Back and First Impressions-Ugly Temples


Back in the city after a month long sojourn in India. It was a very exciting trip with work, travel, and family fun thrown in. I will write about it as I sort it out.

I hadn’t been back in four years, and the last time was too full of family events to pay any attention to the place itself, so in effect it was like going back after almost ten years. My first impression, once you bypass the usual–“the place is bursting with people and there are a lot more cars on the streets,” was how many ugly little temples had sprung up on every corner.

My hometown of Dehradun isn’t a big place for religious activities, despite its proximity to major pilgrimage spots, Rishikesh and Hardwar; so it was a little surprising to see so many of these monstrosities in places where I played cricket as a child. And its just not Dehradun, it seems that the VHP plans to install 600,000 Ram statues (and judging by the icons I saw, bound to be ugly) in villages across India, in just such unaesthetic structures I suppose. Anything that creates such ugliness is surely a sign of degradation.

When I spoke to my friends they expressed hope that such a hijacking of public space would come to an end with the defeat of the NDA government, with its history of granting land to ideologically preferred religious groups. However, what was striking in my conversations with my friends was that despite their hope, just how scared they seemed to be, especially if they were non-Hindu. It wasn’t as much as what they said, but how they said it, when I asked about the current political climate, their voices would lower, and they would start looking furtive and uncomfortable. At least a couple of people told me horrible stories….some spoke of migrating, others seemed to have become even more religious than I remembered them. So what is one to make of the NDA defeat in the last election? Radhika Desai has an excellent article in the New Left Review unfortunately it is only available by subscription.

Hindutva Halted? Ambiguous reasons for the unexpected relief of the BJPs ouster in New Delhi: less a clear-cut verdict on Hindutva or neoliberalism than vicissitudes of regional power-broking and first-past-the-post electoral lottery? Congress caught between loyalty to the stock market and pressures of the poor, as it seeks to recover its position as the mainstream reference of Indian capital.

Desai essentially says that the BJP has replaced the Congress as the party of the bourgeoisie, and its defeat is a temporary setback in its fortunes, as the Congress behemoth breathes its last.