If we take 6 Decemberthe day Babri Masjid was demolished and B.R. Ambedkar's death anniversaryas a symbol which brings back memories, can it help strengthen a political force? Is the potential still there?
The 6th of December has multiple meanings. One meaning is linked with the construction of Ram Mandir at Ayodhya; the other meaning is linked with the Babri Masjid and the third meaning is linked with the death of B.R. Ambedkar.
It bears dual emotion. It produces double memory for people. For some, it is a comfortable memory and for others, it is an uncomfortable memory. Those who have an uncomfortable memory, they want to forget 6 December. Those who have comfortable memories, they want to remember but not continuously —only at special occasions such as a political meeting or a rally or through the media and political mobilization. Through this medium, they remember the occasion. Around the date, political rallies take place, then they remember, but it is not in their continuous memory.
Is there political potential in the issue? If we take 6 December as a symbol which brings back memories, can it help strengthen a political force? Is the potential still there? I believe that yes; it is still a very powerful political symbol for the people. It remains to be seen how powerful it can be made through mobilization. If not, then it will be buried but any mobilization around the date may evoke memories which have a powerful political potential.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has recently announced that it will construct Ram temples across villages. If it builds Ram temples, then this will be a mobilization process. It is not just about making a temple but creating a celebration and thus giving longevity to a memory. This is an example of a mobilization strategy. But even if it does not construct temples, you will find a Ramcharitmanas in every upper caste, OBC (other backward caste)and a few Dalit households. Memory in the form of the book is still there and it is read.
In our fieldwork, we find that most villages organize Ramayan readings through which memories are constructed. In villages, chapters of the Ramayan are portrayed through folk songs and recitals of stories and a popular memory of Ram is being created which takes its own shape, thus making the symbol of Ram more powerful. So even if there isn’t a temple, there is space for Ram’s memories. An image of Ram emerges which may have roots in Ramcharitmanas but it produces a new Ram in the memory of common people. This is more powerful than the textual Ram. During Dussehra, there are plays across villages based on Ramayan and there is theatre based on these stories which also creates a memory of Ram. Through these plays and stories, 6 December is connected to the memory of Ram and becomes more powerful. There is a high mobilization potential.
In cities, there are generations which have no living memory of the incident. Twenty five years later, after the demolition of Babri Masjid, the younger generation does not have any memories, but they are made aware through debates in the media and on social media.
The court is discussing the issue. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has also taken up a discussion on it. There are many developments taking place around it. The Uttar Pradesh chief minister has proposed setting up of Ayodhya as a symbol and has set up a project for the city’s reconstruction. These are related to the symbol of Ram but not from the incidents that took place on 6 December. This date is in our memories for various reasons and holds a lot of political and mobilization potential. It is symbolically connected to Ram and it is a powerful symbol for public memory. When mobilization is added to this, we see the results on the ground.
But it is not the only thing the date is remembered for. 6 December is also linked with Ambedkar’s memory. Dalits across the country remember him and organize discussions on his teachings. This is another space. There is no direct connection between the memories of Ram and Ambedkar. They celebrate Ambedkar through discussions, publishing of popular booklets and pamphlets. Through this, they remember their journey from subordination to emancipation.
Badri Narayan is a professor and director at G.B.Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad.