The M.S. Liberhan report on the Babri Masjid demolition could not have come at a worse time for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
First, the party is still reeling from the shock of two successive defeats in general elections because they have set off an internal debate on the correctness of its political line. The report will make the discussions all the more bitter.
Secondly, its indecisiveness about the line will be compounded even further by the latest development because of the behind-the-scene role of the Hindu supremacist Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), which does not want the BJP to deviate from its hardline Hindutva policies.
Since the Babri Masjid demolition of 1992 was intrinsically related to such anti-Muslim combativeness, the report will yet again compel the party to clarify its position on the issue. The person who will be affected the most by an exercise of this nature is L.K. Advani, who was the BJP's prime ministerial candidate in the just-concluded elections.
Advani was the central figure in the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation, which led to the destruction of the mosque. He was known as a hawk at the time. However, the party's six years in power between 1998 and 2004 made it appreciate the values of moderation in multicultural, multi-religious, multilingual India, especially if the BJP wanted its "secular" allies to remain in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) constituted by it.
What is more, as the prime ministerial candidate, Advani made a much greater show of his putative moderation than before and, after the party's defeat, he declared that Hindutva would have to be a tolerant philosophy, free of an anti-minority bias.
But now the report will turn the spotlight yet again on the anti-Muslim thrust of the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation, which targeted not only the Babri Masjid for destruction but also two other mosques in Varanasi and Mathura.
The two factors which are likely to prove embarrassing for Advani and the BJP are, first, the charge in the report that Advani created the atmosphere which led to the sacrilege in 1992. And, second, that the outrage was the result of a well-planned conspiracy and not of a spontaneous expression of anger by the Hindu activists, known as kar sevaks.
Few will deny the veracity of the first charge. After the then prime minister V.P. Singh threatened to run away with the backward caste votes by adopting the Mandal report promising job reservations for them, Advani embarked on his now infamous rath yatra in 1990 to mobilize the voters by stoking their Hindu sentiments. And what better way to do so than by recalling the acts of desecration by Muslim invaders in the medieval ages?
The BJP also gave a fresh lease of life to the myth that the Hindu god Ram was born at the exact place in Ayodhya where the Babri Masjid was built by Mughal Emperor Babar in 1528 after pulling down an ancient temple. To reclaim the site, Advani set off on a Toyota 'rath' (recreation of an ancient chariot useed by Hindu warriors) from Somnath, where a temple was destroyed by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1024. His mission helped to create the "atmosphere", as the Liberhan commission has said, for destroying the mosque.
When the BJP and the RSS-led Sangh Parivar gave the call to their followers to assemble at the site on Dec 6, 1992, there were fears of widespread disturbances, especially since an attempt was made earlier to destroy the structure. The apprehensions were enhanced by Advani's observation that the kar sevaks were gathering at the site not merely to sing bhajan-kirtan or Hindu devotional songs.
The report may be able to clarify whether this loaded observation hinted at a conspiracy, something which Kalyan Singh, who was Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister at the time, has also alleged. Singh, after leaving the party, further said that the BJP leaders kept him in the dark about their intentions.
Although Advani later described Dec 6 as the "saddest day" of his life, it was never clear whether his distress stemmed from the destruction or from the breakdown of the Parivar's vaunted discipline. In any event, his complicity in the entire episode starting from the 1990 rath yatra to the mosque's demolition two years later is evident.
It was also the first time in modern Indian history that a place of worship was directly targeted as part of a political agitation in the garb of a religious movement. Since then, it has almost become a part of the Parivar's politics to attack such shrines belonging to the minorities, as the burning of churches in Orissa not long ago showed.
Advani has the dubious distinction, therefore, of setting off this deplorable trend. Not surprisingly, Manmohan Singh described the Babri demolition as the most significant achievement of Advani's life.
The Liberhan report's regurgitation of all these unwholesome facts will compel the BJP, and especially Advani, to live through those fateful days again. The only way they can defend themselves is by reiterating the hard line they took in those years, thereby confirming that the party remains as anti-minority in its outlook as before, notwithstanding all its recent protestations to the contrary.
In the wake of the unsavory revelations that are bound to be made during the discussions on the report, the hawk-versus-moderate debate in the BJP cannot but become more intense, especially with the RSS chipping in for the hardliners.
The report has set the seal, therefore, on the Congress's electoral victory by plunging the BJP into a deeper crisis.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)