Rerun of Ramayan on Doordarshan during 21-day lockdown period may serve dual purpose; keep people at home, boost Hindutva

At a time when people are forced to be at home during the 21-day lockdown because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the government has come out with a smart idea to keep them occupied.

The decision to telecast the 78-episode Ramayan again, which was a hit when it was first telecasted from January 1987 and to the later part of 1988 on Doordarshan, is one such idea to keep the people glued to their television sets at home while reminiscing perhaps the good old days. And for those generations who have no idea what the 80s were like, they can get their sheer share of walk into history.

The decision to broadcast the Ramayan may end up serving the ruling dispensation on another front as well. Only in last November, the Supreme Court had given its verdict on the Ayodhya title suit paving the way for a Ram temple in the 2.77 acre previously disputed site. The judgment was a huge victory for those who believed in Hindutva and definitely a big stride for the BJP.

Now months after when the Ramayan/em> will be telecasted again, it is quite a possibility that the Hindutva footprint in the country will only be expanded. The importance of the decision to rerun Ramayan, in terms of political and social messaging, can be assessed from the fact that it was announced by no less than Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javdekar.

https://twitter.com/PrakashJavdekar/status/1243381573635825664

It appears to be an astute political move as it serves the dual purpose of social distancing by helping the country by keeping the people home albeit with a political undertone.

It is said that to have a religious epic televised in the form a weekly serial was the idea of then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. The idea was pathbreaking as it changed the very definition of television as a mode of entertainment in India.

When the serial captures airtime on Doordarshan on 28 March, 2020 after 33 years, it won't be its first comeback. It has returned on private entertainment channels before but its success has been a far cry from its original run.

The political atmosphere in the country was intriguing when the Ramayan became a craze in the country during the 80s. It was commissioned by the Rajiv Gandhi government to Bollywood producer Ramanand Sagar and now, in the year 2020, the Narendra Modi government ordered its rerun, after reviewing and renewing its contract with the Sagar family.

Months after the Supreme Court delivered its verdict on the Shah Bano case in April 1985, the Rajiv Gandhi succumbed to pressure from the hardliners in the Muslim community and nullified a historic forward-looking judgment of the Supreme Court through an Act of Parliament in 1986.

Commanding a brute majority in Parliament, the passage of the law was never a problem for the then prime minister. However, this was perceived as a surrender to the Islamic clergies which resulted in a huge Hindu backlash. A politically inexperienced Rajiv thought he could nullify that outrage, even bring their confidence by some balancing acts.

To win over the Hindu sentiments he did two things -- the opening of locks of the Ramlala statue at the then disputed Ramjanambhoomi-Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya and commissioning serials for Doordarshan, Ramayan to Ramanand Sagar and Mahabharat to BR Chopra. When the Ramayan serial was about to conclude Rajiv went a step further and sent then Union home minister Buta Singh to lay the foundation stone for the Ram Chabutra in Ayodhya.

Beyond doubt, the Ramayan and Mahabharat serials (combined run from 1987-90) silently mobilised Hindu sentiments but it tilted in favour of the newly formed BJP and not in favour of the Congress. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the serials consolidates latent Hidutava sentiments, creating the right base for LK Advani’s 1990 Ram Rath Yatra.

However, unlike Rajiv, Modi up to the ranks of the Islamic hardliners and nullified the Act made by Rajiv by bringing in The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriages) Act, which criminalised the practice of triple talaq and worked on alimony and restored the spirit of the Shah Bano verdict.

The rerun of the Ramayan serial is thus no balancing act by Modi government but in fact, it is to further strengthen Hindu sentiments. The retelecast of the serial comes at a time when the nation is under a 21-day lockdown period, which also coincides with the nine-day Navratra.

Updated Date: Mar 27, 2020 21:02:11 IST



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