Ayodhya And The Future India

Times of India, Mumbai, February 12, 1994
by Harsh Sethi

Beyond the Demolition

[Ayodhya and the Future India, Edited by Jitendra Bajaj, Centre for Policy Studies, Madras. Price: Rs.120; Pages 261]

Just how important was December 6, 1992? A black day when marauding hordes demolished a five century-old mosque (or disputed structure if you wish) in contravention of all norms of sacred or secular, even constitutional propriety. Or should it be remembered as the day when ordinary Indians (read Hindus) overcame their natural indolence and wiped out a symbol of national shame, thereby inaugurating a new chapter in the life of free India?

Opinions vary. Be it the gleeful of the shell-shocked, few would disagree that both the events leading up to that fateful day, and even more the bloodbath that convulsed many parts of the country subsequently, cannot be easily forgotten.

It is true that the kind of centrality Ayodhya, the symbolisms and the mobilisations around it seems to enjoy between 1989 (Advani’s rath yatra) and 1993 (the demolition of the Masjit), at least in North India, has receded. The setbacks faced by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar in the recent assembly elections have certainly muted the exaggerated political claims around the mandir and of Hindutva. Yet the fact remains that the masjid was demolished and a makeshift temple to Ram Lalla constructed in its place. Thousands died. Not only was the authority of the Indian State centrally challenged, mobs calling themselves Rambhaktas managed to add to the repertoire of known Hindu religious activism – wilfully desecrating a sacred site without trace of remorse.

The Centre for Policy Studies, a think-tank commonly regarded as pro-BJP and pro-Hindutva, organised a series of public lectures around the significance of this event in early 1993. The lectures and an edited version of the discussions that followed are what are presented in the book under consideration. The editor, Jitendra Bajaj, and his colleagues at the CPS, view December 6, 1992 as a definite turning point in Indian history; their reaction to the display of unbounded initiative on the part of the Indian people was that of ‘immense relief’. For them what mattered ‘was the historical grandeur and definiteness of the action, almost as if the prison house of an unchanging situation had finally been torn asunder.’

The text of the eight lectures and the subsequent discussions leave, at least this reader, disappointed. The tone is set by Jitendra Bajaj, theoretical physicist-turned-journalist-turned-social researcher on Indian traditions. Basing himself on Will Durant (Islam) and Arnold Toynbee (West), Bajaj focuses on the implications of cluttering up our public spaces with symbols of defeat. Be it the Qutab Minar or India Gater, Rashtrapati Bhavan or the 3000 mosques ostensibly constructed on the ruins of temples – Bajaj sees all these structures as painful reminders of our colonisation and disarticulation. His ire does not stop with demanding the demolition of these impositions by invaders, but extends to all public institutions, even conceptual categories that represent the alien outsiders from the court houses to the dak bungalows – our system of justice or governance, secularism or the constitution – all these need to be purged out so that we can assert the quintessential genius of India, bringing it back to its civilisational anchorage.

Arun Shourie, unlike Bajaj, remains an unrepentant modernist. He is uneasy about the demolition, but explains it as an inevitability, given the fraud that corrupt politicians and Muslim leaders have been perpetrating on our people. What disturbs him is the buckling under of the Indian State to self-styled leaders of different communities and the nation. He thus comes up with suggestions, familiar to all those who read him, for a strong State, with the ability to impose its will both internally and externally, if necessary with brute force. So get rid of Article 370, impose a Uniform Civil Code, show Pakistan its place, rapidly modernise India with the help of experts – these Shourie argues are the lessons from Ayodhya. Also handle the dissenters who pick up guns within the framework of war, and properly handle union leaders like Datta Samant. And the BJP, minus its sadhus and mahants, or the populist pandering to swadeshi remain his favoured vehicle for the transformation.

The presence of S. Guhan came as a surprise, though not his speech. Borrowing heavily from S. Gopal edited book on this controversy, he outlines the standard secularist position. So if for Shourie it was the hidebound Muslim leadership and self-serving politicians who are responsible for the mess, Guhan focuses on the Sangh Parivar. Except for marking out a departure from the organisers, he adds nothing new to our understanding.

The voices of Abdus Samad, President IUML, Tamil Nadu, and Bishop Gnanadickam bring this volume the moderation of apprehensive minorities. Samad takes great pain to stress the catholicity of bharatiya tradition, underscoring that Islam too has contributed positively to its making. By giving many examples how temple authorities in Tamil Nadu have willingly given land to mosques, he tries to minimise the Hindu-Muslim conflict at the social level. He also distances himself from the Babri Masjid Action Committee position, arguing that what was essentially a local affair of Ayodhya was deliberately nationalised by the BMAC, thereby constructing the mosque at Ayodhya as central to Muslim faith and identity. Gnanadickam sticks to the speech of the religious. Praying together is his favourite remedy for this situation.

Gurumurhy’s talk is a barely disguised invective against Semitic faiths, particularly Islam. He also feels that Hindu society has been too tolerant, falsely believing that Islamic exclusiveness could be made compatible with a multi-religious society. By arguing that Indian society has been unique in its surviving the Islamic theocratic invasion, to the extent of even keeping the Muslim converts within a Hindu cultural fold, he makes a strong pleas for an assimilative Hindu cultural and civilisational ethos as the only basis for durable personal and social interactions between the Muslims and the rest of our countrymen. As for K N Govindacharya, he repeats his familiar thesis: from Ram Mandir to Ram Rajya.

It is really Dharampal, in many ways the guru behind this exercise, who continues to baffle. At one level Ayodhya, the destruction of the mosque, even the building of the temple, is for him secondary. What preoccupies him is the fracturing of Indian society, the subversion at all levels which has resulted in imposition of alien structures, ways of doing and thinking. He retains faith in ordinary Indians, particularly those who prefer Hardwar to Delhi. He traces our current morass to a process of shrinking, of withdrawal from public life, which creates a feeling of dishonour. The events in Ayodhya, according to him, were only an expression of this truncated sensibility coming to the fore, a hesitant attempt at house-cleaning by the society.

Where do these different voices lead us? My own suspicion is nowhere. Not only because with the partial exception of Bajaj and Dharampal, the others do not display any willingness for dialogue, but also possibly because the import (if any) of December 6, 1992 has still to sink in. Partly this is because the currently manifest changes are visible only at the superficial levels of the polity, with most analysts preoccupied with concerns such as whether the BJP has lost or gained out of this adventure. Whether the Hindu faith or even the modern polity has been irretrievably damaged as a result of the demolition of Babri Masjid, time only will tell. One wonders whether future historians will accord December 6, 1992 the same status as 1857, 1947, or even the Emergency of 1975?