[Editorial Analysis] Ayodhya and the challenge to equality

Mains Paper 2: Polity

Prelims level: Ram Temple issue

Mains level: Challenges for equality in Indian constitution

Context

• Secularism in India has been variously characterised, though few of these have done justice to the vigour with which the issue was debated in the Constituent Assembly.

• In the aftermath of Partition, seen as the outcome of the community-based template of political competition introduced under British rule.

• The secularism was an article of faith across the ideological spectrum, though only in a limited definition as a seamless sense of national identity.

A superfluity

• Equality embraced the right to be different, though not a difference in rights.

• Exceptions would be granted only where classes of citizens were known to have suffered a deficit of social and cultural capital on account of discrimination through history.

• The construct of a “minority” segued into a notion of social and educational backwardness, remediable over generations through procedures of affirmative action.

• These were formulations steeped in unwitting upper caste privilege, a sense that the Constituent Assembly elected on a very narrow franchise and voided of its more eloquent minority spokespersons by Partition spoke for a true nationalism at risk of dilution by sectarian demands.

A narrower identity

• In the real world of dislocation and trauma, Partition witnessed a number of local vigilante efforts to inscribe a narrower identity on the incipient nation.

• The surreptitious introduction of idols into the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, where a dispute over building rights on an adjacent site had simmered since the late19th century, was one such act, though by no means the only one.

• Nehru’s insistence on the reversal of these intrusions gradually receded from the attention span of governments at the State and local levels.

• Ayodhya, like numerous other incidents from the time, would have faded into the distant recesses of memory had not the politics of waning upper caste hegemony and the decline of the Congress provided occasion for it to spark back to life.

• If equality was a constitutional promise impossible to reconcile with upper caste hegemony, identity was a serviceable alternative.

• From about the 1980s, the seamless spirit of the Indian nation that was so much a concern of the Constituent Assembly, gave way, at least in electoral competition, to the construct of a nation of multiple identities, contending for influence over the whole.

The U.P. strategy

• From its birth in the 1980s, the Ayodhya campaign has been a metaphor for a minority faith’s disenfranchisement.

• And nowhere is this story told more eloquently than in India’s largest State, Uttar Pradesh, where Muslims constitute over 19% of the total population, and hold a mere 24 seats in a 403 member Legislative Assembly.

• This tally from the 2017 election is the lowest since 1991, when Muslim representation in a somewhat larger State Assembly, prior to the hill districts being hived off, stood at 21.

• With Muslims and two other caste groupings Yadavs and Jatavs making up roughly 40% of the State’s electorate, the BJP strategy targeted the remaining 60%.

• Key to the BJP’s sweep of the U.P. elections was its success in drawing in a critical mass of votes from strata that had reason to feel aggrieved at their exclusion from the dominant coalitions shaping politics post-Ayodhya.

Too loose a standard

• Articles 27 and 28 have been read as reproducing, though in a weaker fashion, the guarantee of secular statecraft of the U.S. First Amendment, which prohibits the establishment of any religion by law.

• Though the Indian state is enjoined to neutrality, religion is allowed an active role in the public sphere under Article 25, which assures every citizen the freedom to “profess, practise and propagate” any faith.

• By definition, every religion enters the fray with a claim to universality; no religion is willing to accept a domain of application limited in time and space.

• The unfettered exercise of Article 25 rights in this sense puts the general will at risk of being bent to a majoritarian assertion.

• The restraint of “public order” mandated by the Constitution is too loose a standard to prevent the intrusion into politics of religious majoritarianism.

Way forward

• With electoral compulsions now acquiring increasing urgency, the BJP government has demanded that the Supreme Court unfetter a large part of the land held in trust pending a final settlement of the case.

• Party spokesmen have also mused aloud about issuing an ordinance as an act of executive will to preempt an adverse judicial finding.

• This attempt to dismantle the last remaining restraint to the majoritarian will is sure to fuel a new fervour in the upcoming general election, putting further pressure on the institutions of governance and challenging their capacity to uphold constitutional integrity.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) Consider the following statements related to Credit Rating Agencies in India:

1. The Credit Rating is assigned to the company rather than to the bonds issued by it.

2. The Credit Rating agencies in India work on the concept of “Issuer Pays” Model.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Ans: B

Mains Questions:

Q.1) The Ram temple issue remains a metaphor for Muslim disenfranchisement. Critically analyse the statement.

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