It was indeed for the first time that an Indian prime minister raised a full-throated religious cry of "Jai Sri Ram" on the occasion of Dussehra at the sprawling Aishbagh Ramlila ground in Luckow this evening.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not make a fetish out of established convention. His decision to attend Dussehra at Lucknow’s Aishbagh instead of Delhi was also a break from the established tradition.
Things would have appeared normal if Modi’s rhythmic chants of "jai Jai Sri Ram" with powerful resonance from the audience have not come at a time when political parties are gearing for the impending elections. As his wont, he would have certainly calculated the possibility of the Opposition seeing red in every word that he spoke.
Yet there was a marked difference in war cry of “Jai Sri Ram” of LK Advani’s time and Modi’s chanting of the same words in a different context. He carefully skirted the landmines and confined even religious idioms like in a cultural sphere. For instance in Advani’s time, the same chant appeared to be menacing and directed towards the liberation of Ram’s birthplace by destroying a mosque in Ayodhya.
Apparently from 1989-92, this religious war cry was the greatest mobiliser for Hindu activists that ultimately culminated in the destruction of the mosque on 6 December 1992. But Modi has carefully chosen his symbolism and equated Ram as an embodiment of humanity. “Lord Ram represented humanity while Ravan symbolised terrorism," he said in his speech before he sat to watch the Ramlila.
Without mentioning even once the name of Pakistan, he made it clear that those sheltering terrorism would not be tolerated. An astute politician that he is, Modi used symbolism to further his political agenda as well through religious terminology. Take for instance the manner in which he said that Jatayu (vulture-king) was the first casualty of Ravan’s terrorism as he resisted kidnapping of Sita. In sociological terms, Jatayu is symbolic of the down-trodden and those who figure in the lowest rung of the society. That carefully crafted terminology was intended to attract a section of extremely backward classes and scheduled castes towards the Hindutva fold. But all this has been said in symbolism, not in explicit terms.
That the Prime Minister was cautious enough to bring down the temperature of war-mongering was evident right from the word go. Time and again, he emphasised that India traditionally was averse to war. “We believe in travelling for Yudh (war) to Buddh (Lord Buddha),” he explained his position many a time to clarify that he was totally averse to war-mongering lest it was imposed on India. Aware of the fact that his statements would go through the critical scrutiny of the international community, Modi inferred that those (implicit meaning China) who think they would not be affected by terrorism would rue their behavior sooner than later. “Terrorism knows no boundary," he pointed out.
Those who assumed that Modi would do chest-thumping to score political points would have been certainly disappointed by his deft moves of skipping the landmines. Instead, Modi talked about the eradication of social evils and protection of girl child as the sacred duty of the citizen. At times, he assumed the role of an educator to exhort people to fight evils within.
But it would be naïve to assume that Modi’s presence in Aishbagh was devoid of any political objective. At the podium, he was quite comfortable with over religiosity of the occasion and participated in certain rituals like Aarti and Puja of those acting in the roles of Ram, Laxman and Hanuman. Through carefully chosen symbolism, he conveyed his political message loud and clear to an audience which is quite adept in deciphering religious idioms and terminology. However, Modi’s coinage of "Jai Sri Ram” in today’s context was consistent with propriety and constitution and a complete departure from the past. It will not be easy to predict if this strategy will really attract votes in the country’s most populous state.