5. How the Rama card was thrown away
Ever since the demolition of the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1996, the BJP has as silent as possible on the Ayodhya issue. It is just too embarrassed, and avoids mentioning the very name of Ayodhya or Rama. On 17 December 1992 already, A.B. Vajpayee declared in the Lok Sabha: "We are very sad at what happened in Ayodhya on the 6th December." L.K. Advani, who had been the front man of the Ayodhya movement until he broke down in tears at the sight of the demolition, had narrowly succeeded in making a dignified statement during his first press meet after the demolition (thanks to the insistent prodding of one of his well-wishers who merely happened to be present, and who convinced Advani to replace the weak and apologetic statement which his assistant had prepared with a better one), but more recently he too joined Vajpayee in dismissing the historic event as a "Himalayan blunder".
Of course, most of us would have preferred a smooth unopposed transition from misplaced mosque to fitting temple in Ayodhya, but in the circumstances, the prospects for temple construction without this direct action were bleak. All that the BJP had achieved at the purely political level was to provoke the 1991 Places of Worship Act, which freezes the status of places of worship as it was in the colonial age (depriving them of the benefits of independence). Therefore, in their comments, the BJP leaders should have shown some appreciation for the constraints which drove the Kar Sevaks to make possible the construction for which Advani c.s. had been campaigning.
I still have a high opinion of Mr. Advani personally, but he has proved to be a true representative of this confused tendency which I call BJP secularism. Trying to be nice to everyone is fine, but should one enter politics and defy a formidable enemy like Islam (which Advani had done by implicitly challenging Islam's right to usurp a Hindu sacred site) if one is not prepared for some rough weather? With but few exceptions, such as Kalyan Singh and Vijay Kumar Malhotra, most BJP leaders now take the evasive or apologetic line on Ayodhya.
The truth of the matter is that the BJP leadership never had its heart in the Ayodhya campaign. When outside factors and the VHP brought the Ayodhya issue centre-stage in the mid-80s, the BJP joined the movement because of its apparent potential for mass mobilization. Yet, even after the VHP's Ram Shila Pujas (consecrating bricks in every village and taking them in procession to Ayodhya, autumn 1989) became a roaring success, it took Prime Minister V.P. Singh's prodding to get the BJP to organize the fabled Rath Yatra (October 1990). Singh had made the ludicrous promise to Imam Bukhari of securing the disputed site for the Muslim community, and he needed some serious Hindu pressure to provide him with an excuse to renege on his promise. After riding the Rama wave to an electoral breakthrough in May-June 1991, the BJP started distancing itself from the Ayodhya issue. By 6 December 1992, many activists had lost patience with the BJP, and a vanguard group organized the historic instance of direct action, all while keeping the BJP leadership (deemed the weakest link in the Hindutva chain) in the dark.
When the Babri walls came tumbling down, L.K. Advani, who had looked like such a divine hero in his Ram Rath, could not help shedding tears over the damage done to the BJP's secular self-image. The same thing happened to many BJP office-bearers at the Delhi headquarters when they heard the news about the demolition (so I was told by one of them). Even VHP leader Ashok Singhal, certainly more sincere in his Ayodhya commitment than the politicians, tried to stop the activists, until they threatened to pull off his dhoti if he didn't shut up. If we are to believe the secularist commentators, all that was theatre. Well, no, it was quite genuine; just as genuine as Murli Manohar Joshi's jubilation, which was gleefully highlighted by the same secularists.
If the Indian media were not as corrupt as they are (power corrupts, and the media wield tremendous power, so), they would have found out and told us who exactly masterminded the demolition; it was not so hard to find out. But instead, the Indian media spurned the scoop of the year and insisted on the politically more useful version blaming Mr. Advani, somewhat like Jawaharlal Nehru's attempt to implicate Veer Savarkar in the Mahatma Gandhi murder.
Frightened by the Muslim-cum-secularist sound and fury after the demolition, and shocked by its own failure to live up to its secular and disciplined self-image, the BJP completed its (until then gradual) retreat from Ayodhya overnight. Even four years later, any talk of a return to the Ayodhya plank was dismissed by the party leadership as absurd. As party spokesperson Sushma Swaraj said (November 1996), in an unabashed show of opportunism as the only guide in the party's choices: "You cannot cash a cheque twice." Until then, one could have thought that the BJP's silence on Ayodhya was part of a reasoned policy of shifting the focus of action to the judicial debate before the Allahabad High Court, which has been deliberating on the dispute since 1950 (the Court's pussyfooting is itself one of the causes of the polarizing and violent turn which the dispute has taken), but has recently been showing real signs of life; now, Ms. Swaraj's statement proves that there is no deep strategy involved, merely a tactic of grabbing whichever vote-catching issues present themselves, and dropping them when they become less useful or too difficult to handle.
The BJP's enemies spread two mutually exclusive views of the BJP: that it is a rabid fundamentalist party bound to turn India into a theocracy, and that it is a placid opportunistic party which merely uses religion for its all too mundane goal of enjoying the spoils of power. Recent developments have given a verdict between these two, in favour of the opportunism theory.
The BJP's next election campaigns featured harmless secular slogans like "good government" (su-raj), though a few candidates in Hindutva-sensitized areas in U.P. also tried to capitalize on the Demolition, boasting that "we did what we promised". Still, the secular non-Ayodhya profile cost the party many seats in the 1996 U.P. state elections (as Kalyan Singh has admitted), losses not fully compensated by the party's gains in other districts, which were often due to the disunity in the anti-BJP camp. This was the first sign that the BJP cannot go on taking the Hindu voter for granted indefinitely. On the other hand, the 1995 state elections in Maharashtra and Gujarat and the 1996 Lok Sabha elections were undeniably victories for the BJP. So, the secularists in the BJP feel assured that Hindu activism is dead, or is at any rate not a vote attractor. Yet, this secular posturing may also prove to be a "cheque which cannot be cashed twice", for the BJP's credibility as a provider of clean and effective governance has plummeted. The performance of its state governments and the recent corruption and defection scandals have confirmed to the public what party insiders have been telling me for some years: the party leadership has no greater ambition than to be the Congress B-team.
Just like Congress has been capitalizing on the sacrifices of the Freedom movement for decades, the BJP tries to capitalize on its association with the Hindu cause. The equation of the BJP with militant Hinduism is now mostly kept alive by its enemies (who, fortunately for the BJP, dominate the media). The effect is that the BJP can take the Hindu-minded voter for granted all while fishing after the non-Hindu and the anti-Hindu vote, and making the concomitant concessions. But the real commitment to the Hindu cause is now as far removed from the BJP leadership's thinking as Gandhian ideals are from the most corrupt Congress leader.
A movement having the size of the Ayodhya agitation can only make sense if major historical issues are involved, in this case the role of Islam in Indian history, of which the destruction of the Rama temple and its replacement with a mosque are perfectly representative. Therefore, historians like Harsh Narain, G.L. Verma, K.S. Lal and Sita Ram Goel responded to the Ayodhya controversy by collecting and presenting several types of evidence for the thousands upon thousands of temple destructions wrought by Islam in India, and by pinpointing the large and unambiguous scriptural basis for this Islamic iconoclasm. They faced the fact that it is not possible to raise the Ayodhya issue in a consistent and credible way without tracing the problem to its source, viz. the Quran and the model behaviour of prophet Mohammed, who destroyed all the idols in the Kaaba and had all traces of other religions in Arabia removed or destroyed.
By contrast, the BJP tried to redefine the Ayodhya debate away from its religious basis and into a matter of secular patriotism: the "national hero" Rama versus the "foreign invader" Babar. In reality, of course, nationality or geographical provenance had nothing to do with it: the native convert Malik Kafur was a great temple-destroyer, while the foreign British colonizer left temples in peace and even invested men and money in their upkeep and scholarly description.
BJP supporters started claiming that Islam itself condemns temple destruction and that a prayer offered in a mosque built on a destroyed temple is held to be invalid by Islam itself. In essence, they claimed Ayodhya for the Hindus in the name of Islam. One Hindu professor even revealed to me that the Islamic agitators had falsified Islamic scripture to make it sound hostile to Hinduism while originally it had been quite in agreement with Hindu scripture. The capacity of Hindus for self-deception is truly extraordinary. They can invent any fairy-tale just to avoid facing the fact that Islam has declared war on Hinduism in the 7th century AD and that it has never rescinded this declaration of war.
But of course, no one was fooled. Not one Muslim replied: "Now you come to mention it, this mosque has been standing there illegally for centuries without any of us realizing it. Our Quran orders us to remove this nuisance to make way for a Hindu temple." All the Rafiq Zakarias and Asghar Ali Engineers, always so eager to extol the tolerance and magnanimity of Islam, unitedly refused to oblige the BJP spokesmen, and solidly defended the right of Muslims to occupy the sacred sites of others (it was only after the much-maligned Demolition that Wahiduddin Khan and Asghar Ali Engineer came to their senses and wisely advised Muslims not to press for the reimposition of a mosque on this Hindu sacred site).
This wilful confusion and half-heartedness about the issues inherently raised by the Ayodhya controversy made it impossible for the BJP to state its case, or rather Hindu society's case, in a straightforward and convincing manner. While thousands of mosques have forcibly displaced temples, the VHP demand was for just three, and the BJP narrowed that figure down to one. Seen in the proper perspective, this was incredibly modest: the guilt of Islam is staggering, yet the Hindu fundamentalist party is satisfied with its abandonment of one sacred site which was not under Muslim control anyway. But in the BJP perspective, this extremely modest demand came to look unreasonable and fanatical ("such a nationwide fuss over a mere building"), precisely because the whole context of the staggering guilt of Islam was kept out of the debate as much as possible.
Consider the result of the Ayodhya campaign. While it is totally obvious that a Hindu sacred site belongs to the Hindus and to no one else, all the non-fringe Indian media strongly condemned the Hindu reappropriation of the Ram Janmabhoomi site. While no religious Westerner or East Asian would approve of the take-over of the sacred sites of his own religion by outsiders, Western and East Asian media (not to speak of Muslim media) were united in their strong condemnation when Hindus tried to undo just such a take-over. While in other conflicts (say, the Gulf War) both warring parties end up getting some moral or actual support from somewhere, in this case there was no trace of support for the Hindu position anywhere in the world. The Ayodhya campaign was conducted in such a way as to leave Hindu society totally bereft of friends. Without exaggeration, the BJP's Ayodhya campaign was the single biggest public relations disaster in world history.
The BJP has never subjected itself to the critical introspection which this experience called for. To be sure, it disliked the opprobrium intensely, but it merely tried to wriggle out from under it, dispensing with the trouble of making a proper evaluation and of articulating a consistent stand. There is no such thing as a Hindutva-inspired analysis of the difference which the Demolition has made for the Hindu cause in general or even for the Sangh's or the BJP's strategic position specifically. The numerous publications on the significance of the Demolition are all by secularists and Muslims. Without doing any analysis of its own, the BJP effectively plumped for the secularist view that the Demolition was wrong, and compromised the whole Ayodhya movement along with it. So, it kind of apologized and changed the subject.
 It may be recalled that some of V.P. Singh's scheming on Ayodhya was made public by Arun Shourie, the only editor who had opened his columns for articles on the history of Islamic iconoclasm; and that a short while later, he was sacked as Indian Express editor. One of the hands behind his removal was Nana Deshmukh, supposedly a Hindutva stalwart.