A burst of smoke engulfs much of a lopsided image. Men appear to run behind the grey haze, donning scarves of a bright saffron colour. The same hue shimmers on the sun-lit flags plonked in the background. It might seem like any other image of communal violence under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reign, if it were not for the firecrackers visible towards its lower half and a poster of the deity Ram emerging from behind the fumes.
The image was made on 22 January, capturing celebrations of the consecration of a Ram temple in Ayodhya that day, outside the Bharatiya Janata Party’s headquarters in Mumbai. The scene could well be from any part of India in the third week of January; in many pockets of the country, the colour saffron with a photo of Ram and the words “Jai Shri Ram” appeared omnipresent—etched on every conceivable surface, from the arms of youth to the insides of the Mughal-era Safdarjung’s Tomb. Saffron flags were a hallmark of the jubilation, fluttering on rickshaws, cars and trucks; hoisted on tents, on balconies, in homes and offices. Hindu nationalism’s triumph was inescapable. Even regions that have seen aggressive opposition to the ideology, such as Punjab, Kashmir and West Bengal, also saw some event to mark the day.