Phase Four (1977-97)

ImagePhase Four (1977-97) is the period when Advani emerged as an important national leader. It describes his sterling work in Parliament, and also as the Minister of Information & Broadcasting in the Janata Government (1977-79), in dismantling the legal edifice of dictatorship created during the Emergency. It also provides a penetrating account of the disintegration of the Janata Party and the formation of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). A particularly engaging section of this phase is a narration of the BJP’s active participation in the movement for the reconstruction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Advani writes: ‘(It) soon snowballed into the largest mass movement in the history of independent India. The spectacular public response to my Ram Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya in September-October 1990 far exceeded my own expectations. Just as the struggle against the Emergency opened my eyes to the Indian people’s unflinching faith in democracy, the Ayodhya movement opened my eyes to the deep-rooted influence of religion in the lives of Hindus of all castes and sects across the country. The Ayodhya movement also brought to the fore people’s revulsion for pseudo-secularism, as practiced by the Congress party, communists and some other parties, and projected my party, the BJP, as a spirited champion of genuine secularism.’ The phase ends with a captivating narration of another important political campaign in Advani’s life — the Swarna Jayanti Rath Yatra, which marked the Golden Jubilee of India’s Independence.

THE END OF THE DARKEST PERIOD IN INDIA’S HISTORY

A dictator must fool all the people all the time and there’s only one way to do that, he must also fool himself.

—WILLIAM SOMERSET MAUGHAM, ENGLISH NOVELIST AND PLAYWRIGHT

With 1976 fading away, there were growing indications that the sun would set on the Emergency rule too. Indira Gandhi’s unpopularity at home was increasing by the day and, internationally, the only supporters that she had were the Soviet Union and its puppet regimes in the communist bloc. In spite of strict press censorship, information about the excesses and atrocities committed by her government was spreading across the country and abroad at a speed that unnerved the Prime Minister. I am always amazed by the power of word-of-mouth publicity, which dictators fear more than the printed word but are utterly powerless to censor. This primitive mode of communication became the most effective carrier of the truth about the Emergency and her son Sanjay, more especially in North India, than stories of forcible sterilisations. As part of the government’s family planning programme, government employees were given ‘targets’ to fulfil, and they, in many places, started targeting poor and illiterate people in rural areas for mass vasectomy and hysterectomy operations. Population control was no doubt a laudable objective in a country like India, but here was a classic case of a good idea going out of control, and consequently earning a bad name due to its coercive implementation. Image

If nasbandi (the forcible sterilisation programme) earned the wrath of the common masses, the class of educated Indians was aghast at the brazen sycophancy of the Prime Minister and her son in Congress circles. The slogan ‘Indira is India and India is Indira’, coined by the then Congress President Devkant Barooah, repelled people’s patriotic sensibilities. Barooah had once declared during the Emergency: ‘The country can do without the Opposition. They are irrelevant to the history of India.’

Towards the end of 1976, Indira Gandhi began to realise that she was getting increasingly isolated. The Emergency rule, she knew, could not be sustained indefinitely. The term of the 5th Lok Sabha had already ended in mid 1976. Through a Constitutional amendment, the Prime Minister had the life of the Lok Sabha extended by one year, allowing herself to rule by decree till the end of 1977. She had three options before her: (a) to further prolong the Emergency rule and also the term of Parliament beyond 1977; (b) to hold fresh parliamentary elections in conditions of the Emergency; and (c) relax some of the harsh provisions of the Emergency, release political opponents from jail, hold parliamentary elections quickly, get re-elected and continue the authoritarian rule in a new form.

Indira Gandhi understood that the first two options were simply out of the question. Either of them would have intensified violent revolts at home against the Emergency regime and also exposed her government to harsher condemnation from the world community. After all, she could not have completely ignored her father’s widely acclaimed legacy of nurturing parliamentary democracy in newly independent India. But she reposed her confidence in the last option, reckoning that, since the Opposition parties were out of action since mid-1975, she would easily romp home if she held elections in early 1977. Like all dictators, she allowed herself to be swayed by the relentless propaganda being carried out by her own government-controlled media about the success of her ‘Twenty-Point Programme’, to which Sanjay had added his own ‘Five-Point Programme’. Her sense of invincibility was further boosted by the coterie of ‘yes-men’ she had surrounded herself with.

I had no doubt that the new year would be the harbinger of positive developments. The entry in my prison diary on 31 December read: ‘The closing day of the year brings particularly happy tidings for our jail. Madhu Dandavate’s detention is revoked. He is given a warm and affectionate send-off.’

While in Bangalore jail, I was in regular communication with political prisoners in more than forty jails across the country, often receiving letters from them in coded language. On 7 January, I received a telegram with the following message:

Met prominent members of joint family about the new house to be set up. Proceeding to see grandfather today.

—Madhu Bala Advani.

I knew that the telegram was from Madhu Dandavate and decoded its contents. I was happy that after his release he had been able to contact colleagues from different Opposition parties, discuss with them the idea of forming a single new political party, and was now proceeding to Patna to seek the guidance of Jayaprakash Narayan in this matter.

My diary entry on 16 January was: ‘The Indian Express carries a lead story saying that the Lok Sabha polls are likely by March-end or April beginning and that a formal announcement to this effect may be made on the opening day of Parliament’s next session’. Sure enough, two days later, on 18 January 1976, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi announced the dissolution of the Lok Sabha.

‘THEY STOLE THE FREEDOM OF 600 MILLIONS, BUT THEY JUST COULD NOT DESTROY THEIR HOPE!’

Something interesting happened on the morning of 18 January, which I learnt of later. Having no idea of the impending political developments, Kamla, my wife, had come to Bangalore in early January, along with our children. She was anxious about when my prison sentence would end and I would be back at home. On 17 January, a relative of hers, at whose place she was staying, asked her, ‘You seem to be very restless. Why don’t you go to Whitefield and have darshan of Sathya Sai Baba*, who is staying there these days? You will get some peace of mind.’

* Sathya Sai Baba is one of the most revered Indian spiritual personalities. His main ashram is in Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh. There are over 1,200 Sathya Sai Baba Centres in 114 countries worldwide with millions of followers engaged in a wide range of devotional and humanitarian activities. Baba’s motto is: ‘Love All Serve All’.

Kamla, who had never met Baba, agreed to go the very next day. An early morning car journey brought her and our two children to Whitefield, a suburb of Bangalore, where Baba’s ashram is located. As usual, there was a large gathering of devotees waiting to see Baba, who was seated on a chair at one end of a large hall. Kamla, along with her relative and our children, was standing at a distance, indistinguishable in the assembly. To her utter surprise, someone came up to her and said, ‘Baba is calling you.’ She went to Baba, and did namaskar, at which Baba placed his hand on her head and said, ‘Your husband will be released from prison soon.’ For Kamla, this came as a complete surprise. She had not been introduced to Baba, nor had she told him anything about me. With her heart palpitating wildly, she returned to her relative’s house, only to be greeted by a waiting police officer who said, ‘Advaniji is going to be released from the Central Jail shortly. Would you like to come there to receive him?’

As I stepped out of prison, I was greeted by Kamla, Jayant and Pratibha. It remains one of the most unforgettable moments of my life. I was happy to be a free man once again after spending nineteen months as a political prisoner in free India. Nevertheless, I was rather reluctant to come out of jail, since many of the other hundred-odd political activists held under MISA at the Bangalore Central Jail were not yet freed. Kamla, however, reassured me saying, ‘If they have released you, they will surely release the others, too.’

My last diary entry, just before my release on 18 January, read: It is around 1.30 in the afternoon when the jail superintendent, Chablani, comes to my room and says that a wireless message has arrived from New Delhi revoking my detention order…. I spent two or three hours in the other wards. There is the usual sendoff function as well. Somehow the release news has not made me happy. The bulk of those still inside the jail are Jana Sangh activists. They are releasing only the leaders or legislators to gain publicity. In fact, as the head of the organization, I feel oppressed by a sense of guilt that while I am being released, junior colleagues of mine are still held back.… When at 5.30 or so I returned to my room I found a heap of letters lying on my table. They are more than 600, all of them from abroad, sent by members or associates of Amnesty International. Most of them are Christmas or New Year greeting cards, but there is a line or two inscribed on each, which gave strength, confi dence and hope to all of us engaged in the struggle. Here is a sample—a Christmas greeting from one Laurie Hendricks from Amsterdam. She wrote:

Freedom and hope don’t go hand in hand. They can steal your freedom, but can’t take away your hope.

Yes, they stole the freedom of 600 millions, but they just could not destroy their hope!

THE LOTUS BLOOMS The Birth of the Bharatiya Janata Party

A subject that has fascinated me throughout my political life is how Indian voters determine their preference in elections. At times, the pattern is predictable; most often, it is not. Given the vast diversity of the Indian electorate, it is usually impossible to predict the outcome of a poll. However, there are times when the voters, collectively, behave almost as if they are guided by a single emotion, and give advance indication of their behaviour. ‘Collective Consciousness’ and ‘Group Mind’ are concepts that are increasingly engaging the attention of psychologists and behavioural scientists. However, even without a formal training in these concepts, an experienced political activist can, at most times, predict which way the electoral wind is blowing. I had done so before the 1977 general elections, which were held in the aftermath of the Emergency. And I did so again when mid-term elections were held in early 1980 after the dissolution of the 6th Lok Sabha. I knew that the Janata Party was heading for a rout and Indira Gandhi would return to power. The reason was simple. If ‘anger’ against the Emergency was the emotion that had swept the Janata Party to power in early 1977, another emotion—disillusionment with the Janata government’s collapse under the weight of its own internal power struggles—was going to influence the behaviour of the voters this time around.

The gigantic scale of the Janata Party’s defeat made me aware of a new aspect of electoral behaviour. When voters want to teach an errant political party a lesson, it is mostly anger that prompts them to do so. However, in 1980, we learnt that even intense disillusionment can provoke them to punish a party that does not live up to their expectations. Indira Gandhi’s winning slogan in the 1980 elections was: ‘Vote for a Government that Works’. It had its effect on the voters since they were repelled by the constant infi ghting in the Janata Party. Even the various achievements of Morarjibhai’s government—such as restoration of democracy and civil liberties; bringing prices under control; agricultural and industrial growth; sincere efforts to normalise relations with Pakistan and China; success in strengthening relations with the United States without jeopardising the traditional cooperative ties with the Soviet Union, etc.—were eclipsed by the self-destructive political conduct of some Janata leaders. This gave credence to Indira Gandhi’s pejorative description of the Janata government as ‘khichdi* sarkar’.

JANA SANGH MEMBERS EXPELLED FROM THE JANATA PARTY

The electoral debacle intensified the debate within the Janata Party over the ‘dual membership’ issue, which had remained dormant till the parliamentary elections. On 25 February 1980, Jagjivan Ram wrote a letter to party President Chandrashekhar demanding a discussion on the issue. An attempt was made to blame the defeat entirely on the ‘obduracy’ of those who had earlier belonged to the Jana Sangh and had refused to sever their association with the RSS. Atalji and I took strong exception to this. In one of the party meetings, I said that we were being shunned like Harijans—political untouchables—within the party. ‘The Janata Party,’ I observed, ‘had five constituents—Congress (O), Bharatiya Lok Dal, Socialist Party, CFD and the Jana Sangh. Of these, politically speaking, the first four were ‘dvijas’*, the twice-born members of the party, whereas the Jana Sangh was kind of a Harijan adopted into the family. On the occasion of the ‘adoption’ in 1977, there was a lot of rejoicing. But as time passed, the presence of a ‘Harijan’ in the family began to pose problems for it. Enemies of the family began ostracising it on the grounds that it had a ‘Harijan’ in its fold. You throw out the Jana Sangh, only then can we have communion with you: this became the attitude of many in the political world towards the Janata Party. Not that they have anything to complain about the conduct of the ‘Harijan’ boy. In fact, they often praise him. But they cannot forget his caste. It is his parentage that is the obstacle.’

THE 6TH OF APRIL 1980: A NEW POLITICAL JOURNEY BEGINS

Our expulsion from the Janata Party came as a big relief to all of us from the Jana Sangh. But at the same time, we were deeply saddened by it. After all, our merger in the Janata Party in 1977, responding to the call of venerable Jayaprakash Narayan, was total and unconditional. Both psychologically and politically, we had identified ourselves completely with the new party. Those of us from the Jana Sangh never indulged in groupism, nor tried to gain partisan advantage for our own ‘faction’ while in power. On the contrary, we made sacrifices for the sake of preserving unity and cohesion in the Janata Party. Therefore, our moment of final parting from the Janata Party evoked mixed emotions in my heart, and in the hearts of all my colleagues: loss, sadness, good-riddance and finally, liberation!

The two-day national convention on 5-6 April 1980 added another invigorating emotion—that of determination. Over 3,500 delegates assembled at Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla ground and resolved, on 6 April, to form a new political organisation called the Bharatiya Janata Party. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was elected its first President and I, along with Sikandar Bakht and Suraj Bhan, was given the responsibility of General Secretary. There was considerable speculation in political circles about whether the new party would mark the revival of the Jana Sangh. Atalji dispelled these speculations with a categorical assertion in his presidential speech. ‘No,’ he said, ‘we shall not go back. We do not want to project that we want to revive the Jana Sangh in any way. We will make use of our experience in the Janata Party. We are proud to have been associated with it. And although we are out of it now, we do not want in any way to disown this past. We look to the future, and not to the past, as we begin our endeavour to rebuild our party. We shall move ahead on the strength of our original thinking and principles.’

Thus, our stress right from the beginning was not on harking back to our Jana Sangh past, but on making a new beginning. This was also evident in the vigorous debate that took place among senior colleagues on the name of the new party. Some felt that it should again be called the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. But an overwhelming majority endorsed Atalji’s proposal that it be named ‘Bharatiya Janata Party’, which, while affirming our proud link with both the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and the Janata Party, connoted that we were now a new party with a new identity. We were determined to chart a new course, while, at the same time, retaining the old. By including the word ‘Janata’, we made it clear to the people of India that we considered ourselves to be the true inheritors of the legacy of the Janata Party.

Our association with Jayaprakash Narayan had a significant influence on our new thinking. We were inspired by his personality and his core beliefs. The effect was greater since he too had, jettisoning his earlier misconceptions about us, built a bond of respect and mutual trust. Our new thinking was also evident in the symbolism of the new party. The backdrop on the dais at the BJP’s inaugural convention at the Kotla ground displayed the portraits of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, founder of the Jana Sangh; Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya, the ideological guide of both the Jana Sangh and the BJP; and, notably, Jayaprakash Narayan. The new party also decided on a new symbol and flag. The ‘diya’ (lamp) of the Jana Sangh gave way to the ‘lotus’.

‘WHO SAYS THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE TO THE CONGRESS ? I AM SEEING ONE IN FRONT OF ME.’

As we embarked upon a new phase in our political journey, an unforgettable milestone came in the form of the BJP’s first plenary session in Bombay on 28-30 December 1980. Nearly 50,000 delegates congregated under a specially erected tent at a sprawling open ground near Bandra Reclamation adjoining the Arabian Sea. The venue was appropriately called ‘Samata Nagar’ to underscore the BJP’s commitment to social and economic equality. The plenary session of the party’s National Council was marked by a display of overfl owing enthusiasm, confidence and determination on the part of both the leaders and the delegates. In a short period since the formation of the BJP in April, as many as twenty-fi ve lakh new members had been enrolled and party units had been set up in practically every state in India. Even the Jana Sangh at its peak had only sixteen lakh members. As per the BJP’s constitution, Atalji was formally elected President by the National Council. His presidential address on that occasion must rank as one of the important speeches in the political history of independent India.

Explaining the context that made the formation of the BJP a necessity, Atalji said, ‘It was not with any happiness that we parted company with the Janata Party. From beginning to end, we kept exerting in order to preserve the unity of the party. We were conscious of the pledge we had taken at Raj Ghat in the presence of Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan to maintain the unity of the party. But by converting the non-issue of dual-membership into an issue, a situation was created in which it became impossible for us to continue in the Janata Party with any honour and self-respect.… The Janata Party, formed because of the inspiration of Loknayak Jayaprakash, has disintegrated. But his vision of a glorious India is still with us. We shall not allow it to be obliterated. His dreams, his labours, his struggles and his unflinching commitment to certain basic values are part of an invaluable legacy that we have inherited. The Bharatiya Janata Party is pledged to pursuing his unfinished task.’

Declaring that the BJP would be a ‘party with a difference’, Atalji said, ‘We can organise the party only if we are able to establish credibility in people’s minds. The people must feel convinced that here is a party different from the crowd of self-seekers who swamp the political stage, and that its aim is not somehow to sneak into offi ce and that its politics is based on certain values and principles.… Manipulative politics has no future. There is no place in the BJP for people madly in pursuit of post, position and pelf. Those who lack courage or self-respect may go and prostrate themselves at the Delhi Durbar. So far as we are concerned, we are determined to wage a relentless struggle for democracy and social justice. With the Constitution of India in one hand and the Banner of Equality in the other, let us get set for the struggle.’

Atalji’s concluding words, spoken in poetic Hindi and with the oratorial flourish that was uniquely his, were full of hope and inspiration. ‘Standing on the shores of this ocean beneath the Western Ghats, I can say with confidence about the future: “Andhera chhatega, sooraj nikalega aur kamal khilega!” ’ (Darkness will be dispelled, the sun will rise and the lotus shall bloom!)

The Bombay session will also be remembered for the special appearance of Mohammed Currim Chagla, a former minister in several Congress governments at the Centre and a hero of the struggle against the Emergency. In his address, Chagla, who had by then long retired from politics, remarked, ‘Who says there is no alternative to the Congress in the country? I see the alternative right in front of me in the form of the Bharatiya Janata Party. And in Atal Bihari Vajpayee, I see the alternative to Indira Gandhi.’

Chagla pointedly refuted the charge that the BJP was a communal party. ‘Indira keeps repeating,’ he said, ‘in the newspapers and on radio every other day that this party is dominated by the RSS, that it is communal, and that every communal riot that takes place is caused by the RSS. This is a charge that I would like to refute. The BJP is not a communal party.’ Advising the BJP to project itself as a national alternative to the Congress, he said, ‘I admire your discipline, your honesty and your dedication. Let me now suggest that you project your future as a national party.… Look at other parties, like the Lok Dal or the Congress (U). These parties have leaders without followers. The communists may have a following, but they are not national parties. They look to Moscow or Peking to get their orders. So their credentials for consideration as replacements for Indira Gandhi are immediately ruled out. Therefore, this is the only party left.’ All the newspapers in the country took note of the historic significance of the Bombay session of the BJP. I must make a special mention here of what Janardan Thakur, who was then the Editor of Onlooker weekly, wrote: ‘I have just returned from the BJP session in Bombay with one certainty: Atal Bihari Vajpayee will, sooner or later, become the country’s Prime Minister. I am not saying he may, I am saying he will. Mine is not a prediction based on stars, for I am not an astrologer. It’s a prediction based on a close hard look at the man and his party. Vajpayee leads the party of the future. Both have blossomed.’

The Ayodhya Movement

When India’s Soul Spoke

I regard the Ayodhya movement as the most decisive transformational event of my political journey. As every student of India’s contemporary history will attest to, its impact on our society and polity—indeed, on our sense of national identity—has been tremendous. Destiny made me perform a certain pivotal duty in this movement, in the form of the Ram Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya in 1990. I performed the duty with conviction, sincerity and to the best of my abilities and, in doing so, discovered India anew while rediscovering myself. The Ayodhya mission for me was thus both a time of intense action and intense inner reflection. Why did the demand for the construction—rather, reconstruction—of a temple at Ramjanmabhoomi in Ayodhya gain such unprecedented support from the Hindu society? Why did it give rise to the biggest mass movement, with pan-national appeal, in the history of independent India? Why were hopes belied for the peaceful, lawful and amicable resolution of an issue that had needlessly been converted into a divisive Hindu vs Muslim dispute? Did not the Congress party play a duplicitous role in the events that led to the demolition of the Babri structure on 6 December 1992—and also to the construction of a proto-temple of Lord Ram in Ayodhya? What is now the way forward to reach a lasting solution to this dispute?

RECONSTRUCTION OF THE SOMNATH TEMPLE

What it meant for India’s renaissance

To understand the Ayodhya movement in its right perspective, it is necessary first to know the history of another landmark temple reconstruction endeavour in independent India—the Somnath Temple at Prabhas Patan on the coast of Saurashtra in Gujarat. Those unfamiliar with our country’s mythological and historical past will find it difficult to appreciate how this single ocean-front temple reveals so much about India’s travails and triumphs, its national self-assertion as well as its cosmic quest. One of the books I had read in my youth was Dr K.M. Munshi’s historical novel Jai Somnath. Originally written in Gujarati, I had read its Hindi translation, which left a deep impact on me. Munshi, who is better remembered as the Founder-Chancellor of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, an institution renowned for the propagation of Indian culture and philosophy worldwide, was a great scholar, dedicated Gandhian and a respected freedom fighter from Gujarat. His novel provides a riveting description of the glory of the ancient temple of Somnath, the first of the twelve revered jyotirlingas across the country.

Perhaps no other pilgrimage in India combines the eternal with the historical as vividly as that to the Somnath temple. Its very location and architecture leave a spellbinding effect on the visitor. A shrine at the top of a mountain—and many Hindu shrines are indeed located at the summit of mountains, necessitating an arduous climb to get a darshan of the deity—makes the devotees think of the heaven above, and of the life beyond our transitory earthly existence. In contrast, an ocean-front temple makes them think of both the geography and history of their Motherland. Whenever I have visited Prabhas Patan and watched the waves of the sea lapping up the feet of the Somnath temple, I have wondered how much of India’s timeless history has been witnessed by this imposing and lonely-looking shrine.

Munshi’s novel provides a poignant account of how Somnath was both a witness to, and a target of, foreign invasions during the medieval period. Mahmood Ghazni, a Turkish sultan of the province of Ghazni in Afghanistan, attacked India seventeen times in a span of twenty-five years between the years AD 1001-26. Somnath was a particularly coveted target for him. Muslim chronicles indicate that 50,000 Hindus died in the battle for Somnath in AD 1024. The Shiva lingam was destroyed by the sultan himself. After the battle, Mahmood and his troops are believed to have carried away vast amounts of gold and other riches stored in the temple. They are also said to have taken Hindu statues and buried them at the entrance of a mosque in Ghazni so that the faithful could trample on them. Munshi’s novel describes not only the destruction and pillage of the Somnath temple, and the betrayal by some Hindus on account of petty caste considerations, but also the heroic defence by its devotees, who would reconstruct it after each successive attack.

There are various accounts of why and how Mahmood Ghazni attacked Somnath. In his book Pakistan or The Partition of India, Dr B.R. Ambedkar refers to the raids on Somnath and quotes the description given by Al’Utbi, the historian of Mahmood Ghazni: ‘He demolished idol temples and established Islam. He captured…cities, and destroyed the idolaters, gratifying Muslims. He then returned home and promulgated accounts of the victories obtained for Islam…and vowed that every year he would undertake a holy war against Hind.’

It is appropriate for me to quote here what Swami Vivekananda said about the lesson of medieval iconoclasm in India’s history. ‘Temple after temple was broken down by the foreign conqueror, but no sooner had the wave passed than the spire of the temple rose up again. Some of these old temples of South India, and those like Somnath in Gujarat, will teach you volumes of wisdom, which will give you a keener insight into the history of the race than any amount of books. Mark how these temples bear the marks of a hundred attacks and a hundred regenerations, continually destroyed and continually springing up out of the ruins, rejuvenated and strong as ever! That is the national mind, that is the national life-current. Follow it and it leads to glory.’

HOW SOMNATH WAS REBUILT

Sardar Patel’s resolve, Mahatma Gandhi’s blessings, K.M. Munshi’s battle and Rajendra Babu’s Presidential stamp.

It is therefore only natural that, when India became independent, many Hindus felt that 1947 should signify not only freedom from British rule but also a clean break from those aspects of the pre-British history that were identified with subjugation, assaults on Hindu temples, vandalising idols and erosion of our noble cultural traditions. Further, since India’s independence was accompanied by blood-soaked Partition on the basis of a communal demand by the Muslim League, it was only natural that the cultural reaffirmation of India’s nationalist spirit would, to some extent, to seek appropriate Hindu idioms and symbols to articulate itself.

One such occasion presented itself in the princely state of Junagadh in Gujarat’s Saurashtra region where the Somnath temple is located. Over eighty per cent of Junagadh’s population was Hindu, but its Nawab was a Muslim. On the eve of Independence, the nawab announced the accession of his state to Pakistan. This enraged Junagadh’s Hindus whose revolt against the nawab culminated in their setting up a parallel government under the leadership of Samaldas Gandhi, a local Congress leader. The Nawab, an uncaring and decadent ruler, who was highly unpopular with his people, sought the support of Pakistan. All his tricks were of no avail, so one night he finally fled to Pakistan. Samaldas Gandhi and the Dewan of Junagadh, Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto, who, incidentally, was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s father, conveyed to India that Junagadh was acceding to India. Munshi recalls in his book Pilgrimage to Freedom that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first Home Minister and the chief architect of the integration of the princely states into the Indian Union, handed over the telegram of accession to him with the words: ‘Jai Somnath’.

Four days after the take-over of Junagadh on 9 November 1947 by the Government of India, Patel visited Saurashtra. He was accompanied by N.V. Gadgil, the Minister of Public Works and Rehabilitation of Refugees in Nehru’s Cabinet. They received a rousing welcome from the people of Junagadh. At a public meeting in his honour, Patel made an important announcement: the government of independent India would reconstruct the historic temple of Somnath at the same spot where it stood in ancient times, and re-install the jyotirlingam. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who was the Minister of Education in Nehru’s Cabinet, suggested that the site should be handed over to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to be preserved as a historical monument. Patel’s response to this was firm and unyielding. He said: ‘The Hindu sentiment in regard to this temple is both strong and widespread. In the present conditions, it is unlikely that this sentiment will be satisfi ed by mere restoration of the temple or by prolonging its life. The restoration of the idol would be a point of honour and sentiments with the Hindu public.’

With Sardar Patel assuming an uncompromising stand on the matter, the proposal received the approval of Nehru’s Cabinet. It is notable that this decision was fully supported and blessed by Mahatma Gandhi. His only caveat was that the funds for the temple’s reconstruction should be collected from the public and should not come from the government’s exchequer.

This is where Munshi reappeared in the story of the Somnath temple, not as a narrator of history this time, but as a creator of history. As Minister of Food and Agriculture in Nehru’s Cabinet, he headed the official committee set up to supervise the reconstruction of the temple. But Munshi’s was not an easy job. It was rendered enormously harder by Sardar Patel’s untimely demise on 15 December 1950. Subsequently, Munshi faced opposition not only from leftist intellectuals and politicians outside the government, but also from the Prime Minister himself. Nehru had now come to believe that the Government of India’s offi cial involvement in the Somnath project was violative of its commitment to secularism. After the death of Patel, who was the initiator and the chief votary of this project, the Prime Minister felt emboldened to voice his disagreement openly. Now Munshi was practically isolated in his mission. Although many of his ministerial colleagues privately supported the cause, they were not prepared to express their views openly, thereby risking the Prime Minister’s censure. Once, after a Cabinet meeting, Nehru called Munshi and said, ‘I do not like your trying to restore Somnath. It is Hindu revivalism.’6

A leader’s character is tested when his convictions are challenged. Faced with these roadblocks, Munshi wrote a letter to Nehru on 24 April 1951.7 It is undoubtedly one of the best examples of a letter written by a courageous Minister to a Prime Minister. Munshi said: Yesterday you referred to Hindu revivalism. You pointedly referred to me in the Cabinet as connected with Somnath. I am glad you did so; for I do not want to keep back any part of my views or activities…. I can assure you that the ‘Collective Subconscious’ of India today is happier with the scheme of reconstruction of Somnath sponsored by the Government of India than with many other things that we have done and are doing.

Emphasising the social reform aspect of Somnath’s reconstruction, Munshi added:

‘The intention to throw open the temple to Harijans has evoked some criticism from the orthodox section of the Hindu community. However, the objects of the Trust Deed make it clear that the temple is not only to be open to all classes of the Hindu community, but, according to the tradition of the old temple of Somnath, also to non-Hindu visitors. Many have been the customs which I have defi ed in personal life from boyhood. I have laboured in my humble way through literary and social work to share or reintegrate some aspects of Hinduism, in the conviction that that alone will make India an advanced and vigorous nation under modern conditions.’ Munshi concluded his letter with words that deserve to be preserved in perpetuity:

‘It is my faith in our past which has given me the strength to work in the present and to look forward to our future. I cannot value India’s freedom if it deprives us of the Bhagavad Gita or uproots our millions from the faith with which they look upon our temples and thereby destroys the texture of our lives. I have been given the privilege of seeing my incessant dream of Somnath reconstruction come true. That makes me feel—makes me almost sure—that this shrine once restored to a place of importance in our life will give to our people a purer conception of religion and a more vivid consciousness of our strength, so vital in these days of freedom and its trials.’

On reading this letter, V.P. Menon, the legendary civil servant who assisted Sardar Patel in the gigantic task of the integration of the princely states, wrote a missive to Munshi. ‘I have seen your masterpiece. I for one would be prepared to live and, if necessary, die by the views you have expressed in your letter.’

How Munshi faced these odds and finally succeeded in his endeavour is an inspiring account, penned in his highly readable book Somnath: The Shrine Eternal. His other book Pilgrimage to Freedom also contains several chapters on the Somnath issue. In it he lamented that, after the demise of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel, ‘secularism’ had come to mean allergy to Hinduism. ‘In its name, again, politicians in power adopt a strange attitude which, while it condones the susceptibilities, religious and social, of the minority communities, is too ready to brand similar susceptibilities in the majority community as communalistic and reactionary. How secularism sometimes becomes allergic to Hinduism will be apparent from certain episodes relating to the reconstruction of Somnath temple.

‘These unfortunate postures have been creating a sense of frustration in the majority community. If, however, the misuse of this word “secularism” continues, if Sanskrit, the bond of unity is not given a place in our language formula, if every time there is an inter-communal confl ict, the majority is blamed regardless of the merits of the question, if our holy places of pilgrimage like Banaras, Mathura and Rishikesh continue to be converted into industrial slums by establishing huge industries, the springs of traditional tolerance will dry up. While the majority exercises patience and tolerance, the minorities should learn to adjust themselves to the majority. Otherwise the future is uncertain and an explosion cannot be avoided’.8 (emphasis added.)

As Patel had passed away, Munshi approached Dr Rajendra Prasad, the fi rst President of independent India, to inaugurate the newly reconstructed temple and ceremonially install the jyotirlingam. He was, however, apprehensive that Rajendrababu might not accept the invitation. The Prime Minister, he thought, might object to the President’s inaugurating a Hindu temple. Alternatively, the President himself might say no, since he was aware of Munshi’s correspondence with the Prime Minister. To his delight, Rajendrababu readily agreed. ‘I would do the same with a mosque or a church if I were invited,’ he added. ‘This is the core of Indian secularism. Our state is neither irreligious nor anti-religious.’

Munshi’s foreboding proved correct. Nehru vehemently protested the President’s decision. To his credit, Rajendrababu disregarded Nehru’s objection and kept his promise. The speech he delivered on the occasion is one of the most important statements on secularism delivered by a President of India. ‘Even as the Creator of the Universe, Brahma, resides in the navel of Lord Vishnu, similarly in the heart of man reside the creative urge and faith, and these surpass in power all the armaments, all the armies and all the emperors of the world. In the ancient era, India had been a treasure-house of gold and silver…. Centuries ago, the major portion of the gold of the world was in the temples of India. It is my view that the reconstruction of the Somnath temple will be complete on that day when not only a magnifi cent edifi ce will arise on this foundation, but the mansion of India’s prosperity will be really that prosperity of which the ancient Temple of Somnath was a symbol.’

Describing Somnath temple as a symbol of national faith, the President elaborated: ‘By rising from its ashes again, this temple of Somnath is to say proclaiming to the world that no man and no power in the world can destroy that for which people have boundless faith and love in their hearts… Today, our attempt is not to rectify history. Our only aim is to proclaim anew our attachment to the faith, convictions and to the values on which our religion has rested since immemorial ages.’

It is not out of place here to mention that the news of the reconstruction of the Somnath temple met with angry condemnation in Pakistan. A public meeting was held in Karachi to denounce the Indian government’s action.

The Somnath temple today stands as a sobering reminder that a weak nation that cannot defend itself against external attacks stands to lose much more than its political freedom; it risks losing its cultural heritage, which is the heart and soul of India. By reconstructing the Somnath temple, as one of the early acts of the Government of India, Sardar Patel and Munshi, with the blessings of Mahatma Gandhi and Rajendra Prasad, made it a proud testimony of India’s determination to erase the history of bigoted alien attacks and regain its lost cultural treasure. In this sense, Somnath is truly unique among the tens of thousands of temples that dot the landscape of India.

SOMNATH’S ECHO IN AYODHYA

Expressions of national identity

I have given this historical background of the destruction and restoration of the Somnath temple as I deem it necessary to understand the context and causes that led me to spearhead my party’s mass campaign for the reconstruction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. Everything that Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad and K.M. Munshi said and did in transforming the dream of reconstruction of the Somnath temple into reality echoed loudly in my mind when the Ayodhya issue rose to the centre-stage of national politics in the mid-1980s. Indeed, in many ways, the Ayodhya movement was the continuation of the spirit of Somnath. When the BJP decided in 1990 that I, as its President, should lead the Ram Rath Yatra to mobilise people’s support for the Ayodhya movement, it took no time for me to choose Somnath as the starting venue of this historic journey. Somnath became my point of reference in the debate on Ayodhya, which polarised India’s political and intellectual classes on lines not quite dissimilar to what was evident in the early 1950s, but on a much larger scale.

Munshi was indeed prophetic on two counts. Firstly, ‘secularism’ had yet again come to mean allergy to Hinduism. Secondly, precisely because of this allergy and utter disregard for the patience and tolerance of the majority community, an ‘explosion’ could not be avoided. The explosion, in the form of the demolition of the disputed structure (where a mosque, known as the Babri Masjid, was built after destroying a temple that marked the birthplace of Lord Ram) at Ayodhya on 6 December 1992 was highly unfortunate. But anyone who follows, with an unprejudiced mind, the sequence of events leading up to that fateful day will scarcely be surprised by it. Equally, they will not be surprised that the ‘explosion’ led not only to the demolition of the disputed structure, but also to the construction of a small, makeshift temple, with idols of Ram Lalla duly installed inside it. It is both ironic and highly significant that the latter development took place when the Congress government at the Centre, led by P.V. Narasimha Rao, was effectively in control of Ayodhya and the rest of Uttar Pradesh. (The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Kalyan Singh, had already resigned in the afternoon of 6 December and the state had been brought under President’s Rule.) Ironic because the Congress party and government had maintained, both before and after the events of 6 December, that the disputed structure was a mosque and a temple would not be allowed to be built on its site. Signifi cant because, by design or due to helplessness, the Central Government not only allowed the makeshift temple to be built but also made arrangements for daily puja (prayers) to be performed there and for devotees to pay obeisance to the idol of Lord Ram at his janmasthan (birthplace). I do not know whether to attribute this to the ‘shrewdness’ of the then Prime Minister or to an act of divine intervention.

RAM: AN INSPIRING SYMBOL OF INDIAN CULTURE

Every mass movement has a dynamic of its own insofar as it gathers within itself the aspirations, energies and passions of millions of its participants. But rare are the moments when the articulation of a collective aspiration of the masses echoes with the assertion of the soul of a nation. When the two come together, they produce a force that truly moves history. Only a phenomenon of this kind is worthy of being described by that profound but often loosely used word ‘movement’.

Why did the Ram Janmabhoomi movement acquire the kind of sweep and strength that it did? The search for an answer has to begin by understanding the signifi cance of Ram and the Ramayana in the national life of India. The Ramayana, along with the other great Indian epic, the Mahabharata, has infl uenced the cultural personality and ethical valuesystem of Indians over centuries. Ram was an ideal king; hence the concept of ‘Ram Rajya’, the epitome of good governance, was extolled as the ideal for India by no less a person than Mahatma Gandhi. Ram was also an ideal human being; hence the title ‘Maryada Purushottam’ (an exemplar among good human beings) was accorded to him.

The entire story of the Ramayana is a confluence of deeply experienced human emotions and moral dilemmas, which are as eternal as they are universal. Each and every character in the epic—Ram and his consort Sita; his brothers Laxman, Bharat and Shatrughna; his devoted servant Hanuman, the highly revered monkey-god; his father Dashrath, his mother Kausalya and step-mother Kaikeyi; sons Luv and Kush; the demon king Ravana; and scores of others—is etched in the hearts and minds of all Indians. Even apparently minor characters in it animate widely popular moral lessons. Shabari, the poor tribal woman pining for a darshan of Ram, who could not believe her good fortune when he gladly accepted her hospitality during his fourteen-year exile in forest, is a good example. There is also the adorable character of Shravana Kumar, who epitomises the virtue of a son’s duty towards his old parents. How the Ramayana came to be written by Valmiki, a tribal hunter transformed into a venerable rishi-poet by the inspiration of a tragic experience, is itself a fascinating story. There is scarcely a language in India into which the Ramayana has not been translated—or written with its own creative fl avour. There is hardly a folk tradition, which does not immortalise the life and legend of Ram. There is no caste or region in India which does not have names without Ram in some form or the other. All the saintly personalities in Indian history—from Tulsidas to Surdas, from Kabir to Tukaram, and from Sankaradev in Assam to Kamba in Tamil Nadu—have sung the praises of Ram in their mission for social reform. Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Arya Samajis (who do not believe in idol worship) have their own version of Ram and the Ramayana. The Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred scripture of the Sikhs, invokes the name of Ram about two thousand four hundred times.

Many Indian Muslims, too, have seen in Ram an ideal ruler and an embodiment of great human qualities. Allama Iqbal, the renowned Urdu and Persian poet, described him as India’s ‘Imam-e-Hind’ (the spiritual leader of India) and wrote the following eulogy:

The cup of India has always overflowed

With the heady wine of truth.

Even the philosophers from the West

Are her ardent devotees.

There is something so sublime in her mysticism

That her star soars high above constellations

There have been thousands of rulers in this land

But none can compare with Ram;

The discerning ones proclaim him

The spiritual leader of India.

His lamp gave the light of wisdom

Which outshone the radiance

Of the whole of humankind

Ram was valiant, Ram was bold, yielded deftly his sword,

He cared for the poorest of poor

He was unmatched in love and compassion.

Gandhiji’s lifelong devotion to Ram naam, the pious utterance of the name of Ram, formed the spiritual soil in which the tree of his social and political thought received nourishment. ‘Ram naam,’ he said, ‘purifi es while it cures, and, therefore, it elevates.’ He did not perceive Ram purely as a Hindu deity, but rather as a divine force of universal brotherhood and, in the context of India, of national integration. For instance, his daily all-faith prayer meetings were never complete without the collective singing of the Ramdhun ‘Raghupati Raghava Rajaram, patita pavana Sitaram; Ishwar Allah tero naam, sab ko sanmati de Bhagwan’. This song affi rms that Ishwar and Allah are both names of the same Divine Power, to which the devotees should pray to grant them a virtuous mind. It is worth recalling that the Muslim League criticised Gandhiji’s prayer meetings because his socio-political sermons were invariably accompanied by the chanting of the Ramdhun. Some Marxists and Muslims even today hold the view that Gandhiji gave a ‘Hindu communal’ orientation to India’s freedom movement by positing Ram Rajya as its goal. This criticism stems from ignorance and prejudice. As Gandhiji himself clarifi ed, ‘By Ram Rajya I do not mean Hindu Raj. I mean Divine Raj, the Kingdom of God.’ The last words that Gandhiji uttered as life ebbed out of him were ‘Hey Ram!’

Ram, therefore, is a unique symbol of India’s national identity, unity and integration. In many ways, he is an ideal for Indians’ aspiration to live a life of higher values. Thus, it is hardly surprising that the place of Ram’s birth in Ayodhya, which was the capital of his kingdom, has been the focal point of deepest devotion for the Hindus through the millennia.

THE RAM RATH YATRA

From Somnath to Ayodhya

Elections to the 9th Lok Sabha were held in November 1989, the results of which administered a shock treatment to the Congress party. After having secured four-fifths majority in 1984, Rajiv Gandhi was ousted from power fi ve years later chiefl y due to the Bofors scam, his surrender in the Shah Bano case and his vacillating positions on the Ramjanmabhoomi issue. The elections yielded a hung Parliament, with the Janata Dal emerging as the largest single party. V.P. Singh became the Prime Minister in December 1989 at the head of a National Front coalition, which was supported from outside by the BJP and the left parties. The very fact that V.P. Singh sought the BJP’s support to form the government placed upon him a moral and political obligation to be sensitive to the issue of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, which was one of the chief planks in our election manifesto. We expected him to be fair, honest and transparent in his handling of this issue. Sadly, he belied our expectations.

…On 12 September (1990), I called a press conference at the party office at 11 Ashoka Road and announced my decision to undertake a 10,000-kilometre-long Rath Yatra, starting from Somnath on 25 September and reaching Ayodhya on 30 October to join the kar seva.

THE RAM RATH ROLLS

ON The chariot becomes an object of worship The last week of September in Saurashtra in Gujarat is a time when the monsoon has bid goodbye but the winter is yet to set in. This imminent but uncertain climatic transition was an apt metaphor for the way I was feeling about my own political life when I arrived in Somnath to herald my Ram Rath Yatra. I had never undertaken such an extensive mass-contact programme and that too in such a novel fashion. Although I could sense that this was a signifi cant milestone in my political life, I hadn’t the slightest idea about what the future held in store for me. The only thing I knew was that I had to perform my duty, and not bother about the outcome of my karma.

On the morning of 25 September, I offered prayers at the jyotirlingam in Somnath temple. I was accompanied by Pramod Mahajan, Narendra Modi (another promising young leader of the party who has now become Gujarat’s dynamic Chief Minister), other senior functionaries of the party in Gujarat, and members of my family. Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia and Sikandar Bakht, both Party Vice Presidents, had come to fl ag off the Rath. Before leaving we all paid fl oral tribute to the imposing statue of Sardar Patel just outside the temple. In my mind, I thanked and drew inspiration from all the great men who had toiled for the reconstruction of the temple. Amidst a large crowd that had gathered to greet and bless us, we climbed the Ram Rath which had been decorated with marigold flowers. Then, to the accompaniment of the sound of the ceremonial conches and full-throated slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Saugandh Ram ki khate hain mandir wahin banayenge’ (In the name of Ram, we resolve: We shall build the temple there—at Ramjanmabhoomi—itself), the Rath rolled on. In subsequent days, these slogans, along with a theme song sung by Lata Mangeshkar*, India’s Nightingale, would become the signature tune of the Rath Yatra wherever it went. * One day before the start of my campaign, I received a cassette from Manoj Kumar, the popular fi lm star and maker of several patriotic movies. It contained a song by Lata Mangeshkar, which became the title song of my Ram Rath Yatra. Ram Naam jaadu aisa, Ram Naam man bhaye Man ki Ayodhya tab tak sooni, Jab tak Ram na aaye re (The name of Ram is so magical that it brings peace and happiness to one’s mind; The Ayodhya in my mind remains empty and silent until Ram enters it.)

I was truly overwhelmed by the response to the yatra within the fi rst few days of our journey in Gujarat. The Rath was received by tumultuous crowds everywhere—in villages, towns and even along roads where people from nearby hamlets would gather under trees eagerly waiting for the Rath to arrive. The response reached a crescendo in bigger towns and cities, where it would take hours for us to reach the venue of our meetings. However, from the very fi rst day, our schedule started to go awry. Our last meeting would last well beyond midnight. The pattern continued for the next four days that we travelled through Gujarat.

Frankly, I did not expect such an overwhelming response. Looking at my gestures of amazement, Pramod (Mahajan), chosen by the party to be my companion throughout the yatra, quipped, ‘Advaniji, the response is so big because this is Gujarat. The people here are traditional and religious. Don’t think that it would be like this when we enter Maharashtra from Gujarat.’

Pramod was wrong, totally wrong. The response was as big, even bigger, in Maharashtra as well as in all the subsequent states that we travelled through. People everywhere greeted the Rath by erecting ceremonial arches and showering flowers. The most astonishing sight for me was the manner in which people, especially women, would come forward and perform aarti. What I soon realised was that for many people, I was secondary and incidental to the campaign. I was only a sarathi or a charioteer; the principal messenger of the Rath Yatra was the Rath itself. And it was worthy of worship as it was headed for Ayodhya for the sacred mission of construction of the Ram Temple at his birthplace. Whatever I said at meetings was only an elaboration of the context.

This was perhaps the most striking case of saguna puja in the Hindu tradition (worship of the Creator in His infi nite forms, as against nirguna puja, which is worship of the formless Him). In this more popular form of worship, common people see manifestation of the Divine in any idol or object—a tree, a mountain, a river or a lake, etc—that they believe is sanctifi ed. The Rath had thus come to acquire divinity.

The most touching moments of the yatra were witnessed in villages and remote hamlets populated by the scheduled castes and tribes. The piety on the faces of the village folk was of a purer and deeper kind than what I saw in cities. As Gandhiji describes in his book Hind Swaraj, the village folk were devoid of the infl uences of city life, commercialism and competitive instincts. Many of them were either illiterate or nominally educated. They had not learnt about Ram by reading; it was as if the knowledge fl owed through them, passed on from one generation to the other, or through tales heard in congregations and plays organised at village fairs or on annual festivals like Ram Navami. At many places, I found an odd villager who would come quietly, without shouting any slogans, perform a puja before the Rath, greet me and walk away. I was truly humbled by experiences like these.

I had never realised that religiosity was so deep-rooted in the lives of Indian people. I had read about the phenomenon, and even seen glimpses of it. But never had I witnessed such a spontaneous manifestation in each village, town, and state I passed through. It was during the Ram Rath Yatra that I fi rst understood the truth of Swami Vivekananda’s statement that ‘religion is the soul of India and if you want to teach any subject to Indians, they understand it better if it is taught in the language of religion.’ It was the Rath Yatra that made me realise that, if I were to communicate the message of nationalism through the religious idiom, I would be able to transmit it more effectively and to a wider audience.

In my speeches, delivered mostly from the specially designed raised platform on the vehicle, I would explain the purpose of the yatra and the circumstances that compelled the BJP to actively participate in the Ayodhya movement. Although the people’s response to the Rath Yatra was mainly religious, the focus of my speeches was on nationalism. I dwelt on how a perverse understanding of secularism was being used by certain political parties as a cover to deny the cultural and civilisational roots of Indian nationhood. I underscored how this perversion stemmed not from any real conviction but from the considerations of wooing the minority vote-bank.

A recurrent theme in my speeches was that the power of a positive approach to religious faith can contribute greatly to social transformation and nation-building. I would say: ‘Ram Bhakti se Lok Shakti jagrut ho sakti hai.’ (The power of devotion towards Ram can unleash people’s power.) I especially commended the people for transcending the barriers of caste and sub-caste and coming together for a common national purpose, welcoming the presence of large numbers of Harijans in the gatherings and reminding the audience how Mahatma Gandhi used the power of religion to educate the people about the evil of untouchability.

In my addresses, I stressed on the equal status that our Muslim brethren enjoyed in independent India. I emphasised that, even though Pakistan, and later Bangladesh too, declared themselves as Islamic states, India chose to remain non-theocratic and secular. This, I added, was principally due to the age-old secular ethos of Hinduism. I appealed to leaders of the Muslim community to respect the Hindu sentiments over Ayodhya.

The common message of all these diverse points in my speeches invariably hit home. It was received with thunderous applause. My speeches from atop the Rath were just about fi ve minutes long, because I had to address nearly twenty to twenty-fi ve such roadside receptions each day. In most towns and cities, I had to get down and address public meetings attended by tens of thousands of people. The media had already started reporting about the huge response to the Rath Yatra in Gujarat and Maharashtra. As a result, the turnout in subsequent states became even larger. In many places, the last meeting would not begin before 2 o’clock in the morning. Once, in Andhra Pradesh, the Rath arrived at the last destination of the day at fi ve in the morning! However late the programme might have ended the previous day, the Rath would invariably commence its next day’s journey at ten in the morning.

CALUMNY AGAINST THE RATH YATRA

‘Not an iota of communal bigotry in my speeches’ Was my campaign anti-Muslim? Not in the least. However, unnerved by the massive response to the Rath Yatra, our political adversaries intensifi ed this calumny against me. Their propaganda was baseless and motivated. I challenged them to point out a single utterance in my speeches that could be construed as directed against Muslims or Islam. There wasn’t any, throughout the yatra. On the contrary, whenever I heard someone raise an inappropriate slogan in my meetings, I promptly expressed disapproval. For example, at some places people shouted: ‘Jo Hindu hit ki baat karega, vahi desh pe raj karega’. (They alone shall rule India, who speak of Hindu interests.) I immediately stood up to affi rm that the BJP represents every citizen of India irrespective of whether he is a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian or a Parsi or any other faith. I said that the policies we promote seek to benefi t hundred per cent of the Indian people, not just Hindus who constitute eighty-two per cent. Of course, we strongly disagree with pseudo-secularists for whom eighty-two per cent just do not matter and who are concerned only about the eighteen per cent! Therefore, I said that if a slogan had to be raised, let it be: ‘Jo Rashtra hit ki baat karega vahi desh pe raj karega’ (They alone shall rule India, who speak of the nation’s interests).

Another lie in the propaganda by our adversaries was that the Ram Rath Yatra left a bloody trail of communal clashes. As records show, there was not a single instance of communal violence along the route of my yatra. There were indeed riots in several parts of the country, but none at all along the Rath Yatra trail. I was, therefore, pained to see a section of the media carry reports that had sensational titles like ‘Advani’s blood yatra’.

Dr Koenraad Elst, in his two-volume book titled The Saffron Swastika, marshals an incontrovertible array of facts to debunk slanderous attacks on the BJP by a section of the media. About the Rath Yatra, he writes: ‘But what about Advani’s bloody Rath Yatra (car procession) from Somnath to Ayodhya in October 1990? Very simple: it is not at all that the Rath Yatra was a bloody affair. While in the same period, there was a lot of rioting in several parts of the country (particularly Hyderabad, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh), killing about 600 people in total, there were no riots at all along the Rath Yatra trail. Well, there was one: upper-caste students pelted stones at Advani because he had disappointed them by not supporting their agitation against the caste-based reservations which V.P. Singh was promoting. Even then, no one was killed or seriously wounded. It is a measure of the quality of the Indian English-language media that they have managed to turn an entirely peaceful procession, an island of orderliness in a riot-torn country, into a proverbial bloody event (“Advani’s blood yatra”). And it was quite a sight how the pressmen in their editorials blamed Advani for communal riots of which the actual, non-Advanirelated causes were given on a different page of the same paper. Whether Advani with his Rath Yatra was at 500 miles distance from a riot (as with the riot in Gonda in UP), or under arrest, or back home after the high tide of the Ayodhya agitation, every riot in India in the second half of 1990 was blamed on him’.

My yatra was scheduled to enter Deoria in Uttar Pradesh on 24 October. However, as I had anticipated, it was stopped at Samastipur in Bihar on 23 October and I was arrested by the Janata Dal government in the state then headed by Laloo Prasad Yadav. I was taken to an inspection bungalow of the irrigation department at a place called Massanjore near Dumka on the Bihar-Bengal border. This action invited angry and spontaneous protests all over the country. I spent fi ve weeks in detention in Massanjore before being released. Thus ended my Rath Yatra, which was indeed an exhilarating episode in my political life.

THE WAY TO END THE AYODHYA DISPUTE

A solution was imminent during Vajpayee’s rule

As one of the principal participants in the Ayodhya movement, it had been my endeavour throughout the six years of the NDA rule to see how the dispute could be resolved speedily and peacefully. The three options for dispute-resolution were obvious: 1) Legislation; 2) Judicial verdict; and 3) Amicable settlement between representatives of the Hindu and Muslim communities. After a thorough review of both the political and judicial aspects of the Ayodhya issue, I came to the conclusion that the best path to follow was the last option—and I articulated it on several occasions, both inside and outside Parliament. In a nutshell, my view was: ‘The potential for a legislative solution cannot be ruled out, but its chances are slim. The judiciary may give its verdict, but it is likely to upset one side or the other. The third option offers the prospect of a solution of mutual acceptability and durability. Of course, even a mutually acceptable settlement has to be sanctifi ed by the judiciary, which has to extinguish all the pending cases before it. In this sense, the ultimate solution will be a combination of options 2 and 3.’ I am happy that Atalji and I succeeded in convincing our allies in the NDA to endorse this constructive approach. Accordingly, the alliance’s election manifesto for the 2004 parliamentary elections stated: ‘The NDA believes that an early and amicable resolution of the Ayodhya issue will strengthen national integration. We continue to hold that the judiciary’s verdict in this matter should be accepted by all. At the same time, efforts should be intensifi ed for dialogue and a negotiated settlement in an atmosphere of mutual trust and goodwill.’

I am gratified to record here that, as Home Minister, I had made considerable progress in bringing infl uential representatives of the Hindu and Muslim communities on a common negotiating platform. This endeavour was facilitated by some sincere and well-meaning mediators on both sides. Several rounds of talks, beyond the glare of publicity, took place. A mutually acceptable solution was clearly in sight, which would have paved the way for construction of the temple. The principles and contours of a workable agreement had emerged in the beginning of 2004, and it was decided by the two sides that an announcement to this effect could be made immediately after the elections to the 14th Lok Sabha in May. Of course, this was done on the expectation, on both the Hindu and Muslim sides, that the Vajpayee government would win a renewed mandate in the election and take the responsibility of implementing the mutually agreed formula. Sadly, that was not to happen.

Nevertheless, my faith in the third option for resolving the Ayodhya dispute—amicable settlement between representatives of the Hindu and Muslim communities in an atmosphere of mutual trust and goodwill— remains as strong today as it was in the NDA rule. Indeed, it is bolstered by an important positive development that has taken place in the national mood fi fteen years since 6 December 1992. No political party of any consequence today talks of rebuilding the ‘Babri Masjid’ at the disputed place. In heat of the moment, several non-BJP parties had voiced their support to this demand. With the passage of time, almost all of them have stepped back from that position, knowing fully well that no power on earth can now ensure its reconstruction at the same place in Ayodhya. None of them is even demanding removal of the makeshift temple at the disputed site, or stopping the daily prayers. Of course, this does not mean that they have begun to support the Hindu claim on the disputed site. All of them are unanimous in saying: ‘Let the courts decide’.

Neither my party nor I have any objection to the judiciary deciding the matter. But the obvious question that most of our adversaries are silent on is: Why has the judiciary not been able to settle this matter for over a half century? And is it proper on the part of the judiciary to keep a sensitive and contentious issue alive like this for decades together? I am, however, a fi rm believer in destiny. I am convinced that the rise of a befi tting temple at Ramjanmabhoomi in Ayodhya is pre-destined. How and when it will happen is a matter of secondary importance to be determined by the forces of history. But the fact that it will happen is as certain as the certainty that brought the oft-demolished and oft-reconstructed Somnath temple into existence yet again.

I am humbled by the awareness that destiny granted me an opportunity to play a role in this collective national effort that is waiting for the fulfi lment of a centuries-old Hindu resolve. My only wish and appeal is that our Muslim brethren come forward with a gesture of magnanimity and goodwill that matches that of the Hindus. After all, Ram may be a holy religious fi gure worthy of worship for the Hindus, but he is also a preeminent symbol of India’s cultural heritage which belongs to the Hindus and Muslims alike. I, therefore, fervently hope that the Ayodhya mission will be completed through the joint effort of Hindus and Muslims, thereby writing a new chapter in mutual reconciliation and national integration.

THE HAWALA FRAME-UP:

TOUGH TIMES DON’T LAST; TOUGH MEN DO

One of the most challenging periods of my life was the early 1996 when the Narasimha Rao government framed a false and motivated case against me charging involvement in a ‘hawala’ transaction. I was in the party offi ce on the morning of 16 January when my colleague Sushma Swaraj came into my room saying that she had learnt from her lawyer-husband, Swaraj Kaushal, that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had fi led a case against me and several other political leaders under the Prevention of Corruption Act. This came as a rude shock to me.

The hawala scandal, as it came to be known, implicated many politicians belonging to different parties, including some ministers in Rao’s cabinet, who were alleged to have received sleaze money through hawala brokers. As evidence, the CBI produced diaries maintained by two Bhopal-based businessmen—S.K. Jain and J.K. Jain. The same hawala route, it was alleged, was used to channel funds to militants in Jammu & Kashmir. The charge against me was that I was not only guilty of ordinary corruption ‘demanding and accepting’ illegal gratification—rupees twenty-five lakhs when I was an MP and an additional rupees thirty-fi ve lakhs when I was not an MP—but also of ‘criminal conspiracy’ in league with the Jains and others. As a political activist who had participated in numerous agitations, there was hardly anything extraordinary in having to face a criminal charge. Very often it used to be violation of Section 144, sometimes for apprehension of breach of peace and, in the case of the Ayodhya movement, even harsh charges. But to be accused of corruption was an unsettling new experience. Never in my entire political life had even my adversaries made allegations of bribery or financial fraud against me.

I checked on the information from a couple of sources, and they confirmed that the CBI had actually instituted the case. I took two immediate decisions. Firstly, I would tender my resignation from membership of the Lok Sabha. Secondly, I would announce that I would not contest the Lok Sabha elections until I was exonerated by the courts of this false accusation. I conveyed this over the phone to Atalji. Soon he and other colleagues gathered at the party offi ce. Some of them said that it was too drastic a step for me to take, as the parliamentary elections were not far away. I replied in the negative saying, ‘This alone is the appropriate response for people to realise that I have nothing to hide and am ready to face trial.’ Within a couple of hours I convened a press conference in the party offi ce, where I made both the above announcements.

Here I would like to recall another maliciously instituted and inordinately prolonged case against me. In 1982, I had enrolled myself as a voter in Gwalior, where my cousin sister used to live. Some opponents of my party questioned this before the EC who examined the matter and upheld the validity of my status as a voter from Gwalior. Nevertheless, a criminal case was fi led against me in a local court in the same matter. And this false case had been going on and on, with no end in sight.

Thus, even after my decision to resign from the Lok Sabha, the unsettled fate of the Gwalior case loomed large in my mind. If a minor case relating to an entry in the electoral rolls could drag on for fourteen long years, I was well aware that my announcement could virtually mean the end of my parliamentary career.

The ‘hawala’ case went on for sixteen months in the Delhi High Court. Finally, on 8 April 1997, Justice Mohammad Shamim delivered the verdict quashing the charge of corruption against me.

….Looking back, I feel very satisfied about my decision. It was not only the right moral response to an accusation of corruption against me, but it also raised the stature of the BJP in the eyes of the people. My family has been my greatest source of strength in all such trials and tribulations I have faced in life. I recall an unforgettable incident. The morning after my resignation, I was sitting alone in my offi ce room at my residence. Finding that I was in a somber mood, my daughter Pratibha came to me and said, ‘Dadu, why are you sad? Please read this poem I have found for you.’ On a beautiful wooden wall-plate was the poem, titled Footprints: (See top right column)

I put it up on the wall of my offi ce room, where it still remains. Around the same time, Father Bento Rodrigues of Father Agnel’s High School in Delhi met me and presented me the book, Tough Times Don’t Last. Tough Men do.