Date: 7/27/2002




............BJP Retreat from Ayodhya

...................Koenraad Elst

The Observer Of Business And Politics

(New Delhi, Friday December 6, 1996.)

Part I

Four years after the demo­lition of the Babri Masjid, the Bharatiya Janata Party hardly dares to mention Ayodhya anymore. “You can­not cash on a cheque twice,” explains the party’s spokesperson.

At the outset, the BJP never had its heart in the Ayodhya question. When circumstances and the VHP brought the issue to the fore in the 1980s, BJP leaders overcame their reluc­tance only with the roaring success of the VHP’s Ram shila pujas. Even then, BJP leader L. K. Advani’s fabled ‘Rath Yatra’ would not have been taken out but for some prodding from former Prime Minister V. P. Singh who needed Hindu press­ure as an excuse to renege on his foolhardy promise to Imam Bukhari of awarding the disput­ed site to the Muslims.

Contrary to claims made by self-described secularists, the BJP was not at all keen on a confrontation between Hinduism and Islam. Thus, its statements kept a studied distance from the fundamental critique of Is­lamic iconoclasm, which was developed by historians like late Harsh Narain and Sita Ram Goel.

Far from criticising Islam for having exhorted Babar and others to destroy Hindu temples, the BJP tried to redefine the terms of the Ayodhya debate away from a Hindu-Muslim po­larity - Ram was called a ‘national’ hero. Babar a ‘foreign’ Invader. In reality, the question of foreign vs national had nothing to do with it ¾ a native convert MaIik Kafur had destroyed numerous temples, while the British took up the conservation of temples. Yet, BJP spokesmen pleaded that “a mosque built on a destroyed temple is not a valid mosque.”

That was the BJP’s typical shopkeeper approach -- rather than facing the ideological con­flict inherent in the Ayodhya demands of both parties, it tried to trick the other party into an unequal deal by presenting it as equal. (“Islam condemns the imposition of a mosque on a temple site as much as Hin­duism does.”) But no one was fooled.

The BJP disliked the Ayodhya controversy because it competed with the other parties in wooing the Muslims and flattering Islam. Thus, it will never talk of Islam’s responsibility in India’s communal conflict, but rather blame the British and the vote-bank politics of the other parties. It criticised V. P. Singh’s gift of Rs. 50 lakh to the Jama Masjid as ‘appeasement’, but its own Rajasthan government gave a far larger sum to the Ajmer Dargah, which was built with debris of Hindu temples.

After the electoral victories in Gujarat and Maharashtra, Mr. Advani thanked his Muslim voters and promised to look after their interests, but his own cadres asked: “Has he ever thanked the Hindu voters? Why should the party have a ‘minority cell’, and why should its flag be one-third green?”

As disappointed BJP workers tell me, the party leadership had no higher aspiration than to be the Congress B-team. With the recent defection and corruption scandals, it seems close to realising this ambition. But there remains one difference ¾ while the Congress has a long history of quid pro quo compromises, the BJP’s conces­sions to the Muslims and secu­larist opinion are entirely uni­lateral.

When the 12-day BJP govern­ment pledged not to touch Article 370 (a kick in the groin to its Kashmiri refugee constituents), it did not get the promise of support from even a single MP in return. No matter how sin­cerely Atal Behari Vajpayee and Mr. Advani disown the Ayodhya demolition, no matter how deep they crawl in the dust begging for certificates of good secular conduct from their enemies, they are treated with contempt all the same.

At any rate, such attitudes made it impossible for the BJP to take a consistent stand on the Ayodhya question, which inherently implied criticism of the Islamic doctrine and of Prophet Mohammed himself (who set the standard of Islamic iconoclasm by breaking the idols in the Kaaba).

A consistent Hindu position would have presented the Ayodhya controversy as an oc­casion for the Indian Muslims to reconsider Islam. Rather than liberating sacred sites from mosques wrongfully imposed on them, it would work for the liberation of fellow Indians from their Islamic indoctrination.

As Muslim-born secular hu­manist Ibn Warraq says in his brilliant book Why I am not a Muslim (Prometheus, New York, 1995) - “The best thing we can do for Muslims is to free them from Islam.” Sounds rad­ical? But that was, for example, the stand taken by the Arya Samaj, a progressive movement which had its martyrs but never indulged in rioting.

Frank debate is inversely pro­portional with street violence, and those secularists who suppress such debate are among the culprits of India’s communal problem. Unfortunately, the BJP chose to join in this ‘secular’ (in Europe we would call it anti-secular) shielding of medi­eval belief systems from rational investigation and informed de­bate.

This half-heartedness made it impossible for the party to argue its case on Ayodhya convincingly. Next to the well-known media bias, this was the main reason why world opinion turned mass­ively against the Hindus. It is entirely obvious that a Hindu sacred site belongs to the Hindus, and no Westerner would want his own sacred sites to be desecrated; yet every single com­mentator in the West has strongly condemned the Hindu attempt to end the Islamic occu­pation of a Hindu sacred site.

While in most controversies, there will be some support some­where for both the sides, in this case, there was no voice of support or even of understanding for the Hindu position. Without exaggeration, the BJP’s Ayodhya campaign was the single biggest public relations disaster in world history.

The BJP never did any intro­spection about this harvest of hostility, but it certainly disliked the experience. After riding the ‘Ram wave’ to an electoral breakthrough in 1991, the BJP immediately started distancing itself from the issue. By Decem­ber 6, 1992, Hindutva activists had lost patience with Mr. Advani. When they stormed the structure, he shed tears over the damage done to the BJP’s self-image, as did many BJP men in the party office when they heard the news.

Even VHP leader Ashok Singbal tried to stop the activists, until they threatened to pull off his dhoti. Anti-Hindutva spokes­men want us to believe that this was all theatre, but it was genuine (as was Murli Manohar Joshi’s jubilation). A small Hindutva faction had prepared the demolition, deliberately keeping the leadership in the dark about it.

If the Indian media had meant business, they would have found out and told you within a few days just who engineered the ‘Kar Seva’. Instead, they chose to spurn the scoop of the year and stuck to the politically more useful version that the BJP did it, somewhat like late Jawaharlal Nehru’s attempt to implicate Veer Savakar in Nathuram Godse’s murder of the Mahatma.

Most BJP leaders (Kalyan Singh being the chief exception) dealt with the event in a confused and insincere manner. The grad­ual BJP retreat from Ayodhya was completed overnight, and the party was reduced to waging its subsequent election campaign with colourless slogans like ‘good government’.

This purely secular posturing worked well in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, but it may prove to be yet another “cheque which can be cashed only once,” especially considering the BJP’s recent loss of credibility regard­ing governance.

The party’s best chance of a meaningful survival now lies in the adoption of a better-con­sidered Hindu agenda, not fo­cused on dead buildings but on consequential political reforms.

...............© Dr. Koenraad Elst

.............BJP Retreat from Ayodhya


.........Two Campaign Themes for Future

..................Koenraad Elst

(The Weekend Observer, New Delhi, Saturday, December 7, 1996.)

Part II

THE BJP is denounced as a Hindu party by its enemies and is assumed to be a Hindu party by its voters though it never calls itself a Hindu party. When at all caught in the act of using the term ‘Hindutva’, the BJP hastens to explain that this term did not mean “Hindu re­ligion,” but “secular Indian nationalism” (proof: in Arabia, even Imam Bukhari is called a ‘Hindu’!). These cheap semantic manipulations are too transpar­ent to trick any opponent into accepting the BJP’s claim of being secular, but they do suc­ceed in spreading either con­fusion or anger among the party cadres.

In Europe, in spite of our long struggle against Church hegemony, nobody minds that Germany is ruled by a “Chris­tian-Democratic Union”. Democ­racy leaves it to the citizens to choose on what basis they form political opinion and parties, so they are free to vote an avowedly Christian party into power. And of course, the CDU is quick to point out that its christian­Democratic values are no longer a matter of Church dogma, but a common european heritage.

Likewise. India could live with a ruling party committed to Hindu values, all the more so when ‘Hindu’ is defined in a very broad sense, as is common in Hindu revivalist literature from Swami Vivekananda to Ram Swarup.

In the immediate future, the BJP could serve Hindu society by taking up a few specifically Hindu concerns (without ne­glecting issues like “good gov­ernment”). In the BJP state­ments of the last few years the most prominent ‘communal’ item is the Common Civil Code demand; but pushing that one would be a grave mistake. True, this is an impeccably secular concern, amounting to no more than the implementation of the existing Article 44 of the Consti­tution.

But precisely for these reasons, this initiative should be left to the secularists, whose inaction on this point is a permanent measure of their dishonesty. There are excellent arguments against polygamy and unilateral talaq, but nobody will believe the BJP if it says that it was concerned about the plight of Muslim women.

On the contrary, a move to­wards the Common Civil Code will cause an anti-BJP uproar, which the party cannot handle. When the purely artificial Ayodhya controversy could cause so much violence, imagine the effect of a reform which affects every single Muslim in his private life, and which cuts deep into the power position of the Mullah class. Remember that the Shah of Iran turned simmering discontent into a full-­scale revolution when he cut into the privileges of the Mul­lahs.

The experience of December 6 and 7, 1992, suggests that the secularist media will counter the BJP initiative with hysterical shrieks, whipping up communal passions and de facto inciting riots. Back then, commentators trumpeted that along with the Masjid, the secular state itself had been demolished, so was democracy and even the Indian ‘Muslims’ very right to live. Who would not have taken to the streets if it was made so clear that the heavens them­selves had fallen?

Next time, they will call the implementation of Article 44 similar names ¾ say, “a per­version of our secular Constitution,” or rabid attack on the most intimate dimensions of the Islamic component of our composite culture.” Hindus will again be blackened worldwide as intolerant, there will be mur­der and destruction, the BJP will burn its fingers again, and I just don’t think that a Common Civil Code is worth all that misery.

Instead, the BJP ought first of all to take up an issue which really matters for Hindu com­munal life ¾ abolishing the legal and constitutional discrimi­nations against the Hindu ma­jority, most urgently those in education and temple management. The constitutional bedrock of these discriminations is Article 30, which accords to the minorities the right to set up and administer their own schools and colleges, preserving their communal identity (through the course contents and by selectively recruiting teachers and students), all while receiving state subsidies. That right is not guaranteed to the majority, but should be.

The problem was highlighted when the Ramakrishna Mission went to court to seek recognition as a non-Hindu minority in order to protect its schools from a take-over by the West Bengal government. It says a lot about the sorry state of the Hindu intellect that the debate focused entirely on the RKM’s ridiculous claim, and not on the constitu­tional injustice underlying this tragi-comedy.

The BJP, too, failed to rise to the occasion. In fact, the longest ­sitting parliamentarian in India, Atal Behari Vajpayee, never moved a finger to remove this thorn from the side of the Hindu society. When foreign newsmen ask BJP leaders about the notion of “pseudo-secular­ism” the answer usually men­tions Article 30, but the record shows that the BJP does not mean business.

An analogous problem exists for the Hindu temples. Mosques and churches are exclusively managed by the respective com­munities, but Hindu temples are routinely taken over by the secular authorities. This results in misappropriation of the temple’s income and its redirection to non-Hindu pur­poses. It is also a major factor in the grinding poverty afflicting most Hindu temple priests and their families.

Recently, the authorities mov­ed court (unsuccessfully) to get the Shirdi Sai Baba temple in Hyderabad registered as a Hindu temple, all for wresting control of the institution and its funds. The BJP does not deserve to get a single Hindu vote if it doesn’t address to this injustice.

The BJP can at once take an initiative in Parliament to re­move these discriminations. This will force the other parties to take a stand. Either they support secular equality, ensur­ing a majority for the BJP’s proposed amendment. The party can then claim that at long last, it had really achieved something for the Hindus. Alternately, the other parties may defend dis­crimination and religious in­equality, defeating the BJP’s amendment. In that case, the proposed amendment comes centrestage in the next election campaign, not as a marginal item on page 64 of the BJP election manifesto (as in 1996), but as the central theme.

Such a campaign will be better for the BJP and for India than a controversy over temple sites or the Common Civil Code. Abolition of the said discrimina­tions is far more consequential for Hindu culture. It is impec­cably secular, even to the extent that it will be difficult to fool world opinion into believing that this is “Hindu fundamental­ism” again. It does not directly affect the minorities and is far less likely to antagonise them. So, it is far easier to handle. Even the BJP could do it.


............© Dr. Koenraad Elst