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  • Published 17.12.00
Atal Behari Vajpayee's statement recommending the construction of a temple at the site of the demolished Babri Masjid as the best possible "resolution" of the Ramjanmabhoomi dispute comes as a surprise to no one but the Bharatiya Janata Party's allies, parties like the Trinamool Congress, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Telugu Desam Party. Vehemently secular in their protestations, these parties had used the prime minister's alleged moderation as a fig leaf to cover up their nakedness even as they settled comfortably into the BJP's harem. If Vajpayee was their fig leaf, the National Democratic Alliance's common programme was a chastity belt which protected them from contracting anything from prolonged intimacy with the BJP. They could say with Bill Clinton that they had smoked without inhaling, or, more pertinently, that they had cohabited in a platonic way. I haven't clubbed George Fernandes and his Samata Party with the other allies of the BJP because being an honest and forthright man, the defence minister knows that you can't sup with the devil even with a very long spoon without becoming a part of his design. During the political jousting that stalled parliamentary proceedings, Fernandes taunted the Congress with its role in the destruction of the Babri Masjid by declaring that "we only want to complete what the Congress had begun." Note the first person plural: even in the cut and thrust of political debate and one-upmanship, it's hard to believe Fernandes would use that "we" if he had been at all worried by the BJP's plans for the site of the Babri Masjid. I think it can be fair to say, without being polemical, that for Fernandes and the Samata Party, the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the politics it represents are tolerable: it might offend Fernandes's individual sensibilities (though going by his recent statements that is open to question) but it falls comfortably within the realm of practical politics. It is, as the Americans would say, a "done deal", something that pragmatic men have to make their peace with. Fernandes and his party have made that peace. Unlike Mamata Banerjee, M. Karunanidhi or N. Chandrababu Naidu, Fernandes does not protest too much; as a man of some literary culture he knows that Faustian compacts don't come with indemnity clauses. The point I want to make is that among the several NDA consorts of the BJP, Fernandes occupies slightly higher moral ground than, say, Mamata Banerjee. He also understands the notion of collective responsibility within a cabinet system of government rather better than she does. He has been deafeningly silent on every controversy about the BJP's attitude towards minorities: the Gujarat government's sectarianism, the attacks on Christians and now, on the Babri Masjid debate, he has broken his silence to offer the BJP his vocal support. I loathe his politics, but I admire his consistency: he understands that in partnerships, political or commercial, each party is unli- mitedly liable for the actions of other partners. When L.K. Advani said on November 15, that ideology had nothing to do with governance, he could have been speaking for his colleague, the defence minister. Banerjee, Naidu and Karunanidhi don't understand this, or they feign not to understand. Their position on the Babri Masjid issue, which the prime minister recently stoked into malevolent life, is exactly the same as the Samata Party's. Which is that the masjid business doesn't really matter, not enough, at any rate, to check out of the BJP's seraglio. But unlike the admirably silent Fernandes, the dynamic Banerjee has the energy to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. She at once gives succour to beleaguered Muslims and Christians while keeping her seat on the juggernaut that rides them down. Her recent behaviour gives us not just clues but a roadmap to her political priorities. When government subsidies on kerosene and cooking gas were cut, she resigned her cabinet ministership and forced the government into some token relief. When the Punjab Howrah Mail had an accident in which forty-two people died, her conscience went into spasm and she offered her resignation to the prime minister again. But when the prime minister spoke the same language on the Babri Masjid as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and reiterated his hard line on temple-building over and over again, when he described as nationalist a communal mobilization that had ended in pogroms in which thousands were killed, Banerjee merely got her Trinamool proxy, Sudip Bandopadhyay to make a few ritual noises about the common minimum programme. This time the BJP gave no ground at all except to rhetorically reiterate its commitment to the aforesaid programme. With this Banerjee had to be content. It doesn't seem to have upset her overly: apart from pro forma threats to quit the NDA which the BJP quite sensibly didn't dignify with a reply, she voted for the government in Parliament and subsided. No resignation; she didn't even threaten to resign. So, in Banerjee's book the Babri Masjid isn't a critical issue; it doesn't even merit the political charade that she put on for kerosene price hike and the railway accident. Why should the Trinamool's acquiescence in this matter worry anyone today? After all, Banerjee along with her other "secular" allies have legitimized and propped up this government for more than a year now. The reason is simple: the NDA's cuddly mascot, Vajpayee, has, for the first time, used the same language as Ashok Singhal and Giriraj Kishore of the VHP without apology or camouflage. This should matter to Banerjee: even the fig leaf's gone walkabout. Advani and Uma Bharti have brazenly tried to discredit the government's own investigation agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation simply because the CBI has found reason to believe that Advani and Bharti were actively involved in the plan to level the Babri Masjid. Advani, in a wonderful revealing aside to Bharti, implied that the CBI's findings in the Masjid case were reason enough for her to be sceptical about the CBI's investigation of matchfixing in cricket! Clearly, Mohammed Azharuddin and Advani - match-fixer and mosque-fixer - need to make common cause against the CBI. Nobody, certainly not Banerjee, will be able to accuse the BJP of not giving notice of its intentions. Vajpayee has categorically declared that he has more in common with the VHP than he does with the Trinamool or the TDP. From now on, every day that Mamata Banerjee stays in office, she lends the BJP's Ram mandir programme her tacit support. She becomes complicit in Advani's stated intention to ignore any charges framed by the CBI. She pawns what is left of her credibility as a secular leader to help make the BJP's agenda the common sense of Indian politics. Instead of Vajpayee (who, by his own admission, is miscast in the role), she becomes the secular mascot of the BJP.