BJP Retreat from Ayodhya
The Observer Of Business And
(New Delhi, Friday
December 6, 1996.)
Four years after the
demolition of the Babri Masjid, the Bharatiya Janata Party hardly dares
to mention Ayodhya anymore. "You cannot cash on a cheque twice," explains
the party's spokesperson.
At the outset, the BJP
never had its heart in the Ayodhya question. When circumstances and the
VHP brought the issue to the fore in the 1980s, BJP leaders overcame their
reluctance only with the roaring success of the VHP's
shila pujas. Even then, BJP leader L. K.
Advani's fabled 'Rath Yatra' would not have been taken out but for some
prodding from former Prime Minister V. P. Singh who needed Hindu pressure
as an excuse to renege on his foolhardy promise to Imam Bukhari of
awarding the disputed site to the Muslims.
Contrary to claims made
by self‑described secularists, the BJP was not at all keen on a
confrontation between Hinduism and Islam. Thus, its statements kept a
studied distance from the fundamental critique of Islamic iconoclasm,
which was developed by historians like late Harsh Narain and Sita Ram Goel.
Far from criticising
Islam for having exhorted Babar and others to destroy Hindu temples, the
BJP tried to redefine the terms of the Ayodhya debate away from a
Hindu‑Muslim polarity ‑ Ram was called a 'national' hero. Babar a
'foreign' Invader. In reality, the question of foreign vs national had
nothing to do with it
a native convert MaIik Kafur had destroyed numerous temples, while the
British took up the conservation of temples. Yet, BJP spokesmen pleaded
that "a mosque built on a destroyed temple is not a valid mosque."
That was the BJP's
typical shopkeeper approach ‑‑ rather than facing the ideological
conflict inherent in the Ayodhya demands of both parties, it tried to
trick the other party into an unequal deal by presenting it as equal.
("Islam condemns the imposition of a mosque on a temple site as much as
Hinduism does.") But no one was fooled.
The BJP disliked the
Ayodhya controversy because it competed with the other parties in wooing
the Muslims and flattering Islam. Thus, it will never talk of Islam's
responsibility in India's communal conflict, but rather blame the British
and the vote-bank politics of the other parties. It criticised V. P.
Singh's gift of Rs. 50 lakh to the Jama Masjid as 'appeasement', but its
own Rajasthan government gave a far larger sum to the Ajmer Dargah, which
was built with debris of Hindu temples.
After the electoral
victories in Gujarat and Maharashtra, Mr. Advani thanked his Muslim voters
and promised to look after their interests, but his own cadres asked: "Has
he ever thanked the Hindu voters? Why should the party have a 'minority
cell', and why should its flag be one‑third green?"
As disappointed BJP
workers tell me, the party leadership had no higher aspiration than to be
the Congress B‑team. With the recent defection and corruption scandals, it
seems close to realising this ambition. But there remains one difference
while the Congress has a long history of quid pro quo compromises, the
BJP's concessions to the Muslims and secularist opinion are entirely
When the 12‑day BJP
government pledged not to touch Article 370 (a kick in the groin to its
Kashmiri refugee constituents), it did not get the promise of support from
even a single MP in return. No matter how sincerely Atal Behari
Vajpayee and Mr. Advani disown the Ayodhya demolition, no matter how deep
they crawl in the dust begging for certificates of good secular conduct
from their enemies, they are treated with contempt all the same.
At any rate, such
attitudes made it impossible for the BJP to take a consistent stand on the
Ayodhya question, which inherently implied criticism of the Islamic
doctrine and of Prophet Mohammed himself (who set the standard of
Islamic iconoclasm by breaking the idols in the Kaaba).
A consistent Hindu
position would have presented the Ayodhya controversy as an occasion for
the Indian Muslims to reconsider Islam. Rather than liberating sacred
sites from mosques wrongfully imposed on them, it would work for the
liberation of fellow Indians from their Islamic indoctrination.
As Muslim‑born secular
humanist Ibn Warraq says in his brilliant book Why I am not a Muslim
(Prometheus, New York, 1995) ‑ "The best thing we can do for Muslims is to
free them from Islam." Sounds radical? But that was, for example, the
stand taken by the Arya Samaj, a progressive movement which had its
martyrs but never indulged in rioting.
Frank debate is
inversely proportional with street violence, and those secularists who
suppress such debate are among the culprits of India's communal problem.
Unfortunately, the BJP chose to join in this 'secular' (in Europe we would
call it anti‑secular) shielding of medieval belief systems from rational
investigation and informed debate.
made it impossible for the party to argue its case on Ayodhya
convincingly. Next to the well‑known media bias, this was the main reason
why world opinion turned massively against the Hindus. It is entirely
obvious that a Hindu sacred site belongs to the Hindus, and no Westerner
would want his own sacred sites to be desecrated; yet every single
commentator in the West has strongly condemned the Hindu attempt to end
the Islamic occupation of a Hindu sacred site.
While in most
controversies, there will be some support somewhere for both the sides,
in this case, there was no voice of support or even of understanding for
the Hindu position. Without exaggeration, the BJP's Ayodhya campaign was
the single biggest public relations disaster in world history.
The BJP never did any
introspection about this harvest of hostility, but it certainly disliked
the experience. After riding the 'Ram wave' to an electoral breakthrough
in 1991, the BJP immediately started distancing itself from
the issue. By December 6, 1992, Hindutva activists had lost patience with
Mr. Advani. When they stormed the structure, he shed tears over the damage
done to the BJP's self‑image, as did many BJP men in the party office when
they heard the news.
Even VHP leader Ashok
Singbal tried to stop the activists, until they threatened to pull off his
dhoti. Anti‑Hindutva spokesmen want us to believe that this was all
theatre, but it was genuine (as was Murli Manohar Joshi's jubilation). A
small Hindutva faction had prepared the demolition, deliberately keeping
the leadership in the dark about it.
If the Indian media had
meant business, they would have found out and told you within a few days
just who engineered the 'Kar Seva'. Instead, they chose to spurn the scoop
of the year and stuck to the politically more useful version that the BJP
did it, somewhat like late Jawaharlal Nehru's attempt to implicate Veer
Savakar in Nathuram Godse's murder of the Mahatma.
Most BJP leaders (Kalyan
Singh being the chief exception) dealt with the event in a confused and
insincere manner. The gradual BJP retreat from Ayodhya was completed
overnight, and the party was reduced to waging its subsequent election
campaign with colourless slogans like 'good government'.
This purely secular
posturing worked well in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, but it may prove to
be yet another "cheque which can be cashed only once," especially
considering the BJP's recent loss of credibility regarding governance.
The party's best chance
of a meaningful survival now lies in the adoption of a better‑considered
Hindu agenda, not focused on dead buildings but on consequential
Dr. Koenraad Elst