VHP's specious logic

NEW DELHI: Although the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's challenge to the rule of law and peace and tranquillity in Uttar Pradesh, especially at Ayodhya, has mercifully been defeated, it has left behind at least three sources of concern that can cause turmoil in future and must not be dismissed lightly.

First, is the VHP's untenable position — strangely backed openly by some of the BJP's senior leaders — that its belief in the disputed site at Ayodhya being the birthplace of Lord Ram is a matter of "faith" which no law or judicial verdict can override. Hence its demand that, regardless of the Allahabad High Court's ruling that no religious or political activity should be allowed at or near the "disputed site", there must be no ban on the entry of the "Ram bhakts" at that very spot for "darshan of Ramlalla".

When the Mulayam Singh Yadav Ministry in Lucknow, in cooperation with the Union Government, took steps to keep at bay the potential trouble-makers heading for Ayodhya, the second problem, logically flowing from the first, arose. Not just the likes of Ashok Singal and Praveen Togadia but also the top leadership of the RSS, the Sangh Parivar's head, was angry.

It was particularly irate over the Vajpayee Government's help to Mr. Yadav by sending to him 10,000 members of the Centre's para-military forces and by diverting trains away from Ayodhya — something that was not within the competence of the State authorities to do.

Remarkably, the RSS chief, K. Sudershan, personally intervened to demand of the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, that the diversion of the trains be ended and the Central forces at Ayodhya withdrawn immediately. The Prime Minister listened silently, accepted the first demand and ignored the second.

In his exchanges with Mr. Vajpayee, the RSS sarsanghchalak was courteous. Not so the VHP's Dr. Togadia and others of his ilk. Hurling every possible accusation at Mr. Vajpayee, they accused him of "collusion" with Mr. Yadav and called him "power-drunk", "anti-Hindu" and even "secularist", the last epithet being the ultimate insult in the Hindutva lexicon.

Mr. Sudershan had balanced his demands on Mr. Vajpayee with the promise that the VHP's "sankalp sammelan" would be peaceful. This became a signal for the BJP president, Venkaiah Naidu, and others to start the chorus that the ban on the VHP congregation should be lifted and the arrested "Ram bhakts" in view of Mr. Sudershan's "firm assurance" about the VHP's peaceful intentions. And therein lies the third problem.

Never mind, Dr. Togadia's blatant threats of communal riots. The subsequent reality, as captured by television channels, was that despite Mr. Sudershan's confidence that the VHP protest would be wholly peaceful, "Ram bhakts" had no hesitation to hurl from roof tops stones and bricks on police. In fact, the most curious part of the story is that no one asked the RSS sarsanghchalak what his assurances were worth. After all, the country had earlier gone through the purgatory of wilfully broken promises of peacefulness, not once but twice.

On December 1992, the then Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, was shell-shocked for days on end because he had trusted the assurances of no less a person than Mr. Advani, the then BJP president and literally its "maharathi" (chief charioteer). He had solemnly told Mr. Rao that there would be no violence at Ayodhya and the Babri Masjid would not be damaged. Partly as a result of his gullibility, Mr. Rao lost the 1996 election. The country's suffering was much the greater.

Nearly 10 years later, after the Godhra outrage in which Hindu pilgrims were burnt alive, the VHP had called a bandh across Gujarat. The Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, had assured all concerned that the bandh would be entirely peaceful, thus implicitly telling his own police not to worry. A stunned and shamed country witnessed the savage anti-Muslim pogrom that followed. The Supreme Court's recent comments underscore how egregious the infamy was.

Immediately after the fiasco at Ayodhya, the frustrated but "unrepentant" VHP leaders had announced a two-day Bharat bandh. But realising that they had no popular support, they had backtracked and whittled down their programme of protests. Even these failed to materialise. However, there was no guarantee that the VHP would not revert to its usual ways before long though they might not succeed even the next time round.

For, no cause whatsoever, and certainly not one of the kind the VHP and its allies are espousing, can be sustained decade after decade, especially if it is cynically raked up only at election time and put back into cold storage afterwards. Moreover, the Hindutva extremists had used up the weapon of the last resort when they had razed to the ground the sixteenth-century mosque. To try to recreate mass upsurge over Ramjanmabhoomi at this stage is therefore akin to launching a battalion-level conventional attack long after the atom bomb has been dropped.

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