The December 6 of 2017—which comes all of 25 years after the historic demolition of the disputed Babri structure in Ramjanmabhoomi, Ayodhya—has a new significance which the day never had before. This is an occasion to look at the bloody and controversial history of the 1990s from a new perspective, more dispassionately. This is the first time a settlement seems at least theoretically possible—the hope of imparting closure to a dispute that’s four centuries old. Ramsevaks in particular and Hindus in general are enthused about the prospect of seeing a temple built at the site which they consider the birth place of Rama.
With each passing day, the political and historic salience of the demolition day is getting starker. Many Hindus proclaimed it as a day of victory. A proud moment. For once, kamandal submerged Mandal, and caste, as a factor in polity, was pushed to the backburner as Ayodhya became a point of Hindu consolidation. This was manifest right up to recent elections, which upended all political punditry of the past.
We are at an analytically advantageous juncture at present: close enough to that fateful day, but also sufficiently distanced, now that two-and-a-half decades have elapsed since the event. The stalwarts of the movement from both sides have either left the scene or are enjoying the winter of their political, agitational career. But their tryst with destiny will have left substantial fodder for the retelling of the story for many generations to come. It is no exaggeration to say that December 6, 1992, redefined India for all times to come.
Mahant Avaidyanath, Mahant Ramachandra Paramhans, RSS leaders K.S. Sudarshan and Moropant Pingle, VHP leader Ashok Singhal and Babri Masjid Action Committee leader Syed Shahabuddin are no more. Senior BJP leaders like L.K. Advani, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi and Kalyan Singh have given way to younger leaders in the party. And two generations of young Indians have come of age with very little memory or no idea of the events that unfolded in Ayodhya. Meanwhile, the massive victory of Narendra Modi in the 2014 election has set an enabling context for a negotiated settlement to the dispute. For the first time, the Shia Wakf Board, which holds the title deed to the disputed site, has offered to hand over the land to the Hindus and rebuild the masjid at a different site. These are positive signals.
Many would disagree and look askance at my assertions. Some would also characterise the day as the darkest in Indian history: a day of mourning. Interpretations would differ depending on the side of the fence one is sitting. But very few are likely to dismiss it as a day of no significance. Nobody will dispute the tectonic shift in political perceptions the day brought about.
Initially, the BJP had to pay a heavy price. Its leaders were arrested and jailed. Four of its state governments were dismissed. The RSS too was banned, which was revoked by the court after a few months. But the gamble was worth taking. The party was able to generate considerable public support as a result of it spearheading the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. It became a mass movement, with the basic theme resonating with a whole generation of youngsters.
The bigger victory for the BJP was that it enabled a renewed debate on the course of the polity fifty years after independence. The foundations of Nehruvian socialism, secularism and the so-called national consensus on political faultlines and correctness were challenged successfully and trounced at the polls. Both the victory of NDA in 1998 and the big Modi win 16 years later came on the back of a political manifesto fine-tuned in the Ayodhya experiment. Many Hindus accepted the party’s logic that the 1992 demolition was a sign of assertion after a thousand-year-long subjugation, and that secularism meant appeasement of the minorities. Practitioners of the secular brand of politics described it as a day of shame. But the Congress in particular, and gradually even its Left allies, found the sands slipping below their feet. Parties that opposed Ramjanmabhoomi and supported Babri Masjid lost mass endorsement and began to suffer electoral reverses.
Four years ago, the Allahabad High Court upheld the Hindu claim. Now the matter is in the apex court, which has favoured a negotiated settlement. The new opening is the Shia Wakf Board stand. Muslim hardliners, of course, are way short of endorsing that. A solution to the complete satisfaction of all sides may still not be in sight. It is only possible if the Muslim side agrees to go along with the decision of the Shia Board, who are actually the stakeholders. The Hindu side cannot and will not sacrifice their claim as long as they believe the disputed place was where Rama was born. Recently, Sri Sri Ravishankar of the Art of Living has entered the fray trying for a solution. But some Hindu outfits have expressed reservations about his motives. So have some Muslim voices.
The BJP has not made Ayodhya part of its manifesto except in very general terms and it is not constrained to build the temple before 2019. But the big mandate it got in the last election had something to do with the hope of facilitating temple construction. It can try to expedite the process, either in the court or across the negotiation table. A suggestion mooted by the VHP is to go for legislation, now that the BJP is in power in UP with a huge majority. That may not solve the problem, for the other side can always challenge it in court. In fact, the only way is to appeal to the goodwill and sagacity of the Muslim side to build a permanent Hindu-Muslim unity.
Many believe only a renewed mandate for the BJP in the 2019 election will build the turf for such a grand gesture from the Muslim community. Central to the desire for such an outcome is the need to give the nationalistic, culture-centric political mosaic a further impetus. In a way, the fundamental point in the Ayodhya movement was to push cultural nationalism, the core theme of the BJP agenda, to the centre-stage.
In many ways, December 6 changed the discourse in Indian politics. Narendra Modi has rebranded it as the aspiration for a nationalist, development-centric, resurgent India. The alternative political narrative the BJP has pushed onto centre-stage is an offshoot of the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation. But for the Ayodhya movement, the BJP may not have occupied so much mindspace in the past two decades.
(The writer is member in the BJP central team for training and publications and former chief editor of Organiser.)