How Temple Issue Help the BJP

I was there, at Ayodhya, a day before the Supreme Court’s decision on the government’s reference with regard to allowing construction on the government-acquired land around the disputed site. There was no tension in the city. I wondered whether the few people on the street – it was last Sunday – were aware of the fact that the court would deliver an epoch-making verdict on the reference the next day. May be, they were not bothered about the verdict at all. They were indifferent.

And how stately did the Hanuman garhi (temple) stand in the midst of political and religious sparrings! It looked proud that there had been no Hindu-Muslim riot in Ayodhya. The key to the temple’s entrance door was with a Muslim family when I visited the place several years ago. Probably this is still the practice because Ayodhya knew no Hindu-Muslim polarization before L.K. Advani vitiated the atmosphere in northern India through his rath yatra. By opening the lock at the disputed site Rajiv Gandhi had prepared the ground.

Returning from Ayodhya by road to Lucknow I did not see any pilgrims going towards the place. I had feared that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) would build up religious frenzy on the eve of the judgement. There was nothing like that. This may be because the Mayawati government does not favour disturbing the present situation although it is dependent on the BJP for its majority in the state assembly.

That the VHP now threatens to start an agitation should not come as a surprise. It wants to keep the pressure on and the atmosphere vitiated. In fact, its insistence had made the Vajpayee government to refer the matter to the Supreme Court. It was ill advised to do so because a categorical judgement to maintain the status quo was already there.

Granted the BJP could not say ‘no’ to its mentor, the RSS, which wants the ram temple at the disputed site. But the reference ran counter to the Supreme Court’s earlier judgement: all the acquired land must remain with the government till the decision to whom the site of the Babri Masjid belonged. The court had, in fact, sustained the spirit of government’s acquisition. It rightly appreciated that the purpose was to maintain communal harmony. Any construction on the land around the site would have disturbed the status quo.

It is not difficult to guess why the VHP is keen on getting the acquired land. It is undisputed. It belongs to Hindu owners who can always be pressured in the name of religion or otherwise to hand it over to the VHP. Once the land is in its possession, the VHP will lose no time in building the temple – the walls, the pillars and the doors of which have already made somewhere else and kept ready. Even if the disputed site is not touched, the temple without the sanctum sanctorum will be ready. It will be surrounding the disputed site. How will any government stop the VHP from extending the temple to the disputed site? A similar situation arose before the demolition of the Babri Masjid when lakhs of kar sevaks were allowed to assemble at Ayodhya with shovels and baskets despite the Supreme Court’s order not to disturb the status quo Kalyan Singh of the BJP was the state Chief Minister then.

No doubt, the BJP now has a problem. When the VHP, the party’s parivar member, and the head, RSS are ‘disappointed’ over the judgement, the Vajpayee government is expected to ‘rescue’ them. That may not be possible since the government, as Law Minister Arun Jaitley said, was obliged to ensure the implementation of the judgement Restraining the likes of Thagodia and Singhal may be difficult for the parivar. But they are all under the overall control of the RSS. It will see to it that they do not go beyond a point. It cannot see the pulling down of its own government – the government which has saffronised every sphere of the central government.

It looks as if the BJP will play a dual roles – one as a party and the other as the leading member of the ruling coalition. As a party it will continue to make noises and keep the temple issue alive. There is no way by which it can withdraw from the field. For it has come to believe that the call to build the temple at the disputed site helps the party harness the support of the Hindu electorate. The BJP will test the waters in the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Delhi later this year. Even defeat will not deter the BJP from pursuing the temple line in the Lok Sabha election after September next year because it has developed no plan other than Hindutva.

One thing the reverses may do is to convince the BJP not to go for a mid-term poll. Some tall members in the Sangh Parivar still want the BJP to dissolve the house and go for the general election on the temple plank. But they are not absolutely sure how things will turn out. The party has found that all the coalition members of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) are not in favour of an early election – definitely not supporting the BJP’s temple line. The RSS wants the NDA to bring before parliament legislation to hand over the disputed site to the Hindus for the construction of the temple. Such a move may provide drama and propaganda but the BJP does not have a majority, neither in the Lok Sabha nor in the Rajya Sabha.

Several ideologies and leaders of the parivar are working on various permutations and combinations, even a joint session of the two houses, to have a bill, although it is doomed from the beginning. A rejected bill, the Parivar believes, will provide its propaganda mills with the grist they require. Strange, the Parivar is not keen on settling the issue with the Muslim community. In fact, it has ruled out any talks with it knowing well that the judgement may take a long time. Significantly, the supreme court has said in this judgement that the hearing at the Allahabad High Court is in the last stages. A formula which is attributed to former President Venkataraman may give the country a break through. His proposal is that the Muslim community, as a gesture towards its Hindus brethren, withdraws its claim on the disputed site. The Hindus, in turn, give a constitutional guarantee to honour the existence of all Muslim mosques, dargahs and the like prevailing on August 15, 1947, when India was divided.

This may look like a political solution but it is a practical one. And coming from Venkataraman as it does, it has the touch of the impartiality and ethics that he represents. Leaders of the two communities, religious or political, should rise to the occasion and remove the impediment of the Ram Janambhoomi- Babri Masjid from the way of Hindu-Muslim unity. Without it India cannot go far. The writer is a leading columnist based in New Delhi.  

By Kuldip Nayar
The Dawn, Karachi, Pakistan
April 5, 2003