It is revealing of the Indian mind that people are increasingly able to predict, with an astonishing degree of accuracy, what the judgements in important court cases would be. Few thought the Supreme Court would hand over the site of the Babri Masjid to Muslims. They were proved right last year. Few thought the special court in Lucknow would hold prominent Bharatiya Janata Party leaders—LK Advani, MM Joshi, Kalyan Singh, and Uma Bharti—guilty of hatching a conspiracy to demolish the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992. They were, once again, spectacularly right.
The ability of Indians to predict correctly even judicial verdicts is a remarkable commentary on their political astuteness. They may not know the finer points of legal arguments and precedents, but they have learnt over time that ideological domination somehow, or coincidently, gets reflected in the conduct of every institution. This, in turn, leads to ideological hegemony—people choose to behave in conformity with the wishes of the political hegemon. They do not have to be compelled to do so.
In today’s India, the Bharatiya Janata Party is the political hegemon, and Hindutva the lodestar of the largest segment of Indians. At the same time, though, there will be a substantial number of Indians who do not and will not subscribe to Hindutva. They will mull their choices as their hope of securing justice recedes.
The primary group among them is that of Muslims, whose constant demonisation has been at the root of the ascendancy of Hindutva. For them, the special court’s exoneration of BJP stalwarts, particularly Advani, signals a future without hope, a country rapidly going Pakistan’s way, an India where, despite Constitutional guarantees, they will be gradually reduced to second-class citizens.
Psychologically speaking, low expectations do assist people to adjust to the changing reality, especially as it turns grimmer, as has been true for Muslims over the last six years. But living is different from theorising about it. Thus, for instance, in the days before the Supreme Court was to deliver its judgement in the Ayodhya title dispute last year, there were many Muslims who hoped the verdict would hand over the Babri Masjid site to the Hindus for building the Ram temple. They feared anything else would lead to bloodshed.
Yet, within few days of the Supreme Court ruling in favour of the Hindus, a good many Muslims were infuriated, evident from posts on Facebook. This was largely because the Supreme Court declared, in its judgement, that Babur’s general did not destroy a Hindu structure before building the Babri Masjid. They, therefore, wondered: why was then the site handed over to the Hindus to build the Ram temple? Oblivious of the Supreme Court’s reasoning based “on a preponderance of probabilities”, its judgement, in the Muslim mind, became linked to the ascendency of Hindutva.
This link has been doubly reinforced by the special court’s exoneration of Advani and his mates. The title dispute, at least, involved the complex task of wading into the past, through historical records and archaeological evidence. No such effort was required in the demolition case.
Muslims will remember the photos of the more famous among the accused watching the Hindutva brigade strike the domes of the Babri Masjid with axes, iron rods and crowbars, their hatred bubbling over. They will remember Uma Bharati chant, “Ek dhakka aur do,” and the crowd following her with, “Babri masjid tod do.” They will remember her joyously hold the shoulders of Murli Manohar, who was all smiles as the mosque was razed. They will remember the outbreak of riots across the country, the thousands who were killed, in the wake of the demolition. Above all, they will remember how Advani’s rath yatra, in 1990, terrorised them over weeks to end, and how his speeches taught India to hate Muslims.
All these elements will constitute the memory of Muslims. Their memory will dissuade the Muslims from buying the arguments regarding the legal difficulties of proving that a conspiracy was hatched to demolish the Babri Masjid. What about journalist Praveen Jain’s photographs showing the Hindutva brigade doing a dry run of the demolition a day before the demolition? In the end, the special court has upheld what Hindutva leaders have been claiming all along—that a spontaneous outburst of the assembled throng led to the demolition of the Babri masjid.
Talk about the hegemony of Hindutva!
Memory always comes in the way of people who wish to adjust to the changing reality. There can be no doubt that the exoneration of Advani and company will become one more cause for the growing alienation of Muslims. Indeed, the Ayodhya judgements are not a solitary example of injustice done to Muslims. Over the last six years, they have been vilified and violently targeted on a range of issues, from love jihad to consuming beef, to being, well, Muslim.
The exoneration of BJP stalwarts has come in the context of the state engaging in a witch-hunt against the Muslim youth and their Hindu sympathisers who organised and participated in the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. They have been booked and jailed under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, on the charge of conspiring to foment the February riots in Delhi and seeking to terrorise the Union government into withdrawing the CAA. They are unlikely to be granted bail, such are the stringent provisions of UAPA. They will languish in jail, their youth wasted.
Contrast their fate to that of BJP stalwarts, who had sought to terrorise the state, and betrayed the solemn promises made to the Supreme Court. Their exoneration is yet another evidence of the capacity of Power to tailor reality.
As the economy shrinks and unemployment rises, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP will press even harder on the Hindutva pedal. In that case, Muslims will find their reality turn into a never-ending nightmare, with which it gradually becomes impossible to adjust and live with a degree of normalcy.
The author is an independent journalist. The views are personal.