A brave front

Print edition : September 20, 1997

IN gereral, the response of the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership to the September 9 court order of the Special Court dealing with the Babri Masjid demolition case is that the order will not harm the party's interests. Its leaders are attempting to project this as a political rather than a legal-criminal issue, and have put out the idea that any political effort to open the Babri Masjid demolition issue at this stage will boomerang on the party's political opponents. However, the fact remains that the order is a setback for the party, which has learnt from experience that the Ayodhya issue was not only of no consequence in most of the elections it faced in the post-demolition period but has narrowed its influence to a few regions.

The Hindutva camp believes that the Ramjanmabhoomi issue did help the BJP in the 1991 general election. However, the party was defeated in the post-demolition 1993 Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. (The BJP was in power in these States and its governments were dismissed after the demolition of the Babri Masjid). In subsequent elections in 1995 and 1996 it did not raise Ayodhya as a major election issue.

When it failed to get a majority in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections and in the Assembly elections in U.P., the BJP came out with conflicting interpretations of its less-than-satisfactory performance. While the "hardliners" felt that the party ought to have used the Ayodhya card more vigorously than it did in the campaign, the "moderates" wanted a dilution of the Hindutva plank in order to expand its base and to make it more acceptable to its current and would-be allies. The "moderate" line seemed to have prevailed then; during its 13-day rule at the Centre the BJP carefully avoided any reference to contentious issues such as Ayodhya, uniform civil code and Article 370. In fact, party president L.K. Advani took public pride in the fact that the BJP could get 161 seats in the Lok Sabha without a 'Ram wave'. Although the party continued to stress its commitment to Hindutva or cultural nationalism, the leaders knew very well that it faced serious obstacles to the expansion of its influence beyond the Hindi heartland and the western States and to win a majority on its own.

During his Swarna Jayanti Rath Yatra, Advani tried to convince Muslims, without success, about the BJP's 'sincerity' towards their cause. The court's ruling, therefore, is a setback to the BJP's efforts to expand its electoral base. A.B. Vajpayee, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, has said that the Ayodhya case would make Ramjanmabhoomi a poll issue. If it does, observers say, it will weaken the party's ability to maintain its ties with its current allies.

However, BJP general secretary K.N. Govindacharya has a different theory. He said: "The mood in the party is really upbeat. The Ayodhya issue has once again been brought to the fore." According to him, the other parties' response to the issue would determine whether the BJP would get political mileage out of it. He further reasoned that the people would not like the wounds caused by the Ayodhya issue to be reopened. "The liberals who did not like the demolition want to forget the incident," he said. "They think that the BJP leaders have been sinned against." Govindacharya is one of the BJP leaders who believe that the results of the 1993 elections constituted a 'punishment' for the party for its role in the demolition.

The designated court's order has put to the test the BJP's commitment to the question of morality in public life. The party's stand is that those in public life, if charged with any offence, should relinquish office and keep away from electoral politics till they are absolved. Party leaders Advani, Madan Lal Khurana and Yashwant Sinha resigned their posts when they were implicated in the hawala case. Going by the logic of their action, the leaders who are going to be charge-sheeted in the Babri Masjid demolition case will have to quit public office. However, BJP leaders do not seem to be keen on following this precedent in the present case. Govindacharya's reasoning is that the issue of corruption stood on a different pedestal and that the leaders against whom framing of charges has been ordered had no direct role in the demolition. The opinion appears to be that the leaders can fight the case in court without giving up their role in electoral politics.

The irony is that the court order has come at a time when the BJP has spoken of training cadres in "ideology and idealism" to instil a sense of discipline and austerity in them and improve coordination with other members of the parivar. The party organised a four-day training camp for its central and State-level leaders at Jhinjhauli in Haryana from August 30 to September 2 and plans to organise a similar camp for its MPs from September 26 to 28. Four lakh "active workers" all over the country will undergo similar training later.

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