Artists of ambiguity


What Justice Liberhan has rightly done is to hold the BJP’s leaders vicariously responsible for the demolition of the mosque because they took (or, in Vajpayee’s case, did not prevent) actions (between 1988 and 1991) that created an atmosphere conducive to it. This is something that even Advani has readily conceded about himself and his party. But Vajpayeee’s indictment, even on these grounds, is more problematic. For he was not even present in Ayodhya on December 6 and had openly opposed Advani’s rath yatra to Ayodhya in 1990. Indeed, as I was privileged to know at that time, Vajpayee had been in continuous contact with prime minister VP Singh in the days before Advani’s rath entered Uttar Pradesh and had admitted frankly that he felt like a fish out of water in the Sangh Parivar of 1990. But, he confessed, he had been a member of the RSS since the age of 12 and felt that he had no option but to try and change the organisation from within.

Just before Advani’s rath entered UP, Vajpayee admitted that he felt like a fish out of water in the Sangh Parivar of 1990

A close reading of the report also shows that to arrive at his core conclusion — that the demolition plot involved the whole of the Sangh Parivar — Justice Liberhan relied upon an impression of the internal structure of the Parivar that is unsupported by the voluminous research has been done on the subject. This research has shown that, although headed by the RSS, it is a loosely structured organisation whose component elements enjoy a considerable degree of autonomy in performing their tasks. It is therefore perfectly possible that the RSS leadership organised the plot and delegated its commission to a specific group or groups in the Sangh Parivar without others knowing about it. If nothing else, the ‘need to know’ principle would have dissuaded the masterminds from involving more than the minimum number of persons. Thus, it is entirely possible that not just Vajpayee and Advani, but most members of the BJP were in the dark.

The likelihood that they were in fact kept entirely in the dark increases when one examines the direction in which they were taking the BJP after the 1991 elections. The BJP’s failure — after six years of ‘Hindu’ mobilisation — to secure more than 21 percent of the vote had convinced them that it would never be able to come to power on its own on the narrow ideological base of Hindutva. They had, therefore, concluded that the only way forward was to build electoral alliances with the opponents of the Congress in other states. As a result, they had already begun to back-pedal on the building of a temple at Ayodhya, not to mention the abolition of Article 370 of the Constitution and other ‘core’ issues of the party.

It is therefore entirely possible that the plot to demolish the Babri Masjid was hatched not even by the RSS as a whole but by the hard core within it with the purpose of forcing the BJP back to the ‘purity’ of Hindutva once again. Had the BJP won the state elections that were held in 1993 in the four states from which Narasimha Rao had forced them out after the demolition, the hard liners would have won. But it was trounced in three out of those four states and Vajpayee and Advani stood vindicated.

The voters punished the BJP for 2002 but history has only begun to extract its price from Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Throughout the next five years, Vajpayee built alliances with secular non-Congress parties while Advani diligently recruited retired professionals from the bureaucracy, the armed forces and business to modernise the party and strengthen its capacity to govern. Nor did Vajpayee give this up when he came to power, for he continued to lecture the Sangh Parivar, in his annual ‘musings’, on the virtues of diversity and religious pluralism.

But in the end, Vajpayee was unable to follow the logic of his beliefs to their logical conclusion. Throughout his six years in office, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal repeatedly attacked Christians and Muslims with the intention of forcing Vajpayee to either leave the Sangh Parivar or become complicit in their actions. Tragically, he temporised and tried to patch matters up each time. This ambivalence climaxed in the carnage in Gujarat in 2002 and cost the NDA the 2004 elections, for several of the BJP’s allies in the NDA felt that they had lost in their home states because they had forfeited the Muslim vote. The voters therefore punished the BJP for 2002, but history has only begun to extract its price from Vajpayee.



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