5 Mar 2002
By Swami Agnivesh & Valson Thampu
It is imperative for the people to take a firm and final stand on the side of secularism and responsible governance.
SUCCESS TURNS into a snare when the temptation to repeat it ever so often is not resisted. L. K. Advani is right in his assertion that the BJP prospered only because of the mandir movement. But much water has flowed under the bridge since December 6, 1992. And it would be suicidal for the BJP to overlook the message, loud and clear, from the recent Assembly elections especially in Uttar Pradesh. Between Kargil and now, the Indian voter has come a long way. He has had enough of this communal clap-trap. The mandir as an electoral milch cow has had its day. Not even the genius of an Advani can make it yield again.
The electoral seductiveness of communal politics has been grossly exaggerated all along. What has been appealing to the voters in recent years is not so much the prospect of crafting a Hindu theocracy but the heady excitement of the Ayodhya movement which relieved, for a while, the sense of stagnation and drift that afflicted especially the youth. What they hailed was not the triumph of one religion over another, but the emergence of a political alternative with a difference. The Indian voter still cares for his religion. And that is precisely the problem that confronts the BJP today. Those who love and value their faith cannot be a party to its repeated exploitation for ulterior gains.
If communalism ever had the kind of mass appeal it is today claimed to have, the Jan Sangh would not have had to reinvent itself as the BJP, professing faith in its own version of secularism. Events in the recent past are a tribute to the unerring secular instinct of the Hindu mind, which it would be unwise for the BJP to belittle. The BJP could not have ruled at the Centre if it had not put on the mukhota (mask) of secularism and abandoned its communal agenda for a while, as amply proved by the 13-day innings of the Vajpayee Government at the Centre when there were no takers for seats of power in the hall of communal politics. The decline of the Congress(I) started with the blurring of its secular image. In contrast, leaders such as Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Sigh Yadav have maintained and consolidated their political power-base largely because of their commitment to secularism. It was Laloo Yadav's boldness in stopping the Rath Yatra that turned him into a folk hero in Bihar. The plight of the BJP today illustrates the self-contradiction inherent in every ideology of negativity. Till the Babri Masjid stood, it symbolised the contrived grievance of a section of Hindus against the Muslims on account of what their ancestors were alleged to have done in the twilight of history. Admittedly, it is a grievance the merchants of hate have manipulated with consummate skill and considerable profit for a period of time. The destruction of the Babri Masjid, however, burst the bubble of this exhumed pseudo-grievance. After the destruction of the mosque, the manipulated resentment of the pro-mandir masses turned slowly into bitterness against their own manipulators who did not know how to conceal either their precipitous affluence or their glee at being able to convert the gullibility of the people into a political windfall. Not surprisingly, while Lord Ram's temple continued to be electorally exploited, the country itself was degraded into a den of corruption literally on a war-footing. Only those capable of monumental cynicism about the common sense of the common man could have expected this honeymoon of hypocrisy to continue forever. Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Punjab were, in other words, just waiting to happen. The sincere Ram bhakts are neither amused nor fooled any longer.
For the politics of hate to survive, it is imperative that the catalytic symbol of hate stands. Yet, to prove its virility, this symbol needs to be attacked and brought down, as the mosque was. But this very success is also its defeat; for the catalyst of grievance ceases to exist. It is this realisation that accounts for the ambivalence in Mr. Advani's averments before the Liberhan Commission. With equal sincerity he gloated over the Ayodhya movement and grieved over the destruction of the mosque. What unmasks the true face of a communal project is its success in reaching the seat of power. Having developed only the genius of negativity, its proponents find themselves out of their elements vis-a-vis the task of governance. What people expect from a party in power is different from what they demand from an Opposition party. People expect a Government to deliver the goods, as is proved by the anti-incumbency factor. But as long as a party does not shed its communal blinkers, it cannot evolve or embrace a positive vision for society. So far the BJP think-tank has covered up this bankruptcy in governance by improvising emotionally-charged hypes one after the other as the opium of the masses. The anti-terror agenda was virtually turned into a national cult, no doubt encouraged by the electoral goldmine that Kargil proved to be. Both Kargil and the December 13 attack on Parliament should have gone against the NDA Government, for in both instances the Government's inability to act in time on the intelligence available precipitated the crises. Both were custom-made situations for the opposition parties to hold the Government to account. But that did not happen. What happened, instead, was that the BJP managed to annex the political space of the Opposition.The ruling party hogged the limelight of national grievance! The Opposition's mouth was sealed, but not the mind of the voter. Now he has spoken.
It would be an unmitigated disaster for the country if the Sangh Parivar were to respond to this reality in terms of another communal avalanche, as events in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh seem to portend. To sow the winds of a communal bloodbath for ulterior gains at this time will be to reap the whirlwind of political extinction. Already an economic time bomb is ticking at the foundation of our country. The bewilderment and frustration of the masses has reached unprecedented proportions. It would be a monumental folly to push the country now into avoidable anarchy.
The near-total extinction of statesmanship in politics and the prevalence of negative and divisive ideologies that degrade elections into opportunities only for kicking out crooks and political shenanigans from the seats of power, are pathological symptoms that point to our collective decay. The silver lining, though, is that the people are now waking up to their right to have quality of life. This bottom-up pressure could pave the way for the emergence, sooner or later, of a new political culture. It is imperative for the people to take a firm and final stand on the side of secularism and responsible governance. The merchants of hate and hurt need to be shown the lumber-room of history where indeed they belong.