Aftershocks of a verdict

Published : Oct 10, 2003 00:00 IST

The Rae Bareli court's verdict in the Ayodhya case has caused confusion in the BJP about its future course of action, but there is a growing feeling that it will strengthen the hardliners and give a further fillip to the Ram temple movement.

THE judgment delivered by the Rae Bareli court in the Babri Masjid demolition case has thrown the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) into a tizzy. While Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani has been acquitted, charges will be framed against seven other accused leaders, including Union Human Resource Development Minister M.M. Joshi. The verdict has so confused the party leadership that no one is willing to comment openly on the fallout this could have on the party's future. However, they feel that the judgment would divide the party vertically.

"The perception in the party is that Advani has misused the government machinery to gain relief. Even if one more person was acquitted along with him, the impression would have been different. But this has not gone down well with the party rank and file," said a senior BJP leader. According to him, Advani may have gained personally in stature within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), but this development will have an adverse fallout on the Ram temple movement as a whole.

"He was the one who initiated the temple movement and brought it to the State (Uttar Pradesh), as a consequence of which the Babri Masjid, was demolished. The BJP gained electorally, becoming the ruling party in the process. Now the segregation of Advani from others who were there with him under similar circumstances will not go down well with the masses," said the leader.

But BJP leaders are unanimous about one thing - that the hardliners supporting the Ayodhya movement along with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the rest of the Sangh Parivar would become even more shrill now. "They are already posing as martyrs in the cause of the temple and now they will become all the more aggressive. Look at what Katiyar (Vinay Katiyar, the BJP chief in U.P.) has to say. This is ample indication that a section in the BJP, which still feels that the temple movement could be whipped up to the same frenzy as in 1992, would become all the more active," said a senior BJP leader from U.P.

The September 19 judgment of the Special Court in Rae Bareli has certainly given the BJP the necessary leeway to take the temple movement forward, whether directly by people like Vinay Katiyar or indirectly, by people like Advani, who profess their support for the movement but shun the type of activism that the former display. The official BJP line, though, will be known only after Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee returns from his foreign tour on September 28.

What has added an interesting twist to the developments is the resignation of Joshi. Although he is expected to withdraw it once the Prime Minister returns (Vajpayee has already said that there is no need for him to resign), the resignation has thrown up many questions - such as whether he was trying to set the agenda for Advani and has now been defeated in the game of one-upmanship by the weird turn of events.

According to political observers, the judgment has exposed the fight for leadership between Advani and Joshi to emerge as an alternative to Vajpayee. By resigning, Joshi has emerged as a leader of substance with the hardliners, while Advani has gained acceptability within the NDA and the segment within the BJP which now swears by "secularism", albeit of the kind that Advani defines. Advani, who has all along maintained that the Ayodhya movement was "one of the most noble movements" in the history of India (and akin to Mahatma Gandhi's Dandi march), can now justifiably argue that his position has been vindicated in the sense that he had always pleaded not guilty to charges of being communal. Now free of charges in the demolition case, Advani can once again take the temple movement forward with gusto, in his own style though, through the consensus route or through a court verdict.

In fact, in his reactions to the judgment, Advani gave enough indications that the temple movement will now be carried forward with zeal. He said the judgment had cleared the confusion about the movement being communal, which the Opposition had made it out to be. He said: "The Ayodhya movement got the people's support because we were able to convey to the masses that India is a secular state and treats all its citizens, irrespective of their faiths, as equals. But for the sake of sheer vote-bank politics, secularism was being projected in a very perverse manner."

Justifying the BJP's participation in the temple movement, Advani said: "People participated in the Ram temple movement as they felt that the temple should be built at the place believed to be the birthplace of Ram. That enabled the BJP to become the largest party in Parliament because they (the people) accepted the logic of our own definition of secularism and reacted strongly to the Congress brand of pseudo-secularism."

FOR the BJP, though, the judgment is like a double-edged weapon. Those who supported the VHP's line of action can now be expected to follow the agenda set by the hardliners. This particular aspect was evident in Katiyar's reaction that he felt honoured to have his name associated with the demolition of the Babri Masjid and he would continue to work for the Ram temple movement no matter what.

"We are firm in our belief that a Ram temple should be constructed at Ayodhya, and for that we are ready to make any sacrifice," Katiyar said in Lucknow. Katiyar, the Member of Parliament from Faizabad, said a temple would be constructed at Ram Janmabhoomi. "If a temple cannot be built in Ayodhya, where Lord Ram was born, where will it be built... in Mecca or in Madina?" he asked. He said his counsel would fight the case in the court while BJP workers would help to create an atmosphere conducive to the construction of the temple. But even senior BJP leaders agree that these lines of thought are sure to confuse the party's rank and file and may prove to be a setback for the party in the long run.

The VHP, however, has left no one in doubt that it will do all it can to whip up frenzy on the temple issue. The VHP, after its high-level two-day meeting in New Delhi on September 15 and 16, served an ultimatum on the NDA government - convene a special session of Parliament to enact legislation to hand over the disputed land in Ayodhya to the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas by October 15. Or else, it warned, the sants would march to Ayodhya and start the temple construction.

"The patience of the Hindu community has been worn thin because Muslim leaders have said that they will fight against the construction of a temple for the next 25 years. We appeal to all political parties and the Muslim community to pave the way for the temple construction. Otherwise, the might of Hindus will be witnessed again as was witnessed on December 6, 1992," Mahant Avaidyanath, chairman of the Margdarshak Mandal Samiti, the committee entrusted with the authority to deliberate on the temple construction programme, declared. He said the situation in Ayodhya had undergone a qualitative change after the report of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) came, and the Muslim community should now give up its claim over the disputed land.

Although VHP chief Ashok Singhal was at pains to clarify that the movement for the temple construction will be peaceful, the belligerence betrays the actual intentions. The VHP is currently engaged in a "Sankalp Yatra", wherein its workers are going around the country tying sankalp sutras (thread of pledge) on people and making them take a pledge in favour of the construction of a temple. Over two crore people are targeted for this. On October 15, VHP workers will hold rallies in New Delhi and Lucknow and on October 17 march towards Ayodhya from Lucknow, to start temple construction.

Ashok Singhal has cautioned U.P. Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav against imposing prohibitory orders to stop the march, saying that any pressure tactics used by the State administration will force a review of the peaceful nature of the movement. He referred to the 1990 police firing on kar sevaks in Ayodhya when Mulayam Singh was the Chief Minister. Singhal said that "Hindu society cannot wait for long", indicating that the VHP is not opposed to taking the path of confrontation. Singhal, who had earlier asked Prime Minister Vajpayee to resign for his failure to pave the way for the temple construction, has put the onus on Vajpayee and Advani to play leading roles in convening Parliament to enact legislation sanctioning temple construction. He has rejected their plea that the BJP lacks the requisite support in Parliament to get such legislation passed.

"The handsome majority with which the BJP-led government won the no-confidence motion in Parliament recently has vindicated the VHP's stand that the passage of such a Bill is within the realm of possibility," Singhal asserted. He added that the Vajpayee government, if it really desired, could muster the majority support in Parliament for the issue. "We will carry out the temple movement according to our constitutional rights, and in a peaceful manner," he said.

THE Uttar Pradesh government, meanwhile, reviewed the security arrangements in and around Ayodhya. The district administration has been given orders to maintain law and order at all costs, and try and not get into any confrontation with the VHP. "For them, the temple is the one and only issue. For us, there are other issues that are more important - like improving the law and order situation; providing employment, shelter and food to the poor; and the development of the State. We shall pursue our own agenda while they can pursue their own. The people will give them a befitting reply this time. We shall have nothing to do," Mulayam Singh asserted. He, however, said that nobody would be allowed to take the law in his/her own hands.

Even though the BJP keeps saying the Ram temple issue is not on its electoral agenda, the party supports the VHP's movement as it can only help the BJP in the forthcoming State Assembly and general elections. The BJP has openly come out in support of the Ram temple movement, which also has the backing of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). They are unanimous in their opinion that the temple movement, especially in the light of the latest ASI report, should be intensified.

"In the light of the ASI report, it was decided that the Ram mandir agitation should be intensified. We are one on this with the VHP and the RSS. There is no difference of opinion," BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan told reporters after a four-hour-long hurriedly convened meeting at the residence of BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu, in Delhi on September 13. The meeting was attended, among others, by Advani and RSS leaders Mohan Bhagwat and Madandas Devi.

Mahajan said the BJP wanted an early resolution of the Ayodhya dispute through negotiations, a court verdict or legislation. "The BJP has no objection to the VHP's proposed agitation demanding a Bill favouring temple construction," he said. Mahajan added that "since the NDA constituents did not favour such a move, it will not be possible to bring legislation until they changed their minds." He gave away the BJP's game plan when he said that "such legislation is not possible with this kind of a Lok Sabha", thereby implying that the party would seek a mandate in the next general elections that could make the passage of such legislation in Parliament possible. This means the party is aiming to approach the people with the slogan: Give us a majority of our own and we will give you the Ram temple. Venkaiah Naidu said that the judgment in the Ayodhya case was based on "politically motivated charges" and would be fought politically.

All this certainly promises to raise the temperature in Ayodhya and Lucknow once again. The Sangh Parivar is hoping to raise the Ayodhya issue to the same frenzied pitch as in 1990-92. The BJP, overtly or covertly, will be a willing accomplice in this and will try to extract political mileage once again. There might be differences of opinion about the route to be taken to Ayodhya, but all seem to agree that Ayodhya needs to be traversed again for the forthcoming electoral battles.

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