Rebuilding the Political Temple – Kedarnath

Survivor’s Accounts

KEDARNATH – “There were just dead bodies, in front of the temple and all along the market, just bodies. No shop was intact. The structures had fallen as if some invisible hand had touched it with great force. There was only mud, boulders and huge stones. The bustling market place had turned into a cremation ground,” said Raj Kishore Trivedi who was rescued on June 19 from Kedarnath – the worst hit area of the North India floods.

“It was like a cremation ground. I find it difficult to sleep thinking about those bodies and the damage. I don’t know whether I will ever be alright or I will be able to live a normal life. I wonder whether I will ever be able to smile. I don’t know, let’s see,” said his 25-year-old son Sandeep Trivedi.

Radha Mohan Soni, one of the forty stranded at Bharatpur House lodge, spent three days without food. They collected rainwater, which they distributed among themselves through bottle caps. Each individual got one cap full of water twice daily.

Fifteen-year-old Pradyumna Toshniwal died for want of food and water in Rambada, near Kedarnath. Noticing that the boy’s condition was worsening, his father Purushottam gave one lakh rupees to a local to arrange for food and water. The local vanished with the money.

Sanjay Jat’s three-year-old nephew, Om, had gone missing in the commotion. “We were supposed to leave the village the next morning, but when we did not find Om, we had to extend our stay and offer a reward to the local residents for locating him,” said Sanjay. “Immediately after we started making inquiries and offering money, a man came to us with Om and demanded Rs. 5,000. We offered him Rs. 500 because we did not have sufficient money with us. But the man was adamant and refused to let go of the boy,” he added. The boy was finally handed over to the family after they paid Rs. 1,500.

Politicians & Histories Speak

NEW DELHI – “Gujarat is ready to take the responsibility of rebuilding the Kedarnath temple complex with state-of-the-art technology in such a way that it will never crumble like it has now,” said Gujarat Chief Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Narendra Modi. “We have enough experience of rebuilding a township after a natural disaster. We did that after the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat,” he added.

Uttarkhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said, “Kedarnath temple, or any other religious site in Uttarakhand, is not a political issue for us; it is an emotional issue. It is our pride and we will rebuild all these sites. Any help towards this cause on humanitarian grounds is welcome, but playing temple politics for political gains is not appreciated.

“Uttarakhand is known as ‘Veer Bhoomi’ (land of the brave) and ‘Dev Bhoomi’ (abode of Gods). We are brave and capable enough to face the crisis and rebuild the Dev Bhoomi.”

When asked by The Economic Times reporter, “Why did you reject Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s offer to help rebuild the Kedarnath temple? You had yourself said the disaster was “colossal” for a tiny state with an annual budget of just Rs. 25,000 crore and limited manpower,” Bahuguna said, “Help will be taken from every quarter to rebuild the state. But one needs to have one’s priorities right. Our first priority is to rescue, provide relief and rehabilitate those who have been affected. As I mentioned earlier, the pristine and holy temple of Kedarnath resonates in the spirit of our state. We will build the temple ourselves with active support from the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) and other institutions.”

Bahuguna’s contradictory statements tell that his state has no money, so he will accept help. But again, his state is too brave and ‘godly’ to require help. Yet he will accept help, but only from those with a ‘pure’ motive. Conveniently for Bahuguna, those with ‘impure’ motives only belong to the opposition.

Like Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has stated, it is true that “The time is not right… There is no hurry in talking about the reconstruction of the Kedarnath temple.” But in Indian politics, the early bird catches the worm. The first to react is the only one remembered. Modi was also the first national leader to talk about the floods and the first to undertake a widely-publicised aerial survey of the affected areas.

The dead with be forgotten, but the rebuilder of the Kedarnath temple – a revered site among India’s one billion Hindus – will go down in the proverbial books of history.

Religion forms the bedrock of Indian politics. Independence from Britain was itself accompanied by partition of the subcontinent into a Hindu-majority – yet secular – India and a new Muslim Pakistan, amidst mass displacement and bloodshed between the two religious groups.

The former deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani had launched the BJP’s revival in the late 1980s by demanding the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. This was to be done by destroying the Muslim mosque that was present there, the mosque being seen as a hated symbol of Muslim Mughal rule. This mosque in turn was allegedly built on the ruins of the birthplace of Lord Rama.

Advani’s demands eventually fuelled Hindu zealots to demolish the mosque, resulting in a bloodbath in Mumbai and elsewhere. The party has since then kept rekindling political fires of Hindutva by focusing on mosques in Varanasi, Mathura and several other Hindu holy places.

The BJP however is not the only party coddling religious sentiments for easy votes. In Punjab and the Delhi-Haryana region, the Akali Dal is a Sikhism-centric political party. Muslims have their religious political fronts in Assam, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.

“They, by definition, have no concern for people other than their own co-religionists. For want of a genuine political, social and economic agenda, they pander to the lowest common denominator, fueling religion as the main source of identity, overcoming classical stratifications of caste and class, in their own pursuit of political power,” states National Integration Council member and All India Christian Council General secretary John Dayal.

“Ironically, India’s election code specifically bans the use of religion in elections. This law is routinely broken. Almost no one complains, because almost everyone banks on religion to win an election,” he adds.

Mani Shankar Aiyar, a member of the Congress in Rajya Sabha, states that most countries in the Indian subcontinent “have no difficulty in accepting majoritarianism as the basis of their nationhood.” With 85% of the population being Hindu, the strongest majoritarian sentiments in India are religious.

Therefore, it is no surprise that Congress-leader Bahuguna stands so staunchly in the way of Modi, the leader of a not-so-secular BJP. Amidst all this politicking, the traumatising suffering of the victims and survivors of the massive disaster seems to have become a distant, surreal thing – a loss that is known but never felt.

Suryatapa MukherjeeCorrespondent (Asia: South)

Originally published on The Global Panorama:


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