Revisiting Politics of Temples and Mosques -- By Saeed Naqvi
The Librehan Commission report on the events leading to the demolition of Babari Masjid on December 6, 1992 has once again brought into focus a deplorable chapter in Indian History. Sadly, no contemporary historian has so far analyzed all the dimensions of the catastrophic event. Librehan gives us only a unidimensional, flat narrative.
Several fault lines had got entangled. There was, ofcourse, the Hindu-Muslim fault- line but there were others, each aggravating the next one. There was the north-south factor within the Congress party. Upper caste- lower caste divide, amplified by the Mandal commission report. Finally, there was a divide among the upper castes which came across as a Brahmin-non Brahmin tussle, also primarily within the Congress party.
Let me explain.
In the 1991 elections, the Congress, with 244 seats (272 are needed to form the government) did poorly in the Hindi belt. The balance of power within the party shifted towards the southern states.
Since the BJP had emerged powerful in the north, (120 seats from two seats in 1984) a sort of unstated compact emerged, particularly between P.V Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee. The BJP would not be disturbed in its northern citadel. The Congress, short of a majority, would likewise not be threatened. This implied that Congress revival in the north would be kept in check. What was the game? Well, if the Congress revived in the north, leaders like Narain Dutt Tewari, Jagannath Mishra, even Arjun Singh may threaten P .V Narasimha Rao, India’s first South Indian Prime Minister.
There are conspiracy theorists who believe that P.V and his Sancho Panza, Home Minister S.B.Chavan, fell back on total inaction throughout the seven hours that the Babari Masjid was systematically pulled down because they were not averse to the BJP gaining in strength in the north to keep potential Congress challengers outside the playfield. Don’t forget, this was the very beginning of PV’s Prime ministerial innings.
Notice the paradox.
There is a north-south divide within the Congress, but an unstated north-south rapport between the Congress and the BJP.
Part of this latter rapport had its roots in the caste divisions sharpened by the Mandal Commission report providing reservation in Government jobs to the “other backward castes” or OBC’s.
In the south and the Deccan belt, social reform movements had gradually ironed out caste divisions since the 30’s. It was in the Hindi belt where the political consequences of Mandal Commission set into motion turbulent, tectonic shifts. Emergence of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Kanshi Ram – Mayawati duet shook the entrenched caste elite which straddled both sides of the Congress- BJP divide.
The Ram Janmbhoomi- Babri Masjid conflict was the BJP’s device to consolidate Hindus around a potent, emotive issue. The Mandir movement, in considerable measure , was to neutralize Mandal. In other words, a desire to minimize Hindu fragmentation was at the heart of a movement which would not have become such a powerful movement had the Babri Masjid Action Committee not become the convenient counterpoint, incrementally and unwittingly strengthening the Mandir movement.
Another factor attended P.V.Narasimha Rao’s ascension to the Prime Ministership. In the 1991 elections. Congress leaders who lost were Narain Dutt Tewari, Lokpati Tripati, Rajendra Kumari Bajpai, Jagannath Mishra, Jitendra Prasad, Bindeshwari Dubey, K.K.Tewari, Vasant Sathe, V.N.Gadgil, Gundu Rao. All of these were Brahmins, clearly a casualty of caste politics aggravated by Mandal.
With 244 seats, PV needed tacit agreement with Atal Behari Vajpayee’s BJP. This resulted in two contradictory schools within the Congress. K Karunakaran, like PV, encouraged a soft line towards the BJP for his own circumstances in Kerala.
There were RSS cadres in Kerala but the BJP had never won a seat. Since the RSS-BJP were primarily an anti Marxist force in the state, whenever the combination worked for the Congress, it made a difference of just that one percent vote needed for Congress led UDF to win.
But Arjun Singh had to fight the BJP tooth and nail in Madhya Pradesh. Little wonder he was totally opposed to the PV (and Karunakaran) line on the BJP. Over a period of time, this open disagreement acquired caste overtones.
The excitement generated by the Librehan report is temporary. It cannot resurrect the Mandir movement. The soufflé rises only once.
But the historian owes to posterity a clinical appraisal of the events leading upto the darkest chapter in Indian History.
# # # #