Siddharth Varadarajan

But Congress may shrink from taking firm action

New Delhi: Seventeen years on from the Sangh parivars’ single biggest act of infamy, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its leaders are likely to discover there is no political statute of limitations for the crimes of conspiracy, incitement, rioting and vandalism that were committed in the name of Hindutva when the Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992.

Having prospered politically for more than a decade from the resulting polarisation, the BJPs ‘rath’ eventually ran out of steam in 2004.

The catalyst was perhaps the Gujarat killings of 2002 or the neoliberal economic policies to which the illiberal politics of Hindutva were wedded. But today, after its second consecutive defeat in a general election, the BJP finds itself increasingly aware of the liability that communalism has become.

Officially, the party claims the demolition was the result of spontaneous action by the mob which it had mobilized in Ayodhya that fateful day. BJP leader L.K. Advani, whose alleged role in the conspiracy is the subject of a CBI prosecution, famously described the event as the “saddest day” of his life. But the fact is that he and his colleagues had hitched their political fortunes to the violence and intolerance that was the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. And today, they have to accept political responsibility for the consequences of that movement, even if the Indian judicial system eventually proves incapable of assigning criminal liability.

This is where the report of the Liberhan Commission delivers the cruelest blow: at a time when the BJP is looking for ways to repackage itself as an inclusive party, its role in the destruction of the 16th century monument is a reminder of its intolerant agenda. “The subject matter of the report is 90 per cent about BJP,” a senior Congress leader told The Hindu. He acknowledged that the report might also criticise the role of Narasimha Rao, who was Prime Minister at the time, and his Congress-run Central government for its inaction. “But the entire episode is one which is of, for and by the BJP.” Second, the manner in which the report names and assigns guilt is likely to accentuate the already acute internal fissures within the party. Indeed, Liberhan may become an ‘internal brahmastra’ for Mr. Advani regardless of the role the report says he played in the demolition. Worse, by bringing Ayodhya back into the news, the report will also encourage those within the Sangh parivar who feel the Ram temple issue should remain at the core of their political agenda.

For the Congress, the party is likely to want to use the reports recommendations to weaken the BJP and its leadership politically without allowing them to claim the mantle of martyrdom.