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Published in the 16-30 Nov 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

SPECIAL REPORT

Advani again rakes Mandir issue

By PM Damodaran

L.K. AdvaniLucknow: With the former Prime Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. L.K. Advani, at the helm of affairs, the Bharatiya Janata Party is looking again to the Ayodhya issue for its survival. After the BJP’s debacle in the May Lok Sabha elections and in the recent Maharashtra Assembly polls, the party found that only the Hindutva and the Ayodhya issue could help the party’s revival. 

Mr. Advani, who took over the reins of the BJP from Mr. Venkaiah Naidu, made his first attempt to win back the party’s core constituency by reiterating its commitment in constructing the Ram Temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya. Addressing a meeting of the BJP delegates from all over the country in New Delhi, where his nomination as the party President was confirmed, Mr. Advani said that the building of a magnificent Ram Temple in place of the make-shift temple was inevitable.

The new BJP chief disclosed that the Atal Behari Vajpayee government had been on the verge of arriving at a solution to the problem through a negotiated settlement between the Hindus and Muslims before the Lok Sabha polls. Mr. Advani also said that the Hindu and Muslim leaders, who were involved in the talks, were in favour of a consensus soon after the Lok Sabha elections were over. He felt that if the NDA government had been returned to power at the centre, the construction of the temple would have begun now. But he hastened to add “for his party, the temple construction was more important than the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections!” Who can believe this?

In an unexpected and significant twist in the Babri Masjid demolition case, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court on November 2 issued notices to 19 Sangh Parivar leaders, including the Bharatiya Janata Party President, Mr. L.K. Advani; former Union Minister, Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi and the Shiv Sena chief, Mr. Bal Thackeray. The case now will be taken up on December 16.

The High Court judge Justice M.A. Khan’s order had come on a criminal petition filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in June 2001 against the order of Special Judge (Ayodhya matters), Mr. S.K. Shukla on May 4 that year dropping the proceedings against 21 accused, including Mr. Advani, in the mosque demolition case. The Special Court had issued this order after the High Court had in 2001 set aside the constitution of the former for the trial of Ayodhya case number 198 (relating to the case) on technical grounds.

It may be recalled that Justice Jagdish Bhalla of the High Court had set aside the constitution of the Special court since the Uttar Pradesh government did not seek the prior permission of the High Court chief justice for doing so. Justice Bhalla had, however, observed that the criminal proceedings could be revived in this court if the state government properly issued a fresh notification rectifying the mistake.

However, the state governments under the BJP led by Mr. Rajnath Singh and the subsequent Mayawati government did not act on the High Court proposal. While Mr. Singh was not expected to act on the High Court proposal for obvious reasons, the Chief Minister Ms. Mayawati could not do so because her government was then surviving on the support of the BJP. Mayawati government later revived the Rae Bareli court, which had earlier been set up for this purpose before the Special Court in Lucknow was constituted, for hearing the case. The Rae Bareli court acquitted Mr. Advani and ordered the charge-sheeting of others though charges against all were the same. Later others, including, Dr. Joshi, got stay orders against the Rae Bareli court order from the High Court.

Apparently, the CBI was not seriously pressing the June 2001 revision petition for the last more than three years on the plea that a petition seeking the hearing of the demolition case in one court, either in Lucknow or Rae Bareli, was pending before the Supreme Court. But on November 2 the CBI counsel pressed the revision petition that led to the present order. Earlier there were 21 accused in the case. While one Mr. Moreshwar Save appeared in the case, another, Mahant Ramachandra Paramhans died during the pendency of the revision petition. 

The CBI decision to press its revision petition of June 2001 had come following a change of political guard at the centre after the Lok Sabha elections earlier in May. The CBI, during the past three years’ of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) rule, was apparently hesitant to proceed against Mr. Advani, then the deputy Prime Minister; Union Human Resources Development Minister, Dr. Joshi and other Sangh Parivar leaders for obvious reasons. In fact the CBI did not even effectively act against the acquittal of Mr. Advani by the Rae Bareli court by appealing against it. 

The former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr. Kalyan Singh alleges that the pressing of the revision petition by the CBI was an act of witch-hunt by the United Progressive Alliance government at the centre. But how it can be a witch-hunt when none of the accused persons could get themselves acquitted by a court after a proper trial. They only tried to delay a verdict in the case by taking the benefit of loopholes in the laws instead of trying to clear their names from the case. In fact, Mr. Singh had taken pride in going to the jail (for the sake of temple) when he was chief minister of Uttar Pradesh for not keeping his promise of safeguarding the mosque on December 6,1992!

Surprisingly, the High Court order has come in the wake of Mr. Advani’s attempt to revive his party by raking up the Ayodhya Ram Temple issue and Hindutva. Among others who had been issued notices besides Mr. Advani, Dr. Joshi and Mr. Thackeray included Sadvi Ritambara, Miss Uma Bharati, Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders, Mr. Ashok Singhal, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, Mr. Vishnu Hari Dalmia and BJP leader, Mr. Vinay Katiyar (PMD).


But Mr. Advani’s claim that the Ayodhya issue should have been resolved through negotiations between the leaders of the two communities soon after the Lok Sabha elections if the BJP was returned to power virtually has no takers. The leaders of the two communities had been admitting for quite some time now that no worthwhile talks were in progress. Particularly the Muslim community is of the view that the dispute now should be resolved through a court verdict in the title suits than through negotiations because talks have proved futile. They also point out that the hearing in the title suits is progressing fast and a verdict is not too far away. 

Apparently Mr. Advani’s statement was meant only for the consumption of the hardcore Hindutva base. During its six-year rule, the National Democratic Alliance could not do anything to settle the dispute. In fact, many of the NDA allies had always been against the revival of the controversial issues like Ayodhya, uniform civil code and abrogation of the Article 370 by the BJP.

While the NDA allies and the left parties were critical of Mr. Advani’s statement, it was not received with enthusiasm by the Hindu religious leaders either. Among the NDA allies, the Janata Dal (United) was vocal against the BJP’s attempt to rake up the Ayodhya issue. A resolution passed at the national executive of the Janata Dal (U) held at Ranchi had said “the statements on Ayodhya have created uncalled for controversies and a feeling in the minds of people that the BJP is charting its own course with Hindutva as its driving force”. The party has also decided to seek a clarification from Mr. Advani on his statement. The Janata Dal (U) obviously feels that the issue may backfire on the party in the next year’s Assembly elections in Bihar where it has a base. 

On the other hand, the Akali Dal has also criticised Mr. Advani’s statement. Its senior leader Mr. Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa felt that if the BJP wanted to continue its relations with its allies, it would have to stick to the same line that it had adopted during the five years in power. Other parties like the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) are also unhappy over the former Deputy Prime Minister’s statement. 
The criticism of the allies like the Janata Dal (U) and the Akali Dal over the attempt by the BJP to rake up the Ayodhya issue cannot be taken seriously. Earlier too, on various occasions, the allies had criticised the BJP over this and other issues but ultimately they fell in line with the saffron party. In fact, these parties have no other alternative but to toe the line of the BJP. 

The Hindu sants and Mahants in Ayodhya were also skeptical over Mr. Advani’s intentions in making the statement. Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, president of Ram Janambhoomi Trust, commented that it needed a vanvas (exile) for Mr. Advani to turn to Rama again. “Where was his love for Rama when he was the deputy prime minister?”, he asked. Mahant Purushottamacharya of Sugreev Kila, Pawan Das Maharaj of Gokul Bhawan, Mahant Jagdish Das of Hanuman Bagh and Maithili Sharanji of Lakshman Kiladhish also did not attach much significance to Mr. Advani’s statement and many doubted his real intentions. 

In fact, the saffron wave was dwindling in the Faizabad area, of which Ayodhya is a part. The BJP lost the Faizabad seat to the opposition in the Lok Sabha elections though it was earlier held by the party leader, Mr. Vinay Katiyar. Recently in the bye-election from Milkipur Assembly seat in Faizabad, the BJP candidate lost miserably and even lost the security deposit while polling only 6000 votes. 

Expectedly, the left parties, the CPI and the CPI(M) came down heavily on the BJP and Mr. Advani for its renewed tilt towards the Hindutva and Ayodhya. The two parties have decided to evolve a strategy to counter the BJP’s Hindutva agenda.
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