India has now witnessed a three decade long agenda of revivalist Hinduism centred around the city of Ayodhya. The latest proposal to construct something in Ayodhya is however a bewildering move given how symbolic the agenda of constructing a Ram temple in Ayodhya is to the Hindu right wing of the country.
As per the news report linked below, the Union Tourism Ministry has proposed the construction of a Ramayana museum in Ayodhya. Given the hyper masculine image this government likes to project, building a museum instead of a temple sounds strangely emasculating. On the other hand, as gimmicks go, it’s clever. The agenda to demolish a mosque and build a temple, and thereby using violence to effectuate one’s agenda is far easier to critique than a supposedly pacifist proposal to build a museum. While opposition political parties have lambasted it as an election gimmick, they have not per se dismissed the idea of a Ramayana museum.
Based on the positions opposition parties have taken in the past, such a statement is also unlikely to be made. The BJP knows and exploits the political ambivalence of other opposition parties to Hindu nationalist demands. In doing so, all opposition parties are shown up to be “soft” Hindutva champions, rather than espousing secularism. The BJP on the other hand repeatedly does, and in this case also, be able to signal it’s hyper masculinity to Hindutva bhakts and consolidate it’s core constituencies.
In the long run, the story of aggressive majoritarian interference may turn out to be less due to the failure to ensure high growth and low corruption, than the failure of the current opposition to create a contemporary aspirational narrative grounded in economic development.