How a mosque became a temple

Print edition : March 08, 2013

December 6, 1992: Hindu fundamentalists atop the Babri Masjid just before demolishing it. Photo: SANJAY SHARMA/INDIA PIX NETWORK

L.K. Advani. On December 3, 1989, after the general election, he expressed satisfaction that the issue had contributed to the BJP's success. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

Ramachandra Das Paramhans. He was presdient of the Hindu Mahasabah's Ayodhya unit. He told 'The New York Times' (December 22, 1991): “I am the very man who put the idol inside the masjid.” Photo: SIDDHARTH DARSHAN KUMAR/AP

Biharsharif, 1990: L.K. Advani's Somnath-to-Ayodhya rath yatra faces protests from Janata Dal supporters. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

New Delhi, December 23, 2007: Ashok Singhal, international president of the VHP and Praveen Togadia, international general secretary of the VHP, perform 'havan' at the bhumi pujan ceremony for 'Ram Setu'. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

Delhi, 1946: Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel with Gandhi at the Congress Working Committee meeting in Delhi. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

A timely and revealing book on the takeover of the Babri Masjid on the night of December 22-23, 1949. The authors’ political sophistication emerges from the pointed questions they raise about a divide in our polity.

THE Sangh Parivar is all set to revive the Ayodhya issue and for the same reason for which it is seeking to make Narendra Modi its frontman in 2014. It is desperate because it has no vote getter. L.K. Advani’s ambitions have far outrun his abilities as a vote getter. He draws a yawn even in the parivar.

Radhika Ramaseshan, a correspondent very much in the know, reported a meeting on January 31, 2013, at the residence of Shripad Yeso Naik, MP, a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) regular, which was attended by Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj. The long-neglected Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s leaders Ashok Singhal, Praveen Togadia, Champak Rai and Dinesh Kumar dusted off the cobwebs that had covered them to make themselves presentable at the meeting ( The Telegraph, February 1, 2013). On February 7, the VHP’s steering committee meeting at the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad passed a resolution on the construction of a Ram temple on the ruins of the Babri Masjid which the parivar demolished 20 years ago on December 6, 1992.

Radhika Ramaseshan reported: “VHP sources admitted that the agenda was political and was drawn up with the 2014 elections in mind and the possibility that the recycled Ayodhya card might help the BJP in the Hindu belt and the west. They also said the blueprint was firmed up in conjunction with the RSS.” One of the reasons for the meeting on January 31 was to “prop up a ‘Hindutva’ context for Narendra Modi’s prospective projection nationally”.

This book could not have made a more timely appearance. It uncovers a wider plot to recast the Indian polity, of which the takeover of the Babri Masjid on the night of December 22-23, 1949, was but a subplot. It is by far the most revealing book on that sordid episode. The authors, both Delhi-based journalists, did fieldwork for years. Their stupendous research in the archives would do any scholar proud. Two lies used repeatedly to cover up the crime are exposed; namely, that the idol of Ram “appeared” that night as L.K. Advani asserted on August 1, 2003. He has also systematically spread the tale that no prayers were said at the mosque for years. The RSS’ organ Organiser said it “meticulously appeared” (March 29, 1987).

The authors record the testimony of the Babri Masjid’s last muezzin, Muhammad Ismail, who put up a fierce resistance to the intruders who had scaled the walls and were about to plant the idol. He was beaten up and forced to flee and he spent the remaining years of his life as a muezzin in a mosque in Paharganj Ghosania on the outskirts of Faizabad.

The muezzin delivers the azan, the call to prayer, and looks after the mosque. The imam leads the prayers five times a day. Haji Abdul Ghaffar, who lived in Mohalla Qaziana in Ayodhya, functioned as imam of the Babri Masjid from 1930 to 1949. His father, Maulvi Abdul Qadir, was imam from 1901 to 1930. Abdul Ghaffar wrote a book Gungashta Haalat Ayodhya, Awadh, which contains a wealth of information and deserves to be translated into English. The authors tracked down the principal actors. Their lively, evocative style of writing brings the events to life. They had located some of the critical eyewitnesses too.

Advani’s ambitions and BJP’s campaign

It was not religion but politics, specifically the lure of power and Advani’s prime ministerial ambitions, which inspired the campaign. In 1990 he waded through pools of blood in his rath yatra from the Somnath temple in Gujarat to Ayodhya. Immediately on the passing of the BJP’s Palampur (Himachal Pradesh) resolution on Ayodhya on June 11, 1989, Advani said, “I am sure it will translate into votes.” On December 3, 1989, after the general elections, he expressed satisfaction that the issue had contributed to the BJP’s success. On February 24, 1991, as India teetered towards another election, he was confident that the issue would “influence the electoral verdict in favour of the BJP”. On June 18, 1991, he made this pathetic confession: “Had I not played the Ram factor effectively, I would have definitely lost from the New Delhi constituency.”

Shortly after the demolition of the Babri Mosque on December 6, 1992, and another wave of carnage that came in its train, Advani wrote that if Muslims were to identify themselves with the concept of Hindutva there would not be any reason for riots to take place ( The Times of India, January 30, 1993). In July 1992, he argued in the Lok Sabha Speaker’s chamber: “You must recognise the fact that from two seats in Parliament in 1985 we have come to 117 seats in 1991. This has happened primarily because we took up this issue [Ayodhya].”

Behind the BJP’s religio-cultural rhetoric, however, there has always been cold political calculation. The BJP leader Sushma Swaraj ripped apart this pretence in Bhopal on April 14, 2000, when she admitted that the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was “purely political in nature and had nothing to do with religion” ( The Telegraph; April 16, 2000). She was once a socialist and an acolyte of George Fernandes.

The authors recall: “The hands that pumped bullets into the chest of the Mahatma were that of Nathuram Godse, but, as was proved later, the assassination was part of a conspiracy hatched by top Hindu Mahasabha leaders, led by V.D. Savarkar, whose prime objectives were to snatch political initiative from the Congress and destabilise all efforts to uphold secularism in India. The conspiracy to kill Gandhi could not remain hidden for long even though the trial, held immediately after the assassination, had failed to uncover its extent.

The surreptitious occupation of the Babri Masjid was an act planned by almost the same set of people about two years later—on the night of December 22, 1949. It was, in many ways, a reflection of the same brutalised atmosphere that saw Gandhi being murdered. Neither the conspirators nor their underlying objectives were different. In both instances, the conspirators belonged to the Hindu Mahasabha leadership—some of the prime movers of the planting of the idol had been the prime accused in the Gandhi murder case—and their objective this time too was to wrest the political centre stage from the Congress by provoking large-scale Hindu mobilisation in the name of the Lord Rama.” (Emphasis added, throughout.)

Yet the two incidents differed—as much in the modus operandi used by Hindu communalists as in the manner in which the government and the ruling party, the Congress, responded to them. While the Mahatma was killed in full public view in broad daylight, the Babri Masjid was converted into a temple secretly, in the dead of night.

Also, while the conspiracy to kill the Mahatma was probed thoroughly by a commission set up by the Government of India, albeit two decades later, no such inquiry was conducted to unmask the plot and the plotters behind the forcible conversion of the Babri Masjid into a temple. “As a result, an event that so remarkably changed the political discourse in India continues to be treated as a localised crime committed spontaneously by a handful of local people led, of course, by Abhiram Das, a local sadhu. It was, however a well-planned conspiracy involving national, provincial and local level leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha undertaken with the objective of reviving the party’s political fortunes that were lost in the aftermath of the Gandhi assassination.

Interestingly, no major newspaper gave the event the coverage it deserved. Investigative journalism, such as it was, was confined to the tabloids. It would have exposed the deep divide within the Congress between Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the secularist, and his Deputy Vallabhbhai Patel, the communalist, who had even inaugurated, in Mumbai in 1945, the Pranlal Mansukhlal Swimming Bath whose membership was confined to Hindus.

First information report

The first information report (FIR) lodged at 9 a.m. on December 23, 1949, hours after the Ram idol was installed, speaks for itself. Pandit Ramdeo Dubey, officer-in-charge, Ayodhya Police Station, Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh, lodged this FIR against Abhiram Das, Ram Sakal Das, Sudarshan Das and 50 to 60 other persons, whose names were not known, under Sections 147 (rioting), 448 (trespassing) and 295 (defiling a place of worship) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC):

“That at about 7 in the morning when I (Ramdeo Dubey) reached the Janmabhoomi, I came to know from Mata Prasad [Constable No. 7, Ayodhya Police Station] that a group of 50 to 60 persons have entered the Babri Masjid by breaking open the locks of the compound and also by scaling the walls and staircases and placed an idol of Shri Bhagwan in it and scribbled sketches of Sita, Ramji, etc. in saffron and yellow colours on the inner and outer walls of it. That Hans Raj [Constable No. 70, who was on duty at the time when 50-60 persons entered] stopped them [from doing so] but they did not care. The PAC [Provincial Armed Constabulary] guards present there were called for help. But by then the people had already entered the mosque. Senior district officials visited the site and got into action. Later on, a mob of five to six thousand people gathered and tried to enter into the mosque raising religious slogans and singing kirtans. But due to proper arrangement, nothing happened. Committers of crime [Abhi] Ram Das, [Ram] Sakal Das, Sudarshan Das with 50 to 60 persons, names not known, have desecrated [ naapaak kiya hai] the mosque by trespassing the mosque through rioting and placing idol in it. Officers on duty and many other people have seen it. So the case has been checked. It is found correct.”

Ramachandra Das Paramhans, who told The New York Times, “I am the very man who put the idol inside the masjid” (December 22, 1991), was nowhere on the scene. Many believed he had left town to attend the conference of the Hindu Mahasabha that was to begin on December 24 in Calcutta (now Kolkata). The man who had planted the idol was Abhiram Das.

Fight for control

There was a rift between the intruders as well; Abhiram’s aim was to establish his Nirvani Akhara’s complete sway over Ayodhya. “It was an established tradition that the Nirvani Akhara possessed the temple of Lord Hanuman inside Hanumangarhi, meaning thereby that it would have control over all the offerings and donations that the temple received from devotees and patrons. As part of this arrangement, the Nirmohi Akhara, another prominent Ramanandi Akhara, had been assigned control over the Ramachabutara. The Ramachabutara until then was worshipped as Lord Rama’s janmabhoomi. Accordingly, all the offerings at this site were collected by the Nirmohi Akhara.”

The claim of the Nirmohi Akhara over the janmabhoomi would automatically be diluted if Abhiram Das, a member of the Nirvani Akhara, succeeded in installing an idol of Ram inside the Babri Masjid—almost 50 feet [15.2 metre] away from the Ram chabutara. The “real janmabhoomi” that would thus emerge inside the mosque would make the janmabhoomi owned for almost a century by the Nirmohi Akhara redundant. And by becoming the Janmabhoomi Uddharak, Abhiram Das would have sole control over this potentially most significant spot in Ayodhya.

He held the idol firmly as he began climbing the Masjid wall. He, who led the march, was an active Mahasabhaite and was a trusted lieutenant of Mahant Digvijai Nath, president of the U.P. unit of the Mahasabha. Ramachandra Das Paramhans was president of the Ayodhya unit.

The authors are scrupulously fair to V.D. Savarkar and accept that “there is scant evidence implicating Savarkar in this conspiracy”. But the top leadership could not have been ignorant of what was afoot. A resolution adopted at the special session of the Mahasabha in Poona (now Pune) in December 1950 claimed: “During this year, [the] Hindu Mahasabha undertook the work of regaining the Ram Janmabhoomi temple at Ayodhya. Sri Mahant Digvijai Nath [Hindu Mahasabha’s national general secretary and president of the party’s U.P. unit], Sri V.G. Deshpande [the party’s national vice president] and Sri Tej Narain [working president of the party’s U.P. unit] went there and the Ram Janma Bhoomi shrine is now in the possession of the Hindu Mahasabhaites.…”

The authors also record: “It has been rumoured that sometime in the second week of December 1949, at a meeting of the reception committee set up for the twenty-eighth session of the Hindu Mahasabha, Savarkar had directed Mahant Digvijay Nath, the president of the party’s provincial unit in U.P., to concentrate solely on ‘regaining’ Ramajanmabhoomi in Ayodhya so that the work could be ‘accomplished’ before the beginning of the Mahasabha’s Calcutta session on December 24 that year. Apart from Savarkar and Mahant Digvijai Nath, it was claimed, the meeting that took place at the party headquarters in Delhi was attended by other prominent Mahasabha leaders like Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee, Dr. N.B. Khare (who became the party president two weeks later) and Mamarao Date (based on interview with Pramod Pandit Joshi, secretary, All India Hindu Mahasabha on December 10, 2010).”

After Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, 1948, the Mahasabha’s former president, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, then a Minister in Nehru’s Cabinet, suggested two options to the Mahasabha on February 6: “to break with its political activities” and confine itself to “social, cultural and religious objects” or open its doors to every citizen who accepted its programme. The Mahasabha accepted the first in a qualified form. It decided to “suspend political activities”, not abandon them. On August 8, 1948, the party’s executive decided to renew its political activities, which it ratified on November 6-7, 1948. On April 3, 1948, the Constituent Assembly had passed a resolution denouncing communal political parties, leaving Mookerjee with two choices, quit the Cabinet or the Mahasabha. He chose the latter on November 23, 1948. But if political activity was to be renewed, an attractive plank was necessary. It was the Ram temple. The BJP followed this course in 1989 and is likely to do so again in 2013.

However, success required support from the bureaucracy and from the ruling party, the Congress. “The idea that eventually changed the politics of India, though much later than its originators had anticipated, emerged for the first time among three friends —Maharaja Pateshwari Prasad Singh, head of the princely state of Balrampur, Mahant Digvijai Nath and K.K.K. Nair. The three were joined as much by their Hindu communal sentiments as their love for lawn tennis.” K.K.K. Nair, ICS was then District Magistrate of Gonda. Between June 1, 1949, and March 14, 1950, he was Deputy Commissioner-cum-District Magistrate of Faizabad. Later he was elected to the Lok Sabha on the Jana Sangh ticket. His accomplice was the City Magistrate of Faizabad Guru Datt Singh. Both were forced to quit the service after the masjid’s take over.

Yagna and idea

In 1948 the Maharaja of Balrampur founded the Ram Rajya Parishad. K.K.K. Nair was among his guests. He amassed massive plots of land. The idea was mooted in the early months of 1947 when the Maharaja organised a grand yajna. The plot was bared in 1991 in the Mahasabha’s weekly Hindu Sabha Varta, which the authors quote: “On the last day of the yajna, Sri Digvijai Nath—as per the views expressed by Sri Vinayak Damodar Savarkar that the [Hindu] religious places which had been under occupation of foreigners must now be liberated—discussed the idea [of capturing the Babri Masjid] with Karpatriji and Nair. Promising that he would get back to him after considering the proposal seriously, Nair left for the district headquarters of Gonda. The next day, reaching the place of yajna at Balrampur, Nair went straight to Karpatriji and Mahant Digvijai Nath, who welcomed him and asked him to sit next to them. They began discussing the issue once again. When Nair inquired about the detailed plan, the mahant laid before him the strategy to get back Sri Ramjanmabhoomi in Ayodhya, apart from Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi and Sri Krishna janmabhoomi in Mathura. Nair then promised Digvijai Nath that he would sacrifice everything in order to accomplish this task.”

Digvijay Nath exhorted Hindu militants on January 27, 1948, to kill Gandhi, three days before the assassination. He was in favour of depriving “Muslims of the right to vote for five to ten years”. The BJP is too astute to say that. But by harping on a non-existent “Muslim vote bank” it wants to make political discourse an intra-Hindu affair. The game would not have succeeded but for Chief Minister Govind Ballabh Pant and his backer at the Centre, Vallabhbhai Patel.

In 1998, the then Home Secretary of U.P., Rajeshwar Dayal, made a shocking disclosure in his memoir A Life of Our Times. Officials brought to him trunk loads of plans for a holocaust obtained as a result of raids on the premises of the RSS. “I pressed for the immediate arrest of the prime accused Shri Golwalkar (the RSS Supremo) who was still in the area. Pant deliberately procrastinated. Golwalkar disappeared. RSS sympathisers, both covert and overt, were to be found in the Congress party itself and even in the Cabinet.” Speedy action might have saved Gandhi’s life.

Congress, a house divided

The U.P. Congress was a house divided. Patel’s supporters were led by Pant; Nehru’s by Rafi Ahmed Kidwai. But Pant controlled the party. The Congress Socialist Party left the Congress in March 1948. All its 13 legislators resigned their seats and sought a fresh mandate. Byelections were due in June. Acharya Narendra Dev, a Socialist, fought from Faizabad. He had to be defeated. Pant’s faction replaced Siddheshwari Prasad with Baba Raghav Das and Pant himself made a several visits to Faizabad. In one speech he said that “Muslims and zamindars and other vested interests were trying to undermine the Congress” and that Narendra Dev did not believe in Ram.

So fouled was the atmosphere that Nehru wrote to Mohanlal Saxena, a Cabinet colleague, in September 1949: “Indeed the U.P. is becoming almost a foreign land for me. I do not fit in there. The U.P. Congress Committee, with which I have been associated for thirty-five years, now functions in a manner which amazes me. Its voice is not the voice of the Congress I have known, but something which I have opposed for the greater part of my life […] Communalism has invaded the minds and hearts of those who were pillars of the Congress.” The hint was clear.

Mahasabhaites took heart from this, as the BJP did in 1991-92 under P.V. Narasimha Rao’s regime. When Narendra Dev lost, Digvijay Nath rejoiced that “to win the elections the Congress leaders had to appeal to the Hindu feelings of the voters.”

Sequence of events

The authors carefully trace the events from October 28, 1949, onwards when a huge congregation resolved to organise a function at the Ram chabutra on November 24. As they point out, “till then the Ramachabutra, and not the Babri Masjid, was referred to as Ramajanmabhoomi”. The trio—K.K.K Nair, Guru Datt Singh and Gopal Singh Visharad, head of the Faizabad Mahasabha —went to work. One man saw what was happening and spoke up loud and clear. He was Akshay Brahmachari, a Gandhian who was secretary of the Faizabad District Congress. “Developments taking place in Ayodhya and Faizabad and the question of Babri Mosque are neither a simple question of mosque or temple nor a fight between Hindus and Muslims. This is a serious conspiracy by reactionary forces who want to use it to kill the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and win electoral battle by raising communal passion. Local officials have also participated in this conspiracy.”

The plotters decided, on K.K.K. Nair’s advice, that planting the idol was better than taking over the mosque by mass action. A meeting was held on December 2, which was attended by leaders of the Mahasabha and Nair.

As Abhiram Das led the attack, the muezzin Mohammed Ismail woke up from his slumber and “grabbed Abhiram Das” from behind and almost snatched the “idol from him”. He was beaten badly and ran for his life. Thus a mosque was forcibly and deceitfully converted into a temple. Islamic carvings were erased. As arranged, a crowd collected the next morning. The reader must peruse this meticulously documented work to appreciate the political events before the takeover and the legal skulduggery thereafter to legitimise a crime. The correspondence between K.K.K. Nair and the higher-ups and between Nehru and Pant as well as Patel’s make-believe letter to Pant are all set out.

Nehru’s soft approach

Matters came to a head in August 1950 when Purushottamdas Tandon defeated Acharya Kripalani in the polls for the post of Congress president. Tandon, anointed at the Nasik session in September 1950, resigned less than a year later, Patel having died in December 1950.

The authors’ political sophistication emerges from the pointed questions they raise about a divide in our polity. They note: “[U]ntil he succeeded in marginalising Hindu traditionalists inside the Congress and their source of strength outside the party, Nehru seemed to have allowed his secularism to suffer from a certain ambiguity, doubtless due to his concern not to hand over his opponents a chance to brand him anti-Hindu and thereby score a deadly point over him. Pragmatists may argue that was the reason why Nehru, as he jostled with Patel for supremacy within the party, did not mind a great part of his vision of secularism falling by the wayside.

“There is a counter-argument as well, which raises some pertinent questions. Was it necessary for Nehru to remain a mute spectator while Govind Ballabh Pant and Purushottamdas Tandon played the communal card to finish off their opponents in U.P.—especially Acharya Narendra Dev—and thus created a ground conducive for the Mahasabhaites in Ayodhya? Could it have been avoided? Would communalists still have succeeded in taking over the Babri Masjid and retaining it in the face of all hue and cry, had Nehru opted for an uncompromisingly tough attitude towards them right from the beginning? Wouldn’t a harder attitude have forced the State government to take effective steps to remove the idol from the mosque and, thereby, undo the wrong committed on the night of December 22, 1949? Could the Hindu Mahasabha have succeeded in going that far in implementing its Ayodhya strategy without Nehru’s soft approach?”

As Sampurnanand wrote in his memoirs, Nehru never threw his weight behind the Congress Socialist Party. That does not diminish the majesty of his vision of a modern secular India. It is debatable how much power he wielded before Patel’s death on December 15, 1950. Nehru’s mass appeal was far greater than Patel’s, but it was Patel who controlled the party machine. In this task Patel was aided by rank communalists such as Rajendra Prasad, Pant, Ravi Shankar Shukla and B.C. Roy, Nehru’s old friend, and Tandon, who said on June 14, 1948: “The Musulmans must stop talking about a culture and a civilisation foreign to our country and genius. They should accept Indian culture. One culture and one language will pave the way for real unity. Urdu symbolises a foreign culture. Hindi alone can be the unifying factor for the diverse forces in the country.”

He became president of the Congress. Moraji Desai said on November 29, 1964: “The Hindu majority is clean hearted and fair-minded. I cannot say the same about the majority of the Indian Muslims” ( Hindustan Times, November 30, 1964). He became Prime Minister of India.

Nehru’s biographer records that “in performing this duty (protection of Muslims), his first as the leader of a free people, Nehru could not rely on the unqualified support of his Cabinet”. Patel and Rajendra Prasad, backed by S.P. Mookerjee, opposed him. Patel was opposed to the return to Delhi of the Muslims who had fled the city to escape butchery, thanks to his own failure to protect them (S. Gopal, Jawaharlal Nehru, pages 15-16).

Nehru temporised and contented himself with delivering speeches and writing to Chief Ministers, exerting himself actively when he could. On February 15, 1954, a deputation of Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu met the President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad and presented a petition asking for a Central directive under Article 347 of the Constitution that Urdu be recognised as one of the regional languages of Uttar Pradesh. It was presented by Dr Zakir Husain and among its signatories were Pandit Hriday Nath Kunzru, Mrs Uma Nehru, Pandit Sundarlal and Kishen Chander.

It drew a rare snub to Maulana Azad from Nehru, on March 12, 1954. The petitioners should have approached the U.P. government itself! A Central directive “might well create some kind of a constitutional crisis”. But invoking a constitutional provision does not create a constitutional crisis; perhaps a political one which Nehru feared, given the mood there (see the writer’s The Muslims of India, OUP, pages 299-305).

Hindu chauvinism

Later, Indira Gandhi so fouled the atmosphere when she returned to power in 1980 that even Atal Bihari Vajpayee was provoked to tell M. Markham of The New York Times (June 14, 1984) that her conduct in “encouraging Hindu chauvinism is not going to pay. As the majority community, Hindus must be above parochial politics.” This is precisely the course Advani took in 1990.

The demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 drew a fierce attack by a politician not only on the crime and its perpetrators, and on their entire outlook, but also on the acquiescence of “non-Congress centrist secular parties”. He wrote:

“We were not conscious of our own strength either in 1977 or in 1989 and carried the BJP on our shoulders from strength to strength…. Religious fanaticism soon became the declared electoral platform of the BJP. Capture of power in UP led it to believe that it could capture power at the Centre by the same tactics….

“India is being pushed back into the dark ages by obscurantist, fundamentalist and fascist forces. Their appeasement… has today given them the strength and the audacity to seek to destroy the very basis of our nation state…. [T]he secular forces will have to unitedly and determinedly meet this challenge if India is to survive as a democratic, secular, progressive, liberal and modern nation.”

It is hard to think of a stronger and more just denunciation of the BJP. It was written in The Sunday Observer of December 14, 1992. On November 13, 1993, he joined the BJP. The politician was Yashwant Sinha. To The Times of India he pleaded dishonestly that “by then the difference between communalism and secularism had blurred” (June 24, 2007). All the more reason for espousing secularism even more strongly. There was no such blurring between December 14, 1992, and November 13, 1993, at all; only the opening of a more promising avenue to power than his mentor Chandrashekhar could provide. As Finance Minister in the BJP-led regime he “consulted RSS leaders before I finalised the 1998 budget” ( Confessions of a Swadeshi Reformer, page 183).

But, of course, Yashwant Sinha was and is neither a secularist nor a communalist; neither a fascist nor a socialist. He is simply a committed opportunist. The likes of him will follow his example if the BJP shows signs of renewal.

In this there is a lesson for all secularists, but mainly for the Muslims of India. They should by all means fight for redress of grievances which are serious; but it is an abdication of duty as citizens of a secular state to confine politics to redress of the community’s grievances. Secularism demands not detachment but involvement in the entire range of the nation’s activities—economic, social, political and constitutional. The course they have followed in recent decades has furthered the fortunes of the thugs in New Delhi who claim to be their “leaders”, earned them favours and marginalised Muslims. The BJP would not have travelled as far as it did, nor would the Babri Masjid have been demolished if the Muslims of India had lent their shoulder to the cause of secularism. A lot of time has been wasted.

It would be sheer folly to ignore the omens. The political clime is deteriorating fast.