New Delhi: This enactment of Ramayana, as if on cue, started precisely at the point Prime Minster Narendra Modi left the narrative this Vijayadashmi.
Even the political symbolism in the choice of venue - India Islamic Centre in Delhi - matched PM’s presence at the Aishbagh Ramlila in Lucknow earlier this week. Completing the allegorical ensemble was the cultural troupe from the country with the largest Muslim population: Indonesia.
The evening performance started with Sita Haran- the kidnapping of Sita. The aged Jatayu- vulture demigod - fights till the very last. He’s the first one to take on the Ravana, the first line of defence against terror- is probably what the Prime Minister meant- his speech replete with imagery and metaphors when he spoke in Lucknow this Tuesday.
But this Indonesian Ramlila has no dialogues. The expression and stage movement of artists tell the story. Only a background score keeps pace with the fast changing drama on stage.
“The message is for our neighbours. Indonesia is a Muslim country and like India all religions are respected there," says Shiram Joshi, closely associated with the function.
Performed by Bali Ranganiketan Cultural Artists, the programme was organised by three NGOs. Under the magnificent dome of the Islamic Cultural Centre this Friday evening, they all sat- foreign diplomats, ochre robed saadhus, Maulanas in shin-length Aligari pyjama. And they all waited with patience. The chief guest was stuck in a traffic snarl on his way from Mewat in adjoining Haryana.
Almost an hour after the stipulated time- Indresh Kumar took his place on the podium and the proceedings began. On his right sat NSA Ajit Doval’s son Shaurya, and alumnus of Chicago University. He, like BJP leader Ram Madhav, is now actively associated with the right-wing think tank India Foundation.
Indresh, a member of the RSS national executive, has been active as pracharak in border states including Jammu and Kashmir. Of late, he and his Muslim Rashtriya Manch have been working among religious minorities.
In his inaugural address, the RSS leader elaborates on Ramlila and its importance in the current context. Pakistan was born on the 14th of August, he says. India, that is Bharat, has had an eternal existence.
In contemporary politics, Indian Muslim or Muslim India was a debate which was started by All India Babri Masjid Action Committee leader Syed Shahabuddin at the peak of the Ram Temple Movement in the late eighties. India Islamic Centre precedes that. Indian Gandhi laid the foundation of the centre just before her assassination in 1984. She had intervened to name it thus as against the proposal to establish an Islamic India Centre in Delhi. Twenty two years later her daughter-in-law, Sonia Gandhi inaugurated the building in 2006.
The temple movement was led by Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Its political benefits accrued on the BJP. The title suit is pending in the Supreme Court. The Uniform Civil Code - part of BJP’s original agenda along with Article 370 - has however resurfaced this autumn. The government has already filed an affidavit stating its view on triple talaaq. Thirty years back, a Congress government at the Centre was caught in a quagmire spiralling out of the Shah Bano Case.
On the sidelines of the function, Indresh Kumar speaks about all these issues.
“The Muslim religious leaders should first try to arrive at a consensus among various groups," he says. “It is a matter related to the rights of eight crore Muslim women in the country."
It’s been a rather eclectic evening. The traffic outside on the Lodhi Road whizzes past as guests leave the venue.
After a long summer one can feel a perceptible nip in the Delhi air.