This year marks the tenth “anniversary” of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and the first real effort by the Sangh Parivar to build its Ram temple on the ruins of what has become a symbol of peace and co-existence of different communities in India as much as of composite and syncretic nationalism. It is not a coincidence that much of what is happening around us looks and sounds a replay of what was happening in 1992. Various newspapers are in fact busy recalling these similarities, and the Indian Express has actually brought in its ten-year-old piece, titled Ayodhya unspooled, saying “Ten years ago it was the same old story with the VHP at the center of tension” (IE, January 29, 2002).
Yet it is important to realize that much has changed even as much seems the same.
The leader of the rath yatra of those years sits ensconced as Home Minister, not challenging the government of the day, but as government protecting the criminals of yesterday and today. We have in power today a government that has irretrievably wounded our psyche, assaulted our vision of our past and future, and cavalierly goes about the business of redefining the nation in its own image.
Much has been made of the RSS having hoisted the national tri-colour on Republic Day—much as if it has done the country a big favour. The RSS has finally accepted, ‘endorsed’ and linked itself with ‘mainstream’ expressions of nationalism, it is claimed by the ever-sympathetic media. Although one would like to ask who are they to endorse or not endorse anybody’s patriotism or nationalism? But then this is precisely the point. In these last ten years the RSS seems to have simply usurped the authority to speak for the nation and on the nation, and a large section of middle class public opinion seems to have acquiesced in it.
What is nearer the truth is that the Sangh Parivar has hijacked the nation and the symbols of nationalism, including the national flag, by virtue of the BJP being a ruling party in government. What one hears from the ‘authority’ and government on Republic Day and Independence Day is not what is reflected in our Constitution, or the values that formed the underlying principles of our freedom struggle but reworked clichés from ‘We and our Nationhood Defined’. Terrorism and national security become euphemisms for targeting the minorities and neighbouring countries, collaborations with Israel and the US replace the solidarity with developing countries and policy of non-alignment, and the nation is subverted even as the nation is appropriated and redefined.
In fact the Sangh Parivar has been busy these ten years, since the demolition of the masjid, in redefining the nation in its own image, and the unfurling of the tri-colour is meant to represent their claim over the nation and to convey the message that nationalism and national policy will henceforth mean implementation of the policies of these new hoisters of the national flag--much in the same way that claim to the national education policy has been effected through changing the National Curriculum Framework for school education. We must understand this signification and its implications for a secular and democratic India.
The Home Minister goes to the press, along with the Prime Minister, with his ‘musings’ every second day, where he not only sounds very much the RSS man that he is, but talks on behalf of the government as if it is the RSS and not the NDA which forms the government. He opines on what the response of the Muslims should be to the VHP yatra for the temple, gives an expert opinion on whether the Muslim response implies a defense of their religious rights or defense of Babar and the destruction of temples, and clearly defines his side and that of his government as representing the viewpoint of the VHP. There is absolutely no pretence even of neutrality, or for waiting for the court judgment before moving ahead with their plans. He has talked of rewriting the Constitution even as he is under oath as Home Minister to defend the Constitution. He is clearly implementing the RSS agenda as Minister in the government bypassing the reality that people have not voted the RSS into government.
It is no secret that as Ministers in government Vajpayee, Advani, Joshi, Uma Bharti, Jagmohan, Arun Shourie, Anant Kumar and other RSS cadres like them in government and administration are presiding over and aiding and abetting the so-called ‘Chetavani Yatra’ of the VHP, linking up the mandir with patriotism, the intimidation of the minorities with national security, and Islam with terrorism. These linkages are the flip side of its expressions of nation (symbolized in the tri-colour) as Hindutva and government as the representative of this claimed symbiotic relationship.
The grim cavalcade of party workers and storm troopers brandishing swords, trishuls and gadas, led by the Sangh Parivar has unleashed a new Goebelsian propaganda that the current legal position entitles them to start building in the area barring just the ‘40 feet by 80 ft’ , the idea being to surround the ruins of the masjid with the temple edifice and thus render the court battle in fructuous. The government has already abetted this design in referring the matter to its Law ministry, even as the VHP sponsored yatra has assumed the role of a “vote for BJP” rally. Replicas of the proposed mandir and slogans of ‘manir vahin banainge (we will build the temple just there) and saffron clad ‘sants’ mingle with BJP flags, festoons, leaflets, party vehicles and party reception committees at the venues. Warnings are sounded with reminders of 92, “Ram hi rashtra hai, rashtra hi Ram hai” (Ram is the nation, the nation is Ram), and that “construction will start, court sanction or no court sanction”.
The route of the yatra carefully covers towns with sizeable Muslim populations—Faizabad, Agra, Kanpur, Lucknow, Aligarh and so on, and within these towns the areas where Muslims reside. When asked to change the route in Aligarh the response was ”How many Pakistans shall we create? Hum Hindu hain, hum apne desh main Mussalmanon se dar kar kyon rahen?” (We are Hindus, why should we be scared of the Muslims when it is our own country). The reference is clear. The nation belongs to them alone, and sensibilities of other people do not matter.
The slogans and speeches along the route are as usual inflammatory and violative of the constitution and citizenship rights of the minorities. Aggression is all on the side of the Parivar, yet the areas characterized as ‘sensitive’ are those where minorities reside. Hate filled propaganda and pogroms have already preceded this yatra in Gujarat, Orissa, and Rajasthan as earlier reports in PD and Communalism Combat show, all schools, including minority schools are being forced to perform ‘pujas’ in Gujarat schools for earthquake victims, and every madrasa is branded as hot bed of terrorist activity, minorities are being pushed to the wall. There are campaigns that women should not patronize Muslim tailor shops, bangle shops, beauty parlours and so on. Fictitious complaints are cooked up of misbehaviour to create communal tension, and poisonous leaflets are being extensively distributed. Of course if the minorities react, they will be called terrorists.
It is important to understand how VHP yatras with its visuals of trshuls and mandirs are being conflated with ‘national politics’, the images of ‘sants’ and sadhus with nationalism and the tri colour of the flag with RSS policies and claims. In the reverse Advani says that the central issue in the dispute is not that of the mosque but of Babri mosque, identified with Babar. Babar, in their political imagery, represents terrorism today, while the VHP sadhus and sants are presented as soldiers of the centuries old ‘freedom struggle’ against the ‘foreigner’—the ‘gaurav gatha’ that must end with the Hindu rashtra.
In this context, the Babri mosque is a symbol that must be taken seriously by secular people as well. If they succeed in their temple, they may well change the flag as well, and the Constitution. Even then much would remain the same as ten years ago, but much more would have changed, and it would not be out of place to remember once again that Vajpayee may well prefer to go down (literally) in ‘history’ as having enabled this ‘historic’ act. Ten years have brought us to this juncture of the battle for who constitutes the nation and country.