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Comment: A delusion that our lives were better during the Cold War?

With coronavirus on a gallop, the economy in free fall, I wonder if millions who have walked will be satisfied with dollops of identity politics alone. Some bread may be required.



Coronavirus Lockdown

Pictures of unrelieved despair everywhere on TV and, that too, in the course of an extended house arrest (lockdown), does leave one, to use Faiz’s words, with “pain where the heart once was”. Heaven knows there were problems then too, but in these days of stress, I reflect on the period of the Cold War with an almost irreparable sense of loss. The period spanned my childhood, between my village and Lucknow, school, college, employment at The Statesman, The Indian Express, with papers in London, Boston and Salem, Massachusetts. All of this experience was without religion ever being an obstacle in the three continents where I worked. During my spell at Salem, my wife and I lived in nearby Marblehead where we were much pampered members of the prestigious North Shore Jewish Community Centre, something unthinkable in the post 9/11 Islamophobia.

I find it difficult to believe at this distance in time, the warmth with which the gorgeous Bathsheba Hermon, donning a large straw hat, Public Relations officer for the Jerusalem municipality, received me at Ben Gurion airport. The year was 1969: an Australian lunatic had set fire to the Al Aqsa mosque. Israel in those days was a series of cooperatives called Kibbutz, collectively owned by the inhabitants, an almost dreamy kind of socialism. Total partiality to the Palestinian issue on my part did not obstruct a benign contemplation of the Kibbutz system. This response must be attributed to two factors — attractions of soft socialism and Bathsheba Hermon as the tour guide.

Hard to believe in the days of the Ayatullahs that one route from Ben Gurion to New Delhi was via Tehran. North Tehran those days was Paris to the power of infinity. The elite were totally unaware of the diligence of the clergy in the mosques and the Tudeh (Communists) who had latched assiduously onto the national mood after Socialist Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq”s ouster by the Anglo-American combine in 1953.

Compared to Beirut, Tehran was, well, tinsel. European cosmopolitanism with an Arab soul best defined Beirut. Casino du Liban and the Crazy Horse Casino (which came from Paris for seasonal spells) and pubs, restaurants, café sparkled with conversations. I was a junior journalist, insistent on ambitious itineraries, my ears always cocked for scraps of conversation to be picked up, say, where Edward Said, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Eqbal Ahmad were in attendance. Beirut was the world”s most charming city, the only one where sport enthusiasts could, within the space of two hours, ski and swim in sea.

The metropolis never could rediscover its élan after Israeli Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon”s brutal invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Cairo”s early Arab socialism had its attractions but intellectual life centered largely around Nasser”s moves, revealed in Hassanein Heikal”s columns in the Al Ahram which were debated and scrutinized for the entire week. Whatever the limitations of the system, editorials did matter because they were the bridge between public opinion and the state. They provided insights into what policy makers were thinking. Post-Cold War Murdochization of the media afflicted all continents; it proceeded hand in hand with globalization whose central grid was to be in Washington. The collapse of that project and global establishments obstinately stonewalling any change in direction is at the heart of our current misery.

Even though Australian multicultural experience could never measure upto Canada”s, the period between the Cold War and its end, was exactly when Australia was at its most relaxed, particularly after Prime Minister Malcolm Frazer (1975-83) buried for good Australia”s “White only” policy. Slowly, multiculturalism picked up, the odd Pauline Hanson, Australia”s Marine Le Pen, notwithstanding. I interviewed a Chinese Mayor of Sydney in the late 80s, early 90s.

The project was hit for a six when Prime Minister, John Howard, Britain”s Tony Blair hitched their wagons to President George W Bush”s Islamophobia — all post Cold War, remember. For peace on earth, it was a terrible trio.

Indian multiculturalism was weak in its foundation from the very beginning in 1947. How could there not have been incipient communalism when a Muslim state is created next door but the larger part which falls to the Hindu”s lot, must, per force, be called a secular state. Initially communalism was the “Hindu rate of growth”, an expression made famous by economist K.N. Raj for describing the crawl of the Indian economy. Even so, it did impact lives. In the golden period I have described at the outset, the prejudice I faced was in finding a house until Kuldip Nayar and Bikram Singh, intervened. That intervention is totally missing today.

Congress-BJP competition for the Hindu vote, Prime Minister V.P. Singh stirring the caste cauldron accelerated communalism beyond the “Hindu rate of growth”, but the neo-liberal economic policies added fuel to the fire by creating unspeakably wide inequalities worldwide. Popular discontent was crying for policies that would redistribute wealth, strengthen the welfare net, provide universal healthcare, education, universal basic income. It suited establishments to duck economic demands. Instead, popular discontent was channelized into the gutters of identity politics. In India, identity politics translates quite simply into communalism which already had lethal inputs from “1,200 years of foreign subjugation” (Modi’s phrase) and caste. And yet we have the same, tired list of economists paraded on our TV screens, sunk in the deepest layers of thought, proposing ways to “place the economy on track” the unmistakable assumption being that the “tracks” have been laid to perfection.

With coronavirus on a gallop, the economy in free fall, I wonder if millions who have walked will be satisfied with dollops of identity politics alone. Some bread may be required.

Meanwhile, all the cheerful places mentioned in the snippets from my diary from the 60s to the 90s have today been transformed into desolations by the authors of the post Cold War world. And, for want of space, I have not even mentioned the wilful destruction of Tripoli, Damascus and Baghdad.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior commentator on political and diplomatic issues. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on [email protected])


Rithambara hails Bhumi Pujan, recalls Ram temple movement

When asked about L K Advani and M M Joshi who have now taken a back seat, Rithambara said, “They lit the spark to carry the movement forward.”



Sadhvi Rithambara

Ayodhya, Aug 4 : A day before the Bhumi Pujan by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the Ram temple in Ayodhya on Wednesday, firebrand Hindu leader Sadhvi Rithambara expressed happiness over the event. During the Ram temple movement, her riveting speeches had a deep impact on thousands of Ram devotees. They also gave a boost to the Sri Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

In a telephonic interview with IANS Rithambara said that she could not exress her happiness over the once in a lifetime event like the Bhumi Pujan in mere words. Rithambara is elated about the resurgence of self-respect for Indian culture that has come to the fore after nearly 500 years of struggle and shared that she is brimming with pride and boundless joy.

Asked how she got involved with the Ram temple movement, she said, “The attempt by foreign invaders to destroy our culture made me angry and I joined the movement. However, my role in this movement remained small just like a squirrel. Though I was involved in the movement with utmost devotion, Ram Lalla took me towards Ayodhya and I took a resolute stand by the banks of the sacred Saryu river. I spent my youth for Ram Janmabhoomi and the Hindu culture only with the blessings of Lord Ram. I was groomed under the able leadership of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader the late Ashok Singhal.”

Responding to a question, the Sadhvi said, “When the Ram temple movement was at its peak, there were various obstacles in the way. I spent most of my time in jungles, caves and among beggars. People were scared of sheltering us in their homes. We suffered a lot when we were struggling underground. But all the pain is forgotten on the achievement of our objective to build the Ram temple.”

Rithambara said during the Ram temple movement her speeches were recorded secretly. At that time there was such enthusiasm among the people that the Ram Mandir movement became a mass movement, it was not because of any institution or organisation and now the outcome will be witnessed on August 5.

When asked about L K Advani and M M Joshi who have now taken a back seat, Rithambara said, “They lit the spark to carry the movement forward.”

On the question of women being excluded from the Temple Trust, she said it is immaterial. “The Lord wanted us to get it done. There is no gender distinction here. The temple of God is being built, that’s what matters.”

On the question of the ‘mahurat’, she said Lord Ram’s work is always auspicious. Ramji himself has chosen his ‘mahurat’. The whole world is pleased with the construction of Lord Ram’s temple. Festivities are taking place in every house.

On the alleged caste discrimination, the Sadhvi dismissed it as a figment of the imagination, saying that a seer has no caste. A limited number of people have been invited for the Bhumi Pujan due to the corona pandemic, so it should not be taken otherwise, she added.

In response to another question, she said she did not know who all were invited. Those who are not able to be at the Bhumi Pujan, can go there any time as per their convenience.

On a Pakistani minister’s acerbic reaction to the Bhumi Pujan, she said that Pakistan should respect the sentiments of crores of Indians. This will promote harmony.

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People behind the Ayodhya movement: Known and unknown




Babri Demolition

Ayodhya, Aug 4 : The movement for a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya over the years has seen many key players from time to time carrying forward the campaign. The known faces are the one that have received their share of fame and publicity but there are some who remain in the realms of oblivion.

One of the initiators of the temple movement was Mahant Raghubar Das who filed a petition in the Faizabad Court for permission to build a Ram temple adjacent to the Babri mosque.

Several saints in Ayodhya still give credit to Mahant Raghubar Das for initiating the legal battle that is culminating in the construction of the Ram temple. However, there are many who prefer that he remains unhonoured and unsung.

Then there was Gopal Singh Visharad who filed the first case on the temple dispute in Independent India in 1950.

Visharad was a resident of Balrampur district and the head of the Hindu Mahasabha in the district. He had been stopped by the police from going to the Ram Janmabhoomi and he submitted a petition seeking unhindered access to Hindus to the Janambhoomi.

K.K. Nair, a 1930 batch IAS officer, was district magistrate of Faizabad when the idol of Ram Lalla was placed in the disputed complex on the night of December 23, 1949.

Nair refused to get the idol removed even though he was asked to do so by the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Govind Ballabh Pant. Nair had told his political bosses that they would have to remove him before the idol could be removed.

A resident of Alleppey in Kerala, Nair opted for voluntary retirement in 1952 and was elected to the fourth Lok Sabha in 1967 from Bahraich on a Jan Sangh ticket. His wife, Shankuntala Nair was also elected twice from Kaiserganj Lok Sabha seat.

In 1949, Mahant Digvijay Nath, the chief priest of the Goraksh temple in Gorakhpur led the temple movement after the idol was placed in the disputed complex. The Mahant brought all saints and seers on one platform and drafted the blueprint for the movement which later spread across the country.

After his demise in 1969, his successor Mahant Avaidyanath played an important role in the temple movement. Mahant Avaidyanath’s successor is present Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who has also played a proactive role in the temple movement.

Then there are commoners, forgotten face of the Ayodhya movement. One such is ‘kar sevak’ Suresh Baghel, a resident of Vrindavan in Mathura. He made the first attempt to bring down the Babri mosque and faced police action, courted arrest and made several rounds of courts.

Baghel, who now works in a private company on a salary of Rs 6,000 per month, refuses to even talk on the temple issue. “Now no one remembers me and I remember nothing. Please leave me alone,” he said when attempts were made to contact him.

In the 1990s when the temple movement gained momentum, leading to the demolition of the Babri mosque, the then VHP leader Ashok Singhal became the chief architect of Hindutva.

His slogan “Ek dhakka aur do, babri masjid tod do”, created a frenzy and mobilised Hindus like never before. Singhal passed away in 2015 and did not live to see the Ram temple being constructed.

Parveen Togadia, then a senior VHP leader, was also known for his proactive role in the temple movement. He lost his clout after the demise of Ashok Singhal.

L.K. Advani and Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, then top BJP leaders, also played key role in the temple movement, giving it the much-needed political push with their party.

The BJP’s rise in India politics is directly linked to the temple movement and the role played by these two leaders.

Vinay Katiyar, a firebrand Hindu leader, was also the founder of the Bajrang Dal that gave a cutting edge to the temple movement. Katiyar went on to become a three-term MP from Ayodhya but later slid into political oblivion.

Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh was another important player in the temple movement. He was UP chief minister when the Babri mosque was demolished and his government was dismissed the same day. Kalyan Singh was convicted for contempt of court because he had promised to protect the mosque.

Uma Bharti and Sadhvi Rithambhara led the women brigade in the temple movement. Both were known for their fiery speeches. Cassettes of Rithambhara’s fiery speeches were sold at a premium in the market and were enough to ignite communal violence.

Talking to IANS, a senior saint of Ayodhya who did not wish to be named, said, ‘All these people have contributed to the temple movement which has reached a stage where the temple construction is beginning. I feel we should have made it a point to invite all those who are still alive and should have felicitated them.”

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Ayodhya’s Lord Ram is Orchha’s Ram Raja

Orchha’s Ram Raja temple will also be decorated in a grand manner on the occasion of the ‘Bhoomi Pujan’ in Ayodhya.




Ram Raja temple MP

Niwari/Bhopal, Aug 3 : As Ayodhya is ushering in a new era with the ‘Bhoomi Pujan’ for the Ram temple, about 500 km away in Madhya Pradesh’s Orchha, home to the Ram Raja temple, enthusiasm is quite discernible. The Ram Raja temple will be specially decorated on August 5, the day of the ‘Bhoomi Pujan’ in Ayodhya.

It is believed that Lord Ram was enthroned here not as a God but as a King.

Orchha, also known as the ‘Ayodhya of Bundelkhand’, is a city with a 600-year-old relationship with Ayodhya. Lord Ram is given a salute by the policemen during the ‘aarti’ performed four times a day. It is said that the devotees do not see the idol of Ram with their eyes but only seek his blessings by touching his feet. ‘Paan’ (betel leaves) along with a perfumed wick is offered to the devotees as ‘prasad’.

Ancient documents reveal that King Madhukar Shah of the Orchha dynasty was a Krishna devotee and his wife Ganesh Kunwar was a Ram devotee. Arguments followed between the two regarding their devotion. When Madhukar Shah asked his queen to go to Vrindavan, she spoke about going to Ayodhya. The king sarcastically replied, “If your Ram really exists then bring him to Orchha from Ayodhya.”

It is said that Ganesh Kunwar went to Ayodhya from Orchha and meditated for 21 days, but when Ram did not appear she was disappointed and jumped into the Sarayu river where Ram was seen in her lap.

Ganesh Kunwar then urged Lord Ram to visit Orchha. Lord Ram placed three conditions before her — I will be enthroned as a king in Orchha, where once I sit down, I will not get up from there and will only go to Orchha on foot on an auspicious day. The queen accepted all three conditions laid down by Lord Ram.

Local expert Pandit Jagdish Tiwari says according to the legend, the construction of the grand temple was going on when Ganesh Kunwar reached Orchha from Ayodhya with Lord Ram. The queen placed Ram in the kitchen from where he did not get up, as laid down in the three conditions.

The kitchen premises were then converted into a temple. This is the place where Lord Ram is the king that is why no leader, minister or official comes into the four-walled area of Orchha in a vehicle. Only Lord Ram is given a salute here.

Tiwari says during the day Lord Ram stays here but goes to Ayodhya to sleep. That is why it is said that “Lord Ram has two special residences — in the day he resides in Orchha and in the night in Ayodhya.”

Orchha’s Ram Raja temple will also be decorated in a grand manner on the occasion of the ‘Bhoomi Pujan’ in Ayodhya.

Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said, “Ram Raja ki Jai! Shri Ram Raja resides in Orchha, he is the king of the state. On August 4 and 5, Ram Raja temple will be specially decorated and special puja will be performed by the priests. To ensure the corona infection does not spread all residents in Orchha have been urged to stay at home and worship Ram Raja by lighting a small lamp on the pious occasion.”

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