The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Over-excitement is often the outcome of frustration. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad is very close to frothing at the mouth, now that the Kanchi Sankaracharya’s proposed formula for a negotiated settlement in Ayodhya is safely in the hands of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, and has actually been welcomed as a “sincere” and “positive” effort. So far, everything seems to be firmly on track for a crucial meeting with the AIMPLB in early July, which could turn out to be the first step towards breaking the deadlock over Ayodhya. Most frustrating for the VHP, which is still basking in the approval of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership at the Centre, led by the prime minister and backed by his deputy, is solidly behind these developments. The prime minister initiated them. The only difference of opinion among the BJP leadership is not, fortunately, on the legitimacy of the VHP’s claims, but over the wisdom of antagonizing the VHP cadre before the assembly and Lok Sabha elections. The general secretary of the party, Mr Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, has said that the VHP would be included in the negotiations, but it is clear that this is not to happen till later.

What the Centre wants is, obviously, a workable formula on the table before disruptive voices undermine the tentative beginnings of understanding. This has been the most remarkable achievement of the nascent process so far, the marginalizing of extreme opinion, not only by the BJP leadership, but also by the AIMPLB. The moderate Muslim voice is being heard clearly for the first time in the Ayodhya dispute, welcoming negotiations by sensible people and expressing, even if formally, a trust in the sincerity of the Kanchi Sankaracharya’s intention. From this point of view, this is an extremely important moment since politics in India took a new and apparently irredeemable turn on December 6, 1992. In this effort, the prime minister and his party need all the support they can get.

That is why it is so surprising that parties like the Congress and even the Bahujan Samaj Party, the BJP’s ally in Uttar Pradesh, are insisting that they will only accept the Supreme Court’s verdict on Ayodhya as valid. It may or may not be true that the BJP is going for an out-of-court settlement because it is afraid of the VHP’s reaction to a verdict it does not like. But the importance of the attempt to break a longstanding deadlock should not be underestimated. There is no doubt that the BJP’s distancing of the VHP has much to do with an attempt to dilute its Hindutva streak, most certainly with forthcoming elections in mind. Had the party been so wise earlier, the Ayodhya issue may not have turned out to be such an albatross around its neck. In any case, this was not a dispute that should have gone to court in the first place. Resolution, if it is to come, will be found outside the court, and outside of party politics. And that is where the prime minister has tried to relocate it. Perhaps it is time for all parties to be sensible too.

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