In 1980, when the Janata Party collapsed under the burden of its own contradictions, the erstwhile members of the Jana Sangh exited the party and formed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. With the approval of then
RSS supremo, Balasaheb Deoras, Atal fashioned the new party with Gandhian socialism as its credo. Deoras’ plan was to pump a virtually unknown organisation Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to take forward the core agenda of Hindutva even as BJP would be Parliamentary face of the Sangh parivar.
An opportunity presented itself within a year when in February 1981, 1,000 Dalit residents of far off Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu converted to Islam under the influence of petrodollars from the Gulf. The development happened even as trouble was in Punjab (Khalistan movement) and Assam (foreigners’ issue). The VHP got an agenda and helped by the Sangh parivar – which loaned it full-time karyakartas- began mulling a new agenda to consolidate Hindu feelings. After some thought their eyes fell on the Ayodhya issue. This was then a local issue that agitated only some Hindus in Uttar Pradesh but the VHP felt that this could be mobilised to generate interest amongst Hindus on a large scale.
As the story went, the invading armies of Mir Baqi who was a general of Babur had somewhere around 1528 destroyed a Ram temple that stood at his birthplace in Ayodhya and replaced with a mosque. This Babri Masjid stood like a sore thumb ever since and the VHP wanted that the Ramajanma bhoomi be restored to the Hindus. As the VHP began to hold yatras to mobilise the public -including one from Sitamarhi, which was Sita’s birthplace- for support, Indira Gandhi was assassinated.
In the elections that ensued BJP could win only two seats and this saw the exit of Vajpayee from the party presidency. He was replaced by
Lal Krishna Advani who collaborated with other Sangh Parivar agencies like VHP and other front organisations like Bajrang Dal to raise the Ramajanma bhoomi as a potent agenda. BJP, as a party, would give up his liberal approach. Advani was now in charge the Hindutva agenda and engaged himself in using the Sangh parivar for mobilisation from areas as far as Gujarat where Somnath an ancient temple had been demolished successively by the invading Mohammed Ghazni, in his many forays to India.
In 1989, after elections that saw the defeat of the Congress government of Rajiv Gandhi, the Janata Dal under V P Singh, a former lieutenant of his came to power. But this was with the partnership of BJP under Advani which however did not join the government.
V P Singh, however, realised that BJP would now use the partnership to further the Hindu agenda. In a bid to diffuse it, he brought out the then decade-old Mandal commission report which recommended reservations for backward castes for admission in educational institutes and jobs. Advani realised that this was a move to undercut his agitation which was devised to consolidate the Hindu vote bank. V P Singh wanted to divide the Hindu vote. As a result, Advani with the help of the Sangh parivar raised the ante and led a rath yatra from the Somnath temple to Ramajanmabhoomi. The yatra was a way to mobilise support quite on lines with what Mahatma Gandhi used to do in the freedom movement. The long yatra brought the intense focus of the nation on the issue. Advani was however arrested by Bihar chief minister Laloo Yadav which brought the yatra to an end but not the issue. VHP with the active support of BJP mulled over an agenda to intensify the struggle for a temple for Rama at his birthplace.
After the fall of the Singh government after the withdrawal of support from the BJP and a mid-term poll, Congress came to power with Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister in 1991.
Rajiv Gandhi had been assassinated by then. When the Sangh parivar raised the ante in late 1992 Rao was seen as promoting a soft Hindu agenda. On December 6, 1992, when the Sangh parivar and kar sevaks had conglomerated at Ayodhya for a symbolic move to lay the foundation for a Ram temple, Rao became incommunicado and was not even available to his closest aides for advice. The Babri Masjid was reduced to rubble by the kar sevaks leading to riots all over the country leading to loss of hundreds of lives. Though in the immediate aftermath of the destruction, assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh saw a fall in the tally for the BJP the support for the party consolidated over the years even as the courts were given the task of adjudicating the matter. Meanwhile from being a party at the margins of the political spectrum, BJP moved centre stage and came to power in 1999 at the head of a collation government and in 2014 on its own.
In 1992, Muslims were very upset at the demolition of Babri Masjid. But in the last 27 years, they have come to accept reality, slowly but surely. Thus there is no visible and strong opposition from the large majority of Muslims at the
Supreme Court judgment on Saturday which in a way ‘legalises’ the destruction of the Babri Masjid and formalises the route for setting up the Ram Temple. Then RSS boss Balasaheb Deoras’ prognosis has come correct. In 1990, he had predicted that the Mandir would come up in 30 years something which is proving to be uncannily correct. The BJP will now become stronger unless it is felled by other issues like its handling of the economy. But that’s another story. Kingshuk Nag is an author and a journalist.