A tremendous buzz is spreading across the country over the a statement made by socialist leader and national President of the Samajwadi Party, Akhilesh Yadav. Last month he said that he would build a huge Vishnu temple and a township in the Chambal region across 2,000 acres of land, along the lines of the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia.
And on September 19, the former CM of UP announced his intention to build a magnificent Vishwakarma temple after returning to power in 2022, while addressing a gathering of Vishwakarma community.
This promise to build temple after temple to counter Ram Temple movement of the BJP-RSS is a certain submission to soft-Hindutva politics, according to a large number of observers who see a sudden shift in the political outreach of Samajwadi Party away from perpetual charge of critics over ‘Muslim appeasement’. Whereas Akhilesh’s political friend in the Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, had been busy temple-hopping this past year, not to speak of his stair-trek of Mansarovar recently.
You can’t do away with the temple in Indian politics. You can’t do away with mosques either. With the temple comes the reign of a single dominant-caste priest, and with mosque comes the image of an Imam who is not necessarily from an upper-caste Muslim family. But the priest of a temple in our country is necessarily a Brahmin, barring few exceptions.
Many sympathisers of socialism in India criticised the temple declaration of youth icon and socialist leader Akhilesh Yadav. Their criticism has a certain degree of historical precedence, for the very party Akhilesh heads today was founded by his father Mulayam Singh as a counter-revolution to the rabid Ram Janambhoomi Temple movement of the BJP-RSS. Patriarch Mulayam didn’t declare he would build a mosque, but he did promise to ensure the rebuilding of the Babri Mosque after the structure was demolished in controversial manner, in complete contravention of the Constitutional norms, on 6 December 1992.
Personally, I feel there is nothing wrong with the ‘Temple Rant’ of socialist flagbearer in an election year. In his native village, Saifai, Etawa, Akhilesh already has built a gigantic statue of pastoral deity Lord Krishna. Krishna, as a popular folkloric god, is a strong bulwark to Lord Rama in the popular imagination.
With the politics of the temple, the economy can not be left out. Devotees’s generous offerings must be shared across the caste spectrum. A single-caste monopoly on temple wealth must be challenged now by the socialist stalwarts.
However, the moot point (which socialist forces are slowly and steadily veering towards) is the pressing issue of diversity in the appointment of temple priests, or guardians of the stone deity.
Why can’t Yadav raise the issue of appointing only an Ahir as the chief priest of a Krishna Temple? Similarly, why can’t he raise the issue of appointing only a Vishwakarma fellow as the priest and guardian of the stone deity consecrated in the Vishwakarma Temple?
Will he bite the bait of his large core constituency? It is high time that SC, ST, and OBC communities wage a claim to the ownership or guardianship of temples housing their own caste-born deities. Because not only humans, gods in India also have distinctive caste.