Bharat Ratna to LK Advani Signals the Grand Success of Communal Politics

The Rath Yatra, engineered by Advani, brought fortunes to the Bharatiya Janata Party which witnessed an astounding political success in subsequent elections.

The veteran politician of the BJP, Lal Krishna Advani, has been awarded the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in the country. He joins the list of right-wing leaders and intellectuals like Madan Mohan Malviya, Nananji Deshmukh, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who have been conferred this title by the Modi government. The conferring of Bharat Ratna coincides with the consecration of Ram Temple in Ayodhya on the disputed site where the Babri Masjid stood. It was demolished by the Karsewaks, the pack of militant Hindu nationalists mobilised by the BJP-RSS and its allied organisation to reconstruct the Ram Temple.

The moment warrants our attention to what exceptional service of the highest order qualifies Advani for Bharat Ratna, revisiting his political legacy and contribution to Indian politics. This brings us to the time of aggressive Hindutva posturing through the Rath Yatra in the 90s, whose architect-in-chief was Advani. Now retired from active political life, Advani is the early incarnation of aggressive right-wing Hindutva politics in the country, which fundamentally altered the language of Indian politics. He is the founding member of the BJP.

The unapologetic leader of militant Hindutva politics

The Ram Janmabhoomi Andolan came as a watershed moment in Indian politics and made the ideology of Hindutva the political mainstream. The Ram Janmabhoomi Yatra served multiple purposes, the most sacred being the political revival of right-wing Hindutva politics. It was during this time that Hindutva politics took a major militant turn. Lumpen organisations like Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad became compulsory elements in composing communal violence and polarising the electorate.

The Hindu right’s search for a new lease of political life brought the Ram Janmabhoomi movement to the epicentre of political mobilisation. Ram mandir andolan was also an upper-caste conservative revolution that brought the Hindu majority’s religious sentiments to the centre of political discourse to limit the impact of Mandal democratisation and create a political Hindu vote bank through the cooptation of non-dominant castes and organised enmity against minorities. The organised enmity against Muslims became the mass mobilisation plank of Hindutva politics since the time of Advani, whose most evocative display happened during the Ram Janmabhoomi Yatra. Advani occasionally expressed his inherent disdain against the subaltern political assertion by accusing Mandal politics of dividing Hindus, which the Yatra undone through a spiritual unity amongst Hindus.

Also read: LK Advani: From Rath Yatra to Bharat Ratna, a Political Journey Propelled By Violence, Polarisation

The political spirituality of Rath Yatra

The procession of Rath Yatra was designed to create a political awakening of the Hindu nation, standing united with anger against the civilisational assault over religion, which continued even after independence through pseudo-secularism. As Gyanendra Pandey explains, “The conflict over the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya is part of a larger Hindu drive to reclaim the national culture from its enemies –Muslims, but also secularists and Westernisers.”

The chariot-themed design of Toyota Van had the portrait of Advani with slogans making clarion calls in support of the Ram Mandir movement. Writing about Babri Masjid, Richard Davis mentions “the choice of site juxtaposes two figures well known to most people in north India: Ram and Babar. As God and human, they are made to stand for two religions – Hinduism and Islam – in a highly imbalanced manner”.

The movement had a mass orientation, intended to create a communal commotion and carve a sacred nation space, with Ayodhya at its centre.  This projected  Ram Janmabhoomi as a national issue whose liberation entailed undoing the historical wrongs inflicted by the Muslim others on the Hindu religion. The 35-day Yatra of Advani had an approximate 10,000 km long route, covering eight North Indian states of Sangh stronghold in the Hindi heartland. It started from Somnath temple, having symbolic importance to the Hindutva assertion. For Advani, “the reconstruction of Somnath was the first chapter in a journey to pre­serve the old symbols of unity, communal amity, and cultural oneness to be succeeded by the Ram Janmabhoomi”.

Narendra Modi with L.K. Advani during Advani's rath yatra. Credit: Twitter

Narendra Modi with L.K. Advani during Advani’s rath yatra. Credit: Twitter

The event witnessed the active participation of Sangh’s militant subsidiary organisations armed with weapons, bringing a militant Hindutva zeal to the yatra. The violent ceremonious processions were actively endorsed and supported by Advani. He was given a forehead tilak of blood in Ujjain by militants of VHP. Songs, slogans and speeches exhorted communal sentiments and demonised Muslims, inciting communal conflict throughout the itinerary. They were clearly designed to create Hindu militancy and raise the religious consciousness of Hindus on communal lines. The outcome was predictable. Town after town succumbed to riots, arson, killings, and curfew. The Yatra resulted in communal riots in most of the cities, spreading anti-muslim evocation of violent politics.

Backed by planned rumours and incendiary propaganda, the Yatra succeeded in creating a geography of violence and aggrandised communal polarisation. The riots shaped the social psyche of the Hindus to embrace the religious identity and rally behind the cause of Ram Mandir. The cynical exploitation of religious imagery for political ends made the BJP the natural party of Hindus. This yatra, engineered by Advani, brought fortunes to the BJP which witnessed an astounding political success in subsequent elections.

The principles of law and Rath Yatra

During the yatra, Advani showed an open disregard for the land of law, constitutional principles of secularism and adjudicatory powers of the Indian judiciary. He found the temple movement to be a matter of popular Hindu faith that could not be decided by science, history, or law. He questioned the secular principles of the constitution and demanded that the Hindu sovereignty over the sacred space be granted and that the judiciary should not adjudicate matters of faith. Time flattened these appeals of Advani as Ram Temple stands on the ruins of the Mosque, as decided by the judiciary and inaugurated by the Indian state.

If anything, Advani curated the current brand of Hindutva politics. The culture of mob violence and Hindu majoritarian politics have trumped electoral politics. Hindutva has become the hegemonic political discourse and minorities are being relegated to a substandard location. Secular credentials of the constitutions are subverted by the Indian state. From dormant to a hegemonic political mainstream, the Hindutva politics of BJP grew in the shadow of leaders like Advani. His acquittance in the Babri demolition and subsequent awarding of Bharat Ratna narrates the tale of communal evolution in Indian politics and its grand success. The hero of Hindutva politics receives the official recognition of Bharat Ratna.

Himanshu Shukla is a PhD scholar at the Centre for Political Studies, JNU. Shukla tweets at @135Himanshu