Politics fueled violence in Ayodhya


NEW DELHI - The absence of violence in the aftermath of the Ayodhya verdict has been interpreted as an indication of improved Hindu-Muslim relations, but it is more likely to signal a change in the political atmosphere. The numerous violent incidents India has witnessed in the past were mainly politically motivated, not due to real divisions between Hindus and Muslims. Mild reactions to today's ruling indicate that divisive religion-related issues no longer benefit any political party.

The land dispute existed even during British rule. As a solution, the British split the site into two, giving Muslims access to the main portion of the structure, and Hindus to the outer area. Two years after the 1947 independence, an idol of Rama was secretly kept inside the portion given to Muslims, which renewed tensions.

However, the dispute took on a political flavour when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), mentored by the hardline Hindu Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), led a campaign in the 1980s to build a temple to Rama at the very spot where the mosque stood in an attempt to gain an edge over the "secular" Indian National Congress. It culminated in the demolition of the mosque on 6 December 1992, which led to the violence that killed more than 2,000 people people.

Many BJP leaders – including the founder of the movement, Lal Krishna Advani – admit that the politicisation of the dispute gave power to the party in 1998, though through a coalition.

The BJP pushed the Hindu nationalist agenda during its rule. In western Gujarat state, more than 2,000 people – mostly Muslims – were killed in violence in 2002 that followed the burning alive of 59 Hindu passengers in a train fire, which the BJP claimed was caused by local Muslims.

In the 2004 elections the BJP's coalition lost to a Congress-led alliance. The vote was believed to be in favour of secularism and development. But the RSS blamed the BJP's defeat on the dilution of the Hindu nationalist ideology and sought to create more unrest. In 2007, and again in 2008, a massive spate of violence flared against Christians in eastern Orissa state following the killing of a Hindu nationalist leader. The assassination was blamed on local Christians, and more than 100 people were killed and thousands of homes torched.

In the 2009 general elections, the BJP fared even worse than in 2004, which led to the return of the Congress party. Again, the BJP's defeat was attributed to its Hindu nationalist agenda. Twice bitten, the party was finally shy and began to distance itself from communal violence.

The peace after today's verdict reflects the reality that it is party politics – not troubled Hindu-Muslim relations – that cause violence in the country.

Asia, ReligionVishal Arora