Modern Chanakya's game,

Babri demolition revisited

The Librehan Commission report on the events leading to the demolition of Babri Masjid on Dec 6, 1992 has once again brought into focus a deplorable chapter in Indian history. Sadly, no contemporary historian has so far analysed all the dimensions of the catastrophic event. Librehan gives us only a unidimensional, flat narrative.

Several fault-lines had got entangled. There was, of course, the Hindu-Muslim fault-line but there were others, each aggravating the next one. There was the north-south factor within the Congress party. Upper caste, lower caste divide, amplified by the Mandal Commission report. Finally, there was a divide among the upper castes which came across as a Brahmin, non-Brahmin tussle, also primarily within the Congress party.

Let me explain. In the 1991 elections, the Congress, with 244 seats (272 are needed to form the government) did poorly in the Hindi belt. The balance of power within the party shifted towards the southern states.

Since the BJP had emerged powerful in the north, (120 from two seats in 1984) a sort of unstated compact emerged, particularly between P V Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee. The BJP would not be disturbed in its northern citadel. The Congress, short of a majority, would likewise not be threatened. This implied that Congress’ revival in the north would be kept in check. What was the game? Well, if the Congress revived in the north, leaders like Narain Dutt Tewari, Jagannath Mishra, even Arjun Singh may threaten Narasimha Rao, India’s first south Indian prime minister.

There are conspiracy theorists who believe that Narasimha Rao and his Sancho Panza, Home Minister S B Chavan, fell back on total inaction throughout the seven hours that the Babari Masjid was systematically pulled down because they were not averse to the BJP gaining in strength in the north to keep potential Congress challengers outside the playfield. Don’t forget, this was the very beginning of PVN’s prime ministerial innings.

Notice the paradox. There is a north-south divide within the Congress, but an unstated north-south rapport between the Congress and the BJP.
Part of this latter rapport had its roots in the caste divisions sharpened by the Mandal Commission report providing reservation in government jobs to ‘other backward castes’ or OBCs.

New wave

In the south and the Deccan belt, social reform movements had gradually ironed out caste divisions since the 1930s. It was in the Hindi belt where the political consequences of Mandal Commission set into motion turbulent, tectonic shifts. Emergence of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Kanshi Ram-Mayawati duet shook the entrenched caste elite which straddled both sides of the Congress-BJP divide.

The Ram Janmbhoomi-Babri Masjid conflict was the BJP’s device to consolidate Hindus around a potent, emotive issue. The Mandir movement, in considerable measure, was to neutralise Mandal. In other words, a desire to minimise Hindu fragmentation was at the heart of a movement which would not have become such a powerful movement had the Babri Masjid Action Committee not become the convenient counterpoint, incrementally and unwittingly strengthening the Mandir movement.

Another factor attended Narasimha Rao’s ascension to prime ministership. In the 1991 elections, Congress leaders who lost were N D Tewari, Lokpati Tripati, Rajendra Kumari Bajpai, Jagannath Mishra, Jitendra Prasada, Bindeshwari Dubey, K K Tewari, Vasant Sathe, V N Gadgil and Gundu Rao among others. All of these were Brahmins, clearly a casualty of caste politics aggravated by Mandal.

With 244 seats, PVN needed tacit agreement with Atal Behari Vajpayee’s BJP. This resulted in two contradictory schools within the Congress. K Karunakaran, like PVN, encouraged a soft line towards the BJP for his own circumstances in  Kerala.
There were RSS cadres in Kerala but the BJP had never won a seat. Since the RSS-BJP were primarily an anti-Marxist force in the state, whenever the combination worked for the Congress, it made a difference of just that one per cent vote needed for Congress-led UDF to win.

But Arjun Singh had to fight the BJP tooth and nail in Madhya Pradesh. Little wonder he was totally opposed to the PVN (and Karunakaran) line on the BJP. Over a period of time, this open disagreement acquired caste overtones.

The excitement generated by the Librehan report is temporary. It cannot resurrect the Mandir movement. The soufflé rises only once. But the historian owes to posterity a clinical appraisal of the events leading up to the darkest chapter in Indian History.

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