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The onus for closure is on Advani

By Saisuresh Sivaswamy
October 06, 2010 20:06 IST
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The Ayodhya verdict, far from legitimising L K Advani's deeply divisive rath yatra, has tried to repair the damage he did to inter-community relations in India, feels Saisuresh Sivaswamy.

Among the various utterances following the Allahabad high court ruling last week on the Ayodhya tangle, one particular reaction caught my fancy.

It was put out by Press Trust of India, and was an interview with the Bharatiya Janata Party's Bhishma Pitamah (the grand patriarch) -- so described by the Congress party's Manish Tewari.

The ruling by the high court, L K Advani posited, justified his rath yatra in favour of the Ram temple at Ayodhya.

Judicial verdicts are strange things, you can take away what you like from them.

So we have sections of the Muslim community nursing a grievance that the verdict was an instance of majoritarianism and that it actually justified the Babri Masjid's demolition in December 1992 by a horde of Hindu lumpen even as the BJP's leading lights, including Advani, stood by watching helplessly.

While the verdict went by centuries of belief that the Ram Janmasthan lay at the spot in dispute, one fails to understand Advani's takeaway that it justified his rath yatra -- if anything, the mosque's demolition was the direct outcome of Advani's yatra.

What Advani and his party the BJP did in the 1990s was to crassly exploit the temple movement to be propelled to power in New Delhi.

Politicians have a short memory span, we all know that, which helps them forget what they told the electorate.

But since Advani has claimed his rath yatra has now been justified by the court, let us recall what exactly that Toyota chariot ride achieved.

I had been to a couple of the meetings that Advani addressed in the 1990s, and I know first hand the meetings were filled with anti-Muslim venom.

No, Mr Advani didn't utter any of that, but the organisational apparatus that surrounded his rath yatra and whose members would keep the public enthralled till he turned up, showed no restraint whatsoever.

The kind of sentiments expressed, the words that were used to describe Muslims, are not fit for publication, or worthy of recall. And I refuse to believe that the shrewd Advani did not know what was being said, by who and where.

Heck, what was being projected was an us versus them sentiment.

There was only one outcome possible from there, the mosque had to go.

It was all the more shocking because it was apparently being said in the name of Hinduism, to defend Hinduism, and to reclaim Hinduism's lost glory.

Heaven knows that Hinduism didn't need any hammer and pickaxe wielding defenders as had assembled at the Babri Masjid site on December 6, 1992.

But Advani had seen the political windfall Lord Ram had given his party which, till then, had been in ICCU.

The party was on a roll, the Congress had lost its Gandhi mascot to a Tamil Tiger suicide squad and the time was ripe for the BJP to fill the political vacuum.

Finally, the end -- political power -- justified Advani's means.

Today he may turn his back on the temple movement, try to play the elder statesman, but the harsh fact is that his rath yatra was directly responsible for the masjid's fall.

Blithely, he had believed that the assembled kar sevaks could be controlled.

Blithely, he later claimed too that the day of the mosque's demolition was the saddest day of his life.

If at all it was the saddest day in anyone's life, it was the average Hindu's in whose name the deed was perpetrated.

For it was in his name that the chariot of ire rolled across the country spreading venom and vitriol against Muslims.

It was in his name that the mosque was felled by the lumpen under Advani's gaze.

Advani reminds me of Bhishma Pitamah too, but not as the grand patriarch of a political formation.

The venerable Bhishma it was who kept his silence in Duryodhana's court as the Pandavas were dispossessed of everything they owned, including their wife. He could have averted the disaster to come, but the Krishna Dwaipayan Vedvyasa tells us he didn't.

Later on too, the erudite Bhishma could have got the Kauravas to see reason, to avert bloodshed in the war with their cousins, but he didn't.

And ultimately the great warrior met his end at the hands of a eunuch, as it was foretold.

Advani reminds me of Bhishma Pitamah for his eloquent silence at a critical time.

For 18 years the demolition case has been dragging on and for 18 years Advani has been mocking the due process of law.

Section 107 of the Indian Penal Code is very clear on incitement when it says: 'Whoever, either prior to or at the time of the commission of an act, does anything in order to facilitate the commission of that act, and thereby facilitates the commission thereof, is said to aid the doing of that act.'

For 18 years Advani has convinced himself that he played no role in the mosque's demolition, without realising his role as inciter of the lumpen -- thanks to sophistry.

Sure, Advani did not wield a hammer himself -- but if he claims that with thousands of blood-thirsty kar sevaks gathered there on his call, and given the fever pitch he had raised the temple issue to, he really expected the mobs to go home after conducting a peaceful puja never mind the hammers and such they were wielding, I dread to think that such a simple man had occupied the second most important job in the country. And for five full years.

What the Allahabad high court verdict has done, in fact, is to hand him a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of the people he misled and gave a bad name to, of being mosque-breakers -- the Hindus -- and in the eyes of the people his actions caused immense emotional and physical harm to -- the Muslims.

The court verdict, far from legitimising the deeply divisive rath yatra he set out on, has tried to repair the damage he did to inter-community relations in India.

But the repair cannot happen unless the chief architect of the masjid's demolition steps up.

Reconciliation cannot happen unless Advani wills it.

As the person who breathed life into the divisive movement, only he can give a quietus to it.

He could start by owning up to his role in inciting the mobs to assemble at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, for kar seva.

He could admit to this before the court hearing the demolition case and accept the punishment.

That will show him up as the statesman he claims to be.

Otherwise, like Bhishma Pitamah's inaction at crucial times in the Mahabharata, Advani's too will have disastrous consequences on the land.

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Saisuresh Sivaswamy