Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's statement on Ayodhya case warning of Syria-like situation epitomises art of fanning fear

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s interview to CNN-News18 on the Ayodhya dispute has been interpreted as his attempt to court publicity, as is being said in jest, for winning a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet, it is important to decode his interview for the messages he has sought to convey to the nation, not least because of his proximity to the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Ravi Shankar has an aura of importance around him, partly created through a deft manipulation of popular perception. But this manipulation builds upon an element of reality. For instance, it was under his aegis that an assortment of gurus signed a proclamation at a conference in Bengaluru on 4 and 5 December, 2011 asking the United Nations to observe 21 June as International Yoga Day, an idea Modi endorsed and pushed after coming to power in 2014.

Then again, the Art of Living, a foundation established by Shankar, was chosen to organise a community reception and a yoga event for Modi on his visit to Mongolia in 2015. Modi returned the favour to Shankar, brushing aside the controversy surrounding the Art of Living’s World Cultural Festival in March 2016 in Delhi to spend three hours there. Shankar has emerged as the ruling dispensation’s favourite guru, causing much heartburn in the camp of Baba Ramdev, who had earlier enjoyed that status.

Shankar’s new-found exalted status apart, we need to take his interview seriously because it echoes the views of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Ayodhya on many counts. For instance, Shankar has asked Muslims to give up their “claims on Ayodhya as a goodwill gesture”, a demand RSS-BJP leaders have repeatedly made ever since the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was launched in the 1980s. Like the BJP, Shankar too believes it is difficult to implement a court judgement in the Ayodhya dispute.

File image of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. AFP

File image of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. AFP

However, Shankar has gone a step further than the BJP, giving its traditional line on the Ayodhya dispute a chilling dimension. He told India Today, “If the court rules against the temple, there will be bloodshed. The government may not be able to implement the court order. Do you think the majority community will accept such an order?” He, then, has argued that the only tenable solution is an out-of-court settlement, essentially a euphemism for Muslims relinquishing their claim to the site where the Babri Masjid stood until it was demolished on 6 December, 1992.

Shankar’s opinions have to be analysed against the backdrop of a three-member bench of the Supreme Court hearing the Ayodhya dispute. The bench is headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, who retires on 2 October. It is believed that Misra wouldn’t have taken up the Ayodhya matter had he not been reasonably sure of delivering the verdict before his retirement.

The final arguments in the Ayodhya dispute could not begin on two assigned dates – on 5 December and 8 February. The bench is to hear it on 14 March now. Misra’s slate is crowded with important cases – for instance, he is hearing the Aadhaar matter and also the case regarding the Land Acquisition Act of 2013. He is yet to pronounce a judgement in the case involving the distribution of power between the Delhi government and the Lieutenant Governor.

Will Misra have adequate time to complete the hearing in the Ayodhya dispute and also deliver his judgement? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar seems to think so, judging from his interview.

But he doesn’t seem sure that the judgment will allow a Ram temple to be constructed at the disputed site, a conclusion he has presumably reached because Justice Misra in February said that his bench would treat the Ayodhya matter as a property dispute, not as an issue of faith. Such a line, it is thought, could weaken the case of Hindu litigants. This, in turn, has prompted Shankar to warn, in an interview to India Today, that a verdict against the Ram temple would create a “Syria in India”, shorthand for civil war, which will be “devastating for the nation in general and the Muslim community in particular.”

Shankar’s interview can also be seen as an attempt to mount pressure on the Supreme Court, telling it, in not so many words, that the government can only implement a verdict that is favourable to Hindus. He seems to suggest that this is the path the Supreme Court should take, failing which its majesty will take a severe beating.

His view echoes that of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. Ten days before the Ayodhya matter came up before the Supreme Court on 5 December, Bhagwat said that no structure other than the Ram temple will be built at the disputed site in the temple town. Shankar has now gone a step further, outlining unequivocally the bloody consequences of granting the site to Muslims. This suggests that Shankar is reading out from a script someone else has written, designed to incrementally raise the pitch on Ayodhya.

It is almost impossible to second-guess court judgments in advance, let alone the hellishly complicated Ayodhya dispute. Yet, Shankar’s view will have a purpose even in a scenario in which the Supreme Court hands over the Babri Masjid site to Hindus. For one, the global media will point out that the site of the temple construction was where a medieval mosque had once stood. This will certainly have implications in West Asia, where Modi has been visiting to lure foreign investments. To have Muslims voluntary forsake the site in advance will enable the government to manage the foreign policy fallout.

A triumph through a court verdict is an incomplete victory for Hindutva, which believes Muslims must atone for the temples that Muslim rulers allegedly destroyed centuries ago. This can be symbolically achieved through a relinquishing of claims to the disputed site. Shankar has grasped the psychology at play, evident from his honey-laden words: “Muslims are not surrendering this land to the people who demolished the Babri Masjid or to a particular organisation. On the contrary, they are gifting it to the people of India.” This is classic sophistry.

It is also possible that Shankar doesn’t think the Supreme Court has time to deliver the judgement. In this context, his interview can be seen as a way of keeping the Ayodhya pot simmering for the RSS-BJP, which cannot yet again go to the electorate in 2019 reiterating its promise of building the Ram temple. Unlike the NDA’s earlier prime minister AB Vajpayee, Modi enjoys a majority in the Lok Sabha. He will be asked to account for inaction over Ayodhya.

Shankar’s interview hints at one possible route still available to the BJP. He has contemplated four possible solutions to the Ayodhya dispute – the Supreme Court delivering a verdict favourable to Muslims, or granting the land to Hindus, or upholding the trifurcation of the disputed property (which would imply re-constructing the mosque at the disputed site), or Parliament passing a legislation to settle the temple-mosque site. The first three options would be foreclosed if the Supreme Court were to fail to complete the hearing before 2 October.

Shankar’s fourth option, however, still remains available to the BJP. It can go the electorate saying it needs a massive mandate to legislate for overcoming the impediments that the Supreme Court and Muslims are creating in the construction of the Ram temple. It will provide the BJP a narrative to counter bad electoral news pouring out of Rajasthan, anti-incumbency in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and the prospect of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party entering into an alliance in Uttar Pradesh.

If the Supreme Court misses the 2 October deadline, the BJP may even explore the possibility of bringing such a Bill in the Winter Session of Parliament, not so much to construct the temple immediately, as it will certainly invite legal challenges, but for creating enough ballast to launch its 2019 campaign.

It is also possible that the Art of Living founder is not acting at the BJP’s behest, and that he has chosen to give a sensational interview to be in the spotlight. In doing so, he has reduced his stature, and demonstrated that he is more a political camp-follower than a spiritualist, and acted contrary to the philosophy that his foundation propounds.

The Art of Living website loftily declares, “Unless we have a stress-free mind and a violence-free society, we cannot achieve world peace.” For this self-appointed messiah of peace, a better course would have been to crisscross the country, particularly Uttar Pradesh, to persuade the people why they need to respect the Constitution to build a peaceful society, and turn to the court in case they are unable to reconcile their differences. He has instead chosen to terrorise the weak, the numerically inferior, by portraying a bloody, darkled future awaiting them. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has turned the Art of Living into the art of fanning fear.

Published Date: Mar 09, 2018 21:43 PM | Updated Date: Mar 09, 2018 21:43 PM

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