Bharatiya Janata Party leader Lal Krishna Advani’s written answer to me sometime in 1992
Anniversaries of seminal news events afford fading journalists like me the excuse and opportunity for a “been there, done that” reminiscence. I suppose there is not much else that one can really claim by way of accomplishment.
Today, that is December 6, 2012, marks the 20th anniversary of one of independent India’s most defining and wrenching political, social and cultural moments. It was today in 1992 that the Indian state suffered its worst body blow as fanatic Hindu groups razed the contentious Babri mosque at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh.
Hundreds died in the immediate aftermath in riots that broke out in the country and subsequently at least 2000 others were killed in violence triggered by the event.
The destruction of the mosque constructed in 1527 by Babur, the first Mughal emperor of India, and which bore his name was claimed by Hindu groups to have been built after destroying a temple heralding the birth of Ram. In fact, Hindu groups had steadfastly maintained that this was the spot where Ram, one of the most important figures in the Hindu pantheon, was born and hence its name ‘Ram Janmabhoomi’ (The birthplace of Ram).
Ideally, I would have liked to reproduce a highly controversial interview that my colleague Tarun Basu and I at the IANS wire had done with the BJP stalwart Atal Behari Vajpayee three days after the seminal event. It was the only interview Vajpayee had granted and had chosen Tarun and I by name. I could not find the newspaper clipping of that interview this morning but I remember a profoundly anguished Vajpayee, visibly disappointed and disgusted at the turn of events in Ayodhya, had called it the “worst miscalculation and misadventure” of which he wanted no part.
He had bemoaned that “moderates had no place” in the party. When I pressed whether he was resigned to the marginalization of moderates, he had probably misunderstood to think that I was asking him whether he would resign. He answered something to the effect, “Ab kahan jayenge? (Where will I go now?”) When I find the clipping I will reproduce it.
I could dwell on the complex historical and cultural aspects of the issue but for today’s post I would restrict myself to a small part of an hour-long interview I had with Lal Krishna Advani, the politician then credited with having single-handedly revived the fortunes of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which led the anti-Babri mosque movement.
After the interview, which I recall took place only months after the Babri destruction, I realized that I had forgotten to ask him one particular question. I have kept that piece of paper on which I wrote the question and sent it to Advani even as I was leaving his home. (See below)
The note said, “ Dear Mr. Advani, Since you seem pressed for time I would not persist with raising the remaining questions but I would appreciate if you could answer just one question.
Q: In the event of the BJP coming to power, what will be the status of the 200 million odd non-Hindus?”
Advani was gracious enough to actually handwrite his answer (See at the top of the post) in which he said, “The Indian Constitution guarantees equality and justice to all citizens, irrespective of their faith.
The BJP holds that this commitment of our constitution makers is a commitment of the nation. Anything else would be contrary to our history, tradition and culture.
The BJP rejects theocracy. In India we can never have Class I citizens and Class II citizens as you have in Pakistan and several Islamic countries.”
I found Advani’s reply characteristically mature but equally intriguing given that it was he who had been credited with having given the so-called Hindutva (Hinduness) movement a sharp political edge with the Babri agitation. During one of his subsequent interactions Advani told me that he saw the destruction of the mosque as wrong and in contravention of “true Hindu values.”
So this my little slice from those days of political tumult.