The M.S. Liberhan
report on the Babri Masjid demolition could not have come at a worse
time for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
First, the party
is still reeling from the shock of two successive defeats in general
elections because they have set off an internal debate on the
correctness of its political line. The report will make the
discussions all the more bitter.
indecisiveness about the line will be compounded even further by the
latest development because of the behind-the-scene role of the Hindu
supremacist Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), which does not want
the BJP to deviate from its hardline Hindutva policies.
Since the Babri
Masjid demolition of 1992 was intrinsically related to such
anti-Muslim combativeness, the report will yet again compel the
party to clarify its position on the issue. The person who will be
affected the most by an exercise of this nature is L.K. Advani, who
was the BJP's prime ministerial candidate in the just-concluded
the central figure in the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation, which led to the
destruction of the mosque. He was known as a hawk at the time.
However, the party's six years in power between 1998 and 2004 made
it appreciate the values of moderation in multicultural,
multi-religious, multilingual India, especially if the BJP wanted
its "secular" allies to remain in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)
constituted by it.
What is more, as
the prime ministerial candidate, Advani made a much greater show of
his putative moderation than before and, after the party's defeat,
he declared that Hindutva would have to be a tolerant philosophy,
free of an anti-minority bias.
But now the
report will turn the spotlight yet again on the anti-Muslim thrust
of the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation, which targeted not only the Babri
Masjid for destruction but also two other mosques in Varanasi and
The two factors
which are likely to prove embarrassing for Advani and the BJP are,
first, the charge in the report that Advani created the atmosphere
which led to the sacrilege in 1992. And, second, that the outrage
was the result of a well-planned conspiracy and not of a spontaneous
expression of anger by the Hindu activists, known as kar sevaks.
Few will deny the
veracity of the first charge. After the then prime minister V.P.
Singh threatened to run away with the backward caste votes by
adopting the Mandal report promising job reservations for them,
Advani embarked on his now infamous rath yatra in 1990 to mobilise
the voters by stoking their Hindu sentiments. And what better way to
do so than by recalling the acts of desecration by Muslim invaders
in the medieval ages?
The BJP also gave
a fresh lease of life to the myth that the Hindu god Ram was born at
the exact place in Ayodhya where the Babri Masjid was built by
Mughal Emperor Babar in 1528 after pulling down an ancient temple.
To reclaim the site, Advani set off on a Toyota 'rath' (recreation
of an ancient chariot useed by Hindu warriors) from Somnath, where a
temple was destroyed by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1024. His mission helped
to create the "atmosphere", as the Liberhan commission has said, for
destroying the mosque.
When the BJP and
the RSS-led Sangh Parivar gave the call to their followers to
assemble at the site on Dec 6, 1992, there were fears of widespread
disturbances, especially since an attempt was made earlier to
destroy the structure. The apprehensions were enhanced by Advani's
observation that the kar sevaks were gathering at the site not
merely to sing bhajan-kirtan or Hindu devotional songs.
The report may be
able to clarify whether this loaded observation hinted at a
conspiracy, something which Kalyan Singh, who was Uttar Pradesh
Chief Minister at the time, has also alleged. Singh, after leaving
the party, further said that the BJP leaders kept him in the dark
about their intentions.
later described Dec 6 as the "saddest day" of his life, it was never
clear whether his distress stemmed from the destruction or from the
breakdown of the Parivar's vaunted discipline. In any event, his
complicity in the entire episode starting from the 1990 rath yatra
to the mosque's demolition two years later is evident.
It was also the
first time in modern Indian history that a place of worship was
directly targeted as part of a political agitation in the garb of a
religious movement. Since then, it has almost become a part of the
Parivar's politics to attack such shrines belonging to the
minorities, as the burning of churches in Orissa not long ago
the dubious distinction, therefore, of setting off this deplorable
trend. Not surprisingly, Manmohan Singh described the Babri
demolition as the most significant achievement of Advani's life.
report's regurgitation of all these unwholesome facts will compel
the BJP, and especially Advani, to live through those fateful days
again. The only way they can defend themselves is by reiterating the
hard line they took in those years, thereby confirming that the
party remains as anti-minority in its outlook as before,
notwithstanding all its recent protestations to the contrary.
In the wake of
the unsavoury revelations that are bound to be made during the
discussions on the report, the hawk-versus-moderate debate in the
BJP cannot but become more intense, especially with the RSS chipping
in for the hardliners.
The report has
set the seal, therefore, on the Congress's electoral victory by
plunging the BJP into a deeper crisis.
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst.
He can be reached at