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December 7, 1999


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E-Mail this column to a friend Arvind Lavakare

Has Vajpayee forgotten Ayodhya?

It is a surprise of the millennium that, even some two weeks after the event, the media has not latched onto Kalyan Singh's charge that Prime Minister Vajpayee is a liar. That outburst of the deposed chief minister came after Vajpayee's tragic effort at Lucknow the other day to refute Kalyan Singh's earlier expressed viewpoint that the go-by to Ayodhya had cost the BJP dear this time around.

What ought to have caused consternation to the vigilante media, but didn't, was Vajpayee's nonchalant declaration that in the previous parliamentary election too the BJP's agenda did not include the Ram temple at Ayodhya, abrogation of Article 370 of our Constitution and the introduction of a Uniform Civil Code.

Now the label of a "liar" may be too harsh and uncivilised to pin on any prime minister, especially Vajpayee, but there is no doubt at all that either Vajpayee's advancing age caused him to be forgetful on that crucial day in Lucknow or his spin-doctors didn't brief him properly, or both.

Mr Vajpayee, you see, is wrong on all three counts: the BJP's printed election manifesto 1998 did indeed root for those three "contentious" issues. And the deposed chief minister of UP may well be right when he said that the exclusion of the Ram temple from the BJP's agenda for the 1999 elections --- as harmonised in the NDA's election manifesto --- was the reason why the BJP's Lok Sabha seats had plunged to 29 from the record of 57 it had secured last time around. Incidentally, as the television news clip showed, the PM asked an aide's help to zero in on the figure of 57 but sought no such aid to verify on the BJP's menu for the 1998 hustings.

Whether the aides themselves would have been able to give Vajpayee the correct position of BJP's 1998 election manifesto is itself doubtful. Events since April 1998 have moved so fast and furious for Vajpayee and those around him --and for the media, too, apparently --- that the BJP's published position for the polls of 1998 would already appear to be a forgotten page of history. The PM has been so immersed in running --- and preserving --- the NDA coalition that he would seem to have lost track of the BJP's earlier avatar of just 21 months ago. The relentless tension on the border with Pakistan and the very urgent need to put the national economy on a self-sustaining level haven't obviously helped to keep the memory cells well-oiled and sharp.

But Vajpayee would do well to remember that pages 4, 5 and 38 of the BJP's election manifesto 1998 cannot forever be abandoned --- not as long as the RSS exists. And, as history has shown, men may come and men may go but the RSS goes on forever, some past bans notwithstanding. Its concept of a Hindu "rashtra" may be outlandish but its position on the three "contentious" issues is undoubtedly strong and sensible.

Let's go back to those three pages of the BJP's 1998 Manifesto. On page 4 there it is stated that 'The BJP is committed to facilitate the construction of a magnificent Shri Ram Mandir at Ram Janmasthan in Ayodhya where a makeshift temple already exists. Shri Ram lies at the core of Indian consciousness. The BJP will explore all consensual, legal and constitutional means to facilitate the construction of Shri Ram Mandir at Ayodhya.'

Page 5 of the same manifesto avows that 'The BJP will abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution.'

Lastly, under the chapter titled 'Empowerment of Women' on page 38, the BJP manifesto says that the party will 'Entrust the Law Commission to formulate a Uniform Civil Code based on the progressive practices from all traditions. This Code will: (a) Give women property rights; (b) Ensure women's right to adopt; (c) Guarantee women equal guardianship rights; (d) Remove discriminatory clauses in divorce laws; (e) Put an end to polygamy; (f) Make registration of all marriages mandatory.'

These three subjects --- Ram Mandir, abrogation of Article 370 and adoption of a Uniform Civil Code --- have, for some time now, been widely referred to as 'contentious' issues. After his recent memory lapse in Lucknow, Vajpayee would seem to have reduced them to the status of 'contemptuous' issues, not even worth remembering, leave alone implementing. But are those three issues really so anti-national as to be regarded as cancerous? A brief examination ought to dispel that notion provided one is truly objective.

Take the Ram Mandir first. What the BJP manifesto promised was to "explore all consensual, legal and constitutional means to facilitate the construction" of that temple. Now what, pray, is contemptuous of that vow merely to "explore" and that, too, only the accepted civilised means?

By the way, what precisely do those "secularists" have against the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya? Nothing, really, excepting that the Mandir will antagonise the 12 per cent Muslim population of our country. This premise is simply not based on ascertained public opinion, but rather, on vote bank politics. Indeed, excepting for a few fundamentalist Muslim leaders and their blind followers, the majority of that community would accept the temple as an inevitable event but one which would help communal harmony.

On the other hand, millions of Hindus --- even the genuinely secular ones --- who have fallen into the trap of believing that there would be a massive Muslim backlash consequent to the rise of the Ram Mandir, would, one feels sure, be happy in their heart of hearts to finally have a magnificent memorial to an icon who has been the central part of a pan-India culture for hundreds of years

The Left historians and the "secularists", of course, have objection only to the venue of the temple, doubting, as they do, the historical findings that the Babri structure was built in 1528 after destroying an extant temple of Ram. But these very protesters have no answer as to why the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee stayed away from the negotiations after January 1991 when it was becoming clear that historical facts were indeed honing in to the Hindu point of view regarding the sanctity of Ayodhya as the seat for that sacred temple.

Now look at Article 370 of the Constitution. By stipulating that every law passed by our Parliament is applicable to the State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) only if that state's assembly so desired, that Article makes a mockery of our Parliament's supremacy. For instance, the laws regarding CBI and film censorship do not apply to J&K!! Apart from several other political, social, cultural and ethnic fissures created by this unique constitutional provision --- created only as a temporary provision to overcome the peculiar circumstances of half a century ago when J&K was working towards its own constitution as permitted by its deed of Accession to the Dominion of India --- there is the little-realised economic malaise brought about by Article 370.

This economic malaise arises out of a basic conflict between the Constitution of India and the constitution of J&K. This conflict revolves round the fundamental right to acquire property conferred by the Constitution on every Indian citizen through Article 19 subject to regulation by ordinary law. This right is denied by J&K's constitution to all except those who are recognised as "State subjects" as defined by an antiquated stipulation of the period when Kashmir was an independent princely state. The devastating consequence is that an Ambani or a Birla cannot acquire property in J&K.

Is it any wonder then that J&K is the only state in India that does not woo entrepreneurs and industrialists in Mumbai or Gujarat or elsewhere? Is it any wonder then that Kashmir constantly begs for financial aid from New Delhi --- at gunpoint occasionally --- on the plea that its main revenue is from tourism?

It is time that Farooq Abdullah and all thinking Kashmiris as well as "secularists" realise that even Switzerland's prosperity is not based exclusively on tourism. Just in case they don't know, Switzerland --- a neutral country which has never lacked tourists even during World Wars --- is internationally known for its cheese and chocolate factories, for its watch-manufacturing, and for its several industries including chemicals, pharmaceuticals and engineering.

Since J&K does not have such entrepreneurial talent and wherewithal of its own, it must clearly lay out the red carpet for Indian industrialists outside its borders. And this can be done only by abrogating Article 370 so that Infosys and others can be allowed to set up base in J&K to provide jobs, economic security and a solid future to the army of unemployed, frustrated youth languishing in India's poor cousin of Switzerland.

Lastly, there is the Uniform Civil Code. Presently, different religious communities in India are governed by different civil laws relating to marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption. Thus, a Hindu male or female and a Christian male can secure a divorce by establishing only the charge of adultery; however, a Christian woman has to establish an additional charge like desertion or cruelty to get her divorce.

What kind of "equality to all citizens" is this? What kind of "secularism" is this that requires the state to look at the religion of a person before determining which law of the land is applicable to him/her? Sheer logic demands a Uniform Civil Code in a secular democracy. That is why the framers of our Constitution made its adoption a Directive Principle of state policy. It has, alas, been a principle ignored by all our "secularists" save the "fundamentalist" RSS and the BJP as it was prior to the advent of the NDA.

Records show that in the early 1960s, a Bharatiya Jana Sangh member of Parliament wanted to introduce a private member's bill signalling the end of Article 370, but was dissuaded from doing so by Jawaharlal Nehru. His name: Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the same one who at Lucknow the other day showed that he had forgotten Ayodhya too. Has he now forgotten a Directive Principle of the Constitution as well?

If Vajpayee & Co have really become so forgetful so soon of what they stood for before sliding into power, it behoves the entire Sangh Parivar to carry on with the original trilogy by holding lectures and discourses on the subjects throughout the country. Education is what the nation needs, and not merely primary education for children, but adult education for those who do not think or don't think enough.

Arvind Lavakare

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