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GOOD NEWS FROM AYODHYA

Swami Agnivesh and Valson Thampu

The unmistakable message from Ayodhya is that the government can, if it wants, control the unruly elements who invade our streets and sacred places in blatant disregard for the rule of law. Aydhya 2002 puts Ayodhya 1992 in perspective and robs the then players of the excuse of helplessness in the face of popular fervour. That not enough was done then to protect the mosque and to honour the undertaking given to the Apex Court is now a glaring reality. This also unmasks the carnage in Gujarat for what it is. The good news from Ayodhya, as from the rest of the country, is that people are fed up with the periodic political belabouring of this non-issue. The people of Faizabad, a district already bursting with some 6000 temples, are utterly indifferent to the mandir issue; a fact that was largely responsible for the climb-down of the VHP. The feed-back from the rest of the country is no different. Such restlessness as was witnessed in karsevakpuram in Ayodhya was largely due to the realization by the karsevaks that they have been used as pawns in a political game that would honour Ravana, rather than Lord Ram. "Even in 1992," recalls Nirmala Deshpande, the noted Gandhian who in Ayodhya when the mosque was destroyed, "one did not hear the so-called Ram-bhakts chanting the praise of Lord Ram. They were, without exception, shouting anti-Muslim slogans all the time."

The people of Ayodhya have had to put up with the disruptiveness of this communal agenda for too long. It is now increasingly clear to them that the VHP and RJN are doing a Taliban with their life. Prior to the ascent of the Taliban, Kabul was famed as the Paris of the East. In less than a decade, this communal outfit hijacked that beautiful city back to the middle ages. It is inevitable that communal politics and religious fundamentalism perforce devastate the development of a nation and aggravate the misery of its people. The ring-leaders of religious fundamentalism prosper, but the people lose out heavily in the process. The mandir movement enabled Advani to become the Home Minister of India. It enabled the likes of Singhal and co. to hog the media lime-light. Mahant Ramchandra Paramahans was at the center of the world media attention for a few days. All these being achieved, shouldn't the people of Ayodhya pay for it in terms of their economic well-being, freedom of movement and peace of mind? There is no such thing as a free meal. And if the mandir mandarins won't pay for their political banquet, shouldn't the people of Ayodhya and the victims of criminal communalism in other parts of the country, foot the bill? It is incredible that the BJP refuses to read the message from its electoral setbacks one after the other. The voters in various states are rejecting the Parivar brand of communal politics, with its accompaniment of violence, corruption and inefficiency. The UP results, one would have thought, would knock the party out of this willful self-delusion. That does not seem to have happened. It may well be that Vajpayee and Advani are now helpless before the communal Frankenstein they have devised. Whether it is clear to them or not, there is no room for uncertainty here: the days of communal politics are over. If the BJP refuses to read the writing on the wall, it will expedite its political extinction through an exclusive dependence on the communal card.

Ayodhya must also be a warning to all other political parties; for none of them is above board in respect of communalism. The Indian voter is no longer na´ve or ill-informed. He is no longer going to be swayed by communal appeals or political gimmicks or ideological loyalties. People today demand improvement in the quality of life. And it is here that the BJP, through its zealous espousing of the cause of globalisation, has hurt itself most. Through the last two budgets the party has betrayed the middle-class and slanted the economy in favour of the economic elite. Given the burden this has imposed on the common man, championing the cause of a thousand temples is not going to wash away the popular frustration with the BJP.

BJP may pat itself on the back and brag of success in de-fusing of the Ayodhya stand-off. But it has a lot of explaining to do as to why the stand-off was allowed to aggravate to this extent in the first place. You cannot bring the life of a whole nation to a stand-still through a bogus crisis, negotiate face-saving terms for yourself, appease the agents of anarchy and then take the credit for preventing bloodshed. In other words, you cannot kill your parents and also claim the benefits for being an orphan. By any standard of secular governance, the NDA government has disgraced itself and the nation in the way the communal challenge at Ayodhya was handled. Respect for the rule of law required that the VHP be dealt with firmly in the wake of its stated intention to defy the court order, especially on the 14th of March. Mahant Paramahans should have been taken into preventive custody, given his threat to immolate himself or end his life 'chemically' (in the patented LTTE tradition of cyanide capsules!) in view of the holocaust it portended to the entire country in a communally surcharged atmosphere. By what norm of secular governance can the Centre justify an high official in the PMO receiving a carved pillar from Paramahans, meant for constructing a temple at the disputed site while the case is still sub judice? This utterly objectionable step can have only one interpretation: the one given by the VHP spokesman. It proves, he claims, that the government has accepted that the RJN-VHP combine has the 'right' to build a temple at the disputed site. One does not know if this amounts to contempt of court in a technically legal sense. Surely, it is not far from being a stratagem to slant the disposition of the court in a certain direction. With this the credentials of the Vajpayee government to be an interlocutor between the two contending parties is totally lost.

Ironically, the blame for this sorry state of affairs will be more upon the NDA allies than the BJP itself. The reason for this is simple. The temple has been the sole political plank for the BJP. So it is understandable if that party ventures to take calculated risks on this count. The case is entirely different for the coalition partners, who have been taken for a ride, as is obvious even to themselves. What the BJP has done in this process is to foul secular credentials of its NDA partners. This helps in abolishing their option to walk out of the government. No matter how much Mamta may demure and Naidu may protest, the fact remains that their secular credentials are in tatters today. Though this is a tactical achievement for the BJP for the time being, none should jump to the peremptory conclusion that the loss of the partners will be an automatic gain for the Big Brother.