Saturday, December 08, 2012

A Half-turn in History

By Swapan Dasgupta

Twenty years after the event, there is a dominant imagery of the demolition of the Babri shrine. Culled through photographs and long-distance video shots of frenzied karsevaks waving triumphantly from the 16th century domes, they convey vignettes of fanatics venting hate. This imagery is reinforced by writings in the English language that tell the story of despair at the assault on India’s syncretic traditions and tearful lamentations over a moment of “national shame”. Indeed, to a generation that has come of age in a glitzy, globalised, made-in-the-media India, ‘Ayodhya’ is often the casual shorthand for a dark past when menacing bigotry ruled the roost and when the “idea of India”—that mother of all cliches—came close to perishing.

There are, however, other imageries of December 6, 1992, that have been subsumed by the prevailing cosmopolitan discourse. In my mind, there is the unforgettable image of the middle-aged man, dripping blood from gashes all over his face and hands, rushing to a disoriented L.K. Advani and, on bended knees, offering him the tiny idol of Ram lalla that had been worshipped at the garbha griha since 1949. There is the meeting with the father of the two Kothari brothers who had been killed during the firing on karsevaks in October 1990, the first occasion when the shrine had been stormed. There is the picture of the group of nattily dressed youth from Andhra Pradesh leaving the venue at dusk chanting, “Ram lalla phir ayenge, bhavya mandir banayenge.”
That’s a promise that is likely to remain unfulfilled, maybe even in their lifetime.  There is a heavily guarded, completely barricaded, makeshift Ram temple that exists on the site. But the many thousands of consecrated bricks collected from all over India in 1989 and the scores of ornate pillars that have been diligently crafted by artisans following a design by the temple architect Chandrakant Sompura are likely to remain in storage at the nearby site for the foreseeable future.

An issue that was simmering locally since Mir Baqi built a mosque in 1528 on a site venerated by the Hindus of Awadh as Ram Janmasthan and which became embroiled in a legal tangle after 1949 when a Ram idol was placed inside the disused shrine isn’t likely to yield any quick solution. On April 26, 1955, the Allahabad High Court had observed that it “is very desirable that a suit of this kind is decided as soon as possible and it is regretted that it remained undecided for four years”. A judgement was finally delivered in September 2010—a 55-year delay—and was predictably sent to the Supreme Court where it festers.

Maybe it was wrong in the first place to expect their lordships to adjudicate on an issue that, whatever else it may be, was never a simple property dispute centred on 2.77 acres of land. Yet, for long years, nervous politicians, unwilling to shoulder the burden of a decision, fell back on a spurious let-the-courts-decide formula. In December 1992, that prevarication proved quite decisive. Had the Allahabad High Court not delayed its decision on the Uttar Pradesh government’s acquisition of the land outside the contentious 2.77 acres by over a year, it is entirely possible that the 16th century shrine would have survived the kar seva of December 6, 1992, and, indeed, many more kar sevas. After all, from December 1949, the Babri Masjid had been functioning as a Ram mandir—a Hindu temple in an unlikely building.

Legal issues were, however, never at the heart of the enormous mobilisation that, in the words of Advani, produced the “greatest mass movement” since 1947. To many, the awesome mobilisation, which began with the Ram shilan pujas of 1989 and became a national issue with Advani’s rath yatra from Ayodhya and climaxed with the December 6 demolition, was all about the reinvention of the Hindu vis-a-vis the ‘other’. In this scheme, righting the wrongs of history and undoing the medieval vandalisation of temples were symbolic of a larger transformation.

Hindu ne aaj kamaal kar diya,” gushed sikander Bakht, the BJP’s most prominent muslim face at the time, as he hugged colleagues at the Ashoka Road office.
Girilal Jain (a former Times of India editor and an intellectual voice of the Ayodhya movement) expressed this churning with characteristic bluntness in January 1993: “The structure as it stood represented an impasse between what Babar represented and what Ram represents. This ambiguity has been characteristic of the Indian state since Independence.... (In) my opinion, no structure symbolised the Indian political order in its ambivalence, ambiguity, indecisiveness and lack of purpose as this structure.... (Its) removal has ended the impasse and marks a new beginning.”

Read today, Girilal’s grand pronouncement may sound hyperbolic but in the surcharged atmosphere after the demolition there was a definite feeling (articulated, among others, by V.S. Naipaul and Nirad C. Chaudhuri) that India was witnessing a great Hindu ‘awakening’. “Hindu ne aaj kamaal kar diya,” gushed Sikander Bakht (the BJP’s most prominent Muslim face at the time) as he embraced colleagues at the party’s Ashoka Road office. In an article, written around that time, I had myself compared December 6 to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the storming of the Bastille.

In the event, history only half-turned. Did we miscalculate? Was the movement, in essence, merely an expression of visceral anger against the ‘other’? And was it purely momentary? Did the Hindu revert to his age-old celebration of ambivalence over certitude?

It is still far too early for definite answers. Yet, assessing the two decades that have lapsed since that fateful December afternoon, certain broad conclusions are in order.

First, the Ayodhya movement had a definite political context. It was nurtured and gained popular acceptance (particularly among the middle classes) in the backdrop of the Khalistani movement, the insurgency in the Kashmir Valley that led to the ethnic cleansing of the Hindus, and Rajiv Gandhi’s reversal of the Shah Bano judgment. Add to this V.P. Singh’s cynical Mandalisation of society and a picture of an India where the Hindus were being taken for granted. Ayodhya threw up a Hindu counter-challenge to divisive politics. Hindus, as a loose and amorphous religious community, predated independent India. Ayodhya created the political Hindu, a community that stretches far beyond those wielding trishuls recklessly and intervening with passionate incoherence on social media.

Finally, the Ayodhya years coincided with the gravest crisis of the ideological consensus forged by Jawaharlal Nehru. The disintegration of the Soviet Union, the rise of radical Islamism in the neighbourhood and the failure of the ‘socialistic’ way to deliver economic growth led to old shibboleths being questioned. Coming in the midst of this uncertainty, Ayodhya pushed the old order over the cliff. Later on, India moved tentatively towards market economics, material prosperity and a more pragmatic relationship with the world. Many of the grievances that had fuelled Hindu anger were tacitly addressed.

At the same time, the Hindu ‘resurgence’ was also marked by a significant failure. While political advances were made, there was a resounding failure to evolve an alternative intellectual tradition that built on the rich inheritance of pre-Nehruvian thought. It is this inability to systematically work towards building a viable counter-establishment that may explain why the optimism and hope created by Ayodhya has largely dissipated. It may also explain why the interpretation of a defining chapter has been left entirely to the ancien regime.

Outlook, December 17, 2012

1 comment:

Dr. Ajit R. Jadhav said...

I have not read your article fully.

This is neither something you can counter-argue with the simple expedient of putting your considerable commands over the English language to yet another forceful, if not dogmatic, use. Say, extolling McCauley in a moment, and simultaneously friendly winking at Naryaa Modi and his Berkeley PhD friends like Atanu Dey. All while (Marathi) "bombalaayach" or shouting from the rooftop, that you have had difficulty creating a place on the right in the, what, what do you your Bengali ancestors and your fucked up English/British cheater urge you right in the moment to say? On the right?


You bastard. Do you know I have been arranged to go jobless by your fucked up Delhi-wallahs, and that the blame must be taken home for much time, for having given respectability to not giving respect to my intellect, my mind, by your lovers in the BJP?

Yes, I did have an alcoholic beverage before I said it---the above. No, I wouldn't have cared to say it without the former---for all your life, all put together in one moment, nope, you couldn't have enticed me.


Just because you think you are, or you always have wanted to be, on the (morally) right (position), Swapan (no da (and also no "Shwopono" etc.), you don't have to (i) count on the better of your articles thus far, and (ii) the favorable impressions you have managed to garner, and, (iii) in a moment of the fit, throw your intelligence up in the air and start painting the town red with the n-th handed bad ideas borrowed from Chandan Mitra, you for whole life painted the town red with the (n-1)-th handed bad ideas, ...

... You get it, Swapan! I am not certain of your proclivity to rationality (i.e. homework of simple thought), but I am somehow inclined to believe that in the moments of intellectual defeat, you would neither be silent nor gracious.

Just like so many of your screwed up generation. (Also, in a way, mine.) For instance, the India Today promoted Bihari Muslim bastard (Hindi) "taklu" what's his name---these days, the editor of Mrs. Madhu Trehan run India Today, and, once down in his trenches, writing columns against Sharad Pawar---how much money the latter "ate." ... You know, what, Swapan, some fucking 30 years later, even Atanu Dey will become an editor of India Today, Times of India, and what not Gazzette of Government of India (various fighting Powerful Factions), let alone Chetan Bhagat. ... Hardly means anything.

Sorry, your range down was so deep below.

As to me. I have trouble keeping myself in the place, alright. But, no. You all are very very special bastards. For all my faults, something I couldn't have mustered all my life.

Recover. As to you, you do (rationally speaking) have some chances still left to do so. (That doesn't mean following that JPBTI Sudheendra Kulkarni and keeping on taking pole vaults.)

Jobless for a year now, when you---and every fucked up friend of yours, esp. BJP bastards, not to mention the Indira Congress etc.---regularly got paid,

and, honest, as always

You bastards!