The demolition was used by the BJP, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad to spread the sangh parivar’s influence beyond the Gangetic plains and into Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
Once the dust from the unnecessary debate over who leaked the Liberhan Commission’s findings settles down, the country will be in a better position to reflect upon the political consequences of the enquiry report into one of independent India’s most sinister mass crimes: the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.
Though it is not yet clear whether Mr. Liberhan has fixed criminal or merely political responsibility on top Bharatiya Janata party leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, the commission report seems to have concluded that the demolition was no act of spontaneous vandalism but a pre-planned conspiracy. The circle of conspirators may well have been small but it is impossible to imagine leaders like Mr. Advani were completely unaware of what was underfoot. Either way, the Manmohan Singh government is duty-bound to get to the bottom of the matter and to do so without any further delay.
For years, the BJP walked a fine line on the demolition. Senior leaders like Advani sought to avoid direct culpability for what was, after all, a criminal act, while also exploiting the communal polarisation the masjid/mandir issue caused for political gain. The strategy worked fine at first. The demolition was used by the BJP, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad to spread the sangh parivar’s influence beyond the Gangetic plains and into Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. By the time the BJP come to power in Delhi as part of the National Democratic Alliance, however, the signs of mandir fatigue were already apparent, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. As the communal virus of the 1990s slowly exhausted itself and robbed Ayodhya of its political potency, the BJP moved on to other issues. With Mr. Liberhan content to drag out his enquiry, the legal fall-out from the demolition was managed by petty clerical fiddles at the Central Bureau of Investigation and U.P. bureaucracy. The end result: many senior leaders of the party, including Mr. Advani, extricated themselves from the demolition cases which were, in any case, progressing at a snail’s pace.
The problem for the BJP today is two-fold: First, that Mr. Liberhan chose to complete his labours and that too during the tenure of a Congress-led government; and second, that the scope for whipping up religious sentiments and rallying Hindus around the prospective martyrdom of leaders like Mr. Advani is extremely limited. Indeed, ordinary Hindus know that the Babri Masjid’s demolition, like the Gujarat massacres of 2002, is part of the backstory of urban terrorism, including the rise of homegrown terrorist outfits like the Indian Mujahideen. They also know instinctively that religious polarisation of the kind the sangh parivar has sought to engineer has made India a more dangerous and violent place. Any campaign the BJP mounts now will be marked by the desperate search for legal loopholes, alibis and fixes, not defiance and bravado in the service of Lord Rama.
Ironically, the best hope for the BJP lies in the Congress’s reluctance to press ahead its political advantage. At the best of times, the party has never been too enthusiastic about ensuring the punishment of those involved in communal crimes. The findings of the Srikrishna Commission of Enquiry into the 1992-1993 communal killings in Bombay, for example, have remained largely unimplemented. Going by the law of probability — since the probability of law is so low — there are good reasons to believe the Liberhan findings will also meet the same fate.