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Mainstream, VOL LV No 33 New Delhi August 5, 2017

Anguish, not Anger / Riding the Tiger

Saturday 5 August 2017, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

Anguish, not Anger

The countdown for a national crisis of fearsome dimension has begun. The build-up of a nationwide communal conflict could be discerned, as one finds that the feverish activity for the building of the Ram temple at Ayodhya is having its repercussions in distant Thiruva-nanthapuram where the army has had to undertake flag march.

The onset of the crisis was evident on July 18 when at the stroke of midnight, the marathon session of the National Integration Council ended without even a one-line resolution calling for communal amity, which virtually marked the end of the angust body itself. Throughout that day there was echange of high-tension polemics with the BJP leaders defending their position, and all the others attacking them or urging upon them to implement court rulings with regard to the disputed temple-mosque complex at Ayodhya. Every one of the speeches reflected the speaker’s point of view and there was little one could brand as irrelevant. And yet the sum total of it all was the emergence of a situation of confrontation between the BJP leadership on one side and the rest of the parties ranged against it on the other. Call it confrontation or polarisation, it was a shocking demonstration of bankruptcy of the leadership of all political parties—nothing less than that.

What needs to be emphasised is that leaders of all political parties look upon the mosque-temple controversy at Ayodhya as a political issue, an essentially vote-catching contention. Now that it has reached a flash-point, most of them have been pathetically putting the responsibility for finding a solution on the judiciary. Political leaders abdicate their own responsibility to hammer out a solution, and pass it on to half-a-dozen eminent persons sitting on the Bench.

At the same time, the situation on the ground has been allowed by all sides to drift to a point of high-tension confrontation, in which a court verdict may not bring peace. The side which would feel having lost might take to extra-constitutional means as is being done by Ashok Singhal’s VHP brigade. One has also to take into account that when the court verdict on the Shah Bano case was distasteful to a handful of self-styled leaders of one community, they got an obliging government of the day to pass a legislation negating the effect of that court verdict itself.

The irony of the situation is that the BJP Ministry in Uttar Pradesh is finding it difficult to curb the intransigence of its fellow-travelling VHP, whom the party itself has so long pampered. But the irony is not confined to the case of the BJP alone. It goes to the record of the Congress also which under the Rajiv dispen-sation permitted the shilanyas of the proposed Ram temple at a spot which many felt was within the disputed area. What is important to recall is that the Congress election campaign in UP in 1989—which Rajiv himself was promi-nently directing—claimed the credit for having enabled the laying of the foundation stone of the proposed Ram temple hoping thereby to cash in on the Hindu votes. And after the election which did not fetch the expected windfall of Hindu votes, no attempt was made to bring about an understanding between the leaders of the two communities—at least their political bosses—to sort out the complex question of the Babri mosque structure housing a spot of Hindu worship for the idol of Ram.

In a sense, the Ayodhya crisis of today is the

legacy of the past. As the recently published Nehru papers make it clear, the dispute was shelved by the national leaders by locking up the premises, without taking any decision or any measure for reconciliation between the two communities. The wages of neglect for three decades was compounded when in 1986, the UP Congress Government on the reported advice of Arun Nehru (at that time one of the ardent lieutenants of Rajiv) unlocked the disputed premise on the expectation of a bumper harvest of Hindu votes.

In the last four years little was done to defuse this potential crisis. V.P. Singh faced the brunt of Advani’s Ram rath and tried to take some desperate measures which did not work. In the bargain, his government lost the majority and had to quit office. Chandra Shekhar took some initiative by bringing together the contending leaders of the two communities, but this was short-lived. Narasimha Rao, busy settling his house at the Centre in his first year in office, could make no headway in the matter which turned explosive with the BJP letting the VHP spiritedly revive the temple building campaign.

There is good reason why the BJP leadership had to go in for this risky venture. The entire election campaign of the BJP centred round the promise of building the Ram temple. After the elections there was naturally restlessness among the fiery militants of the VHP and Bajrang Dal. Since the BJP leadership, on its part, made no effort at conditioning its own following about the need for restraint, particularly when the court ruling stayed all permanent construction even outside the disputed structure, there has been a fresh spurt of aggressive campaign for the building of the temple. So much so that the BJP Ministry in Uttar Pradesh today finds itself unable to turn the tide or halt it, thereby facing the charge of having been unable to enforce the court ruling. Here is a case of the predicament involved in running with the hare and hunting with the hound. As things stand today, the BJP can hardly ward off the aggressive kar sevaks by police terror—which no government, what-ever its complexion, can do without facing the charge of taking recourse to brutal repression.

There is also another point of ambiguity in the BJP’s position which makes it weak, if not untenable, before the general public. The UP Chief Minister, Kalyan Singh, has reiterated his commitment to protect the disputed structure. At the same time, the plan of the proposed Ram temple includes the spot inside the disputed mosque where, according to the mythology given currency by the BJP and its allies, Ram was actually born. Would not this mean the pulling down of the mosque? Thus, a cliff-hanging position has been reached by the BJP leadership.

Suppose the court finally gives the verdict that the Babri mosque could not be dismantled, what then happens to the present plan of the temple as popularised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and backed by the BJP? Would they defy the court verdict, or re-design the temple? If they are ready to re-design the temple, why don’t they do this now and thereby win over Muslim opinion? The BJP leader in the Rajya Sabha and one of the Vice-Presidents of the party, Sikandar Bakht, has made a categorical statement in Parliament that the Babri mosque would not be demolished—either now or at a future date. Speculation is ripe on this point that perhaps finally the BJP may enclose the entire mosque structure within the temple complex, since the party has taken the position that the Muslim public in the area does not use the mosque at all for prayer.

While all this tension has gone up to an alarming extent in the last two weeks, the parties opposed to the BJP are no less strident in their stand. The Janata Dal-Left alliance has been demanding Central intervention to enforce the court directive. While some sections of the combine, such as the Communists, have gone to the extent of offering support to the Central Government in case it invokes Article 356 of the Constitution to dislodge the UP Government, others prefer a localised takeover of the entire disputed area to ensure compliance with the court ruling. A good section of the Congress has also been going along with this position, though a smaller number advises a cautious approach.

The calculation of all the parties opposed to the BJP is that if it is dislodged from office, it would not be able to retain its present position, that it would shrink into its pre-1989 size in the legislatures and Parliament. What this view does not seem to take into account is that polarisation along communal lines has gone very far in the last three years, that the Hindutva concept has received widespread support which can hardly be wished away, particularly in the absence of any mass campaign to rebut it ideologically or politically by those who claim to be secularist. In fact, there are reports that the BJP Government in UP on its part may go in for a snap mid-term poll as a virtual referendum for the Ram temple.

One also comes across the point of view that the BJP-RSS combine should be treated as semi-fascist, and it should be given no quarter if Indian democracy is to survive. What is missing in this argument is that the BJP has gained its present position of being the second largest party in the country by the parliamentary election process, and so long it adheres to that path, there could be electoral battles with it, but there could be no political excommunication without destroying that democracy itself.

There is another element in this current demand for a tough line towards the BJP. Within the Congress party those who are concerned at the quiet consolidation of the Narasimha Rao leadership are keen to take a advantage of this situation to raise the demand for a change in leadership, that the country and the party need a firm and determined leadership and not a low-key one that Narasimha Rao is known for.

We are thus witness to the enveloping tragedy of all political segments thinking only of their own parties, how ecah can make the best of this crisis. And there is hardly anybody who is concerned about, first and foremost, how to maintain the integrity of this country within the fabric of a democratic order.

A moment of anguish, not of anger it should be.

(Editor’s Notebook, Mainstream, July 22, 1992)

Riding the Tiger

In recent times, during the last ten years in particular, one could notice a phenomenon which is almost becoming a law of Indian polity.

In most of the major segments of our politics today, one finds the emergence of militant formations. These have taken different forms in different contexts, but a common feature of them all is that these are amenable to no discipline of our constitutional politics. Perhaps the earliest of these militant formations apepared in the communist movement in the late sixties—what is known as the Naxalbari movement. When the leadership of the Communist Party after its split chose to stick on to the parliamentary path, the militant elements were getting restless and there arose distinct groups of these militants, particularly in West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. These militant groups openly took to armed actions against the landed vested interests and thereby tried to rally the dispossessed sections of the peasantry. Their dedication and heroism drew a lot of sympathy and support, but having taken to armed action, they placed themselves outside the pale of constitutional politics.

What is equally significant is that the leadership of the established Communist Parties, particularly the more strident CPI-M, not only threw the militants out of their ranks but did not hesitate to fight them out at many places to physically oust them from political life. What is worth noting is that the established Communist Parties even when they stood as the bitterest critics of the ruling establishment, did not hesitate to decimate the militants. In other words, the established Communist Parties committed themselves irrevocably to the path of constitutional electioneering politics and abjured the path of the militants, who are nowadays all lumped as Naxalites.

While this parting of ways between the moderate constitutionalists and armed militants was clear and unambiguous in the case of the Communists, one finds a different state of affairs in the case of most of the other parties. Akali politics, for instance, brought out a new pattern of interaction between the moderates and the militants. In this case, the militants emerged in the form of religious propagators, based on the gurdwara, that is, the Sikh place of worship. Their appeal was to religious loyalty, rousing religious passions. The Akali party leaders tried to harness them as their battering ram against the Centre. They found these militant sants as useful instruments for mobilising the Sikh public through the gurdwaras.

The Akali leaders, however, could not keep this as their exclusive trade mark. Indira Gandhi also tried to use at least one section of it—the Bhindranwale outfit—to outplay the Akali leadership in its own game. But this misfired, as the sordid record of the early months of 1984 bears out, with the result that the Bhindranwale phenomenon which Indira Gandhi had nurtured turned out to be a menacing spectre for her and, step by step, inexorably led to the disaster of the ‘Operation Bluestar’ which virtaully paved the road to her own gruesome killing.

Without going into the details of the tragedy, one can say that the militants who at one time were looked upon by the Akali leaders as being at their beck and call, became themselves autonomous, dictating authority, so much so that most of the moderate constitutionalist leaders of the Akali party are today virtual prisoners in the hands of the militants. Today, the basic reason why the moderate Akali leaders, who at one time had wide popular support, are left in a state of paralysis and political detention is that they are physically at the mercy of the armed militants. Not all these militants are Khalistani secessionists, but their stranglehold on the Akali leadership is undeniable.

Come to Assam politics. The unprecedented mass upsurge that led to the fall of the Congress and the installation of the Ministry of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) was taken as a political watershed in the North-East. The leaders of the AGP, when they were installed in office, kept their militant wing as a reserve to be used in any contingency in future against political adversaries. In course of time, the AGP leaders got discredited by their mismanagement, corruption and incompetence in governance, but the militant wing asserted its autonomy and that was how the ULFA militancy emerged in Assam.

Today, the position is pathetic for the AGP leadership. It has no clout, no bargaining counter with the ULFA. Whatever negotiations that the ULFA leaders are engaged in are being conducted directly with the Congress Chief Minister, Hiteswar Saikia, and not through the AGP leaders. Here is a case in which the moderates have withered into political ineffectiveness while the militants are moving on their own on the political stage.

In the South, the Tamil militants from Sri Lanka, particularly the LTTE, were not only given shelter but financed by the AIADMK under M.G. Ramachandran. The case of the LTTE was of course linked with the changing policy postures of the Rajiv Government ending up in the disaster of the IPKF misadventure. What is, however, worth noting is that MGR, dreaming of playing the role of the great leader of the entire Tamil populace, thought that the LTTE would prove handy. Ultimately, it was the LTTE which had its way and thereby was prepared the ground for Rajive’s ghastly assassination.

The latest in this gallery of the militants lording it over the moderates, is provided by the case of the BJP. Before our very eyes, the BJP leadership resorted to the enlistment of the aggressive militants of the VHP and Bajrang Dal by raising the building of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple to the position of its central election slogan. There is no doubt that this mobilisation of the VHP and Bajrang Dal fetched handsome dividends for the BJP leadership in the 1989 general elections. This was taken a stage further by Advani’s Ram rath yatra which could mobilise the militants to the maximum. No doubt this fetched the BJP a grand harvest in the 1991 poll.

Then arrived the crucial moment for the BJP leadership. The question of going on with the building of the Ram temple was by itself not the problem, but how to reconcile this with the coiurt ruling with which the existence of the Babri mosque is linked up. The BJP leadership sought to gain a breathing space by Murli Manohar Joshi’s ekta yatra, which was a bit of a damp squib. In any case, the VHP and Bajrang Dal did not allow any respite to the BJP over the Ram temple issue. Here is the dilemma forced on the BJP leadership. If the BJP leadership defied the court rulings, it would have put itself outside the pale of constitutional politics, while the militants are under no such inhibitions as their fanaticism would like to pull down not only the Babri mosque but many more such mosques.

It is this tussle between the militants and the moderates that has now been going on at Ayodhya, and it is yet to be seen who will finally win—the VHP-Bajrang Dal militant leaders or the constitutionalist BJP leaders, who aspire to come to power through the ballot box. The last word will not be said until perhaps a long time to come.

This catalogue of political gamble of riding the tiger has been a very costly game for leaders of different parties in our country. It brings out both the inadequacy of our polity and the bankruptcy of our political leadership. In the bargain, not only the constitutional framework is strained to the breaking point, anarchy takes over from normal politics.

(Mainstream, August 1, 1992; reproduced from The Economic Times where it first aeppared)

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