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The terror of politics

Terrorists and politicians alike, are threatening secular fabric of India, write Pankaj Vohra and Sunita Aron.Wanted: Assassins who kill

india Updated: Mar 12, 2006 02:54 IST

Shortly after Varanasi was shaken by terror, Vinay Katiyar (President of the BJP UP State Unit from 2002 - 2004) stood outside the Sankat Mochan temple, spewing fundamentalist venom — Shiv bhakt, Ram bhakt, Hanuman bhakt chup nahin rahenge. Agar isi tarah attack hote rahe, woh bhi sadak par aayenge aur jo bhagwan ka aadesh hoga, uska palan karenge.

Interestingly however, the Mahant of Sankat Mochan, Veer Bhadra Mishra (who is also a professor of Water Resource Management and Hydraulic Engineering at the Benaras Hindu University), denied him permission to use the temple premises for staging a daylong dharna. Instead, he went out and welcomed a delegation of minority leaders, which was led by Mufti-e-Benaras Maulana Abdul Batin. Together, they condemned the efforts of terrorists that sought to shatter the communal fabric of the city and vowed to prevent terrorists and politicians alike, from realising their dreams of religious polarisation. The frustration on Katiyar’s face as he sat on a dharna ‘outside’ the Sankat Mochan temple, is perhaps representative of the disappointment that many a political party is set to feel as they try to gain malicious mileage from what remains, a truly dastardly act.

It remains clear that when Islamic militants targeted Varanasi on Tuesday (and that too the Sankat Mochan temple), they did so with a specific purpose. The fundamentalists obviously knew that bomb blasts in the holy city were bound to have wide ranging ramifications; a communally surcharged situation would make governance difficult and the spectre of riots would then be witnessed by one and all. Seemingly, the people of Varanasi wanted none of that. After lodging their protests, they went back to work and life at the holiest of all Hindu pilgrim destinations is slowly limping back to normalcy.

BJP — The Prime Instigator

But there are other dangers that are closer home. In an election year, when UP is high on the agenda of almost every major political party, various politicians have done much to politicise the blasts. Significantly BJP leaders (including the leader of opposition, L. K. Advani), have announced a yatra, whose aim is to revive the Hindutva agenda. An agenda, which had been given up by the party when in power, on account of its coalition politics. Although the proposed yatra has been named the Bharat Jodo Yatra, its objective is clear and its success will depend largely on its ability to create a chasm between communities and project the BJP as the only party for Hindus. In the state, a Hindu backlash has been imminent and the yatra will seek to derive maximum utility from such potential.

SP — The Unusual Benefactor

In the wake of the cartoon controversy, Haji Yaqoob Qureshi, a minister in the Samajwadi government, offered a hefty bounty for the head of the Danish cartoonist. Protests over the allegedly blasphemous cartoons were followed by demonstrations that criticised George Bush for his Iraq and Iran policies. Mulayam Singh Yadav (who was on the back foot in Varanasi as he had failed to act despite state Intelligence having been tipped off), seems to have made every bid to stoke the sentiments of agitated Muslims. For instance, he recently delivered a lengthy speech at an anti-Bush rally in Delhi. All of this was enough to anger those in the state who subscribed to the BJP brand of Hindutva and the Varanasi blasts seems to have given them enough arsenal, which they can now use to effect their planned backlash.

Oddly enough however, if the BJP were to succeed in its plan and in the event that communal clashes ensue, Mulayam would also be a benefactor. Struggling to remain the chief minister of the state, his proximity to the minorities has been the primary reason for his electoral successes. Religiously motivated riots would certainly lead to Muslim consolidation and see the CM strengthen his position, while Hindus make a beeline for the BJP.

The BJP, which once called the UP CM ‘Maulana Mulayam’ during the Ayodhya movement, could once again use the same phraseology in order to erase the impression that in the strange game of politics, the two parties had reached an understanding. With the Congress being seen as a common adversary by both the BJP and the SP in UP and in national politics, this perception has been steadily gaining ground. And because the appointment of Rajnath Singh as the BJP chief came soon after the reported meeting of Mulayam with the RSS chief K. S. Sudershan, it is a viewpoint that cannot be easily ignored.

BSP — The Needy Successor

As for the BSP and the state Congress, they have been politicising every murder, robbery, riot or blast in the state. But bogged down with their internecine problems, they have not taken to the streets but have instead rushed to Raj Bhawan with petitions seeking Mulayam’s head. Dismissal of the government is their only solution to problems afflicting the state, including terror attacks. If communal clashes were to occur, the BSP (which appears to be the party in waiting) would undeniably be pleased if President’s rule were enforced. The BSP’s reading of the political situation is that whenever Mulayam is in power, his party does well in the polls and if President’s rule (as demanded by Mayawati) were imposed, his chances would be reduced, as “free and fair” polls would arguably favour them.

Congress — The Only Peacekeeper

The Congress however, seems to be the only political party that has done its image, a relative amount of good. Sonia Gandhi was the only leader, who despite being the first to visit the temple city, did or said nothing to politicise the issue. Her presence in Varanasi was re-assuring for its people, as she promised to bring the guilty to book. Instead of being critical of the Chief Minister, she (to his relief) said that the Centre and state governments would work together as the fight against terrorism had to be a collective one. Moreover, she succeeded in politically isolating the BJP, which has been weakened by its own factional fights. And it remains to be seen whether Advani will manage to get the RSS endorsement for his Yatra, which is crucial for it to succeed. If that does not happen, the BJP’s ambitious plans could be the primary political casualty of the Varanasi riots.

Message on the temple wall

But politics and politicians apart, it has been the efforts of the people of Benares that have resisted the widening of communal divides. As politicians continued playing their petty but dangerous games, prominent members of different communities held peace meetings in every nook and corner of the holy city to ensure that they (the netas) failed in their designs. In 2005, the people of Ayodhya reacted in much the same way. Following the attempted terror attack on the disputed Ram Janmabhumi, politicians were airdropped in the city by their respective parties but locals remained unaffected by the blast and by the trumpets blown. And in Lucknow when a little known political leader Sonkar, organised a Khatik’s rally, less than two dozens Khatiks (members belonging to a particular caste of Hindus) turned up at the venue, despite the fact that four Khatiks had lost their lives in clashes with minorities.

The message seems clear — The people of UP and the nation don’t want to talk secularism, they want to live it.

First Published: Mar 12, 2006 02:54 IST