BJP-VHP gets a Republic Day bonanza by Girilal Jain

The joint press conference by Mr L. K Advani, with­out doubt the BJP’s most respected leader, and Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, party president, on Monday should help dispel the illusion, or interested specu­lation, that the BJP leadership is sharply divided between ‘moderates’ and ‘hardliners’. Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee has, of course, struck a different note. But he too can be expected to fall in line.

The key question, therefore, is: What is the line? Mr Advani has spelt it out fairly clearly. The central point that he has made is that, having messed up the situation, the government needs a fresh mandate. This means not only that the BJP will press for a mid-term poll through public meetings and demonstrations, but also that it shall not cooperate with the government if the government seeks it which is highly unlikely.

The Government is a prisoner of its own actions and rhetoric, on the one hand, and of the National Front-Left combine on the other.

In a sense, it was not necessary for us to wait for Mr. Advani’s press conference to know that the BJP would pursue what is called a hard line. It has no choice. The party has been a victim of an intensive campaign of misrepresentation and vilifi­cation; its governments in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh have been dismissed without the slightest justification even if it is conced­ed for the sake of argument that there was a case for the dismissal of the UP government; its parent organisation RSS has been banned without any evi­dence that it has been involved the demolition of the ambiguous Babri structure in Ayodhya. In the circumstances, its very sur­vival calls for a struggle.

The spotlight in coming weeks and months is going to focus as much on the VHP as on the BJP. Mr Advani has disclaimed responsibility for its actions. Indeed, by banning it, the Union government itself has acknowledged, even if indirectly, that it is an independent body. But that is not as pertinent an issue as the actions of the government which threaten to leave the VHP with no option but to up the ante. If the government goes ahead and forms a trust for constructing the proposed Ram temple, it shall be asking for trouble. Mr Ashok Singhal’s statement on Mathura and Varanasi should be seen in this light and not as a firm policy statement.

The package the government has proposed stands discredited. All interested parties have rejected it. The government should realise that it cannot implement it and should seek only to preserve the status quo which is all that it is, realistically speaking, capable of. Indeed, even the Supreme Court should not be in a hurry to take up the one-point reference. To put it differently, it should help the government buy time. That would not be a small gain in today’s surcharged atmosphere.

Meanwhile, the Babri Masjid Action Committee could not have made a better present to the BJP-VHP leaders on their release than its call for boycott of Republic Day celebrations and for satyagraha on that occasion. It puts their detractors in the political community, academia and media in a spot.

As it happens, the BMAC’s move has come in the wake of the influential Muslim Personal Law Board’s unequivocal de­nunciation of the government’s package, demand that the new mosque be built on the same old site and appeal to all Muslims to boycott the proposed trust for the construction of the mosque. The two moves together provide the BJP a platform which is going to be difficult to beat. It has only to ask its opponents to define their posi­tion on these demands to put them in their place.

The much acclaimed Maulana Abul Hassan Ali Nadvi is the leading light of the Muslim Personal Law board. It played a critical role in the annulment of the Supreme Court judgement in the Shah Bano case. It is the citadel of orthodox Indian Islam. Even so, it is surprising that even Syed Shahabuddin, who calls himself a Muslim Indian as if to proclaim that his first loyalty is to Islam, should have felt obliged to walk out. The pertinent point, however, is not that the Syed has been shown his place but that the maulanas have taken up a position which no Hindu leader, however ‘secular’, can endorse. This is a bonanza for the BJP.

The Observer of Business and Politics, 13 January 1993

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