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Mainstream, VOL LV No 9 New Delhi February 18, 2017

Is Ayodhya Issue Still Alive?

Tuesday 21 February 2017


by Nilofar Suhrawardy

Does the Ayodhya issue still have the same relevance that it had around 25 years ago? Undeniably, there still prevail several elements keen to make religious noise over the Ayodhya issue. But does their noise have the force, mass appeal and also the level of acceptance that it seemed to have two-and-a-half decades ago? There is a difference between simply making noise over any issue and the level of fervour that the same can excite. It is no secret that when this appeared to be the most important religious, social as well as political issue for the concerned people, it seemed to be given utmost importance at all levels, including media coverage. Compared to the peak that it had reached then, today it appears to have minimal importance as well as relevance at the same levels. When this relevance is compared with the one this issue appeared to have in the 1990s, one is forced to deliberate on the significance of this apparent change.

It cannot be denied that the recent anniversary of the Babri Masjid’s demolition (December 6) coincided with the death of Tamil leader Jayalalithaa. Not surprisingly, media headlines etc. were dominated by news regarding her. This does raise the question as to whether the issue may have received greater media coverage had the news about Jayalalithaa not been in the air. The intensity of this point is, however, defeated by stating that the issue has not been receiving much importance on the occasion of several such anniversaries. And this has not been because of some other more important news dominating the media. The simple fact is that it has not been considered important enough to be given much coverage. Now, what does this suggest?

Undeniably, Indians of all religious commu-nities are still as religious as they were around two-and-a-half decades ago. Rather, it would not be wrong to state that the importance of religious beliefs, practises etc. has only increased in recent years. The same is marked by the increasing popularity of television serials having lot of emphasis on religious practises. At the same time, the socio-political reality of the religious and secular consciousness of the people cannot be ignored or sidelined. This implies that they are no longer willing to be blinded by religious dictates of a political nature. This certainly does not suggest that the entire country went through this phase during the pre-demolition and demolition phase of the Babri Masjid. The people, who actually participated in the demolition and the accompanying riots, did not represent even 10 per cent of the country’s population. Besides, every Indian Muslim was not targeted.

But there is no denying that the demolition phase was a dark chapter in the secular history of this country. It marked the degree to which certain individuals, groups and others could be provoked in the name of religion. Religious frenzy to the extent of communal rioting could be aggressively incited among certain sections. And this frenzy was spread across most parts of the country. The demolition phase also helped the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to gain prominence as a major national party. In the subsequent years, however, the same fervour over the same issue was not witnessed again. What does this imply?

The degree and nature of fervour exhibited during the demolition period were certainly reflecting a temporary phase. Had it been of a permanent nature, it would have been witnessed again. The frenzy did not recur because of several key factors that marked the post-demolition phase. These included, as suggested earlier, the people’s refusal to be blinded by the religious dictates of politicians. Secondly, though religion remained important for them, they were not interested in abusing the same along communal lines. These two factors were also propelled by their consciousness of not allowing their religious, social and political ethics to be abused over communal issues.

It may be noted, whenever riots take place, even when Muslims are primarily targeted, tension in the atmosphere contributes to harming the interests of all communities. Willingly or unwillingly, the social and economic life of most is thus adversely affected. Undeniably, the demolition phase opened the eyes of the majority to this dark aspect of communal rioting. Not surprisingly, the post-demolition period has not witnessed riots over a common issue spread all over the country. True, there still remain several elements keen to disturb the secular harmony of the country. However, the impact of their designs has been largely confined to select areas and not beyond. This is further supported by the Gujarat carnage having been confined to just this State. The limitation of the Ayodhya issue is also exposed by not having been used in this State to excite communal frenzy here in 2002.

It would be pertinent to note that during the demolition phase, the media exercised caution over giving immediate coverage to the news linked to communal riots. There prevailed the risk of the “news” inciting riots in other parts of the country. Despite such caution having been exercised during the demolition phase, communal rioting affected considerable parts of the country. Also, the media, particularly the television coverage, had in 1992 not reached the peak that it achieved around a decade later. In this context, it may be noted that in 2002, despite the Gujarat carnage being given substantial coverage by the media, the same did not incite people in other parts of the country to indulge in communal rioting. The explanation is simple. The people deliberately did not want to go through the phase that they had witnessed a decade earlier. Had they chosen to, the Gujarat carnage may not have been confined to one State. Clearly, in a decade’s time, people had come a long way from being easily provoked to the stage of communal violence. The reasons given for the Gujarat carnage were not linked to the Ayodhya issue.

Politically speaking, with Assembly elections in UP not too far away, there remains ample reason for interested parties to make noise over the Ayodhya issue. However desirous and keen these parties may be, the common Indians are apparently no longer willing to let their interests suffer and be abused. This point is further supported by the minimal coverage accorded to the noise made over the Ayodhya issue. If the people were still interested in the same, if the issue was still potent enough to arouse their frenzy, the media would probably not have refrained from according greater coverage to the same. Rather, the media would have been compelled to do so, had the issue still remained alive. Certainly, it is yet too early to say that the Ayodhya issue is totally dead. But it can hardly be projected as active enough to arouse communal frenzy among the masses across the country. And this is simply because the masses are no longer willing to be provoked by the communal violence over Ayodhya. There is certainly some merit in the point that the people are no longer keen to participate in street demonstrations etc. or come out of their houses just to form crowds. Yet, when the need arises, they do indulge in such practises. The latter point is supported by the queues visible outside banks following the demonetisation drive and also the crowds that were witnessed in Tamil Nadu after Jayalalithaa’s death. If the need and desire demand, the people can step out nowadays also. But apparently they are least inclined to do so on the Ayodhya issue at present.

The author is a writer and a journalist. She has come at with two books: Ayodhya Without Communal Stamp: In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006) and Image and Substance: Modi’s First Year in office (2015).

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