The horror is an indictment of the elite by Girilal Jain

Bombay is as much India’s crime capital as its commercial capital. Smugglers, slumlords and gang­sters prosper in the city as nowhere else in the country. As such, there can be no question that Bombay’s underworld ex­plains to a large extent the terrible happenings there.


The horror in Bombay, however, is also an awesome in­dictment of the dominant elite in the political community, me­dia and academia. The shrieks and tears of innocent men, women and children testify to the alienation of this elite from the social reality.


All societies, especially those undergoing rapid change such as ours, have a large unpleasant face. It is the responsibility of the eminent elite to take steps which minimize the risk of this unpleasant face replacing the normal one. Ours has done the very opposite.


The story is a long and multi-faceted one. But one aspect – the one relating to Ayodhya and two dates – the one when the gate of the Babri structure was thrown open and the other when the shilanyas was per­formed – are particularly sig­nificant in the immediate context. Any elite worth the name should have realized in 1989 itself that there was no realistic alternative to the shifting of the ­disputed Babri structure. Ours did not recognise this reality even three years later.


Only on a surface view is it possible to fix the blame pri­marily on the BJP, the RSS and the VHP for what has happened. For, in reality, they did no more than seek a symbolic balm for the Hindu psyche which was reeling under assault.


The point is seldom made. For seldom has any member of the elite spoken of Hindu psyche. Any reference to assaults on it have been even rarer. Be that as it may, however, the first assault was by the Chinese in 1962. We have not yet fully recovered from it. More pertinently, the second was the major conversion of Harijans in Meenakshipuram in Tamil Nadu. Then came Pakistan-back­ed terrorism in Punjab, followed first by the annulment of the Supreme Court judgment in the Shah Bano case and then by the rise of the Islamabad-supported secessionist movement in Kashmir.


For all we know, the BJP-RSS VHP leadership too was not sensitive to the crying need of the Hindu psyche for a ‘healing touch’. For all we know, it saw an opportunity in the visible disarray in the ruling Congress party as a result of Mr V P Singh’s successful campaign on the Bofors pay-off scandal from 1987 onwards and decided to raise the stakes by cautiously taking up the Ayodhya dispute. For all we know, Mr L K Advani would not have undertaken the rathyatra in1990 if as prime minister, Mr V P Singh had not posed a threat to his own and his party’s very survival by a sudden decision to implement the Mandal Com­mission report.


The relevance of the BJP-RSS-VHP leadership’s calculations and motivations is in any case limited. Four points stand out loud and clear. First, mil­lions of Hindus had come to feel insecure and threatened, as never before since Partition in 1947, and the rathyatra offered them a way out. Mr. Advani himself was taken by surprise by the response.


Secondly, the rubicon had been crossed with the rathyatra. There could be no turning back for the BJP, especially after the May-June 1991 poll which, but for Mr Rajiv Gandhi’s cruel assassination in the midst of the campaign, would almost certainly have boosted the BJP’s strength in the Lok Sabha to 150 and not just 119 as it turned out.


Thirdly, the ruling elite should have woken up to the reality at least then. It did not. The rest is well known and has been discussed in this space earlier.


Finally, it is not too late even now for this elite to recognise that its strategy of trying to isolate the BJP is pregnant with disaster for the country. It hurts to say that the horror in Bombay will have served a purpose if it produces introspec­tion on the part of those who shrieked of ‘betrayal’ and ‘dark night’ on December 6. But it has to be said. Mr Sudhakar Naik in Bombay and Mr Chimanbhai Patel in Ahmadabad can at best serve as poor scapegoats. They are not responsible for the tragedy and their removal will not help mitigate it. Indeed, no individual as such is a good enough scapegoat. Our whole class has much to answer for.

The Observer of Business and Politics, 14 January 1993

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