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Ayodhya to London: Lessons learnt

Ayodhya to London: Lessons learnt

Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: The Poineer
Date: July 15, 2005

It may sound callous but had it not been for the global outcry over the serial blasts in London, the import of last Tuesday's foiled attack on the Ram temple in Ayodhya would have been totally lost in the din of partisan politics. It needed the dignified but categorical assertion of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, not to mention some pretty remarkable displays of Anglo-Saxon fortitude, to drive home to Indians that it is neither alarmist nor an expression of bad taste to decry Islamic terrorism.

Of course, the articulation of outrage in both countries was markedly different. Whereas Britain chose the life-as-usual approach to demonstrate their contempt for the jihadis, the opposition in India preferred a more boisterous, sound-bite centric course. The divergence is indicative of different political cultures and need not be taken to mean that Indian democracy is less evolved. At the same time, the BJP did overshoot the proverbial Lakshman Rekha by making the Centre and Uttar Pradesh Governments the targets of ire. Debating points needed to be scored but a more reflective approach that stressed the dangers to national security from Islamic and other forms of terrorism could have won the party a more responsive audience.

Yet the frustration of those who were stunned by the audacity of the jihadis is understandable. For 48 hours, till the London bombings diverted attention, the country was treated to a dismal spectacle of evasion and denial. The editorial classes directed flak at the BJP and associates, as if Hindu activists were responsible for the assault on the Temple.

They were taking their cue from a Government which acted on the ridiculous assumption that the nature of the attack could somehow be fudged by glossing over the religion of the terrorists. Unlike in London, where ministers and the police have issued appeals to the public for any information relating to anything suspicious they may have observed, the Government hasn't even released computer-simulated photographs of the slain terrorists.

The unmistakable impression is that the Government is panicky about what the inquiries will reveal about the terrorists and the local support networks that facilitated this audacious operation. May be, there isn't a cover-up but there seems a concerted attempt at concealment of information. We mustn't politicise the Ayodhya attack, Sonia Gandhi has warned. Fair enough.

Must we, therefore, politicise the investigations? Must we pretend that the choice of Ayodhya as a target was dictated by nothing in particular? The issue isn't entirely academic. Last Tuesday, the terrorists came perilously close to blasting the makeshift? Ram temple. If a couple of the grenades hurled at the tarpaulin covering had exploded or if the CRPF jawans hadn't been sufficiently quick in their responses, India would have been confronted with horrific crisis.

Yes, a few communal outbreaks would probably have ensued. But the danger wouldn't have stemmed from rioting alone. A far more delicate problem would have arisen over what to do with the destroyed Ram temple. There would have been sustained pressure on the Government from the Left, the "hard"€secularists, the do-gooders and, no doubt, many Muslim organisations to prevent another "makeshift" temple from being created at the site.

Arguments, ranging from the aesthetic to the rational would have been proffered in opposition to another Ram idol being installed. Who knows, maybe a court would have instructed the state to desist from any action till this new case was disposed of. To prevent the UPA Government from collapsing, a dithering Congress would have fallen back on a do-nothing approach, hoping, as always, that time would be a great healer.

There would have been other consequences, including Indo-Pakistan talks being put on hold, the possible outflow of billions of dollars of Foreign Institutional Investment and the erosion of India's competitive edge. Even these would have paled into insignificance by the one overriding message the jihadis wanted to convey on July 5: That terrorism works. The chilling thought: This was a message particularly aimed at Indian Muslims.

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