Ayodhya has changed the political discourse of the country with events unfolding since 1949, after India started its journey as an independent sovereign nation on August 15, 1947. India began as a democratic country with socialist ethos at its core and the word ‘secular’ was rightly added to further the spirit.
But our lawmakers have failed us, right from 1947. Socialist and secular are all encompassing words that signify and qualify every other word that has become essential to our political discourse today, i.e., nationalism and even Hindutva. Nationalism had to be an extension of our socialist and secular ethos. Hindutva had to be nothing more than a way of life practiced by the majority in the country which gave equal respect to all other ‘ways of life’.
But we have messed it all up and as a results, the words that should define the spirit of our diverse society, have become mere tools to maintain political goalposts. Socialism, secularism, nationalism, Hindutva, all have come to define different goalposts in a society that is still trying to make sense that where it intended to go when it began its journey 70 years ago.
And Ayodhya has played a central role in this narrative. And the events that shaped this narrative are:
DECEMBER 22, 1949 – RAMLALLA IDOL PLACED: Ending over 400 years of status-quo. The history says, though then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was furious at placing of the idol in the disputed structure, he was never alert enough to visit Ayodhya even once.
19 FEBRUARY 1981, MEENAKSHIPURAM CONVERSIONS: A Tamil Nadu village, Meenakshipuram, saw a mass conversion, and was renamed as Rahmat Nagar. It was the beginning of the ascendance of majority appeasement politics in the country as opposed to minority appeasement that dominated the politics of the country till then. Talks of Ayodhya and Ram Janmabhoomi to be taken in a mission mode began here.
1984 – THE SHAH BANO CASE: The way Rajiv Gandhi surrendered before the compulsions of minority appeasement and overturned a Supreme Court ruling on a social malaise that was affecting millions of Muslim women, it further sent out a message that government was ready to go to any extent to save its votebanks. It also sent a powerful message that the government that was so appeasement centric that it could overturn a historic decision of the top court of the land, could never be friendly to the interests of the majority. And there were many takers of it.
FEBRUARY 1, 1986, ORDER TO UNLOCK THE GATES: Though a local court ordered it, the governments, at centre and in Uttar Pradesh, were so complicit that they never thought to challenge it in a higher court. Instead, the padlock was immediately opened after the judge’s order who quoted his religious experiences while delivering the judgement. It was in stark comparison to Rajiv Gandhi’s stand on the Shah Bano case. That was pure minority appeasement. But the stand taken here tells us that Rajiv had started feeling the pressure of a parallel political movement taking shape that was adopting majority appeasement and had chosen the most direct tool to reach out to the masses – religion. Rajiv’s stand also tells us he might have seen that it was going to be the future’s political currency and therefore, let’s try hands there.
1989 – UNRAVELLING OF THE BOFORS SCAM: A pure political development that added to various sorts of pressures increasing day by day on Rajiv Gandhi and his government.
1989 ELECTIONS – PRESSURE OF MISHANDLING SRILANKA: A foreign policy fiasco that further dented the credibility of Rajiv Gandhi.
1989 SHILANYAS OF TEMPLE BY VHP: It is said that, both the Congress government in Uttar Pradesh and at centre, could have stopped it. But when see that Rajiv Gandhi began his poll campaign for the 1989 Lok Sabha polls from Faizabad, we can easily find why they didn’t take proper legal interest to stall the VHP’s plans.
1989-91 – VP SINGH’S JAN MORCHA AND MANDAL POLITICS: VP Singh had left Congress on the issue of the Bofors scam but the pressure on him to save his coalition government pushed him to latch on to something that would again derail the Indian ship. He chose to branch out his majority appeasement politics by trying to divide the majority society into different higher and lower castes, through the Mandal proposals, that we now know as India’s caste based reservation system. Though VP Singh could not reap its benefits, we, as a society, are still cursed to weather its bad effects when we find that caste-equations and not development define the core agenda of the parties.
ANTI-MANDAL VIOLENCE AND PRESSURE ON VP SINGH: Implementation of the Mandal proposals led to widespread demonstrations and violence. It increased pressure on the VP Singh government to the extent that he had to go soft on Ayodhya, another important element of the majority appeasement politics.
SEPTEMBER 25, 1990: ADVANI KICKS OFF HIS RATHYATRA – THE MANDAL SPIN: The BJP cleverly used the deepening Ayodhya sentiments and the anti-Mandal protests to its advantage. It could make voters believe that it was their right representative in these circumstances. The electoral gains made by the BJP supported it. The party that could win just two seats in the previous Lok Sabha polls in 1984, won 85 seats in 1989.
OCTOBER 30, 1990: Police firing on kar sevaks in Ayodhya led to five deaths. Mulayam Singh Yadav was Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister. Another 15 kar sevaks were killed in police firing on November 2. Mulayam’s acts sent out a message that he was all about minority appeasement or as his political opponents could make people believe, at least those who did not vote for Mulayam and the 2017 UP assembly polls tell us that the sentiment has got stronger.
1991: The BJP’s first big political foray in the mainstream. It came to power in five states – Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh. It was the beginning of the emergence of a political alternative in India that would make Congress like a regional party in 25 years, as the Congress’ situation is now. And this emergence was built on majority politics, opposed to Congress’ minority politics.
DEC 6, 1992: Babri demolition and the aftermath – the riots of December 1992 that engulfed the country. The Bombay riots of December 1992 and January 1993 and subsequent serial blasts in India’s financial capital that killed scores. The majority Vs minority started becoming central to the political discourse in the country.