreme Court gave a decision in favour of the Hindu organization leading it while prescribing that the Muslims should be compensated with a land grant to build a mosque at a separate suitable place in the city.
Whatever else one may think about the decision, but there is no doubt that under the BJP-Government India is now closer to the ideal of a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation-state) and therefore a significant shift in the Idea of India has taken place. The Indian Constitution remains a constraint on such a tendency, however.