Communalism

Polarising expeditions

Print edition : February 06, 2015

December 6, 1992: The demolition of the Babri Masjid in progress. Photo: The Hindu Archives

WHEN the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh-led Sangh Parivar launched one of its “polarising expeditions” in Ayodhya through the Viswa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) Ram Janaki Yatra of October 1984, the response from the citizens of the temple town was anything but enthusiastic. Activists of the VHP, led by Ashok Singhal, had sought to march to the portals of the Babri Masjid and pledge to “liberate Ram Lalla” (child Rama) but they were literally stopped on the streets leading to the masjid by scores of local residents drawn from all communities. The crowd, consisting of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Jains, were perceptibly hostile. They made it clear to Singhal that they wanted no communal trouble in the town and its surrounding areas. As it turned out, Singhal, who would later be called the “field marshal” of the Hindutva brigade, and his group retreated tamely.



 

Thirty years later, this has become merely a footnote in the annals of the history of the Sangh Parivar’s “polarising expeditions”. Today, not only the VHP and its associates have a massive presence in and a strong hold on Ayodhya but their communal project is marching ahead through the many programmes and plans executed through diverse means and stratagems across the country. The emphatic electoral victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Sangh Parivar’s political arm, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the formation of a single-party-majority government at the Centre is facilitating this project in a big way. Numerous Hindutva projects, ranging from ghar wapsi (reconversion of Muslims and Christians), who, it claimed, have a Hindu ancestry to “social cleansing” in the name of “love jehad” to rewriting scientific theses to altering textbooks, are being advanced simultaneously in different sectors.

This change has come about on account of several factors, which are encapsulated in a number of milestone events involving both the Sangh Parivar and its ideological, political and organisational opponents. Some ingenious strategies of the Sangh Parivar have contributed significantly to the rise of the Hindutva agenda. The milestone events could be broadly divided into two categories, those before and after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Strategic nuances, however, are varied and intricate and hence beyond classification. The first set of milestones include the opening of the locks of the Babri Masjid for Hindu worship in 1986 by the Congress government headed by Rajiv Gandhi, the shilanyas conducted under the auspices of the Rajiv Gnadhi government and the VHP, L.K. Advani’s rath yatra, the kar sevas of 1990 and 1992, and, finally, the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. The milestones after the demolition include reverses suffered by the BJP in the elections to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly in 1993, the formation of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) governments at the Centre under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee, a “moderate”, in the 1998-2004 period, and finally the BJP’s victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the formation of the Narendra Modi government.

While the strategic nuances, as they unfolded over the past three decades, were diverse and abstruse, some common streaks and patterns could be deduced from them. A prominent streak that manifested itself at various junctures was the multiple speak resorted to by different segments of the Sangh Parivar and sometimes by the different sections and individuals of the same entity. All this confused and bewildered the Parivar’s ideological and political opponents and, more importantly, the general public and the systems and institutions of administration.

This was put to telling use in the events leading to the demolition of the Babri Masjid and later in the 2014 election campaign. Before the 1992 demolition, the BJP Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Kalyan Singh, and the VHP leader, Swami Chinmayanand, assured the National Integration Council and the Supreme Court respectively that no harm would come to the structure and that the kar seva would be confined to bhajans and yagnas. At the same time, the Bajrang Dal and sections of the VHP were making it clear that their teams, which included suicide squads, were ready to demolish the masjid ( Frontline, December 5, 1992). Thus, many observers were made to believe that the Sangh Parivar was getting ready for a tactical retreat, even as several insiders pointed to a clear possibility of an act of aggression.

The 2014 election campaign had the strategic combination of engineering communal polarisation through riots and related propaganda and the projection of the image of Narendra Modi as the ultimate champion of development. Both were carefully crafted and implemented over a considerable period of time leading to the BJP’s emphatic victory.

There is little doubt that many actions of parties and forces opposed to the Sangh Parivar have contributed to this trajectory. One of the first contributions was from the Congress, when it formed the government in 1984 under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi had become the Prime Minister in an election that took place after the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her own security guards belonging to the Sikh community and in the backdrop of the anti-Sikh riots that followed. There was considerable polarisation of Hindu votes in favour of the Congress in that election and it was perceived as independent India’s first consolidation of the Hindu mandate. Clearly, Rajiv Gandhi and his team’s aim was to sustain this Hindu consolidation when they opened the gates of the Babri Masjid for Hindu worship in 1986 and collaborated with the VHP to do shilanyas in 1989. Both actions boomeranged and gave the VHP and the Sangh Parivar a new energy after Ashok Singhal and co. were squarely told off by the people of Ayodhya in 1984.

Similarly, several Muslim organisations have sought to take on the Sangh Parivar and its Hindutva campaign by advancing their own forms of communalism, such as the employment of extremist practices. These have also strengthened the Hindutva communal project. Looking back at the three decades of “polarising expeditions” and their current expressions in different walks of life, it is evident that India and its adherence to secularism are at the crossroads.

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