Thirty one years is a very long time in politics but when it comes to the BJP’s stand on Kashi and Mathura, it’s hardly a blink.
The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, that is being tested by the Gyanvapi survey, the law that the Supreme Court, in its Ayodhya ruling, linked to the secular nature of the nation, was stridently opposed by the BJP when it was first brought in by the Congress’s P V Narasimha Rao Government on August 23, 1991.
The law froze the status quo for all places of worship as of August 15, 1947, with the exception of Ayodhya since it was already in court.
Parliament records show that opposing the law, the BJP said it appreciated this exception and demanded a similar exemption for Krishna Janmabhoomi in Mathura and Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi, the two sites that are back on the frontburner today.
In the Lok Sabha, discussions began on September 9 and the Bill was passed the next day, September 10. The Rajya Sabha passed the Bill on September 12 – almost a year before the Babri Masjid was demolished.
In the Lok Sabha, the Bill was opposed by BJP veteran L K Advani – it was a year after his Rath Yatra — who led his party members to walk out of the House, protesting against the Bill. Along with his colleagues Uma Bharti, Ram Naik and Madan Lal Khurana. In the Rajya Sabha, BJP leader Sikander Bakht led the charge.
Bharti, then MP from Khajuraho, was the lead speaker who opened the debate. “I would be thankful to the Government that Ayodhya has been excluded from the purview of this Bill,” Bharti said.
And then went on to frame her opposition: “I heard in childhood that pigeons fear the presence of cats. Pigeons are so innocent they believe mere closing of eyes will prove to be an effective shield against cats. But this is not correct. Maintenance of status quo as in 1947 in respect of religious places, is like closing eyes similar to that of pigeons against advancement of cats. This maintenance of the status quo of 1947 will mean preservation of tension for the coming generations.”
Bharti flagged the Gyanvapi mosque: “Twenty days ago, I went to Varanasi to visit Gyanvapi… I saw the mosque built on the remnants of the temple, some sort of current of anger ran through my body. I felt disgraced at the fate of my ancestors, who I think were challenging my womanhood and asking me, whether the intention of Aurangzeb was merely to build a mosque, then why were remnants of the temple left.
“Was not the intention of Aurangzeb behind leaving remnants of the temple at the site of the mosque to keep reminding Hindus of their historical fate and to remind coming generations of Muslims of their past glory and power?” she asked.
“Owners of bullock carts in villages, create a wound on the back of the ox and when they want their bullock-carts to move faster they strike at the wound. Similarly. these disputes are wounds and marks of slavery on our ‘Bharat Mata’. So long as ‘Gyan Vapi’ continues in its present condition at Banaras…it will remind us of the atrocities perpetrated by Aurangzeb,” Bharti said.
Drawing a parallel to “Draupadi’s Chirharan” in Mahabharata, Bharti urged the members to “come out open and oppose the Bill.”
Advani said, “I do not know how helpful this Bill would be, but I certainly know that we are not solving those problems which are behind all the tension and we are passing this Bill to create tension at the places where it is not existing.”
Earlier, moving the Bill for consideration of the House, then Home Minister S B Chavan said, “It is considered necessary to adopt these measures in view of the controversies arising from time to time with regard to conversion of places of worship which tend to vitiate the communal atmosphere.”
In the Lok Sabha, 21 members participated in the debate and only four members— three from the BJP and one from the Shiv Sena, Ashok Anandrao Deshmukh, opposed the Bill.
Supporting the Bill, Congress member Mani Shankar Aiyar said, “Today, there is an opportunity for secular forces to come together and fight communal forces and get rid of the politics of communalism.”
Ghulam Nabi Azad, Parliamentary Affairs Minister in the Rao government, made a brief intervention in the debate. He said, “According to Pt. Nehru, temples and mosques are those which irrigate the fields, supply us food and lead the nation towards advancement.”