Has India moved on from the events of 6 December 1992, when a mob of Hindu protesters demolished the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, which they believed stood on a site that had once housed a temple marking the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram? The response to the judgement that will be delivered by the Allahabad high court today should provide the answer to that question, which is, in this newspaper’s opinion, even more important than the ruling which is certain to be appealed in the Supreme Court—no matter which way it goes.
India in 2010 is a different place than India in 1992. The political, cultural, social and economic fabric of the country has changed. The Bharatiya Janata Party, whose ascent to power in the late 1990s can be attributed to the party’s adoption of the Ram temple cause in the late 1980s, is still around, but arguably weaker (it still won 18.8% of the popular vote but only 116 seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections). The Congress was in power then, and it is the dominant member of the coalition that rules India now (and strangely enough, the party has only gained in power in the second half of this decade, in sharp contrast to the 1990s when it was in decline).
The big difference between 1992 and 2010 is the aspiration of the people. In 1992, satellite television was in its infancy, there were 70 million households with television in India (around two million had access to satellite television), and while India had just decided to openly embrace the free market philosophy of the West, no one knew how this would turn out. Its economy had grown by 1.3%, 5.6%, 6.7%, 10.5% and 3.8% in 1991-92, 1990-91, 1989-90, 1988-89 and 1987-88, respectively. In 2010, India has 134 million households with television (of which 103 million have access to satellite channels) and most Indians not only know how the other half lives—they want to get there. The country’s economy grew 7.4%, 6.8%, 9%, 9.6% and 9.4% in 2009-10, 2008-09, 2007-08, 2006-07 and 2005-06, respectively. There are significant internal challenges the country still faces, such as Naxalism, but these rarely have to do with religion. Indeed, Naxlism’s origin and current popularity are linked to issues that are economic in nature, not religious.
Given this, will Ram still be a polarizing force circa 2010?
What salience does religion have for political life in India? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org