“ Patriotism is often an arbitrary veneration of real estate above principles”.
George Jean Nathan
By Sanjay Jha
Noted columnist MJ Akbar’s sardonic observation on India’s bustling cosmopolitan city of Bombay is legendary : Bombay should try and establish diplomatic relations with the rest of India. It was an immaculate, flawless assessment as the city buzzed with its trademark enthusiasm for continuous profits, stockbrokers like Harshad Mehta captured public imagination much more than militant leader Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Stardust gossip was in higher circulation than that of political realignments in Delhi , Amitabh Bachchan was the city’s icon, and VP Singh’s caste-card was considered retrograde by the handful who understood India’s social realities better than Reliance valuations. There was an air of surreal , serene mood across Maximum City. Bombay indeed seemed blissfully divorced from Gaya’s gang-lord wars, Bhagalpur blindings, the rising revolt in Telangana and even Mrs Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Then December 6th 1992 happened. And everything changed. Forever.
I had lived in New Delhi for six years earlier and had returned to catch its celebrated wintry spell , when I heard the “ breaking news” ( literally) from my exuberant, animated hosts in a fancy Greater Kailash bungalow; yes, it was true that the Babri Masjid had been systematically destroyed by VHP, Bajrang Dal and other kar sevaks of the Sangh Parivaar. It was an odd assortment of guests that evening but the perverse exhilaration was unanimous. I returned just a few days later to see Bombay engulfed in rising flames. The streets from Santa Cruz towards Bandra were very different from the one I had traveled through just a week before. Burning tyres , large stones, bottles and metal articles were scattered all over, Premier taxis were smashed and broken down , shops shut and people congregated in small groups behind their compound walls. More than the visible signs of arson and damage, were the perceptible expressions of fear. Akbar’s tempered request for Bombay’s assimilation into India was under progress in a manner most macabre. .
The Bombay communal riots of 1992-93 permanently plucked the city’s inherent innocence. I still remember my most chilling moment in Mumbai ever, driving down in my Maruti 800 with my two year old daughter at 8 pm in the night from the upmarket Malabar Hill, past the Walkeshwar area and seeing angry mobs suspiciously watch any untoward movements hidden in dark alleys. And this was happening next to the Governor’s residence at Raj Bhavan! I did not see a single car coming from either direction till we reached Wilson’s College at Chowpatty. Mumbai was a ghost- town. A few months later on March 12 1993 I witnessed first-hand the serial bombings unleashed by underworld don Dawood Ibrahim , the ghastly one at Air India building was right next to my office at Express Towers. The rest comprises of regular terrorist attacks, culminating in the globally-televised gruesome 26/11 that has cast an inveterate susceptibility to Mumbai’s inner confidence. And India’s.
LK Advani must have quietly chuckled away to himself somewhere at Somnath the last few days ; what divine coincidence that the Ayodhya verdict by the Allahabad High Court should happen around the same time that he started his Toyota -rath yatra two decades ago with a politically motivated mission to build the Ram temple ! The abhorrent Godhra riots and the vicious Gujarat pogrom that happened in 2002 was also a direct consequence of the Ayodhya issue, in fact, the unfortunate victims were indeed returning from a visit to the disputed site. The Babri demolition-Gujarat riots have since led to several instances of terrorist bombings across India and the formation of dangerous militant outfits; in short, Mr Advani triggered a volcanic eruption in 1990 but the lava of incendiary hate still flows unabated.
It is not difficult to understand why the BJP and Sangh Parivaar are so headstrong about an immediate Ayodhya verdict , because for them it is a “ Heads –I- win , tails- you- lose” proposition. Just think logically, if the verdict goes in favor of the Ram temple, the BJP will proudly proclaim itself as the ultimate and rightful defender of Hindu faith against the marauding invader. If the decision t goes otherwise, they will vigorously launch a sustained trenchant hate campaign , high pitched in decibel tones and possessing vitriolic nationalistic jingoism . Either ways, BJP’s propaganda machine will go into serious overdrive to capitalize on religious sensitivities of the majority community to revive its flagging electoral fortunes and popular perception of a party in mortal decline. Don’t write off Advani yet. Remember politicians are like sharks circling , and waiting, for traces of blood to appear in the water. Advani and team are convinced that either way the Ayodhya verdict is a political windfall.
Let us look at possible verdict scenarios on Ayodhya :
1) Status quo: the High Court leaves it to the Supreme Court to decide after further hearings and investigation, as it is unable to reach a conclusive judgment on its own.
2) The High Court states that both the Ram temple and Babri Masjid must co-exist , but outside of the disputed site. The latter becomes neutral property under government dispensation.
3) The Court allows both the mosque and temple to be established on the disputed site.
4) The Court states that there is no physical or material/historical evidence to establish the existence of a temple prior to the construction of the Babri Masjid or the existence of Ram himself and therefore asks for restoration of mosque at the disputed site.
5) The High Court cites evidence that the Ram temple did indeed exist and Hindus prayed regularly centuries ago and thus deserve the singular and sole right to the disputed territory.
Under every conceivable option, the Sangh Parivaar will look for inciting its virulent campaign for religion-based national identity.
Advani’s divisive games of 1990-92 permanently fissured our social fabric, and albeit he cried copious tears , expect him to exploit politically the same sensitive, explosive subject that took the BJP from 2 seats in 1984 to 182 seats in 1999 , a grand sweep in a mere 15 years. Of course, the Congress party was a magnanimous ally in that successful accretion. Expect a belligerent BJP and Sangh Parivar to dominate news pages with their fundamentalist calls in the days to come though .
For India and PM Manmohan Singh already reeling under severe internal pressures in Kashmir , an antagonistic neighbor in Pakistan and the growing insidious threat of Maoism, the Ayodhya verdict could not have come at a worse moment . But there is no such thing as perfect timing. Ayodhya is about faith. Faith is such a nebulous fuzzy thing, it is that immeasurable, intangible feeling called belief, often having irrational origins. Yet it can move mountains. Surprise the cynics. Make miracles happen. Cure terminal illnesses. Empower the weak, strengthen the frail. Make people go into war . Faith is all-encompassing, and explains why despite education, income, development and exposure in a vibrant society , a reckless local pastor called Terry Jones in the United States almost unleashed a catastrophic religious war in the world just a few weeks ago.
You cannot have a reasonable logical argument with those who have their own insuperable allegiance to some fanatical inner convictions. Advani’s frenetic mass mobilization over Ram Janambhoomi destroyed not just an unused mosque in Faizabad , but India’s reputation for secular diversity and religious tolerance. Advani forgot that Hinduism does not propound that you can replace your faith by destroying another’s. India has since paid dear for Advani’s intentional effort for sundering our multicultural community for electoral profits. Thousands of innocent people have died since then in multiple acts of gruesome retaliation . Advani rightly fits the description; a politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country.
When Akbar wrote his piece about Bombay , little did he realize that Advani would ensure Bombay’s passport and visa into India and Babar would be the cause.