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Friday, September 17, 2010

Twenty years too late

A turning point in Indian history when history refused to turn

By Swapan Dasgupta

In January 1993, barely a month after the Babri structure built by one of Babur's commanders in 1528 was demolished, Girilal Jain, a former editor of Times of India, made a spirited intervention in the pages of the RSS-run weekly, Organiser. In view of the Allahabad High Court's scheduled judgment on September 24 on the title suit of the disputed site that has been pending for over 50 years, it is instructive to revisit that debate

"The structure as it stood", Jain wrote, "represented an impasse between what Babur represented and what Ram represents. …In fact, in my opinion, no structure symbolised the Indian political order in its ambivalence, ambiguity, indecision and lack of purpose, as this structure. The removal of the structure has ended the impasse and marks a new beginning."

Jain wasn't alone in viewing the events of December 6, 1992, in Ayodhya as the Indian equivalent of, say, the storming of the Bastille. Both the votaries of Hindutva and the beleaguered defenders of the Nehruvian order were united in viewing the demolition as a point of rupture. For the former, the change would herald a Hindu reawkening; for the secularists, it threatened to destroy India's pluralism and transform the country into a de-facto confessional state.

Both sides of the confrontation, it would now seem, were guilty of hype. India wasn't transformed into a Hindu Pakistan and the Constitutional edifice established in 1950 remained strong and intact. To borrow AJP Taylor's description of the 1848 revolution in Europe, the Babri demolition was a turning point in Indian history when history refused to turn.

This is not to suggest that the temple movement, an event that L.K. Advani prophesied in 1990 would become the "greatest mass movement" in history, was a passing show, creating the proverbial ripples on the surface. The series of events beginning with the opening of the locks in 1986, the Ram shila pujas and Advani's rath yatra, right down to the abstruse dispute over 2.77 acres of land and the final demolition made a profound impression on public opinion. Apart from the spate of Hindu-Muslim riots, the churning over Ayodhya contributed immeasurably to the end of Congress dominance, the BJP's emergence as the principal non-Congress party, the creation of a nebulous Hindu vote-bank and a strengthening of Muslim religious identities.

But the movement didn't turn India upside down. Like the furore over the Mandal Commission report, the Ayodhya movement resulted in political turbulence and even a substantial measure of regroupment. But its consequences weren't revolutionary. As the six years of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance indicated, the upheaval triggered a change of government five years after the demolition; it didn't lead to a regime change.

With the benefit of hindsight it would seem that the contemporary misreading arose from the premise that the Ayodhya movement was overwhelmingly an explosion of faith and sublimated Hinduness. The implication was that a new religiosity had penetrated the popular psyche and begun influencing secular life.

That veneration of the epic hero of the Ramayan and the desire to commemorate the spot where local belief suggested he was born played a role in motivating religious Hindus to back the movement is undeniable. It is difficult to envisage any other post-Independence movement when so many Hindu religious figures across the land, ranging from the heads of important mutts to neo-literate purohits of village shrines, came together for a common purpose. This heady emotionalism was unquestionably the main factor behind the mobilisation of rural India (and particularly women).

However, what sustained the movement and gave it an extra-religious dimension, was the support it received from the Hindu middle classes. It was this middle class groundswell in both the cities and the small towns that led many contemporary observers to suggest that the Ram temple had become the metaphor for a more far-reaching transformation.

In retrospect, it would seem that the middle class endorsement of a movement that appeared to liberal India as being retrograde and antediluvian was located in a specific context. By the late-1980s, the pillars on which the Nehruvian order was constructed had developed deep cracks. Particularly evident was the bankruptcy of the socialistic approach based on the licence-permit raj. By the time Indira Gandhi fell to the assassins' bullets, the public sector-led, state regulated economy was yielding diminishing returns, unable to cope with rising expectations for a better life. Rajiv Gandhi emerged as a ray of hope but his record was soured by his Shah Bano retreat and the stench of corruption from the Bofors deal. To urban India, the system had run out of steam. The physical mortgaging of India's gold reserves in 1990 epitomised the bankruptcy of an economic system.

The Ayodhya agitation encapsulated protest, millenarianism and modernity under one roof. It didn't usher Hindu National Socialism as its aesthetic detractors were convinced it would (leading to some facile comparisons of inept boy scouts in khaki shorts with Hitler's stormtroopers). But it drove a stake through the heart of an incapacitated socialism.

In the past two decades—Advani has helpfully reminded us that the High Court verdict will coincide with the 20th anniversary of his rath yatra—India has changed far more than politicians are willing to acknowledge. The sense of Hindu dejection and defeat that was so marked in the early-1980s—a consequence of India's overall underperformance—has given way to a cockiness that comes from a sudden rise in economic prosperity. Whereas in 1990, historical memories of temple destruction rankled, today's mood is governed by the belief that the future belongs to India. The optimism may be based on a bubble but it is nevertheless real.

The High Court verdict isn't going to be the last word in the Ayodhya saga. The disappointed parties are bound to appeal to the Supreme Court and the political class as a whole feels that the dispute should be put into a judicial slow cooker for another decade. There is a functioning makeshift Ram temple that has existed at the site since the 'mysterious' appearance of the idol in 1949, and it is inconceivable that this state of affairs will change in the foreseeable future, whatever the Court decides later this month. As long as the denominational status quo in the Ayodhya site is maintained, India is unlikely to experience another bout of civil unrest and sectarian conflict.

Yet, there are two sides to the dispute. If the Hindu middle classes that nurtured and sustained the Ayodhya agitation are focussed on worldly matters, a section of the Muslim community has also been infected by a globalised mood of victimhood which in turn has bred a nothing-to-lose assertiveness. In the event the Court rules in favour of the Sunni Waqf Board and overturns the 1940 Privy Council judgment in the Shahidganj Gurdwara case, it is entirely possible that a radical section of the Muslim community may feel that a further reference to the Supreme Court is just a ploy to deny it overdue justice. Whether this frustration will trigger a wave of radicalisation is not known, but the danger is real and could in turn lead to a countervailing response.

As always, the Ayodhya bomb carries with it many deadly delayed fuses. It has been that way for the past 482 years, ever since a conquering Moghul general rode roughshod over the feelings of the vanquished.

The Telegraph, September 17, 2010

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

excellent article, sir.wish it was on TOI so everyone could read!

Anonymous said...

".....a conquering Moghul general rode roughshod over the feelings of the vanquished". It is just that plain simple. India is the only place that has named a city after the cruel Aurangazeb (imagine a city or a street named after Hitler). It is hard to reconcile to the fact that there are people who pride themselves on the lineage of the likes of Babur and Aurangazeb, and are prepared to go all out to defend structures built by them even at the cost of harmony.

Kautilya

seadog4227 said...

It ain't over till it's over!
.....and there' s a slow, slow train comin', look around the bend!!

ravinder said...

Swapan da,
Thanks for the excellent clarity.

I have observed the change myself during my lifetime. Indians in 1990 were almost like zombies. Indians in 2010 well...you just wait.


Remember the pejoratively quoted phrase "Hindu rate of growth". :D :D :D

On a more serious note can you imagine the heights to which the lie went.

Left-Lib gang is thoroughly discredited in their methods now.

Anonymous said...

This comment is meant for your perusal and not for publishing. I want to bring to your attention an INI blogger pragmatic_d who is known more for his vituperative posts than anything else. I know you are not an official member of BJP or its parent outfit RSS, but are certainly their well wisher. Your views are often moderate and aimed at driving some sense in these right wing extremists. You seemed the right person to bring my concerns to.


As a citizen of democratic India I want to have the option to choose a government that will represent me and will work towards the development of my nation. Do I really have such a choice today? Even if I get sickened of Congress at the helm and find their complacence unbearable, who do I vote for? As if BJP's secular credentials or rather lack of them, weren't a deterrent enough, there is this complete new breed of vicious, rabid bloggers spewing venom all over the net apparently representing BJP.

Pragmatic_d is just a small case in point and not the actual problem. He goes around passing nasty remarks against all and sundry, specifically against journalists like Sagarika Ghose, Karan Thapar and even Tavleen Singh on twitter. It is almost a weekly ritual for him. These journalists are pretty fair in their assessment of political parties, and even those who aren't have a right to express their opinion in a democracy. To go around abusing them, unabashedly and openly, to instigate others to do the same, on a regular basis, that too without any provocation and to go so far as to drag their family members in such monologues, so as to humiliate them further, what kind of a person does this? I am not talking about an isolated event, this has been going on for months on end!

As I pointed out earlier, this is just a small part of the bigger problem, the point being that with such bloggers representing the only real opposition party, do people like me really have a choice? If such uncouth, uncivilised bloggers represent BJP on the net, what can we expect from their supporters, often illiterate, out there on the streets? Can I really hand over my country's future to such a party? Should BJP not, not just for its own sake but for the sake of this nation too, either weed out or retrain such intractable representatives? Moreover, as a member of the so far free press, one of the major strengths of our nation, do you not balk and wince at such comments, such digs being taken at your colleagues, by those who represent a party whose views you have been defending and supporting since years? Please think about it and do something about it if possible.

Anonymous said...

This comment is meant for your perusal and not for publishing. I want to bring to your attention an INI blogger pragmatic_d who is known more for his vituperative posts than anything else. I know you are not an official member of BJP or its parent outfit RSS, but are certainly their well wisher. Your views are often moderate and aimed at driving some sense in these right wing extremists. You seemed the right person to bring my concerns to.

As a citizen of democratic India I want to have the option to choose a government that will represent me and will work towards the development of my nation. Do I really have such a choice today? Even if I get sickened of Congress at the helm and find their complacence unbearable, who do I vote for? As if BJP's secular credentials or rather lack of them, weren't a deterrent enough, there is this complete new breed of vicious, rabid bloggers spewing venom all over the net apparently representing BJP.

contd in the next comment...

Anonymous said...

contd...

Pragmatic_d is just a small case in point and not the actual problem. He goes around passing nasty remarks against all and sundry, specifically against journalists like Sagarika Ghose, Karan Thapar and even Tavleen Singh on twitter. It is almost a weekly ritual for him. These journalists are pretty fair in their assessment of political parties, and even those who aren't have a right to express their opinion in a democracy. To go around abusing them, unabashedly and openly, to instigate others to do the same, on a regular basis, that too without any provocation and to go so far as to drag their family members in such monologues, so as to humiliate them further, what kind of a person does this? I am not talking about an isolated event, this has been going on for months on end!

As I pointed out earlier, this is just a small part of the bigger problem, the point being that with such bloggers representing the only real opposition party, do people like me really have a choice? If such uncouth, uncivilised bloggers represent BJP on the net, what can we expect from their supporters, often illiterate, out there on the streets? Can I really hand over my country's future to such a party? Should BJP not, not just for its own sake but for the sake of this nation too, either weed out or retrain such intractable representatives? Moreover, as a member of the so far free press, one of the major strengths of our nation, do you not balk and wince at such comments, such digs being taken at your colleagues, by those who represent a party whose views you have been defending and supporting since years? Please think about it and do something about it if possible.

aniketvishwarupe said...

I am very much excited to see the result but as Mr. Swapan says it will create lot of social unrest. I hope judiciary also takes into account that factor and delivers result. Also as Kautilya said Babur was a mughal who treated his enemies from his own country same way he treated Indians. He saw enemy in them. Also why should Muslims adjust to what we say to create harmony, its our responsibility too.

Dr.Antony said...

I always used to think that Hinduism is the best example of tolerance.Otherwise how can you imagine this country harbors virtually every religion in the world. Being a Hindu nation,has the largest number of Muslims. Just imagine,if the situation was opposite, just across the border.
Half of Delhi is filled with relics from the Muslim empires.As if that is the history of India.It is a sad state of affairs.And there comes a time,when people can'ttake it any longer.

Anonymous said...

The anonymous dude with his pragmatic_d peeve is funny. He sounds like an angst-ridden teenager writing to Agony Aunt about the rift with her boyfriend.

Anonymous said...

Right ho dude! Anyone who finds anything wrong with the way BJP operates and dares point it out is like an angst-ridden teenager. Anyone who tries to bring about changes in the BJP so as to make it more viable an option is like an agony aunt. The world is a damn funny place and you can't stop laughing at it. Good for you buddy! Would be nice to know what you are snorting. Perhaps we can all give it a try and laugh our hearts out at the pitiable condition of this nation as well. What could be more fun, right?

Anonymous said...

Right ho dude! Anyone who finds anything wrong with the way BJP operates and dares point it out is like an angst-ridden teenager. Anyone who tries to bring about changes in the BJP so as to make it more viable an option is like an agony aunt. The world is a damn funny place and you can't stop laughing at it. Good for you buddy! Would be nice to know what you are snorting. Perhaps we can all give it a try and laugh our hearts out at the pitiable condition of this nation as well. What could be more fun, right?

Anonymous said...

To the anon dude with the pragmatic_d problem:

Yaar I thought you were being intentionally funny trying your hand at satire or something. I was not laughing at the world exactly; I was laughing at your what seemed like a spoof of a parody of a rant. Are you saying you were not playing!? In that case apologies. I take back what I said, and (putting my most earnest look on), go back to give it a damn serious dekko. Satisfied?

Anonymous said...

This defensive stance, this arrogance, is the reason people like you will be a liability and not an asset for BJP in the long term. They have unleashed a monster which will come and bite them back someday, if it isn't already. The power of hindutva bloggers as well as their monstrosity was at its peak before the elections. It only helped hasten the most shameful defeat BJP ever faced. Even anti incumbency factor didn't work in their favor. Thinkers like Swapan still instill a hope in me that BJP is in an introspective mood and is working on all its weaknesses, trying to build a robust party which will promise us a better deal than we are getting at present. It perhaps will be an actual alternative come next elections. But when I encounter your kind, I begin to believe, with a sense of resignation, that perhaps inspite of all its flaws, Congress is still better for this country. People like you just go on to reinforce the belief that this party, even at its weakest, is still so full of itself that it can't bear to as much as listen to differing views, let alone connect with the people. What will such a party do when it actually tastes power? Scary! I know you are not equivalent to BJP, neither are you in a position to represent their views, hence your garrulousness. Perhaps some smart alec minion; but the problem is that your kind is the most vocal on the net and is damaging BJP's image more than it can afford to at this stage. Hope the party with a difference would still wake up and clean up its act before the next elections.