Babri: In twilight of their careers, 3 leaders await verdict on their prime

File photo of BJP leaders L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti
On 30 September, former Deputy Prime Minister and BJP President LK Advani, former Education Minister and BJP President Murali Manohar Joshi and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister and religious preacher Uma Bharati will have to present themselves before a Special CBI court judge in Lucknow for a verdict on whether they are guilty of entering a criminal conspiracy that led to the demolition of the Babri mosque in December 1992. 

The leaders have been asked to be present personally. Bharati will likely not be able to make it – she has been diagnosed Covid-19 positive and is quarantined in a hospital near Rishikesh. The other two leaders are extremely vulnerable to the infection on account of their advanced age: Advani is 92 years old and Joshi is 86. 

But does it even matter any more whether they are declared guilty or exonerated of the charge? Now that the foundation stone for the temple has been laid, by no less than the Prime Minister of India, and work is going on apace? 

The construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya is a fruition of a promise made a long time ago by those who presided over the biggest mobilisation of people since the independence of India. Advani said in his autobiography that the demolition was ‘the saddest day of my life’ . Bharati has said that if the verdict is ‘guilty’, she will ‘go to the gallows smiling’ . 

Obviously, it won’t come to that. Nearly 30 years after the event, the verdict is being given now. Those who will be declared guilty of planning the conspiracy have the right to appeal to a higher court against the order. But the sense of shame, humiliation and helplessness that Muslims felt after the demolition, at being unable to save a place they claimed was sacred to them, can never be assuaged. Especially as the structure was disputed – in other words, for at least 15 per cent of India’s population, the destruction of the mosque meant the law could be kicked aside on the back of brute force.

Karsewaks climb over the dome of the Babri Masjid before it was demolished. File Photo

Ironically, though the political career of the three charged with conspiracy, rested on the destruction of the Babri Masjid, all three are in the twilight of their political innings. 

But this was not always the case. All three got acceptance and endorsement for the idea that Hindus must be mobilised to claim the Ram Janmabhumi. So effectively, they profited from being part of a conspiracy – if there ever was one – and certainly gained from the mobilisation of people around the idea that Hindus must have a temple for Ram at the spot he is supposed to have been born. Advani rose to the position of home minister and deputy prime minister; Joshi jumped on the bandwagon a bit late. But despite his stellar qualifications (he would have become a minister any way because of his contribution to Hindu ideological thought), it was the demolition that bestowed on him the equivalence he had always sought with LK Advani – why, no one could understand, because he was so revered by the BJP rank and file in his own right after he took out the Rashtriya Ekta Yatra in 1991-92 culminating in the unfurling of the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar, meant to symbolise India’s suzerainty over all parts of the country including terror-stricken Jammu and Kashmir. Bharati was accepted, despite being from the backward class, as another face of Hindu nationalism and represented the participation of all castes in the Hindu project. She rose to become chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and later, a union minister – though she lost both jobs largely because of her own intemperate personality. The Prime Minister, she said, has advised her to lose weight and she has made it clear to him and others that she will never grovel for ministerships. 

But consider the other side. Except Bharati – who by the way was denied the pride of place in Ayodhya at the temple foundation stone laying ceremony – the other two leaders of the mobilisation watched the ceremony on TV. Despite his role in putting the BJP on India’s political map, Advani had to write to party president Rajnath Singh to place on record, his disappointment in 2013, at the party’s decision to project Narendra Modi as candidate for prime ministership. He boycotted the BJP’s parliamentary Board meeting where this decision was taken. 

Joshi first said he would not yield on vacating the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat that he had represented 2009-2014, that Narendra Modi sought for himself. He had no choice. Not content with dimming the limelight, Joshi’s Lok Sabha seat was also taken away – the Rajya Sabha was the compensation: and it was only compensation. Both leaders were retired to the so-called Margdarshak Mandal, the house of elders for the party. It has not met more than once. 

There was a time both leaders would talk sotto voce about the rising ‘vyaktivaad’ in the affairs of BJP. Neither says anything any more. 

If the Special CBI court decides that the three leaders were guilty of joining a conspiracy to demolish the Babri Masjid, its import will only be legal. In the six years of the BJP’s rule under Modi, politics of the Ram Temple and the individuals associated with it, is long forgotten. As are the individuals associated with it.

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