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Ayodhya remained an almost-revolution
September 24, 2003
There were no boisterous and jubilant crowds of the faithful shouting "Jai Sri Ram" on Friday afternoon in the BJP central office. The media, which had turned up in full strength to get their teeth into a delicious political crisis, had the hangdog look of those entering a bar expectantly and being told it is a dry day. The dispiritedness was particularly evident among television reporters who had been deprived their moment of insolence, their opportunity to taunt Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani into resigning.
The verdict from the Rae Bareli magistrate's court was in every sense a colossal anti-climax. With Advani cleared of the charges of criminal incitement, there was no big story, only some gossipy speculation over the future of Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi.
It was so unlike the heady scenes in Ashoka Road that December morning in 1992 when Advani was arrested from his Pandara Park residence and dispatched to a godforsaken corner of Uttar Pradesh. Then, the emotional outpourings of the saffron faithful matched the spirited indignation of the secularist activists proclaiming "Sharm se kaho hum Hindu hain (I am ashamed to be a Hindu)."
Ayodhya may once again be back among the headlines and as a debating point for professional and amateur archaeologists, but it no longer generates the intensity of feeling it aroused a decade ago. Those who imagined the demolition of the Babri shrine would usher an explosion of Hindutva were guilty of unwarranted optimism. Likewise, those who spent New Year's Day in 1993 hearing the distant thud of fascist jackboots were simply fantasising.
Ayodhya left a definite mark on the way India thinks and acts but it didn't trigger an upheaval. It remained an almost-revolution.
There is a strong temptation to believe otherwise. Credible opinion polls still suggest that a majority of Hindus are strongly committed to the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. Yet, as most political practitioners, including those who were in the forefront of the movement 10 years ago, will readily admit, it is a passive support, not one that will set the heartland on fire. Lusty cries of "Mandir Wahin Banayenge" no longer fetches the same electoral dividends, and certainly not in Uttar Pradesh, once the epicentre of the saffron surge. Indeed, there is every likelihood of the law of diminishing returns setting in.
The prime minister knows this as does Advani and the rest of the BJP. Only a fraction of the VHP clings to the self-serving belief that the ideological fickleness and opportunism of the BJP leadership is the only stumbling block to Hindu resurgence.
The public indifference to the VHP's adventurism has, however, generated a cynical reluctance on the part of the secularist lobby to accommodate Hindu sentiment. The peremptory rejection of the Kanchi Shankaracharya's initiative by the Muslim Personal Law Board and the contrived rubbishing of the Archaeological Survey of India have given rise to the impression that minorityism is back in business. It was precisely such a feeling that gave the Ayodhya movement its impetus 10 years ago. Now, with Islamist terrorism providing an added fear, the sense of Hindu hurt could yet again turn to rage.
It happened in Gujarat last year and it can still happen elsewhere.
That Advani has been liberated from the litigious encumbrance of Ayodhya should not prompt the simplistic conclusion that the temple issue will return to the centre-stage. In the past decade, Hindu nationalism has both stagnated and evolved. On the narrow issue of Ayodhya it has been bogged down by judicial restraint and public weariness, unable to either advance or retreat.
At the same time, however, it has enlarged its scope into areas like national security and economic policy.
Indeed, the past five years have witnessed the shortening of the distance between what was regarded as Hindu nationalism and what passed off as Indian nationalism. Ayodhya began the process but cannot complete the merger.
Viewed in this light, the Rae Bareli judgment has been liberating not only for Advani but also for the Prime Minister and the party. Collectively they have acquired the political space to look beyond Ayodhya.