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Ayodhya - Contradictions within BJP

Note No. 62

Ayodhya has become news again, thanks to the political leaders, who spent the major part of the recently concluded winter session of parliament over this issue. Politically this issue was of no relevance to the people now, but the parties both in opposition as well as ruling coalition including the BJP succeeded in reviving it for their own political ends. The game plan of the opposition in making a furore in the parliament was to create a rift between the BJP and its allies. It went to the extent of interrupting the functioning of the parliament for more than ten days in demanding resignation of three Union Ministers namely, L.K.Advani, M.M.Joshi, and Ms Uma Bharati from the cabinet on the plea that they were accused in "Babari Mosque"-demolition case..

The BJP led coalition government did not make any attempt to push through any of the contentious issues and thus, there was hardly any justification to make a hue and cry over the statements of some senior BJP leaders like Ram Prakash Gupta, Chief Minister of U.P. and Sushama Swaraj. These were not suo moto statements but were in response to questions by the media and they were also categorical that it was not within the NDA agenda for governance to which the BJP is committed

It will be an insult to their wisdom, if the leaders irrespective of their party affiliation think that the BJP being the leading constituent of the NDA has permanently buried Ayodhya issue. The NDA agenda for governance, includes, " a moratorium on contentious issues ". This means, the BJP gave up its " commitment to facilitate the construction of a magnificent Shri Ram Mandir at Ram Janmasthan in Ayodhya where a makeshift temple already exists " (Election Manifesto of the BJP- 1998) so long as it was committed to the NDA agenda for governance. Thus, there was no ambiguity either in the NDA agenda for governance or in the statements of BJP leaders on this issue.

After the demolition of "Babari Mosque" on December 6’1992 both the pro and anti-temple forces have been regularly observing its anniversary with "Shaurya Divas" and protest day respectively. Though the anniversary is a major cause of irritant between these forces, there was nothing unusual in 1999 that provoked the opposition to raise this issue so aggressively. The opposition did not demand the resignation of the three BJP leaders from the Union Cabinet in 1998 even though they were accused in the demolition case. There was nothing special in 1999 to provoke them to put forward their demand in parliament this time, unless the opposition wanted to indulge in a bit of negative and opportunistic politics. In fact, the statements of the BJP leaders on Ayodhya, which purportedly provoked the opposition do not appear to be a violation of the provisions of NDA agenda for governance. Some of the quotes of the statements were

* Ram Prakash Gupta, Chief Minister, U.P.( Faizabad dt. 13.12.99 ) –" Ram temple at Ayodhya may not be on the NDA agenda, but is very much on the BJP agenda "

* Ms Sushama Swaraj, Former Union Minister (Bhopal dt.13.12.99 )- "Ayodhya was on party’s agenda "

* Ms Uma Bharati, Union Minister –" No reason to feel guilty about the happenings on 6.12.1992 "

* J.P.Mathur, Vice President, BJP- "Ayodhya is very much on BJP’s agenda. The party is not disowning it. But the construction of temple can be only after evolving a national consensus. "

The opposition might not have succeeded in their game plan to create any rift between the BJP and its coalition partners, but the debate on the issue within the BJP generated more heat with potential to cause damage to the image of the party. The BJP leaders spoke in different voices on this contentious issue of Ayodhya that placed the Prime Minister, AB.Vajpayee in an embarrassing situation. This prompted him to raise the issue with the parliamentary party meeting of the BJP and express his anguish on the party men for raking up the Ayodhya issue. As a part of damage control exercise, the national president of the BJP, Mr. Kushabhau Thakre in an interview to a television channel said, " It was never a question of the BJP, that we will build the temple. We have said (so) always. Earlier also, we have said that we are not going to build the temple." He also maintained that, " Ayodhya was a programme and not an ideology of the BJP."

The controversy became so intense, that the BJP in its National Council meeting (Chennai December 27- 29’1999) circulated a draft document known as Chennai declaration for discussion and attempted to put an end, once for all, the accusation that the BJP has not abandoned the Ayodhya issue. The draft document said, " Each and every activist of the party must fully understand that the BJP has no agenda other than the common agenda of the NDA." By and large the draft document, when presented before the highest policy making body of the party in the past, was approved without changing its core idea. But this time, the discussion was learnt to have been so aggressive that the leadership had to concede to the opposition from within. Accordingly, the sentence in the draft was changed to- " The BJP expressed confidence that every BJP worker understands that our agenda for governance is the national agenda for good governance."

The Chennai- declaration, as approved by the National Council of the BJP might have re-assured the coalition partners. It might have also established the primacy of Mr. Vajpayee in the party. But the tone and tenor of a number of party leaders are indicative of the mood of a larger section in the party that they are not in favour of giving up their "ideological mascot". The valedictory address of Advani in the National Council meeting, advising the party men not to get " imprisoned by dogma " may work as a temporary tranquiliser, but it may not keep them distancing from the Ayodhya issue for long.

The Ayodhya movement was launched under the leadership of Advani when he was the national president of the party. It also helped the BJP to gain its present status.

It may be recalled that in 1992 both Vajpayee and Advani addressed a public meeting on Ayodhya issue at Lucknow in which both the leaders highlighted the party’s commitment and determination to construct the Ram temple. If the Chennai-declaration is an attempt to negate the Palampur document of the party on Ayodhya adopted in its National Executive Committee meeting (June 9-11, 1989), it may affect the credibility of the party leadership among its cadres. The Palampur document said, " The BJP calls upon the Rajiv Gandhi Government to adopt the same positive approach in respect of Ayodhya, that the Nehru Government did with regard to Somnath. The sentiments of the people must be respected and Ram Janmasthan be handed over to Hindus, if possible through a negotiated settlement or else by legislation. Litigation is certainly not the answer."

The Lucknow meeting referred to and the declaration of Vajpayee and Advani and the Rath Yatra of Advani, were all in pursuance of the Palampur document. L.K.Advani, while announcing his plan of taking Ram Rath Yatra (started from Somnath in Gujarat on September 25’1990 but arrested at Samastipur in Bihar on October 21, 1990) from Somnath to Ayodhya declared, " So far as the question of the birth place of Lord Ram in Ayodhya, and Lord Krishna in Mathura and the Kashi Vishvanath temple is concerned, the Hindu community cannot compromise." (Politics of Ayodhya dispute by Pradeep Nayak ). In his speech during this yatra, Advani explained, " According to the BJP, it is not just for building a temple. It is a mass movement to re-affirm the nation’s cultural identity. It is a dynamo for a resurgent, resolute and modern India." The BJP document issued during the Swarna Jayanti Rath Yatra undertaken by Advani ( From Mumbai, May 18’1997 to Delhi, July, 10’1997 ) said " The Ram Rath Yatra highlighted Hindutva or Cultural Nationalism as the essential identity of Indian nation. Incidentally, it was associated with the largest mass movement in the history of post-1947 India- namely, the campaign for the construction of Ram Mandir at Ayodhya.." These statements and party documents helped BJP not only to achieve the present status, but also projected Advani as a tallest leader of the party. His statement now that BJP should not be a prisoner of dogma only causes confusion in the minds of the rank and file of the BJP.

After the National Executive Committee meeting of the BJP at Palampur, Ayodhya became the unique and the sole selling point of the party. This issue continued to figure in the election manifesto till 1998 Lok-Sabha election. In 1999 Lok-Sabha poll, the party had its joint manifesto with allies without any mention of Ayodhya but it could not improve its tally of 1998. In fact in1999 it suffered a major set back in Uttar Pradesh where Ayodhya is situated.

The BJP with its political march for Ayodhya starting from Palampur in 1989 has covered a long journey. It may now be very difficult for the cadres to take an about turn on the command given by the leadership through Chennai declaration.

The senior leaders of the BJP are crying hoarse that the party is not diluting its ideology, but the cadres while turning towards RSS, the parent body of the party-- are found to be reading between the lines. A satirical article published in its organ Organiser dated January 2, 2000 said, "… When the BJP found – during a momentous but momentary lucid interval – that its Hindutva ideology was neither national nor democratic, it put a moratorium on the immortal Ram." With such a major challenge, the BJP is going to face a crucial test in the forth coming assembly elections in Bihar, Orissa and Haryana for which the party has hardly anything to offer ideologically except the tested slogan of the "able leadership of A.B.Vajpayee."

R.Upadhyay                                                              4.1.2000

(Regional Adviser South Asia Analysis Group)