The proverb, “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet … with exactness grinds He all”, can be said to apply to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stalwarts who have been charged with criminal conspiracy in a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court for their role in demolishing the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.
It has taken a quarter of a century for the law to catch up with the heroes/villains of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement, depending on whether one belongs to the saffron brotherhood or is with the minorities and the Left-Liberals.
There is little doubt that the political fallout of the judgment on their culpability for the destruction of a 16th century protected monument will influence the outcome of the next general election.
While the BJP will hope that a renewed focus on the temple issue, which brought it from the margins of politics to centre-stage, will ensure a consolidation of the Hindu vote, there is also the possibility that the exposure of the BJP’s communal face during the trial will undermine its sabka saath, sabka vikas claim.
Although the BJP has been trying to live down its anti-minority image under Narendra Modi, it is no secret that the Muslims have not been fully reassured in view of the murderous activities of the gau rakshaks (cow protectors) or the love jehad campaigners who oppose inter-faith romances.
The reiteration during the cross-examination of some of the slogans which marked the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation like “ek nahin, teen hazar, nahin rahegi ek mazar” or “Musalmano ka do hi sthan, Pakistan ya kabaristhan”, recalling the promised destruction 3,000 mosques or sending Muslims either to Pakistan or to their graves, cannot but revive memories of the frightening days of the 1990s.
These will not only be a reminder of the essentially communal foundation of the BJP’s growth but also of the fact that it was laid by celebrated figures in the party’s Hall of Fame who will now be standing in the dock. They include L.K. Advani, a former deputy prime minister, and Murli Manohar Joshi, a former human resource development minister.
The list includes one minister of the present Union cabinet, Uma Bharti, who is now supposedly concerned with cleansing the Ganga. But her main claim to fame is the time when she was the stormy petrel of the movement directed against what Advani called the “ocular provocation” of the Babri masjid.
Another “sanyasin” has also been charged. She is Sadhvi Rithambara whose venomous anti-Muslim speeches played a significant role in the mobilisation of the crowd which destroyed the mosque.
But the person whose rhetoric and rath yatra (chariot ride) played the most crucial part in the destruction, which the Supreme court has called a “crime”, is undoubtedly Advani, currently a margdarshak of the BJP or a visionary who shows the party the right path.
It is doubtful, however, if he saw what lay ahead when he embarked on his futile Somnath to Ayodhya journey in 1990 because he didn’t reach his destination since Laloo Prasad Yadav’s government in Bihar arrested him in Samastipur. Nor could he have visualised the possibility of ending up in jail because the judiciary is unlikely to accept the Hindutva camp’s claim that the destruction was an “emphatic assertion” of Hindu pride, as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has said.
Revisiting 1992 may not make any major difference to the existing polarisation between the communal-minded Hindus on one side and the minorities and Left-Liberals on the other. But the BJP’s worry will be the impact on Dalits who have been at the receiving end of saffron ire in recent months as during the confrontation between them and the Rajputs in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, and earlier in Una, Gujarat, where several Dalits were lynched for skinning a cow, their traditional occupation.
Although the Dalit-upper caste stand-offs are common, what is new is the emergence of a new generation of Dalits like the lawyers Chandrashekhar Azad “Ravana” and Jignesh Mevani who have been breathing new life into their community’s assertiveness. There is little doubt that they will make effective use of any embarrassment which the BJP may suffer in the event of the arraignment of Advani and Co. If so, the BJP’s hope of winning over large sections of the community as in 2014 and in Uttar Pradesh recently with the ‘sabka saath’ pitch is unlikely to work.
Cynics have said that ensnaring Advani and others in the 25-year-old case will enable Modi to oust from political contention those who had opposed his elevation before 2014. This view of the Prime Minister’s critics is substantiated in the latter’s opinion by Modi’s own exoneration from the 2002 Gujarat riots and Amit Shah’s from the Ishrat Jahan encounter case.
The events of 1992 and 2002 are the two black marks on the BJP’s rise to political prominence. While Atal Bihari Vajpayee believed that the 2002 riots led to the BJP’s defeat in 2004, it remains to be seen what effect the judicial indictment of Advani and his fellow “conspirators” in the “crime” which they committed in 1992 will have on the next general election.