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Thursday, 5 December, 2002, 19:08 GMT
India's battered secular image
Hindu activists
Ayodhya was the start of the Hindu nationalist project
Ten years after the destruction by Hindu hardliners of a mosque in Ayodhya triggered some of the worst communal violence in India's history, Indian journalist Ram Kripal reflects on the lessons for his country.


Ten years after the destruction of the Babri mosque, we can ponder the gains and losses as much as we want.

But to my mind we gained nothing - but lost a lot.

When other Asian nations are busy building their future, we are embroiled in... disputes over mosques and temples.

All of us suffered losses: the nation, the people and the political parties.

The journey which began at that time to enhance India's Hindu identity reached a terrible climax in Gujarat state earlier this year.

Everyone is a loser in this journey from Ayodhya to Gujarat.

In the battle for votes on the basis of caste and creed, the issues of food and employment were ignored. And that has come back to haunt the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

They faced a string of humiliating defeats in a number of state elections earlier this year. The opposition Congress captured power in 15 states.

Contradictions

The internal contradictions of the Hindu nationalist project are obvious whenever caste becomes an issue in Indian politics, with the BJP's appeal limited largely to the upper castes.

As a result, communal feelings were deliberately encouraged in order to avoid any divisions among Hindus on the basis of caste.

Rather than the image of a tolerant, secular nation, attempts began to portray India using the Hindu symbols of the trident and crown.

A more strident hardline element in the Bharatiya Janata Party remains desperate to relegate a moderate BJP leadership to the sidelines in an attempt to grab the limelight.

Radicals such as Narendra Modi and the leaders of the BJP's Hindu affiliate groups dominate coverage in both the electronic and print media.

Gujarat

The common man may have overcome the shame and embarrassment caused by the communal rioting across the country after the mosque's destruction in Ayodhya.

But then earlier this year, Gujarat struck.

Victim of Gujarat riots
The wounds of Gujarat are deep
A human rights group wrote in a report on the Gujarat riots: "Even if a fraction of the incidents on Gujarat was true - which it definitely is - an ordinary Indian would be ashamed to say that he lives in a country where such things happen."

In fact, in the last quarter of the 20th century when other Asian nations were busy building their future, we were embroiled in communal hatred and disputes over mosques and temples.

The scars of communalism will eventually heal - but the wounds left by Ayodhya and Godhra are too deep to go away easily.

And instead of attempts to heal them, salt is constantly rubbed into the wounds.

Secular tradition

There were fears that the Deputy Prime Minister, LK Advani, ignoring the constitution of India, would eventually proclaim the slogan of a Hindu nation.

But recently he came out with the truth:

"India can never be turned into a Hindu nation," he told parliament.

It took him 10 years to confess that. That must be a victory for the Indian people.

Much has been lost.

But what remains is quite precious. And that includes the fact that the majority Hindu community will remain as it has always been: tolerant and secular.

Ayodhya special report

Ten years on

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