Ayodhya to Muzaffarnagar: How 'secular' politicians communalised democracy

Kamal Mitra Chenoy
Kamal Mitra ChenoyOct 27, 2017 | 20:02

Ayodhya to Muzaffarnagar: How 'secular' politicians communalised democracy

The most important part of a country are its democratic institutions. Take the Constitution, for example. It highlights a secular democracy. But has the NDA galvanised secular institutions? Almost all official occasions and events are now marked by Hindu — often Brahmanical — ceremonies. There is no harm if they are limited to family or private festivities, but if official, state events are marked only, or mainly, by Hindu ceremonies, secular practices are weakened.


There is no harm in religious practices. It, many find, provides solace and composure, and relief from hostile situations. But religion should be separated from secular Constitutions, procedures and laws. Take the courts, for instance. They follow laws and legal procedures, even in religious matters. But outside the strictly legal, there are religious issues. Take Muslim personal law. The Supreme Court rejected triple talaq not on religious grounds but on the basis of contemporary jurisprudence. This is a secular intervention in religious practice in support of equal rights for women. So the road to justice may involve religion but may simultaneously base itself on secular principles. So secularism is not anti-religion. It is only when social and other worldly beliefs are misused or misinterpreted that problems arise.

For example, the belief in tribal areas about witches can lead to wanton attacks on innocent women. But it is when politicians mix religion with politics that problems arise for secularism.

For example, during the Gujarat riots in 2002, many Muslims were killed because of the mistaken belief that kar sevaks travelling in a railway coach were murdered by Muslims in Godhra's Signal Falia area. As part of a fact-finding team, I inspected the railway coaches and found all the doors and windows locked. The coach had caught fire from inside and some Muslims had broken in, leading to major deaths. 


During this period, a prominent trade unionist and ex-MP Ehsan Jafri sought police protection for his family and fellow residents of Ahmedabad's Gulberg Society. The police didn’t come to their rescue and all the residents were butchered. The murderers, many of whom were brought to court, were scarcely charged, justice was not done and secularism was bloodied. Such vengeance has become routine — the innocents are major casualties whenever religion and/or caste becomes a burning issue.

The mobilisation of kar sevaks was unstoppable post LK Advani's Rath Yatra. Photo: Reuters

The most destructive issue in independent India is the Babri Masjid dispute, which is far from over. In 1948, two Congress leaders shifted to the socialist movement — Acharya Narendra Dev, a resident of Faizabad, close to Ayodhya and Acharya Kripalani — who intended to fight elections in the Faizabad area. This worried GB Pant, then UP chief minister and Congress leader, who organised a cordon of worshippers to sing bhajans and songs around Babri Masjid. Consequently, a Muslim graveyard in the vicinity was uprooted and the small moti masjid nearby was destroyed. On the night of December 22-23, 1948, the Ram Lalla (baby Ram) idol was placed inside the Babri Masjid. Terrible events followed.


At the time, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to Pant to remove the Ram Lalla idol, as he realised the dangerous potential of this still nascent movement. Pant did not comply. If we move fast forward to later events, in 1986, PM Rajiv Gandhi was caught between the Hindutva (this term actually came later) pressure for opening the doors to Babri Masjid to allow Hindu devotees to worship Lord Ram and orthodox Muslims, who wanted the Supreme Court decision in the Shah Bano case — allowing for Muslim divorcees to get financial support from their former spouses — overturned. Rajiv Gandhi succumbed to both pressures.

He decided to reverse the Shah Bano judgment to deny Muslim divorcees support from their estranged husbands. When women MPs and leaders stressed to the PM about the importance of equality, the PM retorted that it was a western concept. As a Left Lok Sabha MP Saifuddin Chowdhury citing the PM's statement in Parliament pointed out, Gandhi’s reference to equality as a western concept was strange coming from a man who had a western wife.

In the case of the Babri Masjid issue, the PM made sure than the Faizabad court would convene on a Saturday, so that the Muslim side would be unaware of the proceedings. A famous pro-Congress judge provided the argument for the breaking of the Masjid’s locks, and the DM and SP assured the court that there would be no trouble. The local judge later became a BJP MP. By this time it was clear that due to Congress' submission to the forces of Hindu conservatism, there would be no going back.

Opportunist politics by a secular PM had led to the opening of a Pandora’s box.

Later, Sangh leader LK Advani’s rath yatra paraded through the country, causing an increase in the fever pitch for a Ram mandir — leading to clashes, riots and greater Hindu mobilisation. The rath yatra — on a foreign Toyota truck — was finally stopped by chief minister Lalu Yadav in Bihar, who got Advani arrested upon the procession's entry into his state, but the mobilisation of kar sevaks was unstoppable.

PV Narasimha Rao contributed substantially to the Hindu consolidation with inaction. Photo: Reuters

Finally, in November 1992, the matter reached the Supreme Court, which, in its wisdom, after hearing the lawyer OP Sharma for the Muslim side, noted his apprehensions about the Hindus gathering in huge numbers — attacking and destroying the Babri Masjid.

The apex court ordered that kar sevaks be treated as state guests! This decision was helped by some leading Sangh parivar supporters, including Vijaya Raje Scindia, Swami Chinmayanand, et al. These leaders later reneged.

Then prime minister PV Narasimha Rao contributed substantially to the Hindu consolidation by systematically reducing the Masjid’s fortification, removing the iron spikes on the mosque’s wall, removing the concertina barbed wire surrounding it, and turning a blind eye to Ram Katha park being built next by the wall's side — which was raised by about four feet, making it possible for kar sevaks to climb over the tall Babri Masjid.

The kar sevaks gathered in lakhs from large parts of the country. The central paramilitary forces (CPMF) sent to protect the mosque were ordered not to shoot without specific orders.

On the morning of December 6, 1992, when the small troop of CRPF personnel protecting the disputed mosque moved out, hordes of kar sevaks climbed Babri Masjid's domes and destroyed the 16th century structure. The Union government stood by and watched, and the CPMF was not allowed to intervene. The Congress leadership believed that it would not be possible for the kar sevaks to destroy the old but sturdy mosque, which was repaired by the British in 1934 after a riot.

The Supreme Court too watched in silence, detaining only UP CM Kalyan Singh for a day following the event. Secular institutions and parties had failed. A makeshift Ram Mandir was erected in Ayodhya. The Ram Chabootra and Sita ki Rasoi were destroyed.

On the morning of December 6, 1992, hordes of kar sevaks climbed Babri Masjid's domes and destroyed the 16th century structure. Photo: India Today

The wily PM Narasimha Rao ordered a commission headed by high court judge RMS Liberhan to present its inquiry report about the demolition within 30 days. Justice Liberhan took 17 years to write an incomplete report. A nine-hour videotape and 48 audio cassettes were produced by Haridas Rao, Inspector General of the CID, which exposed the conspiracy. Though the Liberhan commission had this evidence — as some of us visited the office and were told the videotape and cassettes were in safekeeping — none of it was used to build a case. Since then, they have vanished.

This long narration is necessary to explain the continued communalisation of the country, including the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 at a time Narendra Modi was chief minister; the post-Ayodhya riots that Mumbai and Surat witnessed in December 1992-January 1993 and a stream of riots that followed. Secularism has been severely hit.

The minimal action taken against perpetrators of the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 has shown that communal mobilisation remains. The basic conclusion to draw is that communal clashes are often ensured by secular politicians, from GB Pant to Rajiv Gandhi to PV Narasimha Rao. To preserve communal harmony and secularism, we must learn from these terrible lessons and strengthen secular institutions. Parties and politicians must be more concerned with the strengthening of secular politics and practices. As the proverb goes: "Those who don’t learn from history, are doomed to repeat it."

Last updated: November 28, 2017 | 15:35
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