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Mock turtle soup for the soul
AG Noorani, PTI
May 04, 2004
First Published: 03:53 IST(4/5/2004)
Last Updated: 14:53 IST(4/5/2004)

The BJP has always spoken with a forked tongue on the Ayodhya issue. At times, it calls it a ‘national’ issue. But most of the times it asserts, as Atal Bihari Vajpayee did on March 15, for instance, that it involves “Hindu sentiments”, a point his deputy, L.K. Advani, makes repeatedly (March 30 and April 6).

He squared the circle in an interview (Organiser, April 12) by saying that “Hindu (sic.) is a matter of wider belief and encompasses all those living in India. Hindu nationalism is an all-encompassing concept”. He betrayed more than he realised when he said, “In 1990, after the implementation of the Mandal report, the country was divided on caste lines... The movement on Ayodhya reintegrated the Hindus.”

Advani is deluding himself if he believes that “the Ayodhya issue would now bring the two communities (Hindus and Muslims) closer”. After the demolition of the Babri masjid, it is too much to expect the Muslims to acquiesce in his plans.

Such a glaring contradiction in one single pronouncement betrays sheer duplicity. Vajpayee said on February 23 that “the temple isn’t an issue” in the polls. Advani said on April 6 at Ayodhya, “The BJP has decided not to make Ramjanmabhoomi an election issue.” Why, then, did it have the issue inserted in the NDA’s agenda now, unlike in the one in 1998? Advani claims that his recent yatra was not undertaken on this issue either. Yet, in meeting after meeting, he talked about the Ram mandir.

It would be unwise to dismiss all this as election rhetoric or a ploy to appease the RSS and the VHP. Advani is not on a runaway tiger which he wishes to dismount. He wants it to pick up speed, dazzle everyone around him, and reach his goal. The demolition of the Babri masjid on December 6, 1992 was not enough of an achievement. He is desperately eager to build a temple on the site

of the demolished mosque as his crowning achievement. It would symbolise the recasting of the polity, defeat the secularists and show Muslims their place in the country, very much like the place they have in the BJP. A shrill note of urgency has been adopted to convey the inevitability of success on the temple issue and on the polity itself — be firm and more and more people will jump on the bandwagon.

The BJP’s manifesto “reaffirms its commitment to the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya... Ram is an inspiring cultural symbol of India. His birthplace in Ayodhya is also associated with the religious sentiments of crores of Hindus”. Having squared the circle, it “appeals to the religious and social leaders of the Hindu and Muslim communities to speed up the process of dialogue and bring it to an amicable and early fruition”. That the formulation in the NDA’s agenda is milder is less relevant than that the subject should have found a place in it at all. It speaks of “an early and amicable resolution of the Ayodhya issue”, through the “judiciary’s verdict” or “a negotiated settlement”.

The sinister significance of this new element becomes clear when read with recent pronouncements of the government’s top brass. None other than the PM said on February 8 at Ayodhya that he needed “five more years” in order to “fulfil my promise” to build the Ram temple.

It was, he stressed, one of the “unfinished tasks” of the NDA government — despite its omission in the 1998 agenda. Now the omission is repaired. Advani explained its significance on March 2: “We believe that only our government’s efforts can help in the days ahead in the building of the Ram temple.”

The construction of a Ram mandir is a government job. Advani promised on April 5 that its “construction... will begin within a short time after the new government assumes office”. Indeed, “discussions have been on (with Muslims) for eight months”. Some progress had been made without publicising “the formula being worked out”. What he claimed at Ayodhya on April 6 suggests that he has a deal worked out already. “We could have announced it a month before but then opposition parties would have blamed us for making it an election issue to reap political benefits. To keep negotiations away from politics, we dropped it till the Lok Sabha polls and the installation of a new government.”

The gameplan is not hard to discern. “I am confident we will be able to reach an agreement involving Hindu and Muslim representatives shortly after the new government is in place.” Precisely, who are the representatives of the Muslims? There is already a litigation pending before the Ayodhya bench of the Allahabad High Court. These are civil suits on title to the site of the mosque. Neither the court nor the parties appearing before it can be bypassed. Still less the Supreme Court, which intervened for over a decade with interim orders and delivered a binding judgment of lasting consequence. Muslims have been represented in the civil suits by the Sunni Central Waqf Board, Uttar Pradesh, since 1961.

In 2003, the Kanchi Shankara-charya openly negotiated with the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB). He proposed surrender terms which the board flatly rejected on July 6, 2003: “The proposed gift will not promote communal harmony or national integration because such gift is under duress and not based on the principle of fair play... The convoluted version of history is used for divisive purpose and a fait accompli achieved by the trespass into the religious place belonging to other denomination and undermining the basic values of the Constitution is sought to be hallowed with religious sentiments depicted as if the same is of the entire Hindu community... it looks upon the proposals... as thinly veiled threats to the Muslims to submit and surrender themselves...”

For long, the BJP rejected the judicial process in this matter. “The BJP holds that the nature of this controversy is such that it just cannot be sorted out by a court of law. A court of law can settle issues of title, trespass, possession, etc. But it cannot decide as to whether Babur did actually invade Ayodhya, destroy a temple and build a mosque in its place.” These exploded bogies were revived and courts told that they could not decide on matters of “belief”. The issue was raised on

the eve of the 1989 general elections in the BJP’s famous Palampur resolution of June 11. Its recipe was “a negotiated settlement, or else, by legislation. Litigation certainly is no answer.”

Legislation, however, would be a nullity. The Supreme Court ruled in Indira Gandhi’s case that judicial verdict in a pending case cannot be aborted by a legislative verdict, not even through a constitutional amendment. In 1994, the court ruled that the pending title suits cannot be aborted by legislation. Both rulings were unanimous.

A reference in the BJP’s resolution provides a clue to its sordid strategy — its “appreciation of the attempts made by some Shia leaders” to persuade the community to give up the mosque. We will know who the BJP’s Muslim interlocutors are only when the worms crawl

out of the woodwork. Basically, the strategy is to divide the Muslims.

The Congress manifesto urges pointedly that “if negotiations are to be held, they must be between the parties to the dispute”. Both the AIMPLB and the Waqf Board were approached deviously for a meeting with the government. The intermediates were told off. The approach was made because it was realised that a settlement must be recorded in an order made by the court with the consent of the parties to the suit — and with no one else.

Professions of sympathy for Muslims were made essentially to convince the Hindus that the BJP is not a communal party. The Ayodhya issue has exposed the pretence to secularism and sympathy for Muslims.


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