August 5: Shifting the discourse from Kashmir to Ram Mandir

Killing two birds with one stone: Not just a date, but a well-planned move by Narendra Modi


August 6, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

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Ram Mandir

Prime Minister Narendra Modi prays before laying the foundation stone of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya on August 5

The decision to organise the bhoomi-pujan for the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya on August 5, first anniversary of clampdown in Jammu & Kashmir, is a well-thought out and strategic move by the BJP to shape the political agenda of the country over years to come.

Last year, at the stroke of the midnight on August 5, while the world was fast asleep, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir was put under a complete clampdown, with telephone and internet cut off and thousands of political and social activists locked up and the former princely state was split and it also lost its special status within India as the government abrogated Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that guaranteed J&K’s special status.

Fast forward to August 5, 2020. Now, not just Jammu & Kashmir, but the entire country is under a lockdown that has lasted nearly five months, and as the citizens began feeling the pain that the residents of J&K, notably the 7 million residents of the Kashmir valley had been going through for a year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi changes the discourse of the entire nation and diverts people’s attention by organising the Bhumi Pujan (laying the foundation stone) of the Ram Lalla Mandir in Ayodhya, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Even though the entire ceremony lasting hours was telecast live from Ayodhya by national broadcaster Doordarshan, almost all major television news channels joined in the live telecast with their anchors dressed in traditional clothes. Throughout the day, right from early morning, a majority of these news channels failed to cover any other news from anywhere else in the country or from around the world. Such was the craze for covering the PM and the temple that for a large part of the day, they seemed to have forgotten that the novel coronavirus pandemic was rapidly spreading in India, with nearly 52,000 new infections every day and the total death toll exceeding 40,000, the fifth largest in the world. Most of them also gave a complete miss to the developments in Kashmir or mark the first anniversary of the clampdown that has continued since.

Ultimately, it seems that even Modi or his Bharatiya Janata Party was surprised by how completely they and the Ram Mandir had captured the attention of the entire nation that day. So much so that even the Opposition parties failed to raise issues like the pandemic, the economic meltdown or Kashmir. Twitter handles of almost all these parties were just spouting messages about Lord Ram and His importance for the entire country.

And towards the end of the day, just as the attention of the nation was moving back to current affairs, the government released a series of PR videos on social media platforms as well as various television channels, Deepening Democracy in Jammu and Kashmir with the hashtag #OneYearOfDevelopment. The videos were duly posted by all the Indian missions around the world in an attempt to take the new discourse on Kashmir far beyond the Indian borders as well.

But just as in any other propaganda, the parroted narrative comprised half-truths and utter lies. While the situation in Jammu and Ladakh has improved considerably over the year, the Kashmir valley continues to be under a clampdown even now. It is difficult to see any economic revival in the region with not only a tense face-off and frequent clashes between protestors and the security forces, regular attacks by terrorists and lack of basic infrastructure such as telecom and internet as the government remains reluctant to reactivate 4G mobile services in the valley.

And since late March, the entire region has been under a complete lockdown following the coronavirus pandemic. At a time when even peaceful and very well developed states like Maharashtra or Tamil Nadu have been recording free falls in their economies, it would take a huge stretch of imagination to see any real development on the ground in J&K and its benefits to the common people. Even the schools, that had remained shut since last year and had barely begun reopening earlier this year, have been shut, with only a handful showing signs of a revival in the past fortnight.

But the reality on the ground has never really bothered this government, which has for long perfected the art of using social media to not only propogate fake news, but repeat it often enough to make most people believe. Just as George Orwell had portrayed in his epic novel, 1984. Hence, it was no surprise that on August 5, too, the takeover of the social media and national attention by Modi was complete. In 2019, August 5, #Blackday was the most trending hashtag on Twitter in India. However, on August 5, 2020, Modi’s well-planned move to organise the Bhumi Pujan on the same day has historically wiped off the J&K crisis from people’s mind. From now on, an overwhelming majority of Indians will not remember August 5 as the date on which democracy was murdered, but as the day when the construction of the long-awaited yet highly controversial Ram Mandir began.

At the ceremony, in his speech Modi said, “Pura Bharat aaj bhavuk hai, sadiyon ka intezaar aaj samapt ho raha hai” (The entire nation is emotional today. The wait of many centuries is ending today).

Indeed, the entire nation was emotional. A large majority of the people because the foundation stone had finally been laid for the construction of a temple that they have long-cherished and sought. But right amongst them and in the Kashmir valley, there were others who had turned emotional because somewhere else in India, democracy was dying and not many Indians seemed to be bothered.

The events of August 5, 2020 also serve as a reminder to Kashmiris and human rights activists in India and overseas that their wait for resurrection of democracy in the ‘Paradise on Earth’ will be a very long one.



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