Listen to Babri Masjid’s ghost: It’s telling us that politics based on religious identity doesn’t work in the long run

Twenty-five years ago this day Babri Masjid was demolished. On the debris of the ruined mosque rose a new political force which roared out its hatred of “minority appeasement” and “pseudo secularism” and called for assertive Hindu cultural nationalism. BJP emerged as a serious contender for political power at this time and in 1995, three years after the Babri demolition, the saffron party stormed to a majority in Gujarat for the first time and has not lost an election in the state since.

The Ram rath that rumbled out of Somnath in 1990 with LK Advani as charioteer and Narendra Modi as chaperon has steamrolled its way to national centre stage. Hindutva is in power in 18 states and the Centre and a Hindu rashtra is firmly in place in Gujarat. The Hindu chariot appears invincible. But is it? Just as Congress played identity politics under the cover of secularism, now BJP plays identity politics through Hindutva. But does identity politics always win? Or is the ghost of Babri Masjid having its revenge on its destroyers?

Indira Gandhi played identity politics in both Punjab and Kashmir in the early 80s, seeking to create ‘Hindu’ consolidation in both states against the Akalis and Farooq Abdullah respectively. When she was assassinated, she became the first politician who in attempting to ride the identity tiger was devoured by it. Over the decades, Congress’s so called ‘secular’ politics degenerated into a pandering to clerics, priests and identity warriors of all hues, as seen when Rajiv Gandhi overturned the Shah Bano judgment, banned Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, and allowed puja in the Babri Masjid.

Illustration: Ajit Ninan

Since secularism lapsed into identity politics, it led inevitably to a reaction and mobilisation in the form of a counter-identity, namely Hindutva. Identity politics in the form of secularism has extracted a heavy price and Congress is down to its lowest tally of 44 seats. Identity politics in the form of Hindutva looks triumphant but it too contains the seeds of its own destruction.

No state better illustrates Hindutva’s journey than Gujarat. Once a Congress bastion, the party streaked to a three-fourths majority in 1985 with the Madhavsinh Solanki crafted caste alliance…

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