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.