NATIONAL POLITICS: Hand on heart – India’s ‘bigger story’ faces Ayodhya test

NATIONAL POLITICS: Hand on heart – India’s ‘bigger story’ faces Ayodhya test – is India going to behave in a secular, matured and judicious manner, or is there still prejudice and frustration at its administrative bungling and ineptness ?!!

Ayodhya Verdict - has India really politically matured ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY SANKARSHAN THAKUR

New Delhi, Sept. 29: A nervous shiver runs through calls for calm resounding across the political spectrum as the clock ticks close to a judicial verdict on the Ayodhya dispute by the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court tomorrow.

The all-round and even-toned commitment to the court’s decree has been widely perceived as a silver lining to the unravelling of probably our most intractable row.

But the divisive history of the wrangle has led many to apprehend there might be a dark cloud attached to it.

Renewed appeals for peace echoed from high portals today, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi leading the exhort to restraint in the name of India’s plurality and syncretic tradition.

“It is my humble request to all of you to accept the verdict in the same liberal spirit and great tradition that this country is known for. Have faith in the judiciary and maintain peace and communal amity at all costs. India’s biggest strength is the emotional unity of its people,” Sonia said in a plea that, at once, evoked new faith in public equanimity and old fears that tomorrow’s ruling may breach it.

Following up on two cabinet resolutions over the past week and a message from the Prime Minister, Union home minister P. Chidambaram invoked the past and the future to buttress the case for communal concord.

He quoted Mahatma Gandhi’s “Ishwar Allah tero naam, Sabko sanmati de Bhagwan” and put premium on the belief of the young in a new India that he held had “moved on”.

Contending that the India story was a “much bigger story”, Chidambaram said: “India has moved, especially for people born after 1992. They have a very different world view. Young people have moved on and they recognise that the India story is more than a dispute over religious places.… It (India) is a much bigger story.”

But as he allayed cause for anxiety, Chidambaram emphasised preparedness to meet any threat to law and order.

Cleverly, though, Chidambaram quoted the stated positions of various parties, including the BJP, on respecting the court’s verdict, and put the onus of calm equally on them.

The government has been emphasising that tomorrow’s ruling is not the end of the road for either party; there is the option of an appeal to the Supreme Court and the government hopes it will quickly be exercised by whichever set that feels aggrieved.

At the political level, though, the jousting was sharp and left room for the eruption of a fresh blaze over the disputed site.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayavati sought to pass the buck even before the verdict has been pronounced. She complained tonight that enough security forces had not been made available to the state and the Centre would be “fully responsible” if any untoward incident took place.

“The state demanded 642 companies of the central forces against which only 52 companies had been allocated,” Mayavati said in a statement.

Asked the reason for the almost panicked appeals for peace, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh pointedly named the BJP. “The BJP’s attitude does not inspire confidence,” he said. “They behaved irresponsibly even after giving an undertaking to the Supreme Court.”

The BJP, which fielded its Muslim face in MP Shahnawaz Hussain, took exception to Singh’s invective and labelled him provocative. “The BJP is a responsible political party. It has already appealed for peace. Digvijay Singh should not cross the limits of propriety and give nonsensical statements that could breach peace,” Hussain said.

But having showcased its commitment to constitutionalism, the BJP is keeping its side-burners revved. While Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has gone public with mature advocacy of public composure, party senior L.K. Advani was sharp in re-emphasising the case for a Ram temple at the disputed site on his rath yatra anniversary return to Somnath last week.

The BJP’s dare is frontal: even if the Hindu claimants lose tomorrow, can the Congress eradicate the “de facto Ram-lalla temple” that already exists on the site?

A meeting of the party’s core committee has been scheduled after the verdict to devise the party’s line; it could well determine what may lie between the silver lining many see and the dark cloud many shiver at.

Ayodhya chants peace – but do the politicians who prey on communal tensions for conscienceless personal gain ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY ARCHIS MOHAN

Ayodhya, Sept. 29: The buzzword in the twin towns on verdict day-eve is peace.

On a day P. Chidambaram quoted Gandhiji’s favourite lines — Ishwar Allah tero naam, sabko sanmati de Bhagwan — the common people in Ayodhya and Faizabad courted peace in their own quaint way, pasting stickers with couplets on vehicles or putting them up in paan shops.

Faizabad desh se kahega, faisla jo bhi ho shahr shaant rahega” (Faizabad will tell the country that whatever the verdict, the town will remain peaceful), went a sticker on a truck. “Aman mera chaman, Hind mera watan” (Peace is my garden, India is my country), went another in a shop. Elsewhere, people handed out pamphlets with appeals for peace.

Contrary to apprehensions of trouble, it seemed business as usual here. Shops and schools remained open. Men and women, both Hindus and Muslims, milled in the streets near the Hanumangarhi temple, the biggest in Ayodhya, shopping for provisions and vegetables.

The only thing that betrayed their anxiety was their shopping bags. Most bravely said the twin cities would remain peaceful whatever the verdict, but were unwilling to take chances. “It is better to be prepared. I am stocking up on provisions,” said R.P. Singh, a resident.

One of the original petitioners, Md Hashim Ansari, said he was confident the security arrangements would ensure there was no trouble. “I have several Hindu friends. I can walk into any of the 8,000 temples here. The priest of Hanumangarhi is a friend. Trouble, if any, will be created by politicians,” the 90-year-old, who lives on the outskirts of Ayodhya, said.

He then talked of politicians who, to his mind, had exploited the Ayodhya dispute to their advantage. “They built their political careers, minted money. I was the original petitioner. But look at my children and grandchildren — they are drivers,” he said, sitting on a wooden bed in a dilapidated house.

A tailor by profession, Ansari said the verdict, whichever way it went, should be respected by all. He said he had yet to decide if he would move the Supreme Court if the verdict did not go in his favour. “We will decide that tomorrow,” he said.

Peace key to nervous Congress, BJP smug – the test of the times ?!!

SANJAY K. JHA AND J.P. YADAV

New Delhi, Sept. 29: A slightly nervous Congress leadership feels that the immediate priority should be to ensure that the verdict is not followed by untoward incidents.

The Congress is confident that it can minimise the political impact of the verdict if communal harmony in the country is not disturbed significantly.

An eruption of violence will discredit the party much in the same manner as the P.V. Narasimha Rao government’s record in the early nineties.

The Congress leadership is convinced that many political parties are seeing this as an opportunity to revive their fortunes. “If the next few days pass off peacefully and the matter goes to the Supreme Court, we can overcome the threat without significant losses. We are keeping our fingers crossed,” a cabinet minister said.

The party’s deep sense of unease was reflected in Sonia Gandhi’s decision to issue an appeal for peace, although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, home minister P. Chidambaram, the cabinet and the party had issued similar pleas in the past few days.

Sonia said in a statement today: “It is my humble request to all of you to accept the verdict in the same liberal spirit and great tradition that this country is known for. Have faith in the judiciary and maintain peace and communal amity at all costs. India’s biggest strength is the emotional unity of its people.”

Sonia also recalled India’s pluralistic and secular ethos, the collective rationale of the society and the capacity to honour judicial pronouncements.

Although the Congress had often stated the Ram temple was no more a big political issue, party general secretary Digvijay Singh justified the flurry of appeals: “On both sides, there are fringe elements who thrive in a communally charged environment. They would like to polarise the body politic.”

The Congress has learnt lessons from the mistakes of the Rao regime and asked the government to deal with the situation with an iron hand.

But the party said it was not very confident of the attitude of BJP-led governments. Digvijay, who expressed satisfaction with the Mayavati government’s preparations, said: “The BJP’s conduct does not inspire confidence.”

Digvijay, who was blasted by the BJP today for his acerbic remarks, said: “If the BJP and the Sangh parivar maintain peace and harmony after tomorrow’s verdict, I will reconsider my views. But their conduct and character so far have been suspect.”

He added: “The communal forces will not be allowed to create trouble this time. But there are some elements in the Sangh parivar who would like to incite trouble.”

The BJP leadership has been trying to change but the Congress wants to ensure that the blame falls on the Sangh parivar in case violence breaks out.

The BJP today fielded its Muslim face, Shahnawaz Hussain, and accused the Congress of stoking communal tension through “irresponsible” statements.

Unlike the tense Congress, BJP leaders today appeared relaxed, calculating that whichever way the verdict goes, it did not have much to lose.

Hussain said: “The BJP is a responsible political party. It has already appealed for peace. Digvijay Singh should not cross the limits of propriety and give nonsensical statements that could breach peace.”

BJP sources said the party had deliberately adopted the strategy of not jumping the gun before the verdict. Party insiders said all leaders had been told to refrain from issuing sensitive statements. A meeting of the party’s core committee has been scheduled after the verdict to devise the party’s line.

The BJP feels it can afford to wait and watch as it will be the Congress that may find itself in a tight corner if polarisation sets in after the verdict.

The only worry, BJP leaders admit, is the upcoming poll in Bihar, where Nitish Kumar is nervous over the issue. The party, however, is discounting the possibility of Nitish severing ties with the BJP as it is too late now.

Gandhi on PC lips – but well away from the tense areas ?!!

NISHIT DHOLABHAI

New Delhi, Sept. 29: A day before the Ayodhya verdict, the Centre invoked Mahatma Gandhi.

“Ishwar Allah Tero Naam, sabko sanmati de Bhagwan ,” Union home minister P. Chidambaram said, reciting lines from Gandhi’s favourite bhajan . While pleading with “Ishwar” or “Allah” to bless everyone with wisdom, he took care to omit the opening lines that refer to Ram and Sita.

The bhajan, a part of the Mahatma’s daily prayers, was sung by the thousands who joined the Dandi march. Its tune was composed by Vishnu Digambar Paluskar. The original hymn is about Ram, but it was tweaked into a secular version by Gandhians.

The same version, sung by Mohammad Rafi, played on several television channels today. Doordarshan telecast patriotic songs and Gandhi’s pictures, following these with the slogan “Yehi hamari pehchan hai (This alone is our identity)” and the song Bharat me hai vishwas (We have faith in India).

Television channels have been asked by the Centre not to run any news bulletins or pictures that could provoke communal passions.

Chidambaram usually does not go beyond a few words of Hindi, although he did recently speak at the Hindi Divas celebration organised by his ministry. Promotion of Hindi falls under the purview of the home ministry.

Today, he quoted the Hindi verse while making an appeal for peace after the Ayodhya verdict. “I would once again appeal to all sections of the people of the country to cooperate with the government and uphold the values that are dear to our country. I wish to conclude by quoting two lines from Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite bhajan,” he said, before reciting the lines without the musical intonation.

Chidambaram had earlier appealed for peace on September 22 when the verdict was expected on September 24.

The home minister often refers to the Mahatma in Parliament, especially when it comes to countering the BJP. During a debate in the Rajya Sabha last year, while quoting from Amartya Sen’s Idea of Justice, Chidambaram read out a reference to “Mohandas Gandhi” and then quickly added “Mahatma Gandhi”.

Today he said though the government does not foresee any trouble, it has kept security forces ready.

Singed in 1992, towns pray – Tense Dabaka & Dhubri want to ‘get it over with’ – let good sense prevail all around in a secular India ?!!

SARAT SARMA AND BIJOY KUMAR SHARMA

Dabaka/Dhubri, Sept. 29: Md Tafajjul Ali and Rathin Das, businessmen from Kurkur basti and Nayamati in Dabaka, had witnessed communal violence rock this town in Nagaon district nearly 18 years ago with 39 persons being killed by the time the sun had set on December 6, 1992.

A day before Allahabad High Court is scheduled to deliver its Ayodhya judgment, Ali and Das today spoke the same language with the drift being “let’s get it over with.”

“It has been nearly 18 years since so much blood was spilled here…the images remain vivid in the memory and every time the Ayodhya issue comes up in some form or the other, tension resurfaces. Let tomorrow be the last time when we hear about it,” 45-year-old Ali said. “We all have full faith in the judicial system,” he added.

Das agrees. “We do not want to revisit 1992. There are a lot more things to do around here — development being the priority. Let the issue be settled once and for all and the court is the right institution to do it since we as a people have failed to resolve the matter among us.”

The feelings of Das and Ali found echo in Dhubri, several hundred kilometres to the west of Dabaka, where 14 persons had died in communal violence on December 8, two days after the Babri Masjid demolition.

As in Dabaka, an air of uneasiness hangs heavy over Dhubri town, notwithstanding the sane voices of Tazmul Hoque or Ram Nath Sharma, both of whom had lost their near and dear ones. Hoque lost his brother, Monowar Hussain, then 26, and Sharma lost his nephew, Nabal Kishore Sharma, then 30.

A resident of ward 7 of Dhubri town, Hoque shudders to even recall the day. “That is long gone. For the past 18 years, I have tried to forget it. There is no point in bringing up the matter. I only hope that everyone exercises utmost restraint, no matter what the court decides. 1992 must not be allowed to happen again, it is our responsibility,” he said.

Sharma, 70, of Railgumti in Dhubri said, “I know the pain of losing a dear one. I can understand how others who lose their near and dear ones feel. Bahut ho gaya … ab aur nahin (Enough has happened, let it not happen again),” he said, struggling to keep his emotions under control.

Police are leaving nothing to chance in both the places. Hojai police have formed four peace committees, one in each police station area.

“Right now, we have a company of CRPF while another is reaching Dabaka from Hamren subdivision of Karbi Anglong district tonight. We are keeping a tight vigil through patrolling,” Hojai subdivisional police officer Prasanta Dutta said.

“Some people had moved out from some interior areas during the past few days for safety and security. But they returned after we assured them of safety through the peace committees,” he added.

Nagaon deputy commissioner M. Angamuthu visited Dabaka on Monday to take stock of the situation and review security preparedness.

Giving out a stern warning, Dhubri superintendent of police Dipak Choudhury said, “Let everyone understand that none is above the law and anyone found inciting trouble will not be spared. I have forces to face any situation.”

He said additional Assam Police battalions had reached Dhubri and were being deployed in areas that had a history of riots and communal tension.

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