It was an act of vandalism against a mosque and against India’s Constitution. On December 6, 1992, when the “kar sevaks” felled the Babri masjid in Ayodhya, they also demolished the assurance that vitally underpins the compact between the people and the state — that, as a matter of course, and when the going gets tough, and especially when it gets tough, the rule of law will prevail. India’s democracy has always been imperfect and its institutions have wobbled and wavered at critical moments, as during the Emergency. Yet the demolition of the mosque in 1992 marked a new turning point. It showed up the incompleteness and inadequacy of institutional mediation and due process in the face of those taking the law into their own hands in the name of historical grievance and religious sentiment. It bared the weakness and outright abdication of government before the mob. That the title suit still festers in courts, unresolved, 25 years later — the Supreme Court on Tuesday deferred the commencement of final hearings to February next year — only shows that India’s politics and institutions have still not recovered from the grievous blows they suffered on that day.
It was also the day when a political project was formally launched on the national stage, taking its place alongside, and in competition with, two other projects also born of that time. In the early 1990s, Mandal, Mandir and Market together reconfigured politics and sounded the death knell of the “Congress system”. From the vantage point of the end of 2017, it is possible to say that while all three have had remarkable degrees of success, Mandir has made the most visible mark politically and electorally. What began in the Eighties as a small agitation by fringe players, transformed into a major political framework in the 1990s and has only grown wider and deeper since. It has rearranged the political common sense, and shifted the political centre of gravity to the right. It has helped bring the BJP to power with a decisive majority at the Centre and it is contributing to its conquest of a growing number of states. It has shored up a majoritarian assertion in a nation of several diversities and stoked minority insecurities. It has also proved to be remarkably inventive and fleet-footed in addressing different contexts and changing audiences, be it in terms of learning the vocabulary of development and governance, or holding out the promise of upward mobility.
In a sense, the Ramjanmabhoomi movement has left the Ram temple behind. Whether or not the temple is built in Ayodhya, Hindutva politics is here to stay. Yet, having said that, it is also true that the demand for a temple on the site of the demolished masjid remains a test for the Hindutva project and for the polity at large. Once the apex court pronounces its verdict, the maturity or lack of it with which the BJP and other major players receive it will be an important portent of things to come. It will redefine the wound
and the healing.