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Mainstream, VOL XLVIII, No 50, December 4, 2010

In the Name of Ram

Sunday 12 December 2010, by Nikhil Chakravartty



[The following piece, which appeared within a fortnight of the demolition of the Babri Masjid (December 6, 1992), is being reproduced on the eighteenth anniversary of that infamous event.]

To build a temple to mark the brithplace of Ram, a mosque was destroyed by deceit.

Those who swiftly and competently did the demolition job on Sunday (December 6, 1992), did so before the very eyes of those leaders who had been assuring Parliament and the public that the disputed structure would not be harmed until the dispute itself was settled by negotiations or through the due process of law. The UP Government, which was manned by the party which supported the campaign for the proposed Ram temple, had given solemn assurances to the Supreme Court of India that the disputed mosque as also the adjoining land would be protected; and yet its administration became a virtual onlooker to the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

This touched off countrywide disturbances in which more than a thousand persons have lost their lives and lakhs have become homeless and the material loss runs into crores of rupees. And more than anything else, the morale of the nation has been shattered and its honour besmirched.

What does this sudden outburst of vandalism denote? From more than one angle, this disaster at Ayodhya has serious implications for the functioning of our democracy and civil society while the threat to the nation’s integrity has become alarmingly serious. It has brought down the country’s standing in the international arena and it has undermined the very self-confidence of this great nation.

Civil society means adherence to the rule of law and, specifically in our case, this implies acceptance of the tenets of our Constitution. When senior functionaries of a leading political party, whose representatives constitute the principal party in the Opposition in Parliament, associate themselves with a campaign led by people who for long have been proclaiming that they were bound by no judicial verdict as they claimed to be guided by the behest of their faith alone, then this strikes at the very root of our democratic order. And the State Government run by the very same party, after having made solemn commitments before the Supreme Court of the land that the disputed structure would be protected, permits its administration to be just a passive onlooker of the act of demolition of the very same disputed structure, and then it only put up its hands and sought to run away from its responsibilities.

With all the pathetic expressions of regret at the happening, can the leaders of the BJP and its directing authority, the RSS, dispute that what took place at Ayodhya on December 6 under their aegis was not a direct assault on our democratic system as enjoined by the Constitution? The plea that the actual perpetrators of the demolition of the structure were not under their control, that the thousands of sadhus who had gathered there were not members of their organisation and were therefore not under their control or discipline, is a very poor and unconvincing defence. Is it not a fact that the BJP leaders themselves have actively participated in the campaign for the mobilisation of lakhs of kar sevaks? Did not the then BJP President, Advani, undertake his cross-country rath yatra in 1990 raising the same clamour for the building of the temple that would include the area where the mosque under dispute is located? In fact, the UP Chief Minister, Kalyan Singh, openly claimed that the mandate given to him by his poll victory was for building the temple—virtually making a short shrift of the election laws which debar anybody from seeking votes in the name of any religion.

No doubt there are elements in the BJP—much larger than is visible in the prevailing tension—who are actually distressed by the ugly turn of events in which their party has become practically bracketed with those who destroyed the mosque in defiance of law. These elements are faced with the quandary that many other parties in our country have faced in the past—from the Communists to the Akalis and others—whether to assert their legitimate role within the constitutional framework and refusing to be overpowered by the fervid militancy of desperado politics. In a sense, this is the very moment of truth for this section in the BJP-RSS camp. If personalised symbols are called for, it is the choice between Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani on one side, and Ashok Singhal and Vinay Katyar on the other. Such a difficult choice confronted other parties as well: some faced it and asserted, while others dodged and ultimately were swamped by militants resorting to terrorism.

This is not just a hypothetical question flung at them. It encompasses an entire approach to the democratic polity itself. The brutal swoop by the militant activists on the mediapersons covering the kar seva brings out in true colours what sort of totalitarianism they want to set up. The challenge before us has to be seen in its totality.

The shock of the Black Sunday has another dimension, perhaps more fearsome than anything else. The curse of the partition destroyed the integrity of the country fortyfive years ago. However much our leaders denied and disowned it, their acceptance of the partition plan meant their surrender to the two-nation theory, that the Hindus and Muslims are two nations, not two communities belonging to the same nation. In effect, the partition made the minority community in each country the target of distrust by the intolerant sections of the majority community. And by the logic of the two-nation theory, Pakistan has to be an Islamic state, and ipso facto India must come up as a Hindu infected Hindu orthodoxy on the political plane. This is the pernicious source from which communal loyalties have grown up more and more as an essential ingredient of politics.

All these years, hardly any comprehensive and objective assessment of the malignancy of the partition has been undertaken by either the political or intellectual leadership of the country. The result is that not only has religious loyalty been exploited for political support, but within each community, the campaigners for widening the communal divide have gained ground masquerading as orthodox and pure fundamental adherents of the creed. Hence even in recent days, the phenomenon of bigots on one side forcing the Muslim Women’s Act and trying to persecute rational scholarship whether in Jamia Millia or at the Khuda Box Library in Patna. And much in the same way, their counterpart in bigotry in the Hindu community builds up Ram not as a unifier but as a divider of society. That is how place names sanctified by History are sought to be changed and History rewritten to project the ideology of the bigoted. Political leadership in the days of the freedom struggle fought such forces of blind intolearances, but in the years since independence, it has not only tolerated them but have tried to strike deals with them for the purpose of collecting votes. This way our social fabric has been torn asunder and our political life debased.

And yet, if we look around this wide world called India, we find in its thousands of villages and towns, the Hindus and the Muslims living together in peace and harmony, day in and day out for years and decades. They follow their own faith, each to his own, follow diverse customs and ways of life. We do not highlight this remarkable kindred spirit—neither in politics, nor in the media. Our political system, the manner in which we run it, the appeal with which we seek votes at election times, reinforces the division and not the unity of our nation. And as corrosion of morality has spread in our public life, the bane of communal approach, communal thinking, has got a fresh lease. We write dissertations and declaim communalism in our own secluded parlours, in seminars and symposia, but we do not go out through the length and breadth of this country instilling support and strength to the urge for Hindu-Muslim amity, to spread the message that this unity is needed to hold our great country together: that its history, its civilisational grandeur, its present-day imperatives —all demand it.

Only one frail man took up that mission tirelessly, but he was shot dead by a young man who thought he was killing that little man to uphold the glory of Hindutva. Gandhi fell with the two words “Hey Ram” on his lips. And today in the name of Lord Ram, brother is being torn apart from brother.

When shall we regain the lost paradise?

(Mainstream, December 19, 1992)

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