State of Play, Telegraph Calcutta

No longer ashamed – Ayodhya at 25













December 6th, 2017: Down one of several stone-flagged lanes that toddle off Marienplatz, Munich town hall plaza, there still operates a rather prosperous enterprise called the Hofbrauhaus. It’s one of several kindred addresses around the area pledged to the central Bavarian celebration – the ooze and oomph of beer. They are all, each one of them, establishments of gregarious hubbub – voluptuous symphonies bound about their high-arched halls, beermaids shuffle about the tables with their jugfuls, decanting foaming oceans of the house brew. The floors tinkle, with glass and unrestrained merriment.

Hofbrauhaus is one of them and a little apart. It is patronized for more than just its beer and knucklewurst. Hofbrauhaus is where Adolf Hitler made his first address to the Nazi party in 1920. Through the flaming decades that followed, Hofbrauhaus remained a celebration of Nazi ways and values, and that’s partly what gets Hofbrauhaus its bloated clientele today. It’s a slice of Hitler. But a forbidden slice. You’ll find no trace of him or his creed. Nobody so much as whispers Adolf on the precincts, god forbid Hitler, or actually German law. Germany has institutionalized provisions called Volksverhetzung, or incitement of hatred, which prohibit all Nazi symbols, totems, hate speech, incitement, anything that is a reminder of Hitler. It’s a custom strictly adhered to in Germany.

It comes from the fear and the determination of no repetitions.

It comes from regret that’s yet unrelieved.

Most of all, it comes from a deep and collective sense of shame at the unspeakable horrors Germany and Germans once feistily brought upon. Nie Wieder, never again.

Regret can relieve wrongdoing; it implies admission of turpitude and, more pertinently, an undertaking of corrections and probably also a pledge of no repetitions.

In the 25 years since Ayodhya’s Babri Masjid was razed, our discourse has been hauled in the opposite direction – from shuddering shame to the discarding of that shame and the adoption of audacities that undermine the fundamental underpinnings of India and its Constitution.

The grand temple hasn’t moved in that time; it remains a template that awaits turning tangible. It lies unformed among millions of bricks and unfinished masonry scattered across Ayodhya; it parades the courthouses trying to rid itself of legal tangles, yet unable to leap out of their grasp and become a physicality; it remains probably the most divisive and disruptive argument we’ve had with ourselves since Partition. What has come to calcify and claw its way to centre-stage during the past quarter century, though, is the idea that proposed the stunning violations of December 6, 1992.

That day was a lumpen blitz so stupefying, it took the highest advocates of the Ram temple by shock and awe. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, for the longest time the most presentable face of the sangh, scurried to label the wanton destruction a “misadventure” and a matter of “deep sorrow”. Lal Krishna Advani, the man who spotted a political harvest in the demon seed with diabolical cunning and who summoned that marauder tempest to Ayodhya, would call it the “saddest day of my life”. Even if they were keeping up appearances, they thought it necessary to keep them. What happened wasn’t right; what happened had, in the least, left them mortified. For all their diligent omissions and commissions, the demolition wasn’t the denouement they seemed to want to be part of – as if ghouls, the same ones they had urgently roused and beckoned, had suddenly turned to savage their script and blow the plot. They wanted discomfiture and remorse foregrounded. Ghouls can be tough to tackle, even if they are of your own making.

A good part of the reason why Advani is where he is today is that the grandmaster ghouls have arrived and they are unembarrassed of deed and purpose. The ruins of Ayodhya are no longer infamy that require forsaking, they are the stuff of bragging rights, an unabashed – and electorally empowered – dare: this is what was required to be done, this is what was done, so take it and move on. Mandir waheen banaayenge. They don’t do regret anymore; it’s an effete thing, it promotes confusion in the ranks and defeats purpose. More than a thousand people were killed in Gujarat in 2002 on the watch of the man who’d become prime minister. At one point on his cruise to power, he was asked if he regretted the blood-ridden platform of his ascent, and he looked philosophically in the distance and revealed the metaphor of his mind – if you’re driving somewhere and a puppy comes under the wheels, you do feel sorry. Gujarat 2002 lay succinctly summed up – a “kutte ka bachcha” died. Pogrom denial, just as there exists, in many places punishably, Holocaust denial.

The imaginings of the Ram temple project, to which the wrecking of the Babri Masjid was always a critical first step, have never been legal or judicial or constitutional. They’ve always been, in the understanding of those who framed and fanned the project, civilizational – a supremacist assertion that unashamedly glories in the frills of Nazi inspirations of race and nationhood. It is for them an issue of righting wrongs, a necessity of throwing off the chains of ‘slavery’ link by link. Be not persuaded, or deluded, that Ayodhya is the one and final tumult. Its logic is to proceed, and that procession lies vociferously promised – ” Abhi to pehli jhaanki hai, Mathura, Kashi baaki hai”. To those purposes there now exists an enabling and purposeful order, an undeclared new republic that did declare itself born in May 2014 after “hundreds of years of slavery”.

It is an institutional bigotry so resolute on refashioning this geography, it will recast history and its cast of characters if it has to. It is palpably comfortable with the deification of the murderer of Gandhi. One of the many forks in its tongue is happy, and permitted, to wag in advocacy of Nathuram Godse and his purpose. Off the record, it merrily winks at libellous portraitures of Jawaharlal Nehru – a chain-smoking wastrel who was born in a whorehouse, perished of syphilis and played playboy in between. For the record, it thinks nothing of pro-actively burying the work and legacy of the man who crafted the framework that gave reason for this most complex plurality to remain one nation, salute the same flag, sing the same anthem, together.

But this may be another country from that one. It is unrepentant, often celebratory, of rampant majoritarian excess. Its minders wear belligerent exclusionism as a badge – mind you, we do not need ‘their’ vote, they have been rendered politically irrelevant. They mindfully, and dangerously, exclude, barricade, stereotype, kill. There are, as the honourable junior Union minister for food processing, Niranjan Jyoti, reminded us, Ramzadas and H****zadas. But better still ” kutte ka bachcha”, it is so brutally effective.

This day, 25 years ago, K.K. Venugopal, counsel for the Uttar Pradesh government, stood before a Supreme Court bench, all his fervent pledges and undertakings torn to smithereens by the frenzy that had taken the Babri Masjid, and he submitted: “My lords, I hang my head in shame.”

It’s unlikely such penitence will come to be uttered today on behalf of the powers. There is a new regime, radically at variance with any other since 1947, and it has new purposes and requirements. Shame doesn’t figure.

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