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Saturday, April 13, 2024

How 1980s was a crucial time in Indian politics?

It was time for the right-wing group of leaders in BJP and Shiv Sena, as well as PM Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s majoritarian politics. Some of them could hardly cover themselves with the fig leaf of secularism. The right-wing Hindutva groups were not just unabashed, for why should they be, but abrasive in an assertion of their brutal majority indifference.

The decade of 1980s was the most radical in Indian politics. In the contours of the events of the decade, you can see the dynamics that would shape India in the next three decades and beyond. It was time for the right-wing group of leaders in BJP and Shiv Sena, as well as PM Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s majoritarian politics. Some of them could hardly cover themselves with the fig leaf of secularism. The right-wing Hindutva groups were not just unabashed, for why should they be, but abrasive in an assertion of their brutal majority indifference to the feelings of their compatriots in the minorities of the country.

The specter of Sant Bhindranwale was so daunting that some even lost their senses and tried to turn the tide against the Muslim minority. As the crisis rose in a crescendo to what would happen on June 6, 1984, there was a peripatetic interlude in April-May with an unacknowledged civil war in the summer of the year. After Operation Blue Star the tragedy resumed its natural course of action in the opening of the doors of Babri mosque and laying down the ceremonial bricks for the temple to Lord Ram and the foregone conclusion in the demolition of the mosque in Ayodhya.

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Private and public merge in the long drawn decade

On February 11, 1981, I entered the drawing-room of Iqbal Wasif where our family Dr. Nanavati was sitting. On hearing my cousin Noorjahan being reunited with her husband Dr Ismail of Found, Nanavati observed in a friendly tone that Muslims doctors are voluptuous.  He furnished a list of them, Dr Shaikh Saleem, Dr Iqbal, Dr Mushtaq who migrated to the US and died there, Dr Ismail, Dr Rafiq, etc. Wasif and Nanavati were speaking of a school where 19 Muslim women were taught to feed their families after being estranged or divorced. The Shah Bano case later in the decade would be a relief to them. Wasif’s father Gulab Miyan Wasif worked in the office of a deputy collector.

He had donated land for the ATT high school and worked under Syed Hashim Raza deputy collector of Malegaon July to December 1938. They saw the mosque of Khankha [Ashrafia] coming up near the Mosom river in the south of Malegaon. Beyond it lay the colony of milkmen whose head man was Bhima Gawli. He would figure in the communal violence in the whole decade in Malegaon and beyond in Bhiwandi and in earlier years along with his son. During this, there were incidents of Sikhs and Hindus killing each other. In Panipat, Hindus burnt a Gurdwara and killed Sikh drivers as on February 19. On February 21police did nothing to prevent well-armed Hindu crowds from roaming freely in Karnal and wreaking havoc on the Sikhs.

Another Gurdwara came under attack in Jind. On 23rd PM, Indira Gandhi called Akali leaders in Golden Temple as stooges and criminals. On the Sher Shah Suri road Hindus blocked the traffic and beat up Sikhs as they did to Muslims on June 25, 1983, when a Muslim from Malegaon had his jaw bone fractured. President Zail Singh appealed to BJP not to call a strike on Monday, February 27 1984 in Delhi for fear that Sikhs too would call strike next.

The situation grew worse with every passing day in the faceoff between the Sikhs and Hindus as in Hussainpura of Amritsar Sikhs threw bombs at the Hindu temple on February 29, 1984. Girilal Jain pooh-poohed Sikhs in an article: “The Sikhs are in danger—only an hour before midnight.” TOI March 7, 1984” In Varanasi 168,000 Sunnis were pitted against 20, 000 Shias who won a Supreme Court battle on March 9, in which the apex court ordered the shifting of graves of a father and a daughter who had died in 1918 and 1905 respectively. On March 11, 1984, a hoarding near the Girna river at Mansoora in Malegaon called for Hindus to resort to the Bhavani sword of Shivaji!

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This turn up to wielding the sword shows that the people have not learned from history. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Writing in The Times of India on March 20, 1984, Amarjit Singh replied to Jain’s write-up of March 7: “In the 1937 elections, the Muslim League won only one seat in United Punjab. By 1947 the wrong actions of the Hindus and the Sikhs had compelled the Punjabi Muslims turned to the League.” Jain had said that “history has a way of repeating itself, not necessarily as a farce. The repetition can be equally tragic.” The two who saw history as a hunting ground for picking up grouse against the rani, queen, of Delhi, or against fellow citizens as eternal action and reaction of only Afzal Khan being killed by Shivaji in floats of Ganesh festival immersion processions annually would fail to see the writing on the wall.

This proved its point as the months of April-June 1984 wound up only for the history to repeat, ad absurdum thereafter. By the end of March, the central government agreed to accept the demand of the Sikhs and even to amend the Constitution to prevent Akalis from going on strike on April first. The ‘midnight hour’ of Jain had come to the fore. Already 15 days ago the RSS had asked the government to meet the religious demands of the Sikhs. The ides of March proved tragic as it did to Julius Caesar.

Bajrang Dal was founded in 1984

There were many issues that had been scattered throughout the 1980s and even beyond where whatever moves were made by the government had the potential of making the elephant in the room become a behemoth. Riots had broken out in Badaun and vicinity on the issue of Urdu being given the status of a second state language in UP. On September 29, 1989 Muslim passengers including women and children were pulled out of trains and brutally killed. At least 25 had been killed by fanatic Hindus.

In the aftermath of this EMS Namodripad wrote in the Times of Indian on October 12, 1989, that after Badaun no Muslim would like BJP and it would be dangerous for the opposition to have even seat adjustment with the BJP.  On October 14 scores of Muslims were killed in clashes with police in Indore. They were attending the Id Milad congregation when Hindus started pelting them.

The government announced general elections to be held on November 22. “The winds of hatred that led a fanatic to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi are blowing like a gale throughout the land again…it could acquire the force of a hurricane.” [The Times of India editorial of November 17, 1989] In the meantime the Advani puja could recreate pre-Plassey stagnation which the Hindus chose to see through the fantasy of the soap opera of Mahabharat. [The Independent October 24, 1989]

PM Narendra Modi said at Bodh Gaya on Saturday, September 5 2015 said while there is no problem in practicing one’s religion, the potential for conflict arises when radical elements try to force their own ideologies on others. The 1980s show that the RSS pracharak was duty-bound by his own RSS ideology of destroying the Babri mosque and building a Ram temple on it. He not only supported the move but actively prepared the whole plan of the launch of the LK Advani’s rath yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya where the mosque was in existence for hundreds of years with legal documents of its title-ship.

Not only was that it was again planned by RSS-VHP-BJP that in 2002 they would mark the demolition of the mosque anniversary in their attempt to build the temple there. The largest contingent of volunteers was drawn from Gujarat and one such was unwieldy and unruly which attacked Muslim passengers, molested Muslim women and girls threw passengers from running trains and refused to pay Muslim caterers and manhandled them. How could Modi as a tea vendor fail to understand what happened to the caterers at Godhra?

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Whose ideology was behind this violence? On October 24 1989 the worst pogroms of Muslims took place at Bhagalpur in Bihar. On October 25 and 26 Muslim men, women and children were pulled out of trains and butchered. The Muslims had been filled with fear that the demolition of the mosque would bring in all such destruction. Their fear proved true. The pogroms spread like wildfire into the rural parts. In one such place, 25 bodies were recovered on October 29. The general secretary of VHP Ashok Singhal said that “Ours is not a movement for one temple only. It is a strategy for Hindu awakening.”

[Panchjanya October 29, 1989] The Independent reported on November 8 that more than a thousand Muslims were killed in Bhagalpur and seven thousand were still missing. On October 9th Hindu fundamentalists went ahead with their laying the foundation of the temple on plot 586 in Ayodhya in clear violation of the court order of November 7. Mark Tuly of BBC called it “the naked show of Hindu fundamentalism” referring to the ceremony on plot 586, a property of the Sunni Wakf Board. On November 10th the police stopped a procession of Muslims at Faizabad who were protesting against the usurping of the plot.

The police countered them by shouting slogans in praise of Ram. PM Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan condemned the Shillaniyas puja as willful desecration of a mosque, Saudi Arabia asked India to stop Hindu violence against Muslims. Iran also voiced concern at the not too infrequent communal riots in which Muslims were killed. This was the first time that Islamic countries had spoken out against the killings of Muslims as of November 11.

The next day on Sunday, November 12 the Provincial Armed Constabulary virtually revolted when miscreants threw bombs at the cops in front of a police station. They also threw stone at the rally of Rajiv Gandhi in his constituency of Sultanpur. He was about to address the public when he was injured. In Bhagalpur, on the same days, cops killed 10 Muslims and burnt 200 Muslim houses.

 Vijay Subramaniam and Smita Gupta writing in The Independent   on November 18, 1989, on shil puja or praying over the bricklaying for the foundation of the temple said, “Not only have the seeds of another partition been sown but much innocent blood has been split.” The split was writ on the wall as the IX lok sabha election was in full swing. It was going to be a communal manifesto with the focus of BJP and Shiv Sena on: “Indians can’t own property in Kashmir, infiltration from Pakistan and Bangladesh, Shah Bano, etc. The result was illustrative of the elephant ravaging in the room. The Frontline of November 19, reported how a Muslim woman was pelted with stones leading her to death and her child within her womb also died with her. This was the first tryst of genocide for the Muslims of India. It was all for the polls! Vishwanath Pratap Singh was also attacked but escaped unhurt.

PM Rajiv Gandhi reinstated SP SK Dwivedi to his post of police chief in Bhagalpur on November 27, 1989, even when he proved the worst enemy of the Muslims. According to the Illustrated Weekly of India on November 26, the worst episode of the massacre was in Naya Baazar. Five men, two women and eleven children were murdered. The children were thrown down from the third floor of a house in that locality of Bhagalpur. The report also says that some Hindus were killed only in confrontation with Muslim while fighting with each other.

It also focuses on how 125 Muslims were massacred between 7 pm on October 27 and 9 am on October 28 1989 when Major Virk of the army left the hapless victims to the police. They were all killed by the Yadavas, Kurmis and Dushadhs who threw them in the hyacinth-covered ponds. The one who survived to narrate her tale was a girl, Malika Bano. She had seen her father, mother and fiancé cut to pieces. Her right foot was cut off and her thigh was slashed. Major Virk said all this was done by the police. “I left 125 persons in their charge. When I returned in the morning I discovered they had been massacred. The country is wasting its money on policemen.”

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 On December 2 1989 PM VP Sigh assumed office

The Independent had a report by NJ Naporia who said that now BJP would have power to influence government policy. [The Independent December 2, 1989]Prof CP Bhambri of JNU: “It was a communal verdict. The Muslims have remained the main targets of Hindu communalists for a long time and their cadres are specially trained to deal with the Muslims. Ashish Nandy, director for Study in Developing Societies: “the BJP is the only enemy which can damage Indian society. In spite of being the Hindu (majority community) party, its attitude and behavior is that of a minority.” [The Independent December 3, 1989]

What Nandy correctly diagnosed of the pathology of BJP is also true of Shiv Sena. Their paranoia inflates the elephant in the room. Bal Thackeray addressed a rally on Shivaji Park in Bombay on December 5, 1989 in felicitation on the occasion of the poll verdict on the parliamentary election. He said that if his party and BJP came to power in Maharashtra his government would stop Muslims from praying on the road and would have their loudspeakers pulled down.

Loudspeakers and praying on-road may not be the best civilian solution where people of different religions live together. But all use loudspeakers and there are roadside temples encroaching upon roads. The problem is with the Indian psyche that we do not want to differentiate the public and the private. Even Mahatma Gandhi was religious-minded though a bête noire of the fanatic Hindus. HM Seeravi in his book Partition of India, Legend and Reality (1989) refutes the charge of Arun Shourie that Jinnah was the man who broke India.

To introduce religion into politics is to court disaster. But it was not Jinnah “it was Mahatma Gandhi who, admittedly, introduced religion in all Indian politics against Jinnah’s advice. (p.3) Gandhiji’s ascetic ways appealed to Hindu religious sentiments. Seeravi feels that the appeal to religious sentiment to secure political goals was dangerous to the unity of India. Gandhi did just that. Seeravi quotes from Young India of October 20, 1921, “I claim that with us both the Khilafat is the central fact, with Maulana Mohammad Ali because it is his religion, with me because in laying down my life tor Khilafat, I ensure the safety of the cow, that is my religion, from the Mussalman’s knife.” (p.13)

Enlarging of the elephant into behemoth became apparent not only in the 1980s but became a recurring phenomenon not only throughout the decade but finally burst to destroy some. And then reappeared its other victims. This happened in the case of Prof MM Kalburgi and could also over take MM Basheer of Kerala. Kalburgi had followed the footsteps of UR Annathmurthy who would piss on Hindu idols in his childhood. Kalburgi was rationalism personified when he said in a seminar that there is nothing wrong in urinating on the idols.

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His tryst with destiny began when in 1989 he wrote about Veerashaiva by the Basava [the patron saint of the Lingayats, who were angered by a description of the strained relationship between Basava and his second wife Nilambke. Lord Shiva had asked him to find a wife which Basava could not. Seeing this Nilambke offered herself to Shiva.]Another knotty part was another Lingayat celebrity Channabasava marrying a lower caste.] His wife and sister! The fanatics threatened him and his family. He was scared so much that he recanted years of work. But years later he described that day in 1989 as the day of his committing intellectual suicide.

He survived and recovered his intellectual life but only to join the netherworld of Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare who were done to death in 2013 and 2015 respectively. “I did it to save the lives of my family. But I also committed intellectual suicide on that day.” Karlberg also ired many when he said that Veershaiva should be recognized as separate from Hinduism for being non-Vedic in origin.

After the 1960s and 1980s, the next most important would not be the 1990s even if the Babri mosques demolition and murders and bomb blasts which were the corollary of the 1980s, but the decade of the demagogue and his demagoguery, 2010-2010. It was the the decade of first Hindutva genocide of Muslims and how the demagogue got away with it.


Mustafa Khan holds a Ph.D. on Mark Twain. He lives in Malegaon Maharashtra, India. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.