Mumbai and Ayodhya
HOWLS of protest greeted Rehman Malik during his recent visit to Delhi. TV anchors and leader writers accused Pakistan’s interior minister of likening the Mumbai carnage of 2008 to the Ayodhya outrage of 1992.
It was evident from the published transcripts of his public comments he hadn’t said anything of the kind though there was nothing wrong about it if he had.
If anything, Mr Malik merely underscored the need for India and Pakistan to live in peace, free of Samjhauta Express-like attacks, secure against terrorism of the kind witnessed in Mumbai and bereft of the communal upsurge seen in the tearing down of the Babri Masjid by a politico-religious mob.
Cooked-up controversies sometimes find their unintended use, and so may be the case with the Indian media-versus-Malik bout. The news channels made a production of highlighting an apparently invented slight over the claimed bracketing of two separate episodes of organised violence.
Perhaps the offended men and women of the concerned media groups should explain what in their view is the salient difference between the two events — Ayodhya 1992 and Mumbai 2008.
We know that the massacre in Mumbai was an example of a classic terror plot. The two questions remaining to be answered in that episode are: did it have official approval in the Pakistani establishment as many in India and several Pakistani journalists suggest, and who should shoulder the blame in the Indian establishment for letting it happen. Mr Malik called it an intelligence failure on both sides.
What about Ayodhya, how exactly was it different from Mumbai? It was 20 years ago this month that the 16th-century mosque was razed, setting off a violent chain of events across the country. How should we look at it today?
Is Lal Kishan Advani’s cross-country chariot ride during which he instigated mindless communal frenzy (and unalloyed obscurantism) to be cauterised and perhaps discarded from memory? Or did his exhortations to the Hindu masses to march to reclaim a decrepit mosque mark a leap in the spurring of full-blown religious revivalism in the country in its extremely virulent form?
There were several attempts to engender Hindu revivalism previously, not the least through periodic episodes of anti-cow slaughter campaigns. These campaigns resulted in swathes of northern Indian states banning the consumption of beef and their cluster became known as the cow-belt.
That still left out vast geographical territories and their inhabitants from the prescribed gastronomic rigidities, not the least among the restive and predominantly Christian tribal northeastern states.
Moreover, the cow campaign didn’t carry a political plan to catapult its pursuant groups to power. That came with Mr Advani’s expressed desire to right a 400-year old wrong as it were, by demolishing the Babri mosque built in the name of a Mughal emperor. Mr Advani promised to erect a temple there instead.
Galvanising a genial community into a militantly assertive political group was just one of the objectives of the Ayodhya movement. Its less advertised fallout was handier as it conjured useful images of an extant problem, not one of a romantic emperor whose remains are interred in Kabul.
Mr Advani successfully dealt with not one but three real political foes — the electorally monopolistic Congress party, scientific historiography in India and of course, the incorrigibly adversarial Muslims.
Bal Thackeray’s cohorts used the occasion to settle scores with the Muslims in Mumbai. Thousands were killed or rendered homeless. The cycle ended with bomb blasts in posh localities of Mumbai. Members of the Muslim underworld apparently planted them as vendetta.
The first stone against the historians was cast as early as 1977, when a coalition government with several pro-Hindutva ministers, including Mr Advani, banned a series of textbooks written by world-renowned interpreters of India’s past.
Professional historians became and still remain a major stumbling block for the Hindutva project.
School textbooks as a tool of communalising a polity pose a common challenge for liberal ideologues in India and Pakistan, but the two countries have shared far more in terms of their harmful communal linkages.
I believe what happened in Ayodhya in 1992 had transpired in Pakistan four decades earlier. The targeting of Ahmadis in Pakistan’s Punjab in the 1950s had Ayodhya-like characteristics. They both demonised a minority community to consolidate a majority who would become perpetual tormentors of those removed from power.
The supposedly liberal parties — the Congress in India and the PPP in Pakistan — helped rather than thwart the instilling of this sectarian ideology. The two events helped change the liberal-secular discourse that had guided their early resolve into a growing search for religious identities.
The Pakistani event took the wind out of the sails of the country’s early leftist yearnings, as did the Ayodhya episode, which followed the fall of the global socialist bloc. It usurped and replaced the leftist agenda in India and completely so.
Protests against Mr Malik’s imagined remarks by the Indian media were thus an attempt to mask this huge embarrassment — one that pits the bunch of terrorists in Mumbai against the men and women who planted bombs on the Samjhauta Express and assorted mosques across India. They are both products of religious revivalism in their countries.
As I write this, news has come that an alleged Hindutva fanatic has confessed to not only bombing the ill-fated train to Pakistan but also to having shot S.A.R. Geelani in 2005, leaving five bullets lodged in the body of the Kashmiri teacher who miraculously survived.
Other than the difference in the scale of their criminality it is difficult to see how Muslim fanatics in Pakistan are different from their Hindu counterparts in India.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.