If the BJP leadership has decided to downplay the Ram Janambhoomi temple issue, as appears to be the case, it has been well advised. If it has not so decided, it would be well advised to do so.
Mr L K Advani said more than once before the fateful December 6, 1993, that the temple was a religious issue, that as such it was principally the concern of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and that the BJP, as a political party, had decided to lend support because it was convinced of the justness of the cause. The proposition was unexceptionable even if there was a self-serving element in it. But that is not the main reason why I am advocating a return to this line. My principal reason is my view of the general Hindu feeling on this question.
My feeling, right or wrong, is that the urgently and deeply felt psychic need of most Hindus in regard to this issue was met last December when the ambiguous Babri structure disappeared and a Ram temple, even if a makeshift one, came up in its place.
The Hindu reaction would have been tough if in the wake of the demolition of the structure, the authorities had not allowed the Ramlalla idol to be reinstalled and worship and darshan to be resumed. Mr P V Narasimha Rao had the good sense not to yield to pressure on that critical count though he had been shaken by the fact of the demolition and anxiety of his critics to seize the opportunity to remove him from the office of Prune Minister, or at least to weaken his position. Mercifully for him, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court was helpful.
Implicit in this observation is the proposition that critical for the Hindus was not so much the construction of the temple as the recovery of the site. It is not possible to offer a rational explanation for it. Certainly the extraordinary attachment of the Hindu psyche to this site cannot be attributed to a special antipathy towards Babur. Among Muslim conquerors and rulers, that ‘honour’ is reserved for Mahmud Ghaznavi and Aurangzeb.
In psychological terms, however, a tentative explanation is possible. It falls into two parts. First, in the Hindu subconscious, Ram has been the supreme, or perhaps the only, symbol of the rashtra; that subconscious has had not much use for Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka and other emperors. In that role, his importance increased with foreign rule. That is possibly why the site has been fought over so many times since 1528 when the mosque was built. Secondly, the Hindus are content with the negative achievement of the removal of the structure, as in the case of the British Raj, because they are not ready yet to build a rashtra on the foundations of their own civilization.
All that apart, however, my second reason for suggesting a downplaying of the temple question is my assessment that the government has tied itself into knots and that it cannot avoid hurting itself and the Congress whatever it does. In plain terms, my view is that the BJP has only to bide its time and the government and the Congress will do the rest for it.
The VHP is said to be perturbed over the Dwarka Shankaracharya’s readiness to cooperate with the government in the formation of the trust which is supposed to build the proposed Ram temple in Ayodhya. It has no good reason to be worried. Two points may be made in this regard. Thus, if paralyzing the government is the VHP’s objective, the Muslim leadership will achieve it for it.
First, unlike among the Hindus, such is the solidarity among the Muslims that no prominent Muslim has agreed, or is likely to agree, to join the proposed trust for building the mosque in Ayodhya. And obviously it will be dangerous for the government to form the Hindu trust without being in a position to constitute the Muslim trust more or less simultaneously. There can surely be no question of its undertaking the construction of the temple without beginning work on the mosque.
Secondly, the critical issue in respect of the proposed temple is not so much who builds it as where it is built. A government-sponsored trust cannot get it right for its patrons on the second count.
I for one doubt that the government will go ahead with temple construction at the Janambhoomi site even if the Supreme Court holds that a temple or a Hindu religious structure stood there before 1528. The fear of Muslim reaction will, in my opinion, paralyse it, as in the past. In any case, such a move will strengthen Muslim alienation from the Congress.
If, on the other hand, the court determines that no temple existed there before 1528, it would be pointless to build one at an adjoining site. It will not meet the needs of the Hindu psyche. That psyche has been sat upon in the past; it cannot be sat upon or bypassed in the new context. But that is another matter which should be dealt with only at the appropriate time.
Finally, I believe that events of March 12 have brought about a significant change in the priorities of the Hindus. I feel that their smugness has been badly dented and that they are once again beginning to feel insecure. The situation may not be quite comparable to the fear that seized the Hindu mind at the time of Mrs Indira Gandhi’s assassination. But it may not turn out to be much different.
The Bombay police have been quick in recovering large amounts of dangerous explosives used in the blasts on March 12and other weapons. But it is doubtful that they can recover most of the weapons that have obviously been smuggled into the country without adequate political support and that the present dispensation can provide such support. Indeed, it will not be surprising if investigations are directed into a blind alley at some point.
A great deal has been written on the tie-up between politicians, smugglers and criminals. So far not enough attention has been paid outside of the context of Punjab to possible links between smugglers and criminals on the one hand and intelligence agencies out to destabilize and even dismember India, on the other. The BJP should do all it can focus attention on this question.
Mr Advani has attracted the charge of communalism even when he has done no more than suggest that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence may have been involved in the blasts in Bombay. The critics are a special breed who are obviously not willing to accept what even the United States and British governments acknowledge. Which is that the ISI has been involved in promoting terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir. They have to be ignored. The BJP has to do its duty by the nation. The reason why other parties cannot rise to the occasion is too obvious to need to be stated.
The country’s internal security is a far more complicated problem than external security. It calls for tough measures which the government is not inclined to take. The BJP has to build up public pressure. That is what is expected of it.
The Observer of Business and Politics, 30 March 1993