Babri Mosque Massacre in Secular India


By: TimesOnline

World Agenda: BJP in the frame

for Babri mosque massacre

Hindu militants attack the Babri mosque, 1992

(AFP/Getty Images)

The demolition of the Babri mosque triggered a wave of religious violence that claimed 2,000 lives

For 17 years, the destruction of the Babri mosque by a Hindu mob in the northern town of Ayodhya has marked one of the darkest days in the history of independent India.

The demolition, on December 6, 1992, is making headlines once again after the official inquiry into the razing of the 16th-century mosque – an event that triggered a wave of religious violence across India that claimed 2,000, mostly Muslim, lives – was leaked yesterday, forcing the Government to make the full findings public.

The report, prepared by a former judge, Justice M.S. Liberhan, blames several senior figures in the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – including the former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee – for inciting Hindus to commit violence while giving outward assurances that they were doing their best to maintain calm.

The indictment of Mr Vajpayee will shock many in India, as he was supposed to represent the moderate face of his party. The harshest criticism, however, appears to be directed at Kalyan Singh, a BJP-linked politician who was chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, the state in which Ayodhya is located. The Liberhan Commission concludes that he orchestrated a “pogrom”.

The central government of the time, by contrast, appears to have been largely exonerated – even though most analysts believe the prime minister of the day, P.V. Narasimha Rao, a member of the Congress Party, could have done more to protect the mosque, especially as the Supreme Court had ruled that it should be left standing.

The findings, though open to charges of political partisanship, confirm a widely accepted version of events. Senior BJP figures – most notably L.K. Advani, the party’s current leader, who is also named as culpable in the Liberhan report – had campaigned for years for a Hindu temple to be built on the Ayodhya site. Indeed, the demand remains a BJP policy. The party’s argument: is that the Babri mosque was built by a Muslim invader at the birthplace of Lord Rama, the Hindu god.

Behind the BJP – then and now – stands the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a shadowy 83-year old movement that wields enormous power but prefers to stay out of the limelight. The RSS claims to campaign peacefully to rid India of the legacies of foreign invasions, such as Islam. Its final aim is to establish a state built entirely on hindutva – or “hinduness”.

That mission seems to have floundered. The BJP took a mauling in the general election this year in favour of the opposition Congress Party, a secular movement that has fostered an economic renaissance and which boosted its popularity by shelling out billions of pounds worth of aid to the poor.

The RSS, as a consequence, seems to have slumped into an enforced period of self questioning, unsure what its role should be in today’s India. The criticism meted out by the Liberhan Commission seems likely to undermine its claims to have adopted a new ethos of inclusiveness – though it may also serve to galvanise its extreme core.

Analysts suggest that India’s rising economic fortunes have neutered the RSS’s rallying cry – that Indian secularism is tilted in favor of the country’s minorities. Nevertheless, the mindset behind the Babri destruction persists. It was behind the anti-Muslim riots that erupted in Gujarat in 2002 and anti-Christian violence in Orissa last year.

An attack on women dressed in Western-style clothes in a pub in Mangalore this year by members of the hardline Hindu group Sri Ram Sene suggested that the RSS’s rejection of “alien” cultures still has a resonance.

The Liberhan Commission’s findings are not binding. It is likely that those it judges culpable – most of them old men now – will escape punishment for their roles in the Babri massacres. The report is still important, however, in that it spells out that politicians are guilty not only if they actively organise violence, but also if they stand aside while others incite it.

As it says of the BJP hierarchy at the time of the Babri demolition: “They have violated the trust of the people …There can be no greater betrayal or crime in a democracy and this commission has no hesitation in condemning there pseudo-moderates for their sins of omission.”

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