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India’s failed secularism

On December 6th, the demolition of the Babri masjid would be 25 years old. Instead of making amends for what the Congress government did in 1992 with the connivance of then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao, the ruling BJP government is bent upon building a temple at the site where the masjid stood once.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has made a statement that only a ‘grand temple’ would be built in Ayodhya and nothing else. This is unfair to the Muslims or the liberals who support the country’s diversity and had come to agree that both the mosque and the temple could stand side-by-side at the site. However, the demolition remains a blot on India’s secularism. To build ‘only’ the temple would be tantamount to rubbing salt in the wound that was inflicted.

I recall that after the demolition, which initiated countrywide Hindu-Muslim clashes, Prime Minister Rao convened a meeting of senior journalists to explain what had happened. He sought the media’s cooperation in quenching the fire. He said that the central government was helpless because of the determination by hundreds of kar sevaks to demolish the masjid. But Madhu Limaye, the late socialist leader, later told me the puja that Rao performed was meant to camouflage the demolition. When an aide whispered into his ears that the masjid had been demolished, he opened his eyes.

Rao could have easily acted before the demolition took place. The proclamation to impose president’s rule was ready a fortnight earlier. It was awaiting the cabinet approval. The PM did not convene its meeting. When the demolition began, there were frantic calls to the PM Office.

Even if the Congress were to deny the allegation against Rao, the party has not yet explained how a small temple had come up overnight at the site where the masjid stood earlier. The centre was then in full control because UP had been put under president’s rule after dismissal of the state government. In any case, the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute had transcended the state borders and the centre was following the developments every day. The Justice Manmohan Singh Liberhan Commission’s silence on Rao’s behaviour was meant to cover up his complicity and that of the Congress party.

“Let the temple come up.” This was the remark by Atal Behari Vajpayee when I asked for his reaction to the destruction of the masjid one day after the incident. I was surprised by his comment because I considered him to be a liberal force in the BJP. In fact, the Liberhan Commission had named Vajpayee as one of the collaborators in pulling down the mosque. How could he have reacted differently when he was a party to the ‘meticulously planned’ scheme to demolish the mosque?

That LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, the other two BJP leaders, were co-conspirators was known on December 6, 1992, itself. The surprising name for me was that of Vajpayee. The Vajpayee, when he was prime minister, was a changed person. He had led a bus of intellectuals and journalists to Lahore to give the message of peace and conciliation to the neighbours.

The indictment has exposed our polity because all the three came to occupy top positions in the country. Vajpayee became the prime minister, Advani the home minister and Joshi the human resources development minister. If all the three were collaborators in the demolition of the Babri masjid, they were dishonest in taking the oath of office which demanded that the oath-taker would work for the country’s unity and uphold the Constitution that mentions secularism in the preamble. The Liberhan Commission has said that they are among the 68 who are “culpable” in taking the country to the brink of “communal discord.”

Not only that. The three leaders acted against the Supreme Court’s order ‘not to disturb the status quo’. In other words, they made a mockery of the country’s judiciary and the Constitution to which they swore before assuming power. And they ruled for six years without a tug of conscience.

The question is not only legal but also moral. How can the planned demolition be squared up with the holding of office by Vajpayee, Advani and Joshi? This is a matter that the nation should have debated to find an answer. Those who have no clean hands should not be allowed to defile the temple of Parliament.

Meanwhile, Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has been making efforts for mediation among the stakeholders. During his recent visit to Ayodhya, the spiritual guru has said that the problem could be solved through dialogue and mutual respect rather than “conceit and accusation.” Even UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, whom the guru had met, agreed to provide all necessary support.

The spiritual guru’s meeting with the UP chief minister came in the backdrop of the BJP launching its poll campaign from Ayodhya with promises of redevelopment. However, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an arm of the RSS, and the Muslim Personal Law Board have rejected Sri Sri’s offer to mediate on the issue. The feeling within the BJP leadership is that the decision be best left to the Supreme Court, which is slated to hear the case on December 5.

“Ram temple matter is in the Supreme Court and I think we should let the legal process be complete. Other discussions can be held after that,” said Ram Madhav, BJP’s national general secretary. Similarly, the VHP also voiced its concerns over the Art of Living founder trying to resolve the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute.

“This is not for the first time that Sri Sri has taken this initiative. In 2001, he made attempts but failed. The reaction to his efforts was the same as today,” VHP joint general secretary Surendra Jain had said. The real hitch is the statement by Bhagwat that only the temple would come up in Ayodhya and nothing else. When Muslims have, by and large, come to accept that the temple could be built by the side of the mosque, the RSS chief’s statement is unwarranted.

The Express Tribune

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