India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is exploring various options to boost its electoral fortunes in the forthcoming general elections. As usual, in the past, its main strategy is raining nationalist sentiment against Pakistan, and Hindu fascist sentiments against India’s beleaguered Muslims. It came to power in 1998 on the back of its anti-Muslim Hindutva program, and within days -- even before winning enough seats in the parliament to justify its forming a government -- had declared India as a nuclear power.
Now, as time and time again in the past, the BJP and its associated Hindu organization are returning again to the ‘Ram Temple’ issue. On October 17 the Uttar Pradesh government managed to foil the attempts of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) fanatics to storm into Ayodhya, where the 464-year-old Babri Mosque was destroyed in 1992. UP police foiled the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's plans to hold a congregation as part of its Ram-Temple construction-campaign, after arresting Ashok Singhal, its top leader, and hundreds of activists thronging Ayodhya for the programme. Karsevakpuram, the venue for Sankalp Sabha (assembly for taking a pledge to build a Ram Temple on the cite of the Babri Mosque), was deserted well beyond Sankalp Sabha's scheduled time, with police barricading the area and arresting the fanatics at various locations within the town.
As thousands of Sangh Parivar fanatics converged on Ayodhya from every direction by various routes (even along the railway tracks), the police prevented them from reaching Karsevakpuram. On October 18 Pravin Togadia, a notorious VHP leader, said that if the Muslims do not withdraw their cases pertaining to Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi, then the Hindus will forcibly take away as many as 30,000 mosques. Togadia also demanded that the government withdraw the Muslims' Hajj subsidy, and added that he awaits the day when the prime minister will say, while taking his oath of office, that he is assuming office as the Hindus' saviour.
After having failed in its attempt to hold a Sankalp Sabha, the VHP is now planning to approach the courts and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) against the government of Uttar Pradesh government for its alleged persecution of the Ram bhakts (literally "devotees of Ram") who were heading towards Ayodhya to take part in its Sankalp Sabha. The VHP will place all the evidence before the courts and the NHRC to expose the state governments, said Ashok Singhal, adding that the VHP will soon be compiling a book containing details of atrocities against the Ram bhakts by the state government, which will be distributed to every village in Uttar Pradesh.
Mulayam Singh Yadav, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, who is known for his staunch anti-Sangh Parivar stand, thanked the central government ironically for its cooperation in foiling the VHP's efforts on October 17. By extending the necessary help, the centre has maintained the true traditions of federal structure of the country, Yadav said. Perhaps Yadav has forgotten that when in 1990, when he was chief minister of the same Uttar Pradesh, he stopped the advances of Advani's Rath chariot, which had threatened to destroy the Babri Mosque. Advani, Vajpayee et al had criticised the secular policies of the then Congress government. Today the VHP is blaming the BJP for its secular policies. On October 18 the VHP vowed to remove secular forces from power and make India a Hindu nation. VHP leader Ashok Singhal said that "to make the country a Hindu Nation is our ultimate objective." Singhal also warned prime minister A.B. Vajpayee that he should mend his secular ways.
Because of the VHP's determination to go aheadwith its programme on October 17, and the violence in 1990 and 1992 is still in their minds, some Muslim families moved away from Ayodhya temporarily. Several doors in the predominantly Muslim areas of Gariwan Tola, Saidwara, Beghumpura, Quaziana and Kotia were locked on October 16. "The family of Farooq of Gariwan Tola left a few days back," said Rahees Ahmed, another resident. Similarly, the families of Rafique and Sasiullah had gone to stay with their relatives in nearby districts, Ahmed added.
Sudhakar Adeeb, additional district magistrate, said that he had no knowledge of Muslim families leaving town. The administration made special security arrangements in Muslim localities, and seemed committed to ensuring that no harm came to them and their properties. If over 2,500 Muslim lives meant nothing to Modi and Vajpayee, why should a few Muslim families matter to a district magistrate?
On October 16 more than 25 Muslim families left the vicinity of Ayodhya because of VHP threats. Thousands of Sangh Parivar cadres arrested on October 17 have already been released by the police. Yet thousands of Muslims arrested under TADA and POTA are still being held in Indian jails, several years after being arrested. On October 21 the cabinet even approved an ordinance to amend the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) to confer more powers on the central and state review committees.
Criticising the VHP for its confrontationist attitude to Ayodhya, the BJP said on October 19 that entire political spectrum should find an "amicable" solution to the contentious issue in the light of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) report on the site of the erstwhile Babri Mosque. "The BJP does not agree with the VHP's confrontationist and provocative views on the Ayodhya issue, but it's a stand that cannot be wished away till an amicable solution is found," party general secretary Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told reporters. One wonders whether Abbas is aware that it was the same BJP that mobilized Hindu mobs in 1992 to demolish the Babri Mosque in broad daylight?
Chinmayanand, Union minister of state for home affairs, the central government's pointsman on Ayodhya, said on October 18 that recent ASI findings prove what the Hindu community has been claiming all along. He said that if both the Muslim and Hindu communities respected eachothers' beliefs, then the Ayodhya issue could be solved amicably and the people could live in harmony. Noted historian Irfan Habib criticised the ASI report on Ayodhya as "unfortunate" after Advani and his followers had destroyed the Babri Masjid in full view of the nation. Habib called the ASI report an "unfortunate piece of [politically] motivated writing".
Chandrababu Naidu, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, who is hailed for his role in making Hyderabad a hub of information technology, was almost assassinated on October 1. A naxalite group, The People War, tried to warn Naidu off his "liberalization" policies, which have resulted in the suicides of hundreds of farmers in Andhra Pradesh.
On October 18 the government of Orissa decided to upgrade chief minister Naveen Patnaik's security from Z category to Z-plus because of the perception of increased danger from the Naxalites. The chief minister was warned by the People War of a similar attack to the one on his counterpart in Andhra Pradesh, unless police atrocities against the general public were stopped. However, Vajpayee's government and the media only talk about assassination attempts on Mufti Muhammad Sayeed,the chief minister of Kashmir, and the unrest in the valley-- and of course, by default, about Pakistan-based terrorism.
Abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution, to remove all powers from Kashmir, is another of the BJP's objectives. On October 18 Vajpayee even hinted that "Pakistan Occupied Kashmir" (what Pakistan calls Azad Kashmir) might be snatched away. Referring to the recent OIC meeting held in Kuala Lumpur, Vajpayee lambasted those who advocate the right of self-determination in Kashmir, and called upon Pakistan to vacate the territory. "Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is an integral part of India, and wherever talks are held we will make it an issue," Vajpayee insisted.
Muslim leaders still seem to be failing to realize that the Sangh Parivar agenda is utterly anti-Muslim. Some of these leaders have even agreed to "negotiate" with the government for an "amicable solution" to the "dispute" about the site of the Babri Mosque. The Sangh Parivar has made it quite clear over the years that nothing less than a Ram temple there is acceptable to the Hindus.
Muslims are still begging for judicial solutions for every injustice that they face, while the oppressed peoples of India are waiting desperately for a leadership that will dismantle the undemocratic am politics of the "world's largest democracy". India needs historians and journalists of integrity and courage who will expose the hollow claims of the Sangh Parivar. History and archaeology have substantially proved that Ram is a mythological figure, albeit one that some Hindus find useful for political purposes. Unfortunately India seems to have few political leaders who are willing to give their allegiance to truth and justice, to counter the populist, nationalist appeal of the BJP and its associated fascist groups to the raw, undisciplined emotions of their people.