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Mainstream, VOL LV No 20 New Delhi May 6, 2017

Instability Intensified

Monday 8 May 2017, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

This week marks the completion of six months after the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya on December 6. As one looks back on these six troubled months, one has to concede that December 6 has emerged as a distinct watershed in Indian politics. The period that has opened up since that date is qualitatively different from the period preceding it.

Whoever was responsible for the disappea-rance of the Babri Masjid—the act of violent demolition on the part of the extreme wing of the militant kar sevaks gathering there on the initiative of the Sangh Parivar or the extraordinary supineness on the part of the government which had publicly pledged to protect the disputed structure—the result has been a serious erosion of the authority of the government which since then has hardly demonstrated its capacity to reassert its authority in the totality of national life. It is not just the case of a political establishment caught in a snowdrift, but one which has so far found no way out of it, rather getting bogged in it more and more. And those who are criticising the government from within the ruling party as also those who are outright attacking it from outside, have put forward no solution to any of the many problems that beset the nation today. The result has been that utter demoralisation has overtaken practically all departments of national life.

Take the case of the Muslim minority. After the partition of the country that come along with independence, the large sections of the community that chose to stay on and refused to migrate to Pakistan, should have been regarded as an asset for the newly-independent country. In the task of nation-building, the Muslim contribution has been undeniable. As a minority community it was but natural for it to seek the protection of the ruing estblishment and hence the Congress with its 20-year monopoly rule at the State-level (1947-1967) and thirty years at the Centre (1947-1977), it was but natural for the Muslim community, by and large, to be known as a dependent ally of the Congress party. The critics of the Congress, particularly the BJP and its former incarnation, the Jana Sangh, looked upon the Muslim community as part of the vote-bank of the Congress party.

The allergy of the Hindu orthodoxy against the Muslim community has been of long standing and from the beginning assumed the character of an ideological irreconciliability. With the progressive decline of the Congress both in its quality of leadership and its spread across the country, it was almost inevitable that the Hindu orthodoxy should more and more take a strident stand against the minority Muslim community, while the robust anti-communalism of the Congress suffered grievous erosion as it indulged in opportunist alliances with the communal taint in the electoral game of power politics. It is worth recalling here that the very first of such alliances between the Congress and Muslim League was forged in 1958-60 in Kerala to oust the first Communist-led Ministry in the country. Once such opportunism was resorted to by the premier national party which claimed to have led the country to freedom, it was but natural for other political parties to follow suit. Ten years later, in 1967, the Communists themselves discarded their antipathy towards the Jana Sangh in joining coalition Ministries in several States; while in Kerala, they followed in the footsteps of the Congress in wooing the Muslim League for coalition Ministries, in Punjab they accepted the Akalis as coalition partners. Today there is no major party in the country which can claim that it has consistently kept away from communal formations in its political career.

The imperatives of election politics have led these parties into a jungle of contradictions. This could be seen from the chequered history of the Babri Masjid itself. In the fever-pitch of the partition, the Babri Masjid saw the mysterious installation of the idol of Ram inside the deserted mosque itself. To avert any communal tension at this peculiar development, the entire premise was put under lock and key by the Congress leaders, among whom could be counted such stalwarts as Sardar Patel and Govind Ballabh Pant. The dispute was taken to the court where it has been dragging along all these years. But under Rajiv Gandhi, a thoroughly misconceived calculation led the government to unlock the gates of the Babri Masjid. The anxiety to cultivate the Hindu vote in the election bazar led him to begin his countrywide election campaign in 1989 from the city of Ayodhya sanctified in Hindu mythology, and soon after his Home Minister permitted the laying of the foundation stone (shilanyas) of the proposed Ram temple, whose plan wanted the pulling down of the Babri Masjid.

All this time there was no concern whatsoever on the part of the Congress leadership about the dangerous consequences of this opportunist politics. The upshot of it all has been the progressive loss of credibility of the Congress leadership in the eyes of both the Muslim and Hindu communities—on one side, the BJP could reap the harvest in the Hindu community while among the Muslims, the downright dogmatists could consolidate their sway on the other. From Kerala to Kashmir, the deleterious effects of this unprincipled politics could be felt damaging the very fibre of the nation’s integrity.

It is this bankruptcy at the political level that has led the Congress leaders to desperately take recourse to the judicial process to solve essentially political disputes created and magnified by the political leaders themselves. That was why last year the ruling Congress party leadership had nothing to fall back upon but the Supreme Court, not only to settle the dispute over the Babri Masjid but even to save the disputed structure in the face of the surge of the kar sevaks rallied by the militant fellow-travellers of the BJP. It was a dangerous gamble to get the judiciary to pull the executive’s chestnut out of the fire, while the executive with the entire law-enforcing machinery at its disposal, chose to play the passive bystander. And the inexorable result was the disaster of December 6, 1992.

Since then, there has been one retreat after another. The flare-up of communal violence all over the country—unprecedented since the blood-soaked partition fortyfive years ago—with its hideous manifestation in Surat and Bombay, the pathetic abdication of authority by the Congress Government in the face of the Shiv Sena’s pogrom and the climax reached with the planned bomb blasts of March 12, all this has grievously undermined the standing of the government at the Centre as being inert and insensitive. The image of the Union Home Ministry, the portfolio responsible for the maintenance of law-and-order in the country, has been badly eroded as it has become known that there is no love lost between the Cabinet Minister and his Minister of State

The executive measures taken in the wake of the December 6 disaster betrayed the responses of a govenment in panic moving by fits and starts, and not one which could calmly work out its line of action in the face of a crisis. Hence the peremptory dismissal of all the four elected State governments under the BJP rule—a step which neither constitutional propriety nor political sagacity could warrant. The mess over the peremptory banning of some fo the outfits of the Sangh Parivar has brought no glory for the government. Altogether, it has been an unrelieved picture of drift and disarray.

What is perhaps must disquieting is that the ruling party with its huge stock of manpower and enormous material resources, has not cared to build up a nationwide campaign for communal harmony. Barring occasional statements to the press by some Congress leader or the other, there has so far been no effort at all on the part of the Congress leadership to stir the conscience of the nation for Hindu-Muslim unity. Even at the gala get-together at the Surajkund AICC which came four months after December 6, there was no clarion call for building communal unity. Despite prodding by some of the concerned members, the National Integration Council has not met ever since the Ayodhya violence. The only tangible thing that has been officially announced is the government’s desire to set up two trusts—one to build a mosque to replace the demolished Babri Masjid, and the other to build the proposed Ram temple. The ambiguity surrounding both has not endeared the government to either community. Would the proposed mosque be built at the very same spot where the Babri Masjid stood? Would it be feasible or desirable? And the proposed Ram temple, would it be as per the plan popularised by the Sangh Parivar, that is, to include the site of the Babri Masjid? Again, the government has taken recourse to the judiciary to bale itself out. The Supreme Court has been approached to give its award whether where was a Hindu temple on whose ruins the Babri Masjid was built. The government’s hope is that once this moot point was settled, the Muslims would not insist on having the mosque at the same site, because the Prophet has ordained it so in the Koran. This way, the government hopes to mollify both the communities. Rather a thin hope because polarisation between the two sides has become acute, and this can hardly be overcome by gimmicks.

And yet, it seems the ruling estblishment is bent on backing those who have specialised on gimmickry. There was little to conceal the support that the ruling establishment extended to the bounder of a godman, Chandraswamy’s soma yagya at Ayodhya which was supposed to break the hold of the mahants pledged to build the Ram temple. The fiasco of this bogus show has brought no laurels for the Congress. Meanwhile, the administration of the States under President’s Rule is yet to take off even after six long months of dismissal of the elected governments.

The unsettled state of things is a matter of anxiety not only for the minority but for every citizen concerned with the fate of our great republic.

(Mainstream, June 12, 1993)