www.sacw.net | November 12, 2004
The Ramjanmabhumi Drama: The Post-Demolition Scene
by S. P. Udayakumar
With their morale so low after the electoral rout in the 2004 general election and the recent Maharashtra state election, the BJP is desperately trying to breathe some fresh life into their cataleptic politics. The parliamentary hooliganism, the tri-color yatra-trick and the Savarkar gimmicks have blown up on their faces. As it is clear that the minority communities and the dalits have taken a clear stand against the BJP, the party has decided to change tacks. When the bigoted going gets tough, the tough always go for more bigotry, preferably entrenched in piety. L. K. Advani assuming the party mantle is the first step. Hindutva (l.k.a. -lately known as- nationalism) is rearing its ugly head in the form of the Ram temple drama once again.
According to Organiser (November 7, 2004), the RSS mouthpiece, the BJP cadres "finally got the leader who has led them through many a crisis. Scars of innumerable battles constituted his shining armour. He had led his people from darkness to light. The furious ocean had given way to him for leading his people." This Moses of the "Hindus" announced at the BJP National Council at Delhi on October 27, 2004: "The nation eagerly looks forward to the day the makeshift temple at Ram Janmabhoomi is replaced by a structure befitting the greatness of Lord Rama. At the same time, we must be candid enough to recognize that the Hindu anger that exploded on the streets in the early nineties has given way to a patient wait for the new temple whose construction is, I feel, inevitable." It is a matter of conjecture if Advani merely acknowledged the transformation of the once powerful Ram temple drama into an uninteresting farce or he tried to please his parivar brothers by warning that the "patient wait" would explode as "Hindu anger" once again on the streets. After all, Singhals and Togadias are lying just around the corner. And the all India national executive of the RSS met in Haridwar on November 4-6, 2004 and asserted that the Ram temple would be built in accordance with the wishes of the people under the leadership of the VHP.
So the stage has been set. With the RSS lurking behind the screen and reading out the script, the belligerent VHP would play the lead role in the Ayodhya movement. The politically bankrupt BJP would play along to regain the confidence of their brothers on the stage and the larger audience off the stage. In the melee, southern Naidus and somber Mahajans would be booed and booted out. And the cow-belt sanyasins and saffronites would be cheered. The avowed swayamsevaks such as Atals and Advanis would fall in line quickly and retain their prominence until the sun sets on them. The next scene of the Ram temple drama begins now! Giving up the inhibitions on the rule of law and court verdict that they had to put up with as the ruling combine, and realizing the impossibility of bringing in any favorable legislation in the Parliament, the BJP as much as the Sangh Parivar will start insisting on negotiated settlement and try to push the Muslim community to a defensive position.
The Indian civil society and the state need to be prepared for this resurgent campaign of bigotry and should evolve a strategy to call the Parivar's bluff. Before we turn to the best possible solution to this persisting dispute, let us see what has transpired ever since the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
The Post-Demolition Chronology
I have chronicled elsewhere a detailed chronology of the Babri Masjid/Ramjanmabhumi controversy up until the demolition of the mosque on December 6, 1992. A cursory look at the post-demolition phase of the Ayodhya movement would show the cunningness of the Hindutva forces equally clearly. One of the immediate responses of Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao's government to the demolition was the setting up of the Liberhan Commission on December 16, 1992 to probe the sequence of events leading to the demolition. He also imposed a non-serious ban for two years on the communal organizations: RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal, Jamaat-i-Islami, and Islamic Sevak Sangh. Besides the Uttar Pradesh government, they dismissed the BJP-run state governments of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh on December 16, 1992, but kept the Congress governments in Maharashtra and Gujarat despite the fact that communal violence ravaged more homes and humans in these two states.
And a Presidential reference was made on January 7, 1993 to the Supreme Court under article 143 (A) of the Indian Constitution asking the Court if a Hindu temple or any Hindu religious structure had existed at the same site prior to the construction of the Babri Masjid. Also on January 7, Narasimha Rao's government passed the Ayodhya Ordinance of 1993 preserving the status quo as on January 6, 1993 rather than on December 5, 1992, the day before the demolition. The arbitrary date of January 7, 1993 helped the inept Rao government to hide conveniently all its commissions and omissions in the mosque demolition.
The government's further failure to appeal against the Allahabad High Court's decision of permitting the devotees darshan of Ram at the makeshift temple helped perpetuate the false legality accorded to the mosque demolition. Converting the above Ordinance into the 'Acquisition of Certain Areas at Ayodhya Act,' the undeserving and incompetent custodian of the disputed land rendered all the past illegalities as legal. More importantly, the Ayodhya Act allowed the New Delhi government to hand over any part of the land it had acquired to a trust "set up on or after the commencement of this Ordinance." This could help the Rao government keep the VHP out of the temple construction project but the rulings of the P.K. Bahri tribunal that quashed the ban on the RSS in June 1993 and the K. Ramamoorthy tribunal that annulled the ban on the VHP in June 1995 brought the Hindutva forces back into the game. On February 3, 1993, the BJP leader A. B. Vajpayee decried any court intervention in the matter because Ram temple was a matter of faith.
About eight months after the demolition, at the Independence Day (August 15) rally in 1993, Prime Minister Rao promised the nation that "Whatever has been demolished, we will build it, rebuild it." However, Rao changed his stand within a year. Addressing a massive rally organized by the Congress (I) party at the Red Fort grounds on July 14, 1994, he declared that he would not entrust the construction of the 'Ram Mandir' at Ayodhya to any VHP-controlled trust. There was no mention about the reconstruction of the mosque. While some lauded Rao's effective stealing of Hindutva's political thunder, others wondered why he should rake up the controversy unnecessarily at that point. The Indian Express commented editorially on July 21, 1994 that Rao's assertion about the temple construction and studied silence on the reconstruction of the mosque signaled a retreat from his earlier assurances to the Muslim community. BJP leader L. K. Advani was quick to retort that the issue was not who would construct the temple but whether it would be constructed at the site where the Babri Masjid stood and the present makeshift temple was constructed on December 6, 1992.
When the Rao government attempted to float an apolitical trust, the Ayodhya Sri Ram Janmabhoomi Pratishthan, under the aegis of the four powerful Sankaracharyas of Sringeri, Dwarka, Puri and Kanchi, VHP was forced to review its temple policy and the group decided to lend its support to the new trust. The VHP chief Ashok Singhal who had declared that Ayodhya site would be forcibly occupied if it were not handed over to the VHP's own Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas said in July 1994 that the occupation would take place only if the government constructed the temple at a place other than the present makeshift temple. Instead of falling into the government trap by taking on the Sankaracharyas, the VHP demanded that the temple be built at the makeshift temple site and that no Islamic structure come up near the proposed temple. Although these two conditions would definitely prevent the new trust from making any progress toward temple construction, the VHP made an additional attempt to seize the Ayodhya movement. Acharya Dharmendra, a top leader of the group, decided to undertake a 21-day fast from August 3, 1994 to emphasize the 'sacrosanct nature' of the site of Ram's birthplace for temple construction. As the central government was preparing to hand over much of the 67 acres of land to the Pratishthan to build a temple that would be twice as large as the one planned by VHP, the Supreme Court upheld the acquisition of the disputed 67 acres of land in Ayodhya on October 24, 1994. However, the Court struck down section 4(3) of the Act that abated any pending "suit, appeal, or other proceeding" and thus revived the case pending before the special bench of the Allahabad High Court.
The Ayodhya campaign did help the BJP to consolidate its political base to an extent but it also provided a strong inducement for the secular opposition parties to join hands in the common struggle to halt the advancement of the Hindutva forces. As a result, in the 1993 Uttar Pradesh state elections the BJP suffered a decisive rebuff and the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance came to power and lasted only until June 1995. In a characteristic cunning move, the BJP opted to play a subordinate role in the BSP-controlled successor government. The BJP's Kalyan Singh, who was at the helm of affairs during the mosque demolition in December 1992, took over as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh again on September 21, 1997. Shortly after assuming office, he paid a well-publicized visit to Ayodhya to the annoyance of his coalition partner, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). A Muslim Minister in his cabinet described Kalyan Singh's supplication before the idols installed at the site of a demolished mosque as a grave provocation and vowed to retort with a conspicuous act of faith at the same venue.
Having briefly receded from public attention, the Ayodhya issue came to the foreground once again. Using the idiom of the early 1990s, Advani claimed, "Indian cultural nationalism" was "assimilative" and Ram was a "symbol of India's culture and civilisation." On July 3, 1997, he announced at Ayodhya that the BJP would not be content till a temple was built there. Seeking to build more prisons in people's minds, Advani claimed on September 20, 1997: "Sri Ram Lalla is actually in prison. The sooner he is released the better." As Advani was comparing the legal proceedings with debilitating prisons that curtailed free movement, the RSS supremo, Rajendra Singh went one step further and declared on November 25 (The Telegraph, November 26, 1997) that "Ayodhya-type solutions were necessary for the Kashi and Mathura shrines" and warned that "Muslims should once and for all give up claims to the Kashi and Mathura shrines". On September 9, 1997, the Special Judge, Ayodhya Case, Lucknow framed charges against 49 accused and 33 of them filed revision petition in Allahabad High Court. The unrepentant Advani, however, claimed, "This cannot but help our cause." When asked about the Ram temple at Ayodhya, Kalyan Singh said (Frontline, November 1-14, 1997): "That is not on the agenda of the State Government. I have made it clear that the construction can be completed only when the BJP comes to power at the Centre."
With the installation of BJP governments both in Uttar Pradesh (September 1997) and in New Delhi (March 1998), the temple movement did get a boost early 1998 and the VHP accelerated carving stone pillars and other stonecutting work. When The Week magazine reported in June 1998 that the VHP was planning to install a pre-fabricated Ram temple in Ayodhya, the opposition parties wanted an unambiguous commitment from the BJP-led government to check such attempts but that was not forthcoming. The Home minister L. K. Advani assured the Parliament that the October 24, 1994 Supreme Court order to maintain the status quo at the disputed site would be implemented strictly and that the pillar work did not break any law. Although Prime Minister Vajpayee promised to uphold the rule of law, the RSS chief, Rajendra Singh, proclaimed bluntly that the temple would be built at the "very place where the disputed structure was demolished." The VHP leader Ashok Singhal, however, embarked on a more intimidatory rhetoric saying (The Asian Age, June 18, 1998): "The Constitution does not have any provision to punish the judiciary but religious leaders have." Any delay in the construction of the temple could break the patience of the sadhus who "can then take any decision."
The crux of the matter is, the BJP had always advocated negotiated settlement or suitable legislation in the Parliament to resolve the temple issue and consistently resisted the judicial approach. The party's 1989 Palampur national executive resolution itself had stated: "the nature of this controversy is such that it just cannot be sorted out by a court of law." Mindful of the fact that the party had neither the capability to bring the parties to a negotiated settlement, nor the necessary parliamentary strength to push through any legislation, the BJP had to feign a newfound faith in the judicial process. However, the BJP's vice-president, Kishen Lal Sharma, stated on June 16, 1998 that if the court verdict went against the temple construction on the disputed site, the party would bring about a Constitutional amendment to facilitate the temple construction.
In July 1999, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court directed the Special Judge not to conduct the proceedings in the Babri Masjid demolition case since four criminal revision petitions filed by 33 accused were pending before the High Court. In January 2000, the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Ram Prakash Gupta, a BJP man, stated that his party had placed the Ram temple issue on hold to remain in tune with its partners in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. Later he claimed that the media had twisted his remarks and said that his government had nothing to do with the temple construction. Even as unruly statements were made and recanted by the Hindutva stalwarts, stonecutting and pillar work had been going on in full swing.
In the meantime, there seemed to be a welcome change in RSS thinking about the temple issue. In his August 2000 reply to a Muslim leader's letter, the RSS chief K. S. Sudarshan said: "There is no denying the fact that in a democratic society we all have to accept the judicial verdict. But at the same time, for the present and future amicable relations between the two communities, it is most desirable to arrive at a mutual settlement on the basis of any of the options offered by me in the earlier statement." Contradicting this spirit of supremacy of judicial verdict, the VHP declared that the Ram temple construction would commence after March 2001. Later the Margdarshak Mandal, the highest decision-making body of the VHP, met on October 18-19, 2000 at Goa and adopted a resolution that the date to start the Ram temple construction would be announced by the dharam sansad (religious leaders congregation) at the Maha Kumbh to be held at Allahabad in January 2001. The VHP also decided to send its activists to three lakh villages in the country to establish Ram Sankeertan Mandals and collect letters in favor of temple construction.
Even as the Special Judge hearing the Babri Masjid demolition cases fixed December 15, 2000 for further proceedings, the BJP compared the "people's movement" led by L. K. Advani for building a Ram temple that caused the demolition of the Babri Masjid and widespread death and destruction to the "freedom movement led by Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders like Lokmanya Tilak and Subhas Chandra Bose." Two BJP MPs, Swami Chinmayanand and Swami Aditya Nath, commented early December 2000 that the "only relevant issue about Ayodhya that remains to be discussed is whether a temple should be built at the disputed site or a mosque" and went on to claim that "there was always a temple there, there is a temple there, and only a temple can come up there." They argued "it was the responsibility of Parliament to enact the law to allow building of the Ram temple."
Prime Minister Vajpayee himself said in an informal chat with reporters on December 7, 2000 that there were two ways of resolving the Ayodhya issue: everyone accepting the possible court verdict, or Hindus and Muslims arriving at a common decision. Articulating his party's age-old formula, he added: "The mandir can be built where it already exists, the masjid can be built on an alternative site." On December 15, 2000, the Allahabad High Court dismissed a writ petition filed in 1993 seeking direction to the central government and the Uttar Pradesh government to permit Hindus to perform worship and other religious rites at the disputed site. The court rejected the petition as the matter was sub judice before the Lucknow bench of the court. As a proof for the BJP-led government's undermining and communalizing every section of the Indian society as well as the state, the director of Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) claimed that the Babri Masjid had no religious significance and hence Muslims should hand over the disputed site as a goodwill gesture to Hindus. If that was not acceptable, the mosque could be relocated. However, "since the location of Rama's birthplace cannot be changed, the temple cannot be moved."
The VHP planned to take a model of the temple in procession from a workshop in Jaipur to Ayodhya. A decision on the temple issue was going to be taken during the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad on January 19-21, 2001. On the eve of this meeting, the VHP said it would convince or even "coerce" the Vajpayee Government to give away the disputed land acquired by the Centre in Ayodhya for construction of the Ram temple. If the government did not hand over the land to dharmachayaras by Shivratri next year, Ramchandradas Paramahans said: "We will be forced to take over the Janambhoomi complex and start construction of the temple any day any moment." He added further: "Law is not bigger than faith. If supporters of the Ram temple movement unite, the law will have to take the back seat."
Toning down the provocative rhetoric and giving up the original plan of issuing an ultimatum to the Vajpayee government, the VHP-led dharam sansad adopted a resolution asking "all relevant organizations" to "remove all hurdles in the way of the construction of a Sri Ram temple at the Ramjanmabhoomi by March 12, 2002, the day of Mahashivatri." The VHP also worked out a program of chanting Ram's name in villages from November 26, offering jalabhishek in temples from September 18 to October 16, 2001 and organizing a sant yatra (procession of sadhus) from Ayodhya to Delhi between February 18 and 25, 2002 to serve notice on Parliament and the Government to remove hurdles to the temple construction. The Puri Sankaracharya indicated that he would call a meeting of the most respected dharmacharyas, vallabhacharyas, nimkacharyas, ramanadacharyas, madhavacharyas and others on January 22, 2002 at the Kumbh Mela grounds in Allahabad to discuss the issue. Despite all this heat and dust, Prime Minister Vajpayee did not respond to media queries on the dharam sansad setting a deadline.
THE VHP's chetawani yatra (warning rally), which started from Ayodhya on January 20, 2002, culminated in New Delhi on January 26. The sants held a rally at the Ramlila grounds on January 27, where they announced that the temple construction program would begin as announced earlier. On February 24, 2002, the 100-day purnahuti yagna began as a prelude to the temple construction. However, on February 27, the focus of the country shifted to Godhra, a small town in Gujarat, where some 58 people most of whom karsevaks, who were on their way back from Ayodhya, were burned to death in the S6 and S8 coaches of the Sabarmati Express train. Communal tensions grew rapidly all across Gujarat and led to a bloody carnage in this state ruled by a BJP hardliner Narendra Modi.
On March 8, the Vajpayee government received a letter from Ramjanmabhumi Nyas, a VHP outfit, seeking permission to perform a symbolic puja on March 15 on the acquired undisputed land as part of the 100-day yagna. On March 13, the Supreme Court heard a public interest petition seeking a ban on the proposed puja. Although the government told the court that a limited-scale puja could be allowed without violating the 1994 Supreme Court judgment, the court forbade "religious activity of any kind by anyone either symbolic or actual including bhumi puja or shila puja" and also forbade the Government of India from handing over any "part" of the acquired land to "anyone." Nor shall "any part of this land be permitted to be occupied or used for any religious purpose or in connection therewith." The case was adjourned for 10 weeks and would be placed before a larger Bench.
On March 15, the Prime Minister sent an official in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to receive the shila after a puja as a step towards the building of the temple and to "give sanctity" to the entire ceremony. According to The Statesman (March 19, 2002), the PMO official handed over the pillars to the Additional District Magistrate (ADM) "with the instruction that they be the first stone slabs for construction of a temple whenever it is and put on plinth." The VHP hailed this as an indication of the government's acceptance in principle of the demand for a Ram temple. On March 16, Prime Minister Vajpayee called for a settlement out of court "because it is becoming an impediment in maintaining communal harmony in the country." On the same day, a 500-strong mob of VHP, Bajrang Dal and Durga Vahini activists stormed the Orissa state Assembly building to demand the disputed land in Ayodhya and worsened the communal tensions in the country. The future program of the temple movement was discussed at the two-day meeting of the VHP's margdarshan mandal at Hardwar beginning on June 22, 2002. Claiming that the 100-day yagna was a 'success,' the VHP decided to launch a 'Ram naam japa yagna' in every village.
In February 2003, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) decided to oppose the government's plea before the Supreme Court for vacation of stay on religious and other activities on the 67 acres of land central government had acquired. In March 2003, as per the directives of the Allahabad High Court to seek evidence whether or not a temple had existed in the area where the Babri Masjid stood, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) began excavations at the disputed site.
The VHP refused to commit to giving up the claim on the disputed site if the excavations failed to establish the existence of a temple or religious structure at the place. Instead, VHP's International General Secretary, Pravin Togadia, wanted the Muslims to handover to the Hindus "at least three of the 30,000 shrines - Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura" the Muslims had taken over and if that was not done voluntarily, the "VHP does not know what will happen." On earlier occasions, Togadia had threatened about a "civil war." Organizing trishul diksha (trident distribution) program around Uttar Pradesh, the VHP made it clear that the evidence gathered during the excavation in Ayodhya would not affect the temple construction. As it was becoming clear that there would not be much evidence of a pre-existing temple in Ayodhya, the VHP challenged if Muslims would give up their claim over Kashi and Mathura sites as the Hindus had enough evidence of pre-exisiting temples.
By mid-April 2003, it was indeed clear that the month-long excavation at the disputed site in Ayodhya had not revealed any temple remains though the ASI had dug to early historic levels. On the contrary, the finding of glazed ware in substantial quantity in the upper and middle layers of all the three trenches dug thus far indicated the existence of Muslim habitation before the mosque construction, according to a report prepared by the Aligharh Historians Society and SAHMAT in Delhi.
In June 2003 even as Prime Minister Vajpayee made a ludicrous plea that politics be kept out of the Ram temple issue, the Kanchi Sankaracharya claimed that 90 percent of Muslims were in favor of a temple on the disputed site. But the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and other Muslim organizations termed both these statements as an attempt to run away from a judicial verdict. In the meantime, the Supreme Court rejected a petition challenging the March 5 order of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court directing the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to excavate the disputed site. The petitioner submitted that the excavation order would set a bad precedence that anybody could demand an excavation of any religious site on the pretext that another religious structure preexisted the present one.
In the second campaign within a year to boost their temple construction plans, the VHP began a ritual to enlist the support of 50 million people. Some 200 bags with Ramraksha Sankalp Sutra (sanctified thread), a map of the proposed temple, and soil from the disputed site were consecrated at a yagna near Ayodhya and would be distributed all over the country between July and October 2003. Those who received the thread would take a pledge to keep it on their wrists till the Ram temple was constructed. In June 2003, the Sunni Central Waqf Board, a plaintiff in the Ramjanmabhumi-Babri Masjid title suit, and a few other Muslim parties accused the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) of fabricating archaeological evidence and selectively collecting the artefacts being found at the site. According to them, the ASI team collected moulded bricks, sculpted stone fragments and terracotta figurines, but threw away glazed pottery, glazed tiles and animal bones.
With lack of archaeological evidence to support the preexisting temple theory staring at their face, the VHP claimed that it would not come in the way of their temple campaign. As reported in The Hindu (June 12, 2003), a VHP secretary claimed, "÷our faith is that it was the place of Rama's birth." So the VHP started advocating "legislation" by Parliament as the only way to resolve the issue. The top VHP leadership castigated the BJP and its government of betraying the Ramjanmabhumi movement that had catapulted them into power. The VHP said they were not reclaiming all the 30,000 temples allegedly destroyed under the Mughal rule or the 3,000 temples on which mosques were built but wanted only the three shrines in Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura. The RSS stated publicly on June 17, 2003 that they backed the VHP stand of not giving up claims on Kashi and Mathura and opposing the opening up of 1,000 mosques protected by the ASI for Muslims to offer namaaz.
In a fresh bid to resolve the Ayodhya tangle, Kanchi Sankaracharya, Sri Jayendra Saraswati, sent new proposals to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) through a letter dated June 16, 2003. The Board chairman, Maulana Rabey Hasni Nadwi, said that the two-page formula was positive in nature to an extent and he would place it before the 51-member working committee of the board on July 6, 2003. The proposal had five points including the AIMPLB giving a no-objection statement for the construction of a temple on the undisputed land, and a discussion on an amicable settlement over the disputed area that could be given to the court for a final verdict. When the Board sought some clarifications, the Sankaracharya sent another letter dated July 1, 2003.
Fearing that the VHP would be sidelined in the temple issue, the RSS insisted that "the VHP would have to be taken on board" and that legislation was the only way out. At the end of the two-day (July 5-6, 2003) national executive meet, the RSS said that the construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya was a matter of national self-respect and honor and that the three temples at Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi should be restored on the lines of the Somnath temple. Even as the RSS called the Muslim leaders to respect Hindu sentiments, hardliners in the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC) warned the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) not to bargain over the original site of the mosque. The AIMPLB rejected the Kanchi Sankaracharya's proposal saying that the site of the Babri Masjid was the property of Allah and could not be alienated by sale, gift or otherwise. The core of the proposal was an appeal to Indian Muslims to "donate the Babri Masjd site in Ayodhya" combined with veiled threats to "prepare themselves for giving up the mosques at Kashi and Mathura."
In the meantime, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) said in its fresh progress report submitted to the Special Bench of the Allahabad High Court that it had found 'structural anomalies' in 46 of the 84 trenches dug near the disputed site at a considerable depth. The Hindutva forces, however, were bent on bringing in a Parliamentary legislation. In a meeting at the Prime Minister's residence on July 12, 2003 the BJP leadership conveyed to the RSS chief K. S. Sudarshan its inability to bring in any legislation because both its allies and the opposition parties would be opposed to that. With elections round the corner, the party did not want to do anything that would unravel the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Moreover, both the National Agenda of Governance (NAG) adopted by the coalition government in 1998 and the common NDA manifesto of 1999 were silent on the Ram temple issue. Although the BJP had rejected judicial verdict as a possible solution in its 1989 Palampur resolution, the party later admitted a broad consensus within the ruling NDA that it would be an acceptable solution. The party wanted to explore the possibilities of adopting legislation in Parliament and sought the support of its allies and the Congress party. But they all summarily rejected the cunning move.
On August 1, 2003 both Prime Minister Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister Advani pledged at the funeral of Ramchandradas Paramhans, the chairman of the VHP outfit Ramjanmabhumi Nyas, that a Ram temple would be built at Ram janamsthan (birthplace). Vajpayee asserted further that he would strive towards the cause the mahant lived for. The opposition parties criticized the Prime Minister's declaration on a sensitive issue that was sub judice and accused him of reneging from his commitment to the Parliament that the solution to the dispute would be determined by a court verdict or through a negotiated settlement. However, Vajpayee disowned that statement later and said there was no change in the government's Ayodhya policy of solving it through talks or courts.
On September 19, 2003, the Special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court hearing the Babri Masjid demolition case discharged Advani but found grounds to proceed against seven other accused including the VHP leader Ashok Singhal, Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti etc. On October 17, the VHP organized the Sankalp Sammelan (Mass Awareness Campaign) to press for the construction of Ram temple. Even as the Uttar Pradesh government of Mulayam Singh Yadav cracked down on the VHP activists, Prime Minister Vajpayee exhorted that the VHP be trusted in its claim that it would hold the meeting peacefully. The VHP leader Praveen Togadia warned openly that the country would be engulfed in communal riots if the Rambhakts were stopped from having a darshan of the deity in Ayodhya.
A fresh effort was made to resolve the Ayodhya issue and part of that was an appeal made by the Dalai Lama. Behind the scenes, a 'Jama Masjid Trust' was set up at Ayodhya and a large piece of land, away from the Central Government-acquired land in and around the disputed site, had been identified for the Trust to build a mosque. However, AIMPLB insisted that it was the only authorized body to deal with the Ayodhya issue on behalf of the Muslim community. Even in the run up to the 2004 general elections, Advani always spoke about the BJP's development agenda with Ayodhya footnote. And the footnote changed depending upon the audience. While he bellowed in Mathura that the Ram temple would be built in Ayodhya and India would have Ramarajya, he was quite mellow in Aligarh, a mostly Muslim town, saying that the Ram temple would be built through negotiations and without any bitterness.
The two-day governing council meeting of the VHP that began on June 30, 2004 at Kolkata announced that the organization would begin the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya within a year. The BJP discussed the issue at some length at its national executive committee meeting in Raipur from July 18 to 20. After more than 11 years of its constitution, the Liberhan Commission completed all oral arguments and evidence on June 30, 2004. Although set up in December 1992, the Commission started its effective sittings from January 1993 and was in abeyance for about two years because of certain interim orders passed by the Delhi High Court. The Commission started regular hearing from 1995 first in Lucknow and later in Delhi.
Of the three possible routes to an amicable solution to the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhumi issue, viz. talks, courts and legislation, the Hindutva forces have always been unreasonable in talks, averse to courts, and unable to pass legislations, but quite adroit in using violence--in words, actions, thoughts, and emotions. Given the enormous intricacies and complexities involved in the conflict, the talks have all along proved to be tough and are not poised for any sudden breakthrough now. The court verdict could take a lot more time and the lack of any concrete evidence from the excavations is not going to be particularly helpful for the Hindutva side. Similarly, the legislation option is sealed with the BJP decimated to be a hopelessly weak opposition party with no ally of any significant strength in the Parliament. This leaves out only the violence option wide open for the Hindutva forces. As the Bajrang Dal commemorated the mosque demolition day (December 6) as shourya diwas (gallantry day) in 2000, we can expect a lot more 'gallantry' in the future. Advani's announcement on October 27, 2004 at the BJP's national council meeting in Delhi that "Our commitment to the Ram temple in Ayodhya is intact and unwavering" attests to that.
A Possible Solution
Along with the human goodness and its inviolability advocated by all different religions, communalism, its human provocateurs, and the vulnerability or acquiescence do co-exist in ample measure. However, the Indian civil society does not fall prey to communal violence intuitively or impulsively. The 'missing link' is the 'investment' in rioting. A group of social scientists that investigated the communal riots that occurred in December 1990 and February 1991 in a Uttar Pradesh town called Khurja which had no communal strife since 1947 concluded: "[O]ur investigations show a sustained and massive BJP-RSS investment in rioting." The strategy of the Sangh Parivar would be simple. Since the emotional Ramjanmabhumi issue alone would not be quite adequate to keep up the levels of social tension and to forge a unified Hinduism, they would try to incite communal riots and create a permanent state of communal division which would also subsume the internal contradictions within the 'Hindu' society. That dual strategy was necessary to capture power both at the state and the Center and will be employed now. Thus the Ram temple is a symbol of communal mobilization and tension.
It is quite clear now that the BJP stages the Ram temple drama with its star-performer Advani in the lead role whenever their political going gets tough. The Babri Masjid issue had not figured even once in any of the speeches of the first president of the BJP, A. B. Vajpayee, nor had it appeared in any of the party resolutions passed during the first decade of the party. On the occasion of the 10th anniversary, however, L. K. Advani, who had been the president since 1986, claimed in an interview that the "distinct features of the BJP's personality" included their stand on Article 370 that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, their demands that the Minority Commission be replaced by a Human Rights Commission, that the Directive principle of State Policy in respect of uniform civil code be implemented, and that a Ram temple be constructed in Ayodhya at the site believed to be Ram's birthplace. The BJP's national executive met on June 9, 1989 at Palampur (Himachal Pradesh) and took a categorical position on the Babri Masjid issue. They complained that the other parties, the Congress in particular, showed "callous unconcern" towards "the sentiments of the overwhelming majority in this country -- the Hindus." The executive demanded that the 'Ram Janmasthan' be "handed over to the Hindus -- if possible through a negotiated settlement, or else by legislation. Litigation certainly is no answer."
When the Ayodhya confrontation was intensified in the late 1980s, the Sangh Parivar worked with great consolidation and complementarity. As the political wing, BJP, kept the dialogue open with the government for negotiations retreating whenever necessary. The cultural wing, RSS, kept directing the campaign with unmitigated communal fervor. The religious wing, VHP, Bajrang Dal, and the sadhus (religious figures), were ever ready for action. Together they utilized every medium of expression to their advantage: "the court as a delaying tactics; the media through demonstrative actions that hit the headlines; and of course the political platform for negotiations bypassing all political parties including the Congress and even Parliament. ...All the time the fire was kept burning with the fuel of religious symbols and myths." As the Congress government of P. V. Narasimha Rao, a brahmin from southern India, found the Ramjanmabhumi campaign a convenient cover to hide its liberalization policy debacles, the upper-caste controlled media played up the anti-Mandal agitations and tacitly supported the Hindutva politics by downplaying the communal riots. The inefficiency of other government agencies such as the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) could be seen in the fact that there was no discussion anywhere if the kar sevaks and others found any evidences or remains of the 'old Ram temple' when they demolished the mosque.
Given this situation, it is important to stop this manipulative theatrics of the Sangh Parivar and turn the table on them. The Ram temple issue is too important for our country's survival and development to be decided by a few groups of Hindus and Muslims, or the law courts, or the legislators. The Sangh Parivar and the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee (AIBMAC) are not and cannot be the custodians of the 11th century temple and 16th century mosque and should not negotiate on behalf of all the Hindus and the Muslims in India. A complicated matter of faith, history, identity, inter-group relations, and security cannot be handled effectively either by law courts or legislators for obvious reasons. Any attempted legal or legislative intervention would only result in dividing us further rather than bringing us together as a nation. And therefore, the Babri Masjid/Ramjanmabhumi issue must be decided by the people of India themselves in order to have the absolute answer for this menacing issue. The Indian government should hold a national referendum along with the next general elections and let all the Indians collectively decide how we should resolve this conflict.
Even in the midst of the Ayodhya-centered communal frenzy in 1992, a nationwide India Today-MARG poll revealed that more than half of the people in India were against demolishing the mosque and wanted both the temple and the mosque to coexist. Even in the BJP-ruled states, 48 per cent favored co-existence. Only a meager 16 per cent opted for the demolition of the mosque to build the temple. Immediately after the December 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid, all the four BJP state governments were dismissed by the Central government. Another India Today-MARG opinion poll in July 1993 found out that there was an almost overwhelming view that the Ram temple should be constructed in Ayodhya. Even 50 per cent of the Muslims accepted the construction. Among those who wanted the temple built, only 51 per cent wanted it on the controversial spot. Some 44 per cent of the people polled wanted the temple away from the site, or the temple and the mosque side-by-side. On the question of who should build the temple, even half of the BJP-sympathizers wanted an independent trust to build it and not the VHP. An Indore-based webzine, Webduniya, conducted a survey late 2002 with some 16 questions to decipher Indians' feelings on the Ram temple issue.
The proposed national referendum could include the following (and other possible) options:
S Rebuild the masjid at the disputed site,
S Build the Ram mandir at the disputed site,
S Build neither the masjid nor the mandir at the disputed site,
S Build both the masjid and the mandir at the disputed site,
S Build a big plain octagonal prayer hall with Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Jewish, and Parsi entrances.
S Any other solution you can think of (as a write-in option)
Such a referendum should be acceptable to the BJP also since the party held the 1991 state election as a "virtual referendum on Ram Janmabhoomi" issue. When the BJP-run state governments were dismissed in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Rajasthan at the wake of the mosque demolition, and elections were conducted in November 1993, the BJP put up a stern fight. Their election manifesto began with a quote from the Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas: "In the Kingdom of Rama, no one suffered any torment--material, physical or spiritual. No one died a premature death. No one was subject to pain and anguish. All (citizens) were healthy and handsome. There was no poverty, misery or humiliation. Nor was there any ignorance or ignominy." Among other issues, Ayodhya figured prominently in the BJP manifesto. Dividing the Indian polity into "anti-temple forces" and their own Ayodhya movement, "the biggest mass movement in the history of independent India," the manifesto claimed that the 1991 election was a "virtual referendum on Ram Janmabhoomi" issue that they had won by promising the temple construction. According to the manifesto, on December 6, 1992, "Matters took an unexpected turn when, angered by the obstructive tactics of the Narasimha Rao government, inordinate judicial delays and pseudo-secularist taunts, the kar sevaks took matters into their own hands, demolished the disputed structure and constructed a makeshift temple for Lord Rama at the garbha griha."
The manifesto claimed further: "Owning responsibility for its inability to prevent the demolition," the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh resigned. With this apologetic and evasive explanation, the BJP sought "a positive mandate for its programme and policies." The mandate they eventually received clearly indicated the disapproval of the majority of the people in the Hindi/Urdu heartland. The BJP was denied a "positive mandate" in 1993 elections and won only 176 seats in Uttar Pradesh as opposed to 211 in the 1991 polls. In Madhya Pradesh, the party won just 116 seats as opposed to 219 seats in 1990. In Himachal Pradesh, BJP won in 8 seats compared to the 44 seats it won in 1990 elections.
The BJP leaders had exhorted the voters in these states to decide if the December 6 vandalism was an exhibition of "national shame" or an act of "national pride." They also gave a victory cry to the masses, Aaj chaar pradesh, kal sara desh (Victory in four states today, the rest of the country tomorrow). Despite all the rhetoric, the people decisively rejected the BJP. There was a noticeable swing away from extremism in the rural areas on account of the inappropriate politicization of Ram, impact of violence on economic growth, and the unwanted strengthening of the local police forces. In another round of state elections in November-December 1994, the BJP won only two seats in Andhra Pradesh as opposed to the five seats they had in 1989. In Karnataka, they improved their position from four in 1989 to 40 in 1994. In the March 1995 state elections, the BJP pulled itself together in Gujarat and Maharashtra (in alliance with Shiv Sena), but lost Bihar and Orissa. The electoral performance of the BJP in the parliamentary elections (160 seats in 1996, 182/388 in 1998, 182/339 in 1999, and 138/364 in 2004) shows the stagnation and steady deterioration of the party.
Although the BJP's Ram temple gimmicks did have some influence in its electoral performance initially, the party pulled away from its communal agenda strategically and cunningly. The Indian civil society considered the BJP to be another political party that could be an alternative to the steadily deteriorating Congress party. Given the fact that there is no viable third alternative, Indian voters have brought back the ousted arrangement. In a world that is tormented by 'state collapse' and accompanying ills, the Indian voters appreciate the need for a functioning government in New Delhi but are not confident about any single party or leader. The only recourse for them then is to vote in a coalition that has not had its chance yet. At the same time, they have also demonstrated their maturity and shrewdness by discouraging the BJP-combine's phony patriotism, nuclear adventurism, and needless militarism. When all is said and done, as a rural voter had told a journalist during the 1991 campaign: "Ram bhakti is one thing, politics another." ¢
S.P. Udayakumar runs South Asian Community Center for Education and Research at Nagercoil, India. This essay is taken from his forthcoming book, 'Presenting' the Past: Anxious History and Ancient Future in Hindutva India.
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