Not many of our politicians can be said to be overburdened with principles. But hardly any one of them can be said to be a practitioner of realpolitik either.
This paradox is not particularly difficult to explain. Our politicians are mostly small-time operators who do not allow any principle, or commitment to a cause, to ‘confuse’ them in their single-minded pursuit of survival, or self-aggrandisement. This itself is enough to disable them from being practitioners of realpolitik.
Big men and women possessed by large causes and passions pursue realpolitik; it is, in a basic sense, a highly impersonal enterprise. As it also happens, the minds of our politicians are so sloganised that it is well nigh impossible for them in the event of change to recognise the new reality to be what it is.
This assessment is well illustrated by the behaviour of the political class in the wake of the demolition of the Babri structure in Ayodhya on December 6 last, the consequent riots and the serial bomb blasts in Bombay on March 12. For while the urgent need to put a cap on all related controversies has been obvious, hardly anyone of them has even suggested that this should be attempted.
Maulana Waheeduddin Khan cannot be cited as an exception because he is not a politician. He is a man of religion so much so that even his suggestion that Muslims hand over the disputed site to Hindus in return for a solemn commitment that no more demands shall be made too is backed by citations from the Koran. He thinks solely within the framework of the Koran, the Hadith and the Sunnah of the prophet.
Moreover, the Maulana is seeking a solution which is just not possible in the given situation. That might not have been the case if the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri masjid dispute was wholly a Hindu-Muslim one. But it is not. It is also an intra-Hindu conflict, rooted in apparently different visions of future India. Though organisations other than the Congress are ranged against the RSS-BJP-VHP combine on this issue, it would not be too wide of the mark to suggest that essentially the antagonists are the Congress and the BJP.
That too is not all. For the issue has become an instrument in the power struggle within the Congress party. Mr Arjun Singh’s disavowals notwithstanding, the fact remains that he has sought to use the demolition of the Babri structure in his bid to embarrass, if not to bring down, Mr PV Narasimha Rao.
His extraordinary proposal that the Congress apologise to the Muslim community for its government’s failure to protect the structure is clearly part of his on-going war of attrition against Mr Rao. And Mr Rao knows it only too well.
Mr Rao cannot fight Mr Singh on the ground of the latter’s choice. For one thing, a substantial section of Muslims have come to distrust him and, for another, as Prime Minister, it is not possible for him to indulge in some gimmicks, a la Mr Singh, which can possibly help him overcome that distrust.
But he is not idle either. Chandraswami is acting as his Man Friday. To put it mildly, it shall be disingenuous for anyone to suggest that the self-styled godman could have had the UP administration at his feet if he did not enjoy the support of the Prime Minister.
Both these are, however, exercises in futility and worse. As in the past, Mr Singh’s present move can bring comfort only to the BJP. While this speaks of a prominent Congress leader’s utter contempt for the susceptibilities of a large section of Hindus, it cannot impress hard-headed Muslims.
As for Chandraswami’s antics, these can only harden the general sentiment in the RSS and the VHP. Indeed, it has already done so, as is evident from the RSS joint general secretary, Mr Rajinder Singh’s statement demanding restoration of certain sites not only in Mathura and Varanasi but also in Hardwar, Ujjain, Kanchi and Dwarka Puri.
The amazing part of the story is that while in reality the status quo is frozen, hardly any influential Indian is prepared to recognise this fact and move on to take appropriate steps to make the status quo the basis of a new consensus and social peace we desperately need to avoid the serious trouble looming visibly ahead.
Facts speak for themselves. It will need the return of an Aurangzeb and of his times to restore the site to Muslims and build a mosque on it; certainly a democratic government, however unresponsive and irresponsible, cannot do it.
Equally significantly, even a BJP government in New Delhi cannot build a proper temple on the site without the consent or, at least acquiescence, of a large section of the Muslim community. If the first is a doubtful proposition for the foreseeable future, the second is out of the question.
A number of fanciful proposals have been made by ‘beautiful souls’. While one can admire their noble motives, one must be equally divorced from social reality to be able to take them seriously.
We can go on debating the past including the recent past, as is our habit; no nation has, for instance allowed one payoff scandal to dominate its public discourse for three long years, as we did in the case of Bofors. In that case, we are in for grim trouble and nothing more need be said.
If however, we can overcome this disability, there is a powerful, indeed an incontrovertible, case for the Prime Minister to seek an all party agreement to freeze the status quo in Ayodhya and withdraw the reference to the Supreme Court under Article 142 of the Constitution. The cases in the Allahabad High Court should also be frozen if not withdrawn.
No founding father could have envisaged that the apex court would ever be called upon to decide a question of history and archaeology. Surely judges do not specialise in such matters. In any event, the reference has become infructuous. The court’s finding either way can be enforced only at the risk of social turbulence of unknown proportions which we cannot afford.
It is surely far easier to recognise the need for a new consensus based on the status quo than to win the cooperation of political parties and leaders conditioned to think in partisan terms. But a beginning cannot be made in the absence of such a recognition on the part of a large number of opinion makers, in the first instance. The initiative for the proposed consensus has, of course, to come from the Prime Minister; no one else can take it. But he cannot do so unless public opinion shows signs of moving that direction.
Enough time has passed for passions to cool down. Though all parties are sticking to their old positions, there is evidence of introspection and reflection among Hindus as well as Muslims. In the case of Muslims, it can be said that since the early years of partition, we have not witnessed the kind ferment we do today among them. And not to speak of critics of the BJP among Hindus, the current struggle in the party itself speaks of a ferment in its ranks too.
All this does not clinch the issue. But it does suggest that the situation is at least not unpropitious for new realism and a new realistic initiative.
The Times of India, 3 June 1993