Mar 28, 2023
Mar 28, 2023
If any confirmation was needed about the pseudo-religious nature of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement, then it has been provided by the absence of any reference to the issue in the latest conclave of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
As is known, the agitation for the "liberation" of the putative birthplace of Lord Ram, where the Babri masjid was located, was launched by L.K. Advani and the BJP with great fanfare in 1990.
It led to the destruction of the mosque by a violent mob in the presence of Advani and other senior BJP leaders two years later. The agitation was based on the theory that the mosque was built by Mughal emperor Babar in Ayodhya in 1528 after pulling down an ancient temple dedicated to Ram.
Although the demolition was followed by communal riots virtually all over the country, it helped the BJP, which used to languish on the margins of the political arena, to leapfrog to the centre stage of politics and come to power at the national level in 1998 after a 13-day stint in 1996.
What undoubtedly helped the party was the mobilization of the votes of mainly the communal-minded Hindus by whipping up anti-Muslim sentiments. Since then, the demonization of Muslims (and also Christians) has been the mainstay of saffron politics.
Yet, nearly two decades after the Ramjanmabhoomi movement was launched by Advani with his Somnath-to-Ayodhya rath yatra (chariot ride) with the promise to build the Ram temple, the subject has been quietly dropped by the BJP.
Why has its faith fizzled out? A probable explanation is that the temple card cannot be played too often without inviting ridicule. Since the BJP could not take any concrete measure to keep its pre-election promise during its six-year-long stint in power, it will be absurd for it to say now that it will make yet another attempt to build the temple if it again comes to power.
Besides, the party may have lost interest in the subject because it has already gained the intended political benefits from its temple plank. The BJP's main "achievement" in this respect has been to vitiate the social and political scene in a way that secular concepts are derided and anti-Muslim sentiments are openly expressed - something which was highly unusual up to the 1980s.
This communalization of the atmosphere is the result of the persistent campaign from the time of the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation to revive memories of Muslim atrocities, including the breaking of temples, in the medieval period and linking the community with the threat posed by Islamic terrorism today.
So, Indian Muslims are held guilty by the BJP and the saffron brotherhood for both the sins of their forefathers and the terror tactics of fundamentalists of the present generation.
Any party, whether it is the Congress or those of the Left, which is seemingly sympathetic towards the minorities, is immediately tarred, therefore, with the brush of anti-nationalism by the BJP and the Sangh parivar. And any concern for human rights in the context of high-handed police action involving Muslims is scorned as the response of bleeding heart liberals.
It is not difficult to see, therefore, that the Ramjanmabhoomi movement was essentially a political one, with religion only providing a convenient cover with the intention of making the ordinary people believe that the BJP leaders were being guided by their devotion for Hinduism.
This cynical tactic was successful, considering that simple villagers lined the route of Advani's 1990 journey, throwing flowers and offering incense, with some describing the BJP leader as an avatar or an incarnation of a Hindu deity. Rarely before has religion been so blatantly used by a political party to boost its prospects.
Advani himself told the Liberhan Commission inquiring into the demolition of the Babri masjid that "I could see in the eyes of people, particularly the rural folks and tribals, a sense of reverence normally bestowed on religious men".
He evidently had no intention of disclaiming any such status and telling his gullible audience that he was a politician on a mission of garnering votes by whatever means possible. Nor was he bothered that his espousal of the Hindu cause would upset the delicate balance between the majority community and the minorities, leading to tension and violence.
If this potent weapon is now being discarded, the reason is not only the realization in the Hindutva camp that its hypocritical display of religiosity may no longer fetch votes but also the fact that its "secular" partners in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) have always been uneasy about the temple card lest it annoy the minorities.
It was to woo them that the BJP had dropped the three major issues of its Hindu agenda - building of the temple, scrapping of Article 370 conferring special status on Jammu and Kashmir and introducing a uniform civil code - from its future programmes in 1996. The concession was successful since it led to the NDA's formation, but this very act had also shown that the BJP was using the temple as a political ploy and that religion had nothing to do with it.
The fatuity, therefore, of the earlier comparison drawn by the Hindutva warriors between the independence movement and the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation is obvious.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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