By: Ding Gang Source: Global Times Published: 2019-11-13
The Indian Supreme Court's decision on Saturday made history by clearing the decks for the construction of a Hindu temple by giving the ownership of a disputed plot of land at Ayodhya in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh to Hindus.
This site is regarded as the birthplace of Hindu God Ram who is revered across the country as the hero of the eponymous epic Ramayan. However, before 1992, it was where the Babri Masjid (mosque named after founder of the Mughal dynasty, Babur) - built in 1528 - stood. Surrounding the mosque in the pilgrim town are plenty of religious sites for Hindus and Muslims.
The two sides have fiercely fought over the site for decades. Their widespread conflict reached a climax on December 6, 1992, when a group of Hindu activists demolished the historical mosque. It sparked nationwide riots between Hindus and Muslims and the communal carnage took the lives of around 2,000 people. Since then, the incident has been a communal flash point in multi-religious India keeping successive governments on tenterhooks.
Although some Muslims believe the verdict on Saturday is "a victory of faith over facts," the general reaction of Indian society has been relatively calm. Accused of trying to vitiate the atmosphere through social media posts, 77 people have been arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police.
If it does not lead to major communal conflicts in the long term, the verdict will have a marked influence on the country and is of historical significance for the stability of India.
However, it may not completely do away with the acrimony between the two religions.
Since independence in 1947, India's history has been checkered by religious conflicts, becoming an obstacle to the country's progress. It has been one of the main reasons why successive Indian governments failed to achieve the goal of national modernization.
Without a harmonious society with a common national identity, the government finds it hard to exercise executive force.
The Indian political system is based on the one left behind by British colonists. Seven decades of post-independence rule shows that this system is not capable of building a unified national identity among all ethnic groups and religions in India. Its success is only to put different religions and ethnicities in one system, diverse and splintered.
Since current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office, he has used the power of Hinduism to attract people, win support, deepen their sense of identity, and augment authority. This practice has led to rising religious nationalism in India, which further increased the divide among religions.
The court's decision will help consolidate Modi's support, with the possibility of the move seen as a victory for Hinduism, which may make the believers of other religions, especially Islam, feel vulnerable.
This easily brings to mind the sensitive issue of the revocation of the special status of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state.
Now the Indian government needs to ensure the coexistence of multiple religions through additional policies under the framework of existing laws, rather than work to blindly strengthen the Hindu sense of identity.
Most experts who study India think that the main problem the country faces is its economy. India's economy has not changed from walking to running, but slowed down this year as growth slipped to a six-year low of 5 percent in the April-June quarter of 2019.
Some experts suggest that Modi's policy should shift from focusing more on Hinduism to consolidating the voter base and concentrating on the economy. However, for a country with a history of long-standing ethnic and religious conflicts, it may be more important to eliminate the existing problems that could widen communal rifts.
The question right now is, can India open the door to peace and harmony among different religions and lay a more stable social foundation for its development by strengthening the Hindu identity? The trouble with Modi is that it might not be the right key to open the door.
The author is a senior editor with People's Daily, and currently a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.