By Amulya Ganguli
Just when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was hoping for success across the board from panchayats to parliament, the revival of the case against some of its leaders in the Babri Masjid demolition case of 1992 has raised the possibility of revealing the party's communal face which it has recently been trying to hide.
The BJP may continue to win elections if only because the issues relating to the demolition are not of much consequence to today's voters. Even then, the possible indictment of some of the leaders, including former Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and Union Minister for Water Resources Uma Bharti, cannot but dent the party's image and be an international embarrassment.
The reason is the seriousness of the charges against them such as the promotion of enmity between communities. These accusations not only show Advani and others in a poor light, including the Rajasthan Governor, Kalyan Singh, who was the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister at the time of the demolition, but also draw attention to the fact that the BJP's rise was based on an act of criminality.
The ascent of no other party in modern history has taken place against such an inglorious background -- except that of the Nazis in Germany.
That the BJP has largely been able to overcome the shame of 1992 and also of 2002 when the Gujarat riots took place is evident from its electoral successes. A major reason for these victories is the weakness of its opponents.
The BJP is also fortunate that except for a few minor figures, many of those facing the trial have nothing to do with the government. Being virtually in retirement from public life, their arraignment, if it comes about, will have no immediate impact on the ruling dispensation.
At the same time, it will be possible to trace any incident involving the minorities -- such as the killing of the suspected beef-eater Mohammed Akhlaq and of Pehlu Khan, who was transporting cattle -- to the propagation of poisonous sentiments which led to the destruction of a protected monument, which Advani described as an "ocular provocation" for the Hindus.
Although the saffron brotherhood has always been known for its anti-Muslim and anti-Christian outlook, its diatribes of hate had rarely been as venomous as when the Babri masjid was destroyed in an act of vandalism which shook the "secular fabric" of the Constitution, according to the Supreme Court.
The demolition of the "disputed structure", as the saffronties like to call the Babri Masjid, and the Gujarat riots are the two landmark events in the BJP's history. The charges of criminal conspiracy against Advani in the first case means that present-day margdarshak or mentor will have to relive in the dock the "saddest day" of his life which was on December 6, 1992, when the mosque was brought down.
In the Gujarat riots case, however, the clean chit given to Narendra Modi by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up by the Supreme Court has absolved the then Chief Minister of the state of any dubious role in the outbreak although the court's amicus curiae, Raju Ramachandran, questioned the exoneration.
However, what these indictments and absolutions show is not only the BJP's rocky road to present pre-eminence, but also the assaults on the "secular fabric" which have marked its journey.
Since the trial of the Babri case is expected to last for two years, the timing of the verdict will come disconcertingly close so far as the BJP is concerned to the holding of the next general election.
It is too early to say what impact the judgment will have on the political fortunes of the BJP and its opponents, but there is little doubt that a recital of what happened during the now nearly forgotten days of the movement to "liberate" the birthplace of Lord Ram will provide much ammunition to the BJP's critics of its recourse to crass communalism to mobilise the Hindu voters.
Since the BJP is now trying to put on a more sobre face -- in Atal Behari Vajpayee's time, it used to be called a mask -- the party cannot but squirm in discomfort as some of the vituperative utterances of stormy petrels of the time like Uma Bharti and Sadhvi Rithambara are reiterated.
In a way, the BJP's present legal-political difficulties are due to its pursuit of a path of which it was not too sure.
For instance, the party decided to play the religious-communal card after its dismal performance in the 1984 general election when it won only two seats. But it apparently had little idea of what lay in store after whipping up anti-Muslim sentiments in the 1990s with Advani's Rath Yatra, which was also dubbed the riot yatra because of the communal violence which marked it.
Unaware of the dangerous forces that have been unleashed, Advani and other senior leaders failed to control the saffron mob which gathered in front of the Babri Masjid in response to their call to free Ramjanmabhoomi from the clutches of the Muslim invaders. What the party gained in the electoral swings after the mosque's demolition, it may now lose in the legal roundabouts.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)