February 15, 2020
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The Thousand Year Myth

The Liberhan report too falls for the Hindu-Secular conundrum

The Thousand Year Myth
The Thousand Year Myth

The document that we now know as the  Liberhan Ayodhya Commission of Inquiry Report tells us after 17 long years what all of us have known since December 6, 1992. It names and indicts the conspirators behind the Babri Masjid demolition, dismisses the theory of a spontaneous upsurge, and officially sanctifies Atal Behari Vajpayee as a pseudo-liberal. Its recommendations go nowhere, and given the current political climate, it serves little purpose other than for the Congress and the BJP to score a few political points. The size, structure and timing of the report makes it unfit for public debate and consigns it to a shelf full of similar useless documents. But as a piece of ‘literature’ produced in contemporary India, the report has a significance that goes beyond its intended purpose.

As a text, the Liberhan report mimics the way events unfolded in Ayodhya on December 6, ’92. Politicians at the time behaved as if the events of that day were a bolt from the blue that shattered all our moral, ethical and political categories. In the face of an overwhelming sense of reality, politicians exhibited a misplaced sense of innocence. The demolition of the mosque unleashed a well-orchestrated mechanism of repression and dissociation. Vajpayee resigned from his party post, and then withdrew his resignation, with alacrity. Lal Krishna Advani, the man who led the movement that culminated in the events of December 6, found himself saying that the demolition of the mosque was the saddest day of his life. Nothing really happened, either politically or socially. The prime minister of the day slept peacefully while climacteric events were unfolding.

Justice Liberhan’s report does exactly that: it takes the drama out of a political story of wilful criminality, conspiracy, subversion of the Constitution and of the rule of law, complicity and neglect by relegating it to the past. The time elapsed between the events of December 6, ’92, and the report’s submission transforms it into something that demands a historical rather than a political analysis. Many individuals implicated in the events are dead, many others have gone into political oblivion, and a few like Advani and Kalyan Singh have been partially resurrected from their political graves. Even the report’s leaking and its eventual airing in Parliament mirrors the delusional anarchy, feigned surprise and smug indolence that led to the demolition of the mosque.

There is, however, one significant question that remains unresolved between then and now: how does a nation with a vastly disproportionate sense of moral supremacy (and political and economic insignificance) manage to cover itself in such an inglorious mess? The answer is obvious. The events leading to the Babri demolition and the Liberhan report are inspired by the same myth, the myth of the reasonable, soft, spiritual, inward-looking, tolerant, peaceful and all-embracing Hindu. While Justice Liberhan historicises the process that led to the demolition of the mosque and the movement that asserted the building of a temple for Lord Rama, he leaves the myth of the Hindu self-perception unchallenged. Therefore, the chapter in the report titled ‘Secularism’ (Chapter 12) is of singular significance.

This chapter assumes that there is a single idea of India rather than a plurality of the ideas of India, restates several conflicting Supreme Court judgements regarding the meaning of Hindutva and secularism, quotes Amartya Sen indiscriminately, and ends up with cliches that contradict each other in the space of a single paragraph. Let us consider a few examples. On page 869, Liberhan says that “secularism is nothing else but providing a casteless society”, and in the next sentence goes on to argue that “the cleavage between Hindu and Muslim is a challenge to secularism”. Following another Amartya quote, Liberhan comes to the conclusion that “Hinduism within itself has a diversity that is not only in caste but also in innumerable thoughts....”

Once this foundation myth is stated, a series of conclusions follow. Liberhan believes that “the Hindu society is a well-rooted and established patient society since time immemorial.... The basis of secularism is the tradition of acceptance of complex, multilingual, multi-ethnic and multi-religious diversity as demonstrated in the historical process of thousands of years”. Note the imprecision of the term “thousands of years”. A myth is a myth because it cannot be historicised. Unknowingly, Liberhan repeats the very arguments that Hindu nationalists have put forth since the 19th century. Liberhan also believes that a democratic polity and a secular constitution are the mainstay of the Indian nation because they are founded on an essentially secular Hindu society. What happened in Ayodhya, therefore, is merely a deviation from the well-established norm of “thousands of years”.

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