In spite of his myriad shortcomings, Winston Churchill could turn a good phrase. So, he said after Britain won the Second World War, “In War, Resolution; In Defeat, Defiance; In Victory, Magnanimity; and In Peace, Good Will.” Now that the BJP has won its 75-year old campaign for building a temple for Bhagwan Shri Ram at Ayodhya where He is said to have been born it should pay heed to Churchill, especially the last two exhortations. Magnanimity and goodwill should guide it in what is an absolutely watershed moment for the country.

There are three mutually complementary ways in which it can do this. This requires a prior recognition that the Constitutional, political and social aspects do not collide with each other. Absolutely the first step must be to allay fears that the opening of the temple might presage the announcement that India will have a state religion, namely, Hinduism. Or to put differently, Hindu Rashtra. Although this would require amendments to the Constitution that are mostly unlikely to get the required degree of support from the States, it’s nevertheless necessary that the BJP explicitly assure the country that it will not campaign for such a change. As so many countries have witnessed, and studies have shown, a state religion yields no positive benefits except politically and that too in an electoral sense. But the negative aspects easily outweigh these benefits.

From this flows the second aspect, namely, how to conduct politics. As long as the temple hadn’t been built, the BJP chose to use religion as an instrument to win elections taking advantage of the Congress’ minority appeasement politics. It justified this by conflating Hindu culture with Hindu religion and saying at the same time that Hinduism was a way of life that subscribed to the sarva dharma sambhava formulation of secularism rather than dharma nirapekshata. The hidden meaning was that the state will allow all religions but won’t promise neutrality. The BJP now needs to tell all Indians, through words and deeds, that it guarantees neutrality. Nothing less will meet the criterion of ‘In Victory, Magnanimity’. Thirdly, while the constitutional and political aspects can be easily distinguished and separated, the social and political aspects can’t. India is socially very diverse and Hindu society is even more diverse. This diversity should not be weaponised by politicians who call for unity at the national level and exploit it at the social level. Those who call for communal harmony can’t simultaneously deepen caste fault lines.

India is thus at an inflection point where its politicians must manage the change that has come about in society and politics as a result of the RSS-BJP worldview. This has held that Hindus are in a majority and yet somehow victimised. An impression should not gain ground that it’s the turn of the Hindus now to cow down fellow citizens whose religious preferences are different. Vasudhaiva kutambakam surely must begin at home.

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