‘What is happening in Ayodhya is not an event related to one religion. The overwhelming number of Indians who otherwise subscribe to different religious practices, accept Lord Ram as an Ideal worth emulating.’


New Delhi: Ahead of the shilanyas for the Ram Temple at Ayodhya on Wednesday, 5 August, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan spoke exclusively to The Sunday Guardian on a host of issues. Excerpts:

Q: The shilanyas of Ram Temple is going to be held on 5 August. How significant is the event in your opinion? Do you think this is going to be a turning point in Indian history?

A: The significance of the event is that an issue that had become a source of agitation and tension for more than a century and had created a lot of bad blood and animosity among the communities, now stands peacefully resolved. We had enough of conflicts, we need peace and harmony. I hope that now instead of turning on one another, we shall turn to each other and shall devote our energies to build a better future.

Q: On the issue of Prime Minister Narendra Modi going for the shilanyas, Opposition parties allege it will adversely affect the secular fabric of society. What is your opinion on it?

A: We must understand that Indian secularism is not a political theory imported from the West; rather the term has been used to describe the Indian way of life that is based on Bahudha culture which is more than five millennia old. Our secularism is deeply rooted in the principle of universal acceptance and respect for all traditions and all denominations. It does not imply distancing, instead it means promoting harmony not only among individuals but also among various religious traditions.

Swami Vivekananda says that: “The essence of Vedanta is that there is but one Being and that every soul is that Being in full, not a part of that Being”.

So it is clear that Indian culture of Bahudha is not defined by religion but it is defined by Spirit (आत्मा) which means it has room for various religious beliefs and denominations. Showing respect to various faiths and religious beliefs springs from an Indian ethos, it does not weaken Indian secularism. What is happening in Ayodhya is not an event related to one religion (पंथ). The overwhelming number of Indians who otherwise subscribe to different religious practices accept Lord Ram as an Ideal worth emulating (मर्यादा पुरुषोत्तम). So more than religious, Ram is the civilizational and cultural icon of India. Can any government in a democracy anywhere in the world disassociate itself from promoting its own culture and civilization?

I will give an example. Soon after freedom, Indian national institutions like Parliament, Supreme Court, Defence Forces, universities etc started adopting their mottos. More than 99% of these mottos are phrases from the Vedas and Upanishads. Now the question is whether theses mottos show religious bias of the decision makers? No, rather these phrases contain Indian ancient wisdom and they are highly inspiring. They articulate and represent Indian culture and civilization.

To give you another example. If you go to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, they have a huge statue of Krishna Arjun Samvad just outside the Presidential Palace. Ask any Indonesian and say to him that you are Muslim, but this statue is a Hindu icon, you will be surprised that almost everyone gives the same reply. An Indonesian would say: “Of course, we are Muslims, but this is our culture.” It is this attachment to their culture that the Indonesian airline is named as Garuda and they have picture of Ganapati on their currency notes. The Indonesians who send the largest contingent of Hajis to Makka every year do not equate religion with culture. They do not suffer from any confusion—अनेक चित्त विभ्रान्त—but surprisingly we still have people who equate culture with religion because they look at things from western or Semitic frame of reference which uses religion or race to define a culture or civilization.

Q: Do you think the issue took too much time to be resolved?

A: A problem not addressed in time often becomes a crisis. It has happened in so many cases including Ayodhya. But now that a solution has been found, instead of ruminating about the past, the need is to move on.

Q: Even now, Congress leader Kapil Sibal wanted on record that the judgement should be delayed, but the government wanted a timely disposal of the case and finally the judgement was delivered by the Supreme Court and there was no violence, no agitation by any of the stakeholders. What, in your opinion, made this big difference?

A: I do not wish to comment on what individuals are saying.

But the fact remains that the judgement of the Supreme Court came as a relief and people of India generally welcomed it. Now, the need of the hour is to stop looking at the issue from a sectarian viewpoint and join together in something which is a celebration of Indian culture.

Q: Do you think it would have been better had the issues been resolved through negotiations?

A: I have already said that if problems are not addressed promptly, then over time they become complex.

Q: The Rajiv Gandhi government got the locks of Ram Janmabhumi opened. But yet the issue lingered on for so many years. Why could not the Congress government solve the issue?

A: The unlocking in 1986 was organised to manage the adverse fallout of the government decision to reverse the judgement of the Supreme Court in the Shah Bano case on the demand of the Personal Law Board. The purpose was to divert attention from the abject surrender of the government before divisive and violent threats. The purpose was not to solve the problem. I am in no position to tell you why the then government did not attempt to resolve this issue.

Q: Will this put to rest other similar issues of Kashi and Mathura?

A: India is the world’s largest democracy. We are a rule of law society. We have strong institutions and their role is defined by the Constitution and the laws. We must have confidence in these institutions instead of indulging in a guessing game.

Q: You have worked with Rajiv Gandhi and now you are working with Narendra Modi, the two most important leaders associated with the Ram Temple. What kind of difference do you see in their leadership?

A: I believe that comparisons are always odious and misleading and I avoid doing such things.

Yes, about Sri Narendra Modi I can say that there is one feature which I find highly refreshing. He seems to care more for harmony of mind and thought, rather than demand personal loyalty. After he was elected Prime Minister, I met him barely three times and one meeting was held after I wrote to him about the need to enact a law to ensure implementation of the judgement of the Supreme Court on the issue of triple divorce. With so little personal or political interaction, it was beyond my imagination that the Prime Minister can show so much trust as to ask me to shoulder some important responsibility.