Leaders who ignited a deadly fire

There is limited satisfaction in seeing L.K. Advani and M.M. Joshi being retired

April 04, 2019 12:15 am | Updated 12:15 am IST

BJP leaders M.M. Joshi and L.K. Advani during a BJP national executive meeting, in New Delhi. File

BJP leaders M.M. Joshi and L.K. Advani during a BJP national executive meeting, in New Delhi. File

Any taste of satisfaction or schadenfreude someone may get from the news of senior BJP leaders L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi being put out to pasture by the RSS-BJP is quickly superseded by something unpleasant, dark and chemical-tasting. Many may have looked forward to the day when we would see the back of these two. Many would want to relish this moment: the humiliation, the casual back-handed slaps with which these ‘marg-darshaks’ are darshaked their marg into political oblivion, their fury, their suppurating resentment, all of it. But this is where history plays the jester, suddenly peeping out from the wings and asking the audience, ‘Are you really happy now?’

Around half of us Indians were born after the Babri Masjid was torn down and millions were too young for the event to register. It takes an effort for the rest of us to remember the time before words like ‘shilanyas’, ‘pseudo-secularist’ and ‘Sangh Parivar’ entered common parlance. Even as Babri began to be stoked in the mid-1980s by the RSS-BJP and its polyp-groups, there were many real issues that occupied the public: the Khalistan movement, the Bhopal gas tragedy, AIDS, the Bofors case, computerisation, the impunity with which D.H. Ambani had bypassed governmental checks and balances on big business, the Mandal Commission report, the possible tessellations of various reservations, and the economic liberalisation that then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi wanted to bring in.

A different route to power

Many of today’s challenges were present then: corruption, huge inequality, the dearth of proper education and universal healthcare, widespread unemployment, looming ecological disasters. There was ample room to challenge the Congress on these issues. There were many parties aiming for, if not a Congress-mukt India, at least a Congress-light one, which would be a happier, more egalitarian place. But the leaders of the RSS-BJP saw a different route to power: forget about education, healthcare, women’s rights, let’s put to boil Hindu pride in the pot of a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, let’s twist genuine faith, appeal to the basest sentiments and see what happens. Despite the choices available, Mr. Advani and Mr. Joshi chose to gamble on relentlessly creating religious enmity and small and large-scale violence. They were cunning men who knew what they were doing.

A calculated gamble

The Ram Mandir ‘issue’ was indeed a gamble but it was a calculated one: the RSS-BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad knew the Congress was riven with squabbling and that its secularism was shaky (Mr. Advani’s barb about pseudo-secularists was a precise arrow into the heart of Congress hypocrisy); they knew the growing regional parties had little concern for the well-being of the nation as a whole. They sensed that a disaffected, jobless mass of male youth, at least in central and north India, was a tinder keg that could be ignited with the touchpaper of communalism and the targeting of the minority communities as the ‘enemy’. Long-honed instincts told them their pseudo-Hinduism had a strong chance of defeating the Congress’s pseudo-secularism, at least in the so-called cow belt. Most importantly, these men knew fully well that their ‘rath-yatras’ and their carting of ‘consecrated’ bricks to Ayodhya would lead to a bloodbath. Not only did they know it — the very success of their gamble depended on violence ensuing, on large parts of the country tearing along communal lines. After the demolition of the Babri Masjid this is exactly what happened.

In case there is any amnesia or unfamiliarity, let’s not forget that Mr. Advani and Mr. Joshi had passionate and vociferous support from a second rank that included not only Ashok Singhal, K.N. Govindacharya, Uma Bharti, Sadhvi Rithambara and Jaswant Singh but also Yashwant Sinha, Shatrughan Sinha and Arun Shourie, gentlemen who today seem to be having such severe problems with the monster they helped incubate and nourish. Below these tiers you had the organisers, including Narendra Modi and Pravin Togadia, with even younger people like Manohar Parrikar travelling to Ayodhya as a kar sevak.

There might be some differences between the current BJP bosses and the duo so unceremoniously consigned to the knacker’s yard, but it’s useful to note that the differences are of degree and style, not substance. The first tampering with school textbooks and the initial orange assault on cultural and educational institutions was under Human Resource Development Minister Joshi. Likewise, Deputy Prime Minister Advani too pushed the majoritarian agenda as much as he could, but within the constraints of a coalition.

The horrors continue

Vajpayee’s and Mr. Advani’s masks of democratic civility fell off after the clearly pre-planned anti-minority Gujarat pogrom of 2002. The chancers at the top had to deal with an even bigger chancer in Mr. Modi. Vajpayee may have tried to remove Mr. Modi as Chief Minister because of the Gujarat riots, but Mr. Advani defended Mr. Modi and Vajpayee chickened out. It is a fleeting consolation to realise that Mr. Advani might have, at that precise moment, sown the seeds of his own unseating by a protege even more mendacious than himself. It provides only the most superficial of gratifications to see Mr. Advani and Mr. Joshi being sent off to their enforced sanyaas , their edacity for position and power forever unfulfilled. Any sense of elation at historical justice being finally delivered is quickly tempered by remembering the horrors these two men inflicted upon the country when in their prime, horrors that, far from being over, are alive and enlarged as never before.

Ruchir Joshi is a writer, filmmaker and columnist

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