In Hyderabad last week, Lal Kishenchand Advani told assembled BJP functionaries from across the country that he was confident that a solution to the Ayodhya dispute would be found through a "dialogue" between the parties concerned. He went on to assure them that if a "positive" approach was taken, then a Ram temple would be built there (All India Radio news bulletin, 13 January 2004). For Mr Advani, clearly, the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya is not to be a consequence of whatever "solution" is found: it will itself be the solution. All other options are implicitly ruled out in this formulation. Only that is "positive" of which Mr Advani approves.
We must not forget that what he describes as a dispute is in fact the result of an act of vandalism perpetrated by the Sangh Parivar, the planned and organised destruction of a centuries-old structure. Many thousands of its soldiers had converged on Ayodhya, and photographic evidence showed that there was no shortage of crow-bars. Mr Advani was present, together with other luminaries of the Sangh Parivar; and it has always been widely believed that Mr Advani’s was the mind which planned the vandalism masquerading as a religious crusade.
But Mr Advani has since manoeuvred himself into the position of Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, a position of such power that he cannot be touched. Even the Central Bureau of Investigation seems to have accepted the need to say that Mr Advani was no more than an innocent bystander who happened to blunder his way into a ring-side seat from which he had the clearest possible view of the destruction of the Babari Masjid. For every witness who says that Mr Advani instigated the mob, this apostle of peace can produce a thousand who will say that he was in fact pleading with them not to damage it. We do not know if the cross-examination of such defence witnesses in the special court in Rae Bareilly was vigorous or half-hearted: we know only that the judge gave Mr Advani (but not seven others, oddly) the benefit of the doubt.
There are other things we do not know. According to a PTI report datelined 7 June 2003, Vinod Vatsa, Santosh, RC Khatri, Amar Nath Goyal and RN Das – the last being the priest for the pujas which were held within the Babari Masjid before its demolition – said that they had pulled down the structure at the instigation of Mr Advani and other senior BJP leaders. They said that the "VIP leaders" who had goaded them had had their own cases separated by "exerting influence". No further statements seem to have been made by these five men. It is as if they have lost their tongues or have ceased to exist.
We know that Mr Advani’s daughter-in-law Gauri, who was by then estranged from his son and had become a solicitor in London, sent to the Liberhan Commission a statement in which she described Mr Advani’s giving of an unambiguous indication to Mr Vinay Katiyar that the Babari Masjid should be pulled down. We know that Gauri Advani offered to come and depose before the Commission and that later she withdrew this offer. We do not know why she changed her mind, though at one stage she did speak of threats made by a person from the Indian High Commission in London. We also do not know why the Liberhan Commission has not acted on her statement, which she did not withdraw.
Deposing before the Liberhan Commission himself, Mr Advani described the pulling down of the Babari Masjid as an "illegal and forceful action" and said that for that reason he had "felt extremely distressed when the structure was demolished" (Rediff.com, 14 May 2001). He went on to say that while the VHP wanted to construct a temple at Ayodhya come what may, the BJP was committed to abiding by the judicial verdict in the case, given its respect for the Constitution of India.
What was not said was that Mr Advani had been the leader of the Ram Janmabhoomi "movement" and had whipped up passions with his notably bellicose rath yatra, during which words were hysterically shouted across the country which went directly against the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion. He was present when the Babari Masjid was pulled down, and his presence was known to the thousands of kar sevaks there, devout vandals who had been herded jointly by the BJP and the VHP despite Mr Advani’s claim that the two organisations had different approaches. The "Hindu" Undivided Family was one and its aim was one. No less a person than Bal Thackeray asked later, "Did the kar sevaks assemble at Ayodhya to sing bhajans (Amberish K. Diwanji, ‘A tale of two liars!’, Rediff.com, 18 April 2001)?" He might as well have asked also if Mr Advani was there only as a sound recordist.
Some have said that Mr Advani’s silence immediately after the demolition was his private celebration of the coming of his plan to fruition. He himself has implied that it was a reflection of his profound grief. But one wonders if there could have been another reason for it. When the police had fired into the air to disperse the mob at the time of the shilanyas, many people had died in the ensuing stampede through the narrow lanes surrounding the Babari Masjid. By 1992, though, the BJP government of Uttar Pradesh thoughtfully had the houses in the area removed so that there was clear ground across which a stampede would have caused little or no loss of life. The police were standing by with water cannon to safely disperse the mob.
But Mr Advani, though he could clearly see and hear what was going on, did not say the word to his junior in the Parivar hierarchy, Kalyan Singh, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh: so the police did nothing. The paramilitary force which had been brought in was also kept idle. There was thus no one to protect the object of all this security. Because Mr Advani stayed silent.
Mr Advani’s silence then only added to the strength of his voice, so that now he is able to invigorate his followers and guide them along the positive path of Hindutva.
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