Mainstream, VOL LIII No 27 New Delhi June 27, 2015
BJP’s Dangerous Politics
Monday 29 June 2015
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)