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BJP’s Dangerous Politics / We Must All Resist BJP’s Two-Nation Theory

Sunday 6 April 2014, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

BJP’s Dangerous Politics

One of my earliest reporting experiences was the great Calcutta killing of 1946. Fierce communal passions were unleashed and thousands were done to death on both sides in the course of a couple of days. But behind that gory carnage was the fight for the city of Calcutta: who should get it? Pakistan or India? Religious beliefs are made use of to rouse mass anger among innocent people, but those who whip up such passions do so only for political gains.

In our immediate context, this comes out clearly in the current controversy over the Ram temple and the Babri mosque. Let us look at this question a little carefully. While the place was locked up from 1949—a period of 37 years which has seen the birth of the Jana Sangh and its transformation into the BJP, the rise of the RSS and, in recent times, of the VHP—this issue hardly figured in their activities. Had their hurt and resentment really been as acute as is made out today, why was the campaign not sustained as it has been in the last two years? Had it been a matter of faith, undying faith, why these seasonal vagaries?

Last year when the campaign for building the temple was given an all-India dimension with the sanctified Ram Shila programme, it was obviously part of the preparation for the general election. The BJP National Executive adopted the Ayodhya controversy as a major campaign issue at its Palampur meeting in June 1989, and party President L.K. Advani had quite candidly observed at that time: “I am sure it will translate into votes.”

This time when the decision was taken on September 12 to set out on the rath yatra, the BJP leadership was faced with a severe predica-ment—acute divergence within the party ranks over the implementation of the Mandal report. Some issue to keep the party together was badly needed. Hence the projection of the pilgrim’s progress from Somnath to Ayodhya.

But once the frenzy was roused, the leadership found itself riding a tiger. This explains the rejection of the plea from many quarters to accept the court verdict. As things stood in recent months, the right to build a Ram temple was not questioned: only the clamour to demolish the Babri mosque was disapproved of not only by the government but all parties and a vast section of the Indian public.

The BJP leaders are not even sure about the exact location of the spot where Ram was born. Atal Behari Vajpayee had admitted this as late as on May 17, 1989. But Vajpayee is a bit of a liberal within the BJP. More significantly, Advani himself was reported to have said on September 30 this year in Bombay: “No one can prove that it (the Babri mosque) was the birthplace of Shri Ram”, but he could not wait for the court verdict as he felt it was a matter of “belief”.

Even in the talks in Delhi during the break in his rath yatra, Advani could not agree to the plea that the temple building need not touch the mosque until the court verdict was available. Here is a case of a senior leader who, instead of keeping his flock in harness, coolly passed the buck by asking the government to settle the issue with his fellow-travelling Vishwa Hindu Parishad though he himself was leading the rath yatra.

And what are the credentials of the VHP, whose leader had only last year signed an agreement with the then Home Minister (Buta Singh) specifically promising to abide by the court verdict? Had it just been a question of upholding religious faith, nothing would have been defiled by waiting for the court to decide. What the BJP leadership was confronted with was largely a political problem—how to keep its militant ranks together.

In this the BJP leadership faces a serious dilemma which it has been unable to resolve for a decade: will it grow as a political force wedded to the norms and constraints of parliamentary democracy, or will it get carried along the course of militant Hindu communalism? When the original Jana Sangh merged itself with the Janata Party (its leadership declaring that “we had given up our old beliefs and faiths”) it steadfastly retained its RSS links. The controversy over double membership brought the first rift in the Janata Party.

After the electoral trouncing in 1980, the BJP was officially launched, claiming that its commit-ment to “the concepts of Gandhian socialism and secularism has been total and unequivocal”. But by 1985, the concept of “integral humanism” raised by the Jana Sangh pioneer, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, was superimposed on “Gandhian socialism”. The ideological emphasis was made clear by April 1988, when the idea of “the composite culture” of India was attacked by Advani as “as attempt to disown its essentially Hindu spirit and content”. He was clear that India’s culture is “essentially a Hindu culture”. And so one comes to the current battlecry for the establishment of Hindutva.

Side by side has come the open recognition of the VHP, among others, as “the sister organi-sations” which, it is openly asserted, are “all based on the inspiration from the RSS”. And along with it has come the welcome entente with the Shiv Sena. In other words, the BJP leadership has both ideologically and politically taken to the path of Hindu orthodoxy, giving up all pretence of striving to emerge as the leader of India’s pluralist entity.

This theocratic approach is very dangerous. Vishwanath Pratap Singh clearly stated in his broadcast to the nation on October 22: “Now the argument is being raised that my religion and my faith is above the rule of law and the provision of the Constitution. If we accept this argument, then we will be laying the foundation stone of a theocratic state.”

Whatever his virulent critics and adversaries may say, this warning by Vishwanath Pratap Singh can be ignored only at the cost of subverting our democracy.

(The Sunday Times, October 28, 1990)

We Must All Resist BJP’s Two-Nation Theory

Ayodhya has become the epicentre of a cyclone that threatens to spell disaster for the political fabric of this country. For the fourth year now, it has virtually taken over the centre-stage of national politics.

What has been achieved so far is that actual confrontation is averted almost at the very last moment by a desperate move to buy time, so that a little more space may be available to tackle the dipute over the question of the proposed Ram Mandir, requiring the pulling down of the Babri Masjid structure. The strategy so far pursued has been the insistence on the part of the government—initiated by Chandra Shekhar and pursued meticulously by Narasimha Rao—for dialogue between the two contending parties which, if fruitless, would be referred to the judiciary for the final verdict. As a part of this exercise, the government arranged for the meeting between the representatives of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the All-India Babri Masjid Action Committee alongwith some of the Ministers, which took place twice in October, and for the last time on November 8.

However, this approach could not be pursued because of the intransigence of a section of the militant Hindu camp represented by the VHP and its allies threatening to resume kar seva from December 6, which would have meant the defiance of the existing court ban on all construction in the area under dispute.

On the issue of leaving the entire question to a judicial verdict, the BJP has so far taken an ambivalent position. Without categorically stating whether it would either accept or reject any court verdict on the dispute, it raises the point that in matters of faith, one cannot take the court as the final arbiter. The VHP goes further and makes it clear that court verdict or not, it would not budge from its clamour to pull down the Babri structure. In recent days, some of the pronouncements of the VHP leaders have a disturbing ring—neither the tenets of the Constitution nor of any verdict by the judiciary could come in the way of faith. In other words, they insist on having their way without any compromise.

The Prime Minister’s position so far has been unexceptionable in upholding the role ofthe judiciary as the arbiter of disputes between citizens, and reminding the country about the injunction of our democratic Constitution guaranteeing the rights of the minorities. He reiterated this in Parliament on July 27, 1992, and repeated it in his address to the nation on August 15, that his party and government stood “for the construction of the temple without dismantling the mosque” at Ayodhya. Here is the precise parameter of any and every initiative for the settlement of the dispute at Ayodhya.

Rich Coexistence

If one were to present the reality that India is today, it is not the Ayodhya dispute or the historicity of any particular structure. The fact of the matter is that in thousands of villages and towns of this country, millions of people belonging to different communities, Hindus and Muslims, have since centuries lived and still live together in peace and amity.

Neither our politicians nor our media brings out this abiding reality. Only when there is tension or a clash does it become news. What is very often forgotten is that in the rich soil of our motherland there has sprouted a remarkable unfolding of a composite culture as the fruit of a thousand years of Hindu-Muslim encounter and the coexistence of these alongwith other faiths. There are countless symbols, rituals, shrines, epics and poems underlining this rich coexistence.

If one goes to the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, one of the most important centres of pilgrimage in south India, before one approaches the deity, Lord Ayappa, one visits the shrine of Vavar Sami, a Muslim saint, where a Muslim priest applies vibhuti on the foreheads of pilgrims destined for Sabarimala. Pilgrimage to Amarnath in distant north is made possible by the ready hospitality of Muslim villagers all along the route, while one-third of the proceeds from the temple goes to the family of Adam Malik who, hundreds of years ago, found the holy cave.

Turn to literature. The first great epic in Avadhi, the language in which Tulsidas wrote his Ramayana, was by Malik Mohammad Jaise. Ostensibly, it is a love story of Ratan Sen and Padmavati, but actually full of mystic thoughts and images like those of Krishna and Arjun recurring in the text. Abdul Rahim Khanekhana was in continuous correspondence with Tulsidas and the two influenced each other considerably. Abdul Rahim’s Sanskrit verses in praise of Lord Rama remain the high point of devotional poetry. Even a Persian poet like Ali Hazeem loved Benaras so much that he settled there and wrote gloriously of our composite culture. Poet Iqbal described Rama as the “Imam of Hindustan”. Greater devotional poetry was seldom written than by Syed Ibrahim Raskhan in Brajbhasha. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the whole school of Vaishnav saint poets influenced many Muslims to write in their idiom. To this day, Oriyas sing Muslim poet Salbeg’s lyrics to welcome Lord Jagannath.

There’s Much that Binds

Turn to music, Alauddin Khan was Ali Akbar Khan’s father and Ravi Shankar’s father-in-law. His house in Maihar has images of Saraswati. He regularly visited the nearby Sharada temple. Visit Mallikarjun Mansur’s house in Dharwad and the most prominent picture adorning the walls is that of his guru, Alladiya Khan, Gangu Bai Hangal in Hubli has Abdul Karim Khan’s picture next to her pooja. Here again the interaction is continuous and the list could fill many pages.

At the level of popular religions, visit Goga Merhi in Ganganagar, Rajasthan—the structure is both a temple and a mosque. “Praise be to Allah” is carved on the gate of the temple and an idol in the inner chamber of the mosque. The pujari of this temple-mosque is Khushi Mohammad. At Pirana, 18 kilometres outside Ahmedabad, is the shrine of Imamshah Baba looked after entirely by Hindu Patels. Imamshah Baba preached that Mohammad was an incarnation of Krishna.

Not just shrines; what about the living traditions? The Manganiar singers of Jaisalmer are Muslims but to this day they sing Meera Bai, Balleh Shah and Shah Abdul Latif in the same concert. Meos of Bharatpur are Muslims tracing descent from Arjun and Bhim. When they sing of Ali, the Prophet’s cousin, Ali emerges as a folk hero from Alwar-Bharatpur.

There is too much that binds us. We have to keep constantly reminding our people of these wonderful symbols of our unity, defying all philistinism. A glimpse of all this, incidentally, I have learnt from a rather underplayed Doordarshan programme produced by the very perceptive media practitioner, Saeed Naqvi. But curiously, the Doordarshan authorities did not care to pursue this programme with all their loud talk of national integration.

Nor have our political parties been campai-gning on a national scale for Hindu-Muslim amity. Barring Mani Shankar Aiyar’s solitary venture of Ram-Rahim yatra—which also did not get the publicity it deserved—why is it that no political leader has undertaken a pilgrimage for communal harmony? If the venom of the so-called two-nation theory led to India’s partition, let not the hangover of the same pernicious theory lead to the desecration of the very integrity of our motherland. Ashok Singhal and his comrades in VHP will resent, but the fact of the matter is that what they are trying to enforce today is the assertion of that same two-nation theory.

(The Pioneer, November 25, 1992)