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Somnath ban: Religious cause and political timing. News broke when Amit Shah had been camping in Gujarat


By RK Misra*
Deceit enchants even as cynicism is an unpleasant way of saying the truth. The manner in which the Somnath Trust went about banning the entry of non-Hindus without permission, into the Gujarat-based Somnath temple last week represents the tip of the proverbial iceberg of conspiratorial planning. And cynical as it may sound, there is need to put the truth, or the lack of it, in proper perspective.
The Somnath temple is one of the ancient temples of India and is first among the 12 Adi Jyotirlings.It enjoys unparalleled piety and position in the faith .Thus, anything here or about touches the faith immensely, and therefore the importance of a religious decision that impacts politics in much more than a passing manner.
Comparisons may be odious but analysis can be instructive. First, the timings. Whether by coincidence or by planning, the newsbreak of the Somnath temple ban comes in close proximity to two major developments on the Indian national stage. First, off course is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s take on the religious freedom guaranteed in the Constitution to all citizens being non-negotiable, the ‘unfortunate’ nature of the controversial remarks of some of his own and his forthright affirmation that discrimination or communal violence will not be tolerated.
Modi is a master of cause and effect timing. Thus, his interview to the UNI was perfectly placed. His has been a long-pause silence over the controversial statements by his own partymen and the similar lack of a reaction to the communal violence in Haryana where his own party government headed by his own choice, holds fort.
And then comes the Somnath newsbreak. The Shri Somnath Trust (STT), a religious trust, which manages the temple, puts up three public notices at the main entrance and Digvijay Dwar last week, which directs that non-Hindus will have to seek permission to enter the temple. STT has eight trustees, four nominated by the state government and an equal number by the Central government.
Keshubhai Patel, the first BJP Chief Minister of Gujarat is the chairman, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former deputy Prime Minister LK Advani and former Gujarat chief secretary PK Leheri are amongst its trustees. The Prime Minister has a decisive say in all important matters concerning Gujarat.
K Kailashnathan, a retired senior IAS officer who headed the CMO during Modi’s tenure in the state continues to do duty at the same post even in the Anandiben Patel government. He is the eyes and ears of Modi in Gujarat amongst numerous others in and outside the government. It goes without saying that no one has the temerity to take such a decision without his knowledge.
A limited purpose interest for the Patel government in Gujarat, which is reported to have moved in the matter, is that the state will have local self government body elections in the state soon and Patel would like to re-affirm that the unstated commitment of her predecessor is being made more matter of fact under the present administration. But more about it some other time.
For the subject under discussion, the timing says its own tale, more so as it comes at a time when the media is hit by the ‘Maggi-mania’. From the frying pan into the fire, the media is already going overboard with the epochal ‘Dacca development’ and the ‘Mynmar foray’, so the Somnath temple issue after a few grunts and groans is set to be forgotten.
Was it without reason that BJP president Amit Shah had been camping in Gujarat for three days -- when the news broke -- for the ostensible reason of the forthcoming civic polls, which are still faraway? Is it also another coincidence that food minister Ram Vilas Paswan arrived in Ahmedabad immediately after to address the media on Maggi and touched on Somnath to soothe some ruffled feathers?
The reason cited for the discriminatory notice is security and to protect the sanctity of the famous Shiva temple. Such a fear did not move Modi when he ruled the state for over 12 long years. This period saw the post-Godhra statewide violence in 2002 and the terrorist attack on the Akshardham temple the same year, besides the 2008 Ahmedabad serial blasts, to name a few. These were serious incidents in the life of Gujarat and not a mere perceived threat. The conclusion is obvious.
Diversions abound. The sudden comeuppance of the Ram Mandir included. The fact is that Hindu hardliners have for long been pressing for a signal step that forcefully puts forth the commitment of a Sangh-supervised government. This is one such move in true Modi style with all the safeguards of fallout control in place.
This is just like the ‘ghar-wapsi’ issue in which the media was taken for a merry ride. It is well known that the ‘ghar-wapsi’ programme of the Sangh Parivar has been going on for long, shrouded in serene silence. It was high profiled during Modi rule at the Sangh’s behest merely to initiate a public debate on a law on religious conversion.
That the Somnath agenda of those at the helm of affairs is distinct from the approach of the numerous other Hindu places of worship in the state was brought out by two Hindu reporters of an Ahmedabad tabloid, who went around temples in the town posing as a Muslim couple. Almost all of them, including the famous Jagannath temple of Ahmedabad and the Gurudwara Gobinddham, treated the couple with warmth and offered them ‘prasad’.
Their report in their newspaper (Ahmedabad Mirror), in graphic detail, spoke a heartwarming tale of the breadth and depth of the real Hindu faith and the politics laced agenda that is sought to be pursued for polarisation purposes.
Though the Maggi controversy is not the subject of this piece, there is an interesting aside, which one would like to relate. According to a report, Nestle, which owns the brand, has hired US lobbying and Public Relations firm APCO World to ‘reinstate’ its reputation.
Interestingly, the Modi government in Gujarat had hired the same firm in 2009 as the official relationship partner for its Vibrant Gujarat Global Investor Summit 2011 and 2013 as well. APCO will now work to suture Nestle’s injured image with the Modi establishment in India. As is often said, executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work!
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*Senior journalist. This article has also appeared in http://wordsmithsandnewsplumbers.blogspot.in/

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