That fateful day

Events of December 6, 1992 assaulted both secularism and Hinduism. Consequences are still to play out fully

Written by Pratap Bhanu Mehta | Updated: December 7, 2017 7:21 am
The makeshift temple that came up on the rubble of the Babri Masjid. (Express Archive)

The 25th anniversary of that fateful day in Ayodhya when the Babri Masjid was demolished brings a sense of foreboding. The psychological and historical significance of that day is complex. But when all is said and done, it has to be admitted that the worst of our political tendencies that were on display on December 6, 1992, are now in the ascendant. Open majoritarianism and divisiveness is now a dominant cultural and political sensibility. The nature of the act that brought down the Babri Masjid structure, a form of violent vigilantism, is freely accepted in politics. The idea that something nebulous like community sentiment can trump the Constitution, values of equality and individual liberty, and the rule of law itself, is now considered political common sense.

The sensibility that informed the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, a kind of coarse, mediocre and insecure aggression, has become second nature to politics. The transformation of Hinduism that the events in Ayodhya represented continues unabated. Instead of its highest philosophical aspirations being guided by the plenitude of the world and a blissful realisation of the Self, Hinduism’s aspiration became defined by raw assertions of power. Its leadership, if we can call it that, came to be characterised by an odd combination of agitators and new-age hucksters.

Piety was replaced by a will to power. The cultural ideal that Ram constituted was finally reduced to a single point. The living reality of Ram, in an effective sense, had till this point never been erased. But by reducing Ram to a crude historical drama, India for the first time assaulted Ram. That fateful day assaulted the Ram of Valmiki, Tulsi and Kamban and countless other real Rams. They replaced it with the Ram of L.K. Advani and Adityanath and Ashok Singhal. Did faith live or die that day?

Then there was the corruption of all political parties under a feigned faith. As the Congress once again does the rounds of temples, it is worth remembering that it was its duplicity, its double-speak on constitutional values, its attempts to run both Hindu nationalism and Muslim identity politics together that brought us to this pass. Whatever its professed values, its credibility was reduced to a point from which it is still not recovered. The BJP had its ups and downs since the movement, but its organisation and commitment made sure that its views penetrated across a range of civil society institutions. But it is politically reaching a point where it will be hard for it to deny its core supporters the satisfaction of the temple being built. Almost all the elements of building the temple, creating a political momentum, opening up institutional spaces, are being put in place. We will give in out of sheer weariness. But the scars of divisiveness will continue.

Indian institutions have never been strong, and riot victims from numerous riots, including 1984, still await justice. But the role of non-elected institutions should come under the scanner. Cases were not swiftly disposed of from the early Fifties, keeping the ground perpetually open for facts on the ground to be distorted. Despite the Liberhan Commission, the leaders in that act of vigilantism have, 25 years later, not been called to account. The psychological message that sends, that you can get away with anything, so long as you can invoke faith, damages institutions.

For years, the Supreme Court has tried its old trick of a modus vivendi by deferring the decision. Now the Court has decided to resume hearings in February next year. It will not be appropriate to speculate how it will rule. But it is a fair institutional point that the Supreme Court has damaged its reputation and credibility so much over the last few months that it will have to go the extra mile of care, fairness and probity to ensure that whatever its judgement, justice is not only done, but seen to be done.

There is no question that on that day, a significant number of Hindus felt, even if briefly, a sense of catharsis. The range of psychological complexes behind that need to be unpacked. At a very immediate level, the rank opportunism of the Congress during the Eighties left the country insecure; from Salman Rushdie to Shah Bano, it was easy to indict the Congress. Thanks to the Rajiv Gandhi years, Nehruvian secularism became a byword for opportunism and corruption, not for liberty and rule of law. So the symbolic destruction of the so-called Nehruvian order became a live force in Indian politics. The demolition of the masjid represented that.

Second, as V.S. Naipaul, one of the few writers who has the depth to go to dark psychological spaces, understood, there were too many supressed histories in India; and the simple-minded historical pieties and institutional control of the Left-Congress alliance on history could no longer cope with these. The sense that many Indians have, of being denuded of their history and their own power to write it, was and remains widespread. Stories of cultural oppression win out because there is sometimes a comfort in victimhood; it directs attention away from our failings.

But more deeply, we could never say: It should not matter what the medieval India story is, let the historians argue it out. But we cannot tie the fate of the present to what happened in the 16th century. It binds us to the past more than it liberates the future. Babri Masjid is the symbol of the tyranny of the past over the future.

Hindutva as an ideology was constituted by resentment because it saw Hinduism as constituted by three deficits: It has no political centre, its history has been marginalised by others, and it is internally weak and divided. Ayodhya was the cheap psychological recompense for these deficits. It attempted to give a Hinduism a political identity and centre, it attempted to reclaim history, and one could always have a consciousness of strength by targeting minorities. But this sense of lack, once internalised, cannot be easily satiated because it is a flight from reality. It does not have the inner cultural resources to make Hinduism creative and progressive; instead, it sees diversity, creativity and plenitude as a threat. It has no ethical mooring, because its idea of strength is a crude masculine assertion, not the power of inner conviction. The agitators tied themselves to the yoke of the temple, because they felt Ram’s presence, his karuna, the least.

The events of December 6, 1992 assaulted both secularism and Hinduism, and the consequences are still to play out fully.

The writer is vice-chancellor, Ashoka University. Views are personal

For all the latest Opinion News, download Indian Express App

More From Pratap Bhanu Mehta
  • A claim for dignity

    It is morally obtuse and analytically misleading to see farmers’ long march as a demand for handouts..

  • Revisiting Shivpalganj

    As it turns 50, ‘Raag Darbari’ continues to tell the story of our politics, its crisis of meaning, with humour. ..

  • Art of scam management

    BJP thought it had a huge rhetorical advantage on corruption but after Nirav Modi, it looks like this issue will be a draw..

  1. S Suchindranath Aiyer
    Dec 7, 2017 at 11:38 am
    The idea of India was reduced to dust by Jinnah, Gandhi and Nehru who instigated the massacre of five million Non Moslems and the par ion of India. Babri demolition was just on consequence of the practice of the Quran and Hadiths
    1. R
      Dec 7, 2017 at 3:58 am
      First question you have to answer is how is there a mosque located on a Hindu holy site? Once, you honestly answer that question, jihadis and leftists will know why their opinions are worthless.
      1. R
        Dec 7, 2017 at 1:00 am
        Perhaps the author should step outside his "well" and respond to the following article, if he has the necessary intellectual honesty and courage. : firstpost /india/babri-demolition-it-is-important-to-recall-and-engage-with-injuries-of-the-past-to-heal-the-present-4245707
        1. ሆልይ ትርንትይ
          Dec 7, 2017 at 1:08 am
          I hope the author would also consult the excellent HISTORY book - "Political Violence in Ancient India" by Upinder Singh.
        2. ሆልይ ትርንትይ
          Dec 7, 2017 at 12:39 am
          SOME FACTS to ponder on: (1) Hindu Temple architecture is exemplary and many many spectacular examples of them still survive. (2) Using money donated by devotees a magnificent Swami Narayan Temple was built in Neasden London only a decade or so ago. In other words money is available, talent is available, and then WHY O Why Ram Temple is not being built. Is it to do with Location not being available or is there some more serious issue. I believe that love for Ram is not very deep among Hindus. Had there been genuine love for Rama, many many temples would have existed. But they did not. The focus on EPICS is a political ploy activated by Fascist Hindus. Just look at the g Sikh Temples all over India and abroad. Buddhist temples all over south-east Asia. Ram devotion is recent, politically motivated and therefore shallowly seated among Hindus.
          1. Robert Mitts
            Dec 7, 2017 at 3:35 am
            What makes you the expert on Hinduism?
          2. R
            Dec 7, 2017 at 12:20 am
            These sickos can't see beyond their invented narrative. The truth is, India never confronted its history of muslim atrocities on Hindus over many centuries. The destroyed temple outside my home town (with every statue defaced and limbs cut-off) is just one among thousands of pieces of living evidence we see everyday. Nehruvians perpetrated a monumental fraud on Hindus by inventing a history that narrates muslim rulers as candy and peaches towards Hindus. This author talked about "original sin" of societies in his recent article. Muslim atrocities on Hindus is one of the "original sins" of India. India will not have communal peace until this ugly truth is confronted and acknowledged. Instead, what we had was government funded historians inventing a false narrative that oppressed the Hindu iden y. This is simply cultural genocide. But History is too great a force to be toyed with by fraud and deception. There will be more babris until India confronts its true history.
            1. ሆልይ ትርንትይ
              Dec 7, 2017 at 12:45 am
              W H Y did India never confronted its history of Muslim on Hindus. The Answer is that other HINDUS aided and abetted Muslim rulers in the execution of such atrocities. W H Y has Hinduism never confronted its sanctified oppression of Dalits and Tribals of India.
              1. R
                Dec 7, 2017 at 4:00 am
                Eh? Hinduism is perhaps the only religion that has confronted its demons and tried to move past them. Sati was an issue centuries ago, its not anymore. Only Mullas cling on to their backward beliefs. When will Sunnis and Shias stop murdering each other? I have never heard of a Hindu bombig a temple, but Mullas have no trouble bombing mosques? Why? When will you confront this?
              2. ሆልይ ትርንትይ
                Dec 7, 2017 at 12:51 am
                SANCTIFIED OPPRESSION of Dalits is the ORIGINAL SIN of Hinduism.
                1. R
                  Dec 7, 2017 at 1:06 am
                  In case you have not noticed, the Hindu society has confronted its history of caste oppression head-on and been making concrete amends for 70 years and will continue to do so until the historical injustices are corrected. That is how you handle an original sin - by confronting the truth, acknowledging the truth and taking corrective action. Not by inventing a fraudulent history and oppressing cultural identify of people. But I don't expect closed minds to have an honest view on anything.
                  1. ሆልይ ትርንትይ
                    Dec 7, 2017 at 1:14 am
                    So let us see the Progress made (over the last 3000 Plus Years) Every single village in India, Dalits have their huts on the outskirts of the village. Most of these villages have separate wells for Dalits. Dalits have no HOPE of ever progressing in Hindu society. They are not allowed in Hindu temples. Their women and children are sexually exploited and the Police refuse to record their FIR. ALL this is happening NOW not in any distant past. You focus on Muslims because you are a Hindu Taliban.
                2. Load More Comments