The demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, was that seminal moment in our national life that inalterably changed the trajectory of our history. From that day on, secular India was up against it!
Even as I write, the BJP has swept the “semi-final” Assembly polls, winning convincingly in three of the four major States (not including Mizoram, which, like the other North-Eastern States, is treated as an appendage of the Union. Who cares what happens there!). And our PM – the shining star of Hindutva - has triumphed again, crushing all in his wake. His gloating victory speech predicted an inevitable hat-trick of wins for the BJP in 2024. It ended with this Caesar-like brag: “Modi’s (third person, singular) guarantee begins when hopes from everyone’s promises end.” Modi is truly unstoppable!
The irresistible saffron imprint on the body politic can be traced back to December 6, 1992, that dark day when the Hindutva project was kick-started with a brutal transgression of the law. Cocking a snook at the Constitution, the kar sevaks and their Sangh Parivar handlers – with a knowing wink from the law enforcers - brought down the Babri Masjid. This heinous act of desecration was greeted by a large section of people with the kind of wild excitement seen when India beats Pakistan in cricket. The joyous response was not restricted to the lumpen elements who brought down the Masjid but was pervasive across the country, even among denizens in boardrooms and the government.
At a more profound level, the Babri Masjid demolition was a frontal assault on our collective identity as a secular nation. More than anything else, it demonstrated the power of the ethnocentric Hindutva ideology that upholds the supremacy of Hindus and purveys pathological animosity toward Muslims and Christians. This doctrine of Hindu exclusiveness has become a more than formidable alternative to the secular principle of pluralism and inclusion enunciated in the Constitution. It has stimulated a second partition of the country, albeit metaphorical, in that it is not a physical territorial split but a schismatic division of minds based on religion. From the day of the Babri Masjid destruction, the Hindutva credo of majoritarian nationalism has been in deadly political and social combat with the idea of India envisaged by our founding fathers.
Jawaharlal Nehru had, time and again, spoken fervently about protecting the minorities. He cautioned that “it is the responsibility of the dominant community not to use its position in any way which might prejudice the secular ideal of the nation.” He assessed the threat to the nation’s security thus: “The danger to India, mark you, is not communism. It is Hindu right-wing communalism.” How prophetic have been his words! While it is true that the communalism of one group feeds on the communalism of the other, it is undeniable that only majority communalism has the power to alter the nature of the Indian polity by subverting the basic principles of democracy and secularism. His warnings have gone unheeded; today, the country is on the brink of collapse.
It is important to remember that at the time of Independence, the citizens of India, mainly Hindu, had outright rejected the communal for the secular. The values that embellish our Constitution's Preamble were simply the will of the majority. This was the ideal that the country aspired for, but given the trauma of Partition and the historical animosity between the two communities, it would always be a hazardous project. Even as the nation wrestled with the problems of hunger, disease and unemployment, the fundamentalist forces, Hindu and Muslim, were engaged in stymieing all attempts at cultural syncretism between the communities. Tragically, they have had unmitigated success in polarising our society on communal lines.
The Trishul-waving kar sevaks atop the Babri Masjid dome represented a deviant religious militancy that undermined the country’s core values. It diminished the land of Buddha and Gandhi, which was tolerant of all religions and transformed it into a profoundly polarised, violent majoritarian State. At the ideological level, the cultural eclecticism that marked the worldview of Adi Shankaracharya and Gandhi was subsumed by the divisive, insular nationalism propagated by M S Golwalkar and Veer Savarkar.
The Sangh Parivar’s calculated induction of religion into the political arena with the clear intent of bestowing divinity to their politics has been hugely successful. A venom-spewing Yogi with a bulldozer in tow is the head of the largest State in the country. In his watch, the State and religion have congealed into one. Skilfully using rituals to keep the Hindu ranks together, Valmiki and Ravidas pujas are conducted to benefit lower castes. Today, despite mangling a great religious tradition of pluralistic beliefs, the Sangh Parivar can justifiably claim to identify with and represent the collective will of a large section of Hindus.
Even on the day that the Babri Masjid was torn down, it was palpably evident that no power on earth would be allowed to rebuild it, such as the visible might of those who engineered its destruction. It would be no exaggeration to state that the irresistible political juggernaut of the Saffron Brigade was built on the ruins of this structure. The Ram Janmabhoomi movement, which culminated in the Babri destruction, resulted in a massive boost in the political fortunes of the BJP, particularly in the Hindi belt and the West. This was reflected in the 120 Lok Sabha seats that the BJP won in 1991 and the 161 seats with alliance partners in 1996, compared with the measly two seats secured in the 1984 election.
Three decades later, the BJP is the nation’s hegemon, the undisputed power at the centre, and it is ruling several states. In its wake, the social ecosystem is steaming with schismatic tensions and the rhetoric of hate. Gratuitous everyday cruelty manifested in lynchings, ghar wapsi, beef vigilantism, love jihad and the crushing of dissent plays out under the benign gaze of the State.
Even the last bastion of our democracy -the Supreme Court- has bowed to majoritarian sentiment. The site of the demolished mosque has been bestowed to the deity “Ram Lalla”, and in doing so, the Court has neither delivered justice nor adhered to the fundamental tenets of the law. Instead, Aastha or the faith of the majority community has prevailed. Today, the country waits with bated breath for the grand inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya by the PM on January 22, 2024, a pompous ceremony that will affix an authoritative seal to the cohabitation of the State with the religion of the majority. Damn, secularism!
Significantly, this regime’s overwhelming victory in three of the four states that went to the polls just the other day has come at a time when we have never been worse off as a nation. While the rich are being provided the wherewithal to grow richer, raging unemployment and an uncontrolled price rise have obliged the government, by its own admission, to provide free rations to 80 crore people for the last two years, which is to be continued for another five years. The social fabric is in tatters; Kashmir is more alienated than ever; there is a civil war in Manipur. The Chinese are stomping all over our territory, and we have no friends in the neighbourhood, with even the Maldives giving us the cold shoulder.
But instead of concentrating on the real concerns of the commoner, the Opposition has sought to exploit caste and religion to beat the BJP at its own game. Indeed, Modi is perhaps the only leader in the world who is wilfully dividing his people to stay in power. During electioneering in Rajasthan, he accused the Congress of appeasement politics by invoking the killing of Kanhaiya Lal by two Muslims in Udaipur last year. To counter Hindu consolidation based on such egregious manipulation of religious sentiment, the Opposition has come out with a diabolical plan of its own.
Whereas the “Hindutvavadis” have sought homogeneity among Hindus not only for electoral gains but with the wicked intent of overpowering the minorities, the Opposition seeks to counter the saffron mobilisation by splintering the Hindu community through the equally reprehensible caste census engineering and by fanning the Sanathan dharma debate. Both sides are guilty of the cardinal crime of pitting their people against each other. Whereas the ill usage of religion for political purposes has yielded massive dividends for the BJP, it has undoubtedly boomeranged on the Opposition. (Of course, one cannot overlook the harmful impact of the Kamalnath-Digvijay duo on Congress' defeat in MP. They ignored their I.N.D.I.An alliance partner and thought that cunning alone would see them through.)
Let’s face it. As a nation, we have irreversibly cast off the idea of India as a united, multicultural country with common goals and aspirations, a shared history and a joint search for a better future for all. In its place, we have Hindutva as the unofficial ideology of the State.
And today, there is neither brotherhood nor love, but only manic hate!
(The writer is a former civil servant. The views are personal)