Reading and understanding in proper perspective any historical event–or for that matter– history itself–are two different issues which need to be explained as there is enough scope for exaggeration or distortion of facts–in some cases a particular development is underplayed or totally overlooked.
Take the case of unlocking of Babri Masjid on Feb 1, 1986 in front of a Doordarshan team minutes after the Faizabad district judge K M Pandey ruling. This fact was referred by me in my last article on the issue: “Truths, Half-truths and Untruths involving Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid movement”.
A sizeable number of young readers actually failed to fully appreciate the real situation as they started equating the impact of TV coverage with the present age. No doubt the haste shown by the local authorities–obviously after the green signal they got from someone at the top in the political establishment–raised many eyebrows, then, but the upcoming generation needs to be told that the influence of television coverage was very limited then.
Thus, it would be sheer exaggeration to suggest that Doordarshan news was used to flare up the whole issue in one go. Many writers (even foreigners) in later years overplayed this aspect though the truth is that it was the print media, both English and vernacular ones, which played a much more important role in spreading the news then and in subsequent months. The role of television came much later.
There used to be one 20-minute Hindi news bulletin at 8:40 PM to be followed by an English one. Most of the Doordarshan news was confined to the national capital as information technology was not very advanced.
Besides, despatching any news item immediately from a small town like Ayodhya to the Doordarshan was not an easy task like today in the era of instant information.
The truth is that more than government-controlled Doordarshan it was the privately-owned newspaper and several years later private television channels which contributed enormously in whipping up communal and even caste passion/divide in the society.
While the sale of television sets in mega cities was gradually picking up in mid-1980s, in small cities and towns it was a sort of status symbol. TV sets were owned by a handful of people in any locality. More than news people were interested in watching soap operas.
However, the telecast of weekly serial Ramayan on Jan 25, 1987 gave some boost to the sale of TV sets. Ramayan lasted till July 1988. Some social scientists are of the view that its telecast increased religiosity in the society, but it should also be borne in the mind that Ramayan was watched by a large number of Muslims too.
I vividly remember that when in 1990 our TV set developed some snag and needed repair it was brought from Gaya (where I used to live then) to Patna,92-km away in a passenger train where the workshop took three-four days to put it in order.
The present generation needs to understand that when the United States and allies launched the First Gulf War against Saddam Husein’s Iraq in January 1991 people bought radios as Doordarshan was unable to give proper coverage to international news in the pre-cable television era. In radio one has the advantage to listen to BBC, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Voice of America, German, Russian, Iranian radio stations etc.
Actually it was after the liberalization of 1991, that paved the way for private entry into television business and subsequent introduction of cable network.
Thus, apart from over-blaming the government owned Doordarshan many writers overplayed the rise of BJP in late 1980s and underplayed the V P Singh phenomenon. True, the BJP increased its tally from two to 89 between 1984 and 1989. But how can we forget that V P Singh, who used to keep low profile till then, came from nowhere after his resignation as the defence minister in April 1987 following dispute over Bofors kickback issue, to win 142 seats and thus lead newly-formed party, Janata Dal, to become Prime Minister by Dec 1989. Obviously he got outside support of BJP and Left parties. The Congress was still the largest party in Lok Sabha with 190-odd seats.
The truth is that notwithstanding the Ramshila Puja campaign and BJP’s resolve to take up Ram Janambhoomi cause in June 1989 the voters reposed much more faith on the secular alternative under Singh.
It was the failure of Janata Dal experience and open revolt against Singh by Devi Lal and Chandrashekhar which paved the way for the Hindutva force to consolidate. Singh introduced Mandal Commission in August 1990 but this did not help. .
Actually this was a big turning point for Advani, who immediately exploited the situation created by the infighting within the non-Congress secular camp, by launching his Somnath to Ayodhya Yatra on Sep 25. Bihar CM Lalu Prasad got him arrested in Samastipur on Oct 23. Advani withdrew support to the V P Singh government.
Chandrashekhar with the help of 54 MPs broke away from the Janata Dal to form Samajwadi Janata Party and with the support of the same Congress formed the government which lasted for just seven months.
The young readers need to be informed that the BJP, in spite of all the hype, could not perform as well in the battleground states of Bihar and UP in 1989 Lok Sabha poll. Singh’s Janata Dal fared better. The BJP could do better in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan etc where it was traditionally strong.
It may sound surprising nevertheless true: in spite of foundation laying of Ram Temple by a Dalit VHP worker on November 9, 1989 the Faizabad Lok Sabha seat was won by Mitrasen Yadav of CPI–Ayodhya falls in it.
Ironically the Communists were, unlike in West Bengal, Kerala, Bihar, Tripura or Andhra Pradesh etc., not strong in UP yet its candidate defeated the Congress’s sitting MP.
Similarly, the riot-torn Bhagalpur seat was not won by the BJP but by Janata Dal’s Chunchun Yadav–that was before the advent of Lalu Prasad in March 1990.
The Janata Dal’s Anil Shastri, son of former PM Lal Bahadur Shastri, won from Banaras, another place of religious importance for Hindus.
The campaign against Rajiv Gandhi over alleged Rs 64 crore kickback was so strong that even Muslim voters at many parliamentary constituencies, where the Janata Dal nominee was weak, preferred to vote for the BJP candidate to defeat Congress, though the community was well aware of the involvement of the Hindutva forces in Bhagalpur and other riots. While they wanted to teach Congress a lesson for its failure, they ignored the role of the saffron brigade.
That was till 1989. The fall of Singh and Chandrashekhar governments in quick succession prompted mid-term elections in the summer of 1991. The nasty experience of Janata Dal gave another opportunity to the Congress to bounce back. But in between the three-phase poll Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991.This created a big vacuum as Sonia Gandhi was in no mood to take over the leadership.
Once again while the BJP could increase its tally from 89 to just 120 seats the Congress won double than that number, 244 to be specific. The only consolation for the BJP was that it could win the Assembly poll in UP as the rift in Janata Dal had its big impact as three of its leaders, CM Mulayam Singh Yadav, V P Singh and Chandrashekhar hailed from that state.
Another interesting irony of history is that though the BJP did create a lot of passion throughout these years its voting percentage could not cross 25 per cent marks even at the peak of the Ram Janambhoomi movement. After the demolition of Babri Masjid on Dec 6, 1992 President’s Rule was imposed in UP, MP, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh. In the Assembly elections held in 1993 the saffron party lost in all four states.
Finally, what the Gen-next needs to know is that more than Ram Janambhoomi movement it was the anti-Congressism of the ever squabbling secular parties/leaders and their antipathy for the Gandhi-Nehru family which helped the BJP to rise and subsequently come to power. Many of these secular bigwigs later joined hands with the same BJP–the first one was obviously Nitish Kumar way back in 1996.
The issue of corruption in Bofors purchase deal could never be proved as the Delhi High Court on Feb 5, 2004 quashed the charges of bribery against Rajiv Gandhi and others. Mind it the Vajpayee government was in power then.
Bofors, on the other hand, proved its mettle in the Kargil War against Pakistan.
(Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. The views are personal.)