That Elusive Hindu Vote
Posted on 1-May-2013
In a recent book published in India, its authors, Krishna and Dhirendra Jha, have painstakingly and diligently woven together the various strands of politics, personal ambitions and plain skullduggery on the part of a few sadhus and bureaucrats in the story of the installation by stealth of a statuette of child Rama under the central dome of a sixteenth century mosque in Faizabad-Ayodhya in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in the night 22-23 December 1949. A belated decision by the administration to lock the gates of the mosque while permitting a supposedly restricted form of worship of the Rama idol created a situation making it very difficult for the Muslim community to reclaim the mosque. Since then there has been a legal as well as political dispute--still unresolved-- over the question whether the place belongs to one or the other Hindu bodies claiming it to be the birthplace of the mythical Ramchandra or to one or the other Muslim claimants. Since the end of 1949, various Hindu political and semi-political outfits-- notably the Jana Sangh and its later incarnation, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishva Hindu Parishad--have from time to time talked of and mobilised their followers for constructing a temple of Rama at the place hoping that such talk and mobilisation will create such an emotional surge in their favour among India's majority Hindu community--about 82.5% of India's population--that they will have a permanent majority in their favour so that they can create a Hindu paradise in India, a Rama Rajya. In this prosperous, peaceful and militarily strong paradise, the minorities will have to acknowledge the superiority of Hindu civilisation and culture and the Hindus will at last have gotten over their feelings of humiliation at the hands of foreigners-- among whom the worst were the various groups of Turks and Afghans who conquered and ruled India and humiliated Hindus for about eight hundred years--who have over the ages come into India.
As Krishna and Dhirendra Jha convincingly argue, in 1949, the Hindu Mahasabha, isolated and unpopular because of its clear involvement in the assassination of Gandhi in January 1948, saw in the movement to reclaim the supposed birthplace of Rama at the site of the mosque which bore the name of Babar, the first Mogul ruler of India, an opportunity to shore up its political fortunes. Even though the Hindu Mahasabha men in Uttar Pradesh and their henchmen among the sadhus of Ayodhya succeeded in converting the mosque into a small temple of Rama in December 1949, political power remained beyond the grasp of the Mahasabha and its successors, the Jana Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party in all of India--with the exception of the territory of Delhi from time to time--for the next forty years. Until the general election of 1989, the Jana Sangh or the Bharatiya Janata Party remained small and marginal in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian parliament, the main source of political power. If after the 1989 general election the number of Bharatiya Janata Party members of the Lok Sabha increased from 2 to 84, it was not because of a surge in the party's popularity among the Indian electorate but because V. P. Singh, riding a wave of popular anger against the Indian National Congress and its leader Rajiv Gandhi, needed a coalition of diverse forces to give him a majority in the Lok Sabha and because for this reason he had worked out a seat sharing arrangement with the Bharatiya Janata Party and other political groups supporting him. When towards the end of 1990, V.P.Singh's coalition started crumbling , the Bharatiya Janata Party, in the hope of consolidating its hold on the imagination of Hindu masses organised a ratha yatra or a journey on a chariot--the chariot was nothing but a decked up motorised vehicle to give it the appearance of an ancient chariot of popular artists' imagination--across much of north India under the leadership of Lal Krishna Advani. Advani's aim was to take a large band of his followers to Ayodhya in order to to strengthen their resolve to build a temple for Rama at the place where the statuette had been placed in 1949 and routinely called the land of Rama's birth by diverse Hindu outfits. The government of the state of Bihar stopped Advani's progress by arresting him. But Advani created an atmosphere which made possible the demolition of the sixteenth century mosque in December 1992 by a mob of the flotsam and jetsam of Hindu society. In 1993, in the elections to seven state legislative assemblies--state parliaments--it did badly in three states of Hindi and also Hindu heartland. In Uttar Pradesh its numbers went down from 221 to 177 in a house of 425 members and in Madhya Pradesh it lost its majority, not to regain it for the next ten years. It barely survived in power in Rajasthan in the 1993 election. In Uttar Pradesh, the main theatre of the Rama temple movement, the Bharatiya Janata Party has not come back to power except once briefly as a junior partner of Ms. Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party. In that state the decline in its electoral fortunes has continued as is evident from the results of the last election there about one year ago. In 1998, the Bharatiya Janata Party did come to power in the federal government at the head of a coalition in which its partners forced it to abjure any attempt to build a Ram temple at Ayodhya: its rise to power in Delhi happened not because of any increase in the appeal of its Hindu chauvinistic ideas among India's voters but because of the disarray of political forces opposed to its ideology. The cliché popularised by Indian journalists and political pundits that Advanis's chariot journey of 1991 and the demolition of the mosque in 1992 strengthened the Bharatiya Janata Party and its appendages politically has no basis whatever in fact.
Hindu organisations like the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh, the Vishva Hindu Parishad and the Bharatiya Janata Party and its past avatars have never hidden their objective of garnering the support of the majority of the Hindu community by talking of its glorious past, of the humiliations suffered at the hands India's Muslim rulers and of the need for Hindu solidarity in the face of corrupting influences from inferior alien cultures. The Indian National Congress, never slow to remind others that it stands for a progressive, modern, secular and democratic India, has not hesitated to use Hindu symbols in order to attract the same Hindu votes which Hindu organisations and parties look upon as their special turf, when it has felt the need to do so. In 1949, when the Ram temple movement was being encouraged, the Congress Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, anxious to politically finish off members of the Congress Socialist Forum, a left wing pressure group within the Congress opposed in principle to all kinds sectarian politics, put up as a candidate at a by-election at Ayodhya a man who was almost an ally of the people behind the Rama temple movement against Acharya Narendra Dev, a highly respected leader of the Congress Socialist Forum, forced by circumstances to fight as an independent. The Congress Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, did nothing to help the members of the Congress Socialist Forum who theoretically were his allies on economic and social issues against the machinations of the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh or of other conservative elements in the Congress. Similarly, neither the Congress Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, nor the Congress Prime Minister of India took any effective and timely steps to stop the Rama temple movement or to take the correct administrative step of restoring the status quo ante December 1949 even after the Rama statuette had been placed inside the mosque. They allowed a rogue district administrator to ignore all norms of good administration and actively help the installation of the statuette. Similarly, the Indian National Congress was in power in Delhi when the mosque in Ayodhya was demolished in December 1992. Instead of taking preventive steps as the storm over the mosque was building up the Prime Minister of India tried to use the good offices of diverse middlemen such as heads of two important Hindu temples and a police official close to various Hindu religious establishments. He was sort of negotiating with the Devil rather fight him. He lamely took shelter behind a legalism that the federal government could not intervene in a matter of the governance of a state. Were his own sympathies with those who demolished the mosque or was it that the Indian National Congress did not want to lose the Hindu vote? Earlier, in 1986, when the Indian National Congress was in power in Delhi as well as in Uttar Pradesh, the long locked gates of the temple/mosque were briefly opened and a Congress sponsored foundation ceremony for a temple in the vicinity of the mosque had been organised. In diverse other ways the leadership of the Congress from time to time either deliberately panders to some of the most obscurantist sentiments of sections of the Hindu community or pre-emptively caves in to its pressures. Some of the more egregious recent examples of the former are: Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, a woman of European descent, born and brought up a Roman Catholic in Italy took a well publicised bath in Allahabad during one of the Kumbh melas, a bath which many Hindus would avoid taking because of the filth and pollution in those waters; during a time of public anger against the government, four government ministers from the Congress party paid special obeissance to Ram Krishan, better known as Baba Ram Dev, who is a very successful businessman selling yoga, diverse herbal preparations and some supposedly pure food products but who in ochre robes also parades as a holy Hindu ascetic; the Sikh Prime Minister of India and the Roman Catholic President of the Indian National Congress went and sat prominently close to the dead body of another ochre robed entrepreneur, prestidigitator extraordinary and seller of canned spirituality, Sathya Narain Raju, better known as Satya Sai Baba. One of the best examples of the latter was the reprimand administered to two archaeologists of the Archaeological Survey of India, who on instructions of the government wrote a paper about the claim that the chain of rocks stretching between India and Sri lanka across the Palk strait was the bridge Ramachandra's monkey army built to facilitate his transition to Ravana's Lanka because they said that both Ramachandra and his story were mythical.
All this raises the question about when the politicians of India whether of the Hindu parties and organisations or of the Indian National Congress will understand that there never will be a consolidated Hindu vote to be picked up by those who claim to be defendants of Hinduism. First of all there is no such thing as a single body of beliefs and practices which can be called Hinduism--upper caste Hindus, Yadavas, Kurmis, Jats, Patels, Shahs, Lingayatas, Vokkaliggas, Reddys, Kammas, Nairs, Boddis, Bodos, Vanyars, Chamars, Dusadhs, Mahars, Majhabis, Ezhavas, Santhals, Mundas, Oraons and many others, though all called Hindus, have varying beliefs and practices and they to a large extent live in their separate firmaments. There are very few issues other than issues concerned with daily living, issues that directly affect flesh and blood, that can stir the imagination of all these different communities which the single term Hindu embraces. Building of a Rama temple at Ayodhya at the site of the mosque of Babar or reclaiming the land on which in the place of of Hindu temples in Mathura and Varanasi mosques were built are certainly not among such issues. This is why the Bharatiya Janata Party or its predecessors and affiliates have time and again failed to acquire political power on the basis of the elusive Hindu vote alone and are unlikely ever to do so and this is why whenever the Indian National Congress or other parties claiming to pursue non-sectarian policies have pandered to Hindu orthodoxy, they have fallen between two stools. But also pursuit of the elusive Hindu votes or the votes of other religious communities leads even otherwise sane and enlightened politicians to encourage some of the most retrograde beliefs and practices. In so doing they do permanent damage to those communities by keeping them for ever in an age of mental darkness.