Union minister and senior BJP leader Uma Bharti let the cat out of the bag. On Wednesday, shortly after the Supreme Court ordered the revival of the criminal conspiracy case against her, Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and other Sangh Parivar notables, she declared her intention to travel to Ayodhya. Giving a spin to Mamata Banerjee’s declaration that she could go any distance for “Ma, Maati and Manush”, the ministerial custodian of the River Ganga declared: “Ayodhya ke liye, Ganga ke liye, gau ke liye aur tirange ke liye, mein koi bhi saza bhugatne ko taiyyar hoon (I’m ready to face any punishment for Ayodhya, the Ganga, the cow and the national flag)”, in hope of taking the lead in the game of competitive Hindutva which she calculated will begin shortly within the Sangh Parivar. But that was before she paid a visit to BJP president Amit Shah’s house. Thereafter, the “proud, unapologetic and unrepentant” leader who was prepared to get “hanged or be jailed” over construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya rolled back her plans. She didn’t, however, attribute the cancellation of her visit to the temple town to the tête-à-tête with Mr Shah. Evidently, the public display of bravado over the Ram temple doesn’t serve the cause of the BJP’s new government in Uttar Pradesh. Consequently, Ms Bharti said she changed her plans “due to the media (as) I thought my going there would become a political event and not a personal one”.
Peculiarly, the Congress welcomed the Supreme Court’s directions, saying it had allowed the law of the land to “take its own course without fear or favour. Let justice be done and the guilty punished. The law of the land is equal for everyone, irrespective of stature, caste, creed, religion or region”. Such platitudinous comments are uttered with the intention of being politically correct, but, insofar as Ayodhya is concerned, the majority view of what constitutes justice on the issue is uni-dimensional: that the law and the political leadership must facilitate construction of the temple. The Congress’ response is indicative of the party missing the central point of the court’s order — if any gains are there for any political party, it is the BJP alone. Harsh though it may sound, but 25 years after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the chances of its reconstruction are bleaker than in 1992. Barring the incensed secularists of that time, no one really considered the kar sevaks or the senior leaders who prodded them on guilty of any offence. All the FIRs filed, the limited detention of some leaders and the ban on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh were demonstrative of the State’s complicity in the demolition. Only the odd leader like Mr Advani expressed either regret or offered an apology. His response too stemmed from the sense of losing a symbol of “Hindu subjugation” forever, and not due to any feeling of remorse.
Even today, save ruination of the remote chances of Mr Advani (or Dr Joshi) becoming the next President or being appointed to an alternative constitutional position, the Supreme Court order is a setback to no one. The Ayodhya discourse and the legal maze has reached a point where guilt is an insignia of distinction among surging supporters of Hindutva. Ms Bharti’s initial response after the Supreme Court order demonstrated precisely this. The direction does not remotely suggest proof of crime. The order is packed with an overdose of technical arguments which will do little to bring about a conviction. On that issue, the consensus is that proof of conspiracy will be well-nigh impossible to provide. Let there be no doubt, the Supreme Court order revives interest in the flagging issue. In the past quarter-century, more than one generation of youngsters have grown up with little knowledge of the issues that had gripped the nation. The mention of Ayodhya conjures images of a makeshift temple for some and of shattered identity for others. But while the former can take solace in many more victories — the latest being in the Uttar Pradesh elections — the latter can do little but look around to sense their growing social isolation and political irrelevance. As the demolition trial is picked up once again, a new generation will get an opportunity to understand the roots of discord and this will deepen prejudices. This in turn, will give greater strength to the majoritarian idea.
It is true that the over the next two years it will be tough to maintain the euphoria that shall be created over the next few weeks as the case is transferred to Lucknow and the hearings begin in another four weeks. Yet, despite the absence of excitement over the issue, the dispute will continue to resonate among people. Almost three decades ago, Mr Advani had defensively declared that the Sangh Parivar would not try scientifically establishing that Ayodhya was indeed the birthplace of Lord Ram because it was a “matter of faith”. Since then, much more is a matter of faith and belief and a lot less is now decided by reason and argument. The non-existence of a criminal conspiracy is one such. “It all happened in full public view,” declared Ms Bharti. In the past three years, social exclusion has been practised alongside the politics of development. However uncomfortable these may be for many people, the truth is that much like the idea of demonetisation, several of the government’s initiatives find backers among people. These supporters may not constitute the demographic majority, but as in most democracies, power comes from the electoral majority, which is much easier to secure. Then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, it is believed, had allowed the demolition in 1992 because he believed the structure of the Babri Masjid would damage the nation more in its existence than its absence. His calculation was, without a doubt, wrong.