Of waffling and double-speak

Published : May 26, 2001 00:00 IST

L.K. Advani's third-round deposition before the Liberhan Commission leaves more questions than answers.

L.K. ADVANI has traversed a long way in politics from the heady days of the Somnath-Ayodhya rath yatra. In the course of his third-round deposition before the M.S. Liberhan Commission of Inquiry probing the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the Union Home Minister refused to disclose whether he was a "rationalist" or a "believer". The Bharatiya Janata Party, he said, had joined the Ram Janmabhoomi movement for "political" and not "religious" reasons.

Advani was perhaps being completely truthful to his own personal beliefs, though after the December 6, 1992 demolition he did demonstrate certain characteristics of a "believer" when he said that the mosque was destined to fall as Providence had ordained it so (Frontline, December 17, 1993). At the same time, Advani was not wrong in admitting that "political" reasons led him and his party to join the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

Advani's most recent deposition, on May 15 and 16, made it clear that the same "political" reasons are now leading him to distance himself publicly (if not privately) from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) over the Ayodhya issue.

It was his keen political sense that made Advani declare in the two days of deposition that he did not endorse the VHP's demand that a new structure be built at Ayodhya. He also sought to absolve himself and his party of culpability on the issue by saying that the BJP and the VHP had not compared notes before or at the time of the demolition on how to bring down the mosque. But Advani exhibited little ambiguity about the political reasons that impelled him to embrace the movement. The Rajiv Gandhi government's decision to open the gates of the Babri Masjid to Hindu devotees and its volte-face over the Supreme Court verdict in the Shah Bano case were crucial factors that forced the BJP to get involved in the Ayodhya movement, according to the senior BJP leader.

Clearly, a politically sagacious Advani ensconced in a responsible Cabinet position knew that an open espousal of Hindutva politics would be harmful to his long-term political ambitions. Not surprisingly, he made it clear that he did not endorse the VHP's demand for a formal reconstruction of the temple and he downplayed the role of religious institutions in the judicial processes.

If Advani's reaffirmation of the political, rather than religious role of the BJP in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was in conformity with his role as Home Minister, what was surprising was his criticism of the BJP's "White Paper" on Ayodhya - whose authorship he refused to disclose - and his new-found respect for the judiciary.

The "White Paper" refers to the judiciary in a defiant tone. Anupam Gupta, counsel for the Commission, quoted several portions where the judiciary is attacked as an "instrument for thwarting the kar seva". In one paragraph, it states: "The Rajiv Gandhi government (1989) [and] Narasimha Rao government (1991-92) began using the courts as a weapon and as a shield... such involvement in areas where the orders of the court conflict with mass mandate like the Uttar Pradesh government had, to build the temple, only eroded the efficacy of the judiciary." The blatant disregard for the law that is evident in the "white paper", is most evident when it states that the "structure was demolished not in spite of the court orders but because of the court orders." Quotes like these which were read out to Advani by Gupta, made the BJP leader admit that the phraseology was not entirely to his liking.

The attempt to distance himself from religion was once again obvious when Advani stated that religious nationalism was not wrong as long as both religion and nationalism realised their limitations. Such utterances from the man who led the rath yatra and allegedly incited thousands to join the act of demolition at Ayodhya were surprising. However, his attempt to present a moderate face came unstuck repeatedly, notably when he professed his admiration for the Hindu Mahasabha leader V.D. Savarkar, who he said, was more secular in outlook than Jawaharlal Nehru.

This particular admission came when Gupta, quoting a scholarly reference work, asked Advani if the Hindutva movement intended to replace Nehruvian secularism by a Savarkarite version of Hinduism. Advani was spontaneous in his defence: "Savarkar said no religious riots should take place after his death and did not approve of opposition to beef-eating". A rather restless Advani added that there was no logic in contrasting Savarkar and Nehru in the matter of secularism.

But what Advani was really trying to do was to place the responsibility of the entire Ayodhya movement on the sadhus and sants of the VHP and the Narasimha Rao-led Congress(I) government at the Centre. "All scheduled programmes declared in the Ayodhya movement were done by the sadhus. We did not launch the movement. The Government of India was active in facilitating the movement; we did not know about it. The VHP announced of the kar seva. I came to know of it through the press."

Later, explaining the links between the BJP and the VHP Advani said: "We (the BJP) never asked about schedules, programmes or the manner in which the programme was to be carried out. This should not be regarded as their (VHP's) failure to keep us posted. They had every right to take their decision."

Of course, an element of prevarication was obvious when Advani said that he came to know about the December kar seva only from the newspapers, thus implying that there were no consultations between VHP and BJP leaders on the matter. On this, Gupta confronted him with a newspaper report which mentioned a meeting in Delhi on November 2, 1992, which was attended by Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and important RSS and VHP leaders, to ratify the sadhus' decision to begin kar seva on December 6. Even RSS Sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudershan, in his deposition before the Commission, had admitted to participating in this meeting. However, a visibly irritated Advani said: "We were informed of the Dharam Sansad decision."

That Advani has sought to distance himself from the RSS and the VHP effectively points to an acute dilemma of the BJP. While it needs the RSS to gain power, it cannot run the government in a democratic set-up by following the dictates of its ideological masters. Hate campaigns against the minorities cannot supplement state policy. Clearly, before and in December 1992 the BJP was intoxicated by the success of the Hindu card and had suspended all efforts to differentiate itself from the RSS and carve out a distinct image for itself. The party had become an appendage of the RSS.

From 1986, the BJP sustained itself on the single issue of Ram mandir and came to be known as the Ram Janmabhoomi party. This stand brought it rich electoral dividends. Its rise was further aided by the decay of the Nehruvian enterprise, the emergence of the new middle class in urban and semi-urban regions, and the anti-minority hysteria in the upper-middle class which sustained itself on a vague perception of threat to the majority culture. The BJP took full advantage of the political climate these created.

Now in power, leaders like Advani have realised that it is difficult to run a coalition government and formulate state policy unless they distance themselves from the dark deed of December 6, 1992. They feel the need to curtail the influence of the ideological masters in the RSS. In this respect, Advani's deposition also brought out certain sharpening contradictions within the BJP leadership. It is clear that while leaders like Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi continue to stress the legislative enforcement of ritual or scriptural injunctions and seem to see a role for religious institutions in legislative or judicial processes, Advani does not want to do so openly.

With several questions still unanswered and the Commission only gradually warming up to its task, Advani has agreed to appear before the commission for another two days in June. This is despite certain reservations in the Hindutva fraternity about the inquiry. The irony remains that in the event of the Liberhan Commission delivering an adverse report, Advani will, as Home Minister, be one of those who would have to decide whether the government is to act on its recommendations or not.

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