The Vishwa Hindu Parishad ensures for itself an exciting life. It is barely a few days since it had a go at communal disturbance in Dhar in Madhya Pradesh, by trying to “take over” a “disputed” structure. Since the rationale for the VHP’s existence is the creation of hysteria, it tends to repeat its more successful strategies. Dhar was an echo of Ayodhya, possibly a prologue to a hoped-for repetition of the “Gujarat experiment”. But now the VHP must be most pleased that the Ayodhya question itself is once again at centrestage. It can make its most outrageous statements, flaunt its dharma sansad full of sadhus as the ultimate arbiter of all things of Hindu interest, show off its tridents and blood-lust, pretend that the courts do not exist, say the most nasty things about the prime minister — and get away with it all. But in spite of its ringing monotone of righteous religious passion, it has managed to modulate its moves, blowing hot and then slightly cooler from time to time. This would suggest two things. One, that it is not willing to fall completely foul of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which may be compelled at the last to do something drastic simply because it is the leading party at the Centre. After all, the VHP’s space in the polity depends on the BJP’s position. Two, the BJP needs the presence of an almost-uncontrollable Hindutva front, so that it can gain from the polarization of votes on the one hand, and, on the other, do strange things like ask the court for an early judgment, as if in the interests of better administration. It is a finely nuanced relationship, dependent on the tugs of an invisible leash.
The VHP’s march to Parliament was a token gesture, as was its vilification of the prime minister. The BJP cannot be seen to be doing anything in direct violation of the court’s decision, even if the prime minister says publicly that the available evidence is likely to make the Ayodhya verdict “favourable”. The din is bound to increase as elections approach, and back-up strategies are all in place. For example, the noise over cow slaughter has again risen to a peak. The manufacturing of causes needs expert coordination and presentation. But the play-acting aspect does not mean that any of this can be taken lightly, with the Babri Masjid demolition and the Gujarat carnage already in the Hindutva campaigners’ pocket. Using religion to polarize the electorate may have as its end the consolidation of political power, but the informing ideal for the rank and file remains the formation of a Hindu rashtra. It is this ultimate destruction of democracy that must be feared and resisted.