Interview with Jana Krishnamurthy.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is evidently on the defensive over the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) threat to start moving carved stones and pillars to the disputed site in Ayodhya for the construction of a Ram temple. BJP president Jana Krishnamurthy, in an interview to V. Venkatesan in New Delhi on February 11, explains the party’s stand on the VHP campaign. Excerpts:
AJIT KUMAR/ AP
Are the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government worried about the VHP’s threat to start work on a temple at Ayodhya? What will be your advice to the VHP?
The BJP would like to wait until March 15. Let us see what happens. Then only shall we be able to react.
Will it not be too late by then to take any preventive action? The same thing happened in 1992.
But the matter of whether the undisputed land should go to the VHP or not has been pending a resolution for 50 years. On their (VHP’s) request, it has been referred to the Law Ministry for its opinion. We would like to wait for the opinion of the Ministry. And I would like to appeal to all concerned to wait for the Law Ministry’s view.
You are credited with the view that the VHP’s demand for the handing over of the undisputed property acquired by the government near the disputed site to Hindus is logical. Does this not amount to pre-empting the Law Ministry’s opinion?
The VHP has been emphasising that a beautiful temple should come up in the place called Ramjanmasthal. And they have been fighting for it. And they have collected historical and archaeological data in support of their claims. Hindu sentiment demands a temple there. The VHP as a representative body of Hindus has been putting forth this demand. And hence I said it is logical.
But there is a problem for us. The BJP is a ruling party. We are bound by the NDA’s agenda. This agenda governs us until 2004, when the next elections are due. Until 2004, therefore, the BJP and the government at the Centre cannot go outside the NDA’s agenda. I was only expressing the BJP’s inability to interfere in the matter except through a court verdict or negotiations between the parties concerned.
The Centre has a responsibility and duty to protect the disputed site, as far as the 1994 Supreme Court judgment is concerned.
As a duly elected government, the NDA government has the responsibility to uphold the rule of law. The rule of law includes accepting the verdict of the court, whether you like it or not, until a higher court sets it aside. That is why we said either through the verdict of the court or by mutual understanding, we could solve the issue. What else can we do?
In the intervening period, until the Allahabad High Court disposes of the Ayodhya title cases, the Supreme Court has said that the Central government, which has acquired the disputed land and the undisputed adjoining areas in Ayodhya, should maintain the status quo with regard to the disputed site. If the VHP gains access to the undisputed areas, will it be possible to maintain the status quo in the disputed area?
The question is, what we are doing. We are not doing anything. The matter is before the court. It is the Supreme Court’s order that has come in for interpretation by different persons in different ways. What actually is the ambit of the Supreme Court’s order with regard to disputed and the undisputed areas? The VHP also understands that we cannot go in the disputed areas. But there is no bar on the undisputed areas as per the Supreme Court’s order. That is what they say. But there is also another view. That is why the Prime Minister has referred the matter to the Law Ministry. That is the only course available for the government.
At the party’s National Executive at Palampur in 1989, the BJP had resolved that litigation was no answer to the Ram Janmabhoomi issue and that Ram Janmashthan should be handed over to Hindus, if possible through a negotiated settlement or else through legislation. Is the BJP now conceding that litigation could be an answer?
We took that line with regard to the stand taken by other parties. Because the litigation on the issue had been pending for 50 years and more. That was why we said either through legislation or through negotiation, we could solve the issue. The BJP was the last party to express its opinion on the Ram Janmabhoomi issue in 1989. Before that, all parties had supported the stand of the Babri Masjid Committee. Because we felt political parties should not give their views on this issue. But we were under pressure that the BJP also should spell out its view. The outcome was Palampur. We wanted a temple in Ayodhya. We included this in our election manifestoes until 1998. In 1999, we committed ourselves to the NDA’s agenda, which does not mention it. We are bound by the NDA’s agenda. That is where we stand.
Is Palampur no longer relevant for the BJP?
Why do you say it is not relevant? Today we are part of the NDA.
But as far as litigation is concerned, you seem to have revised your stand taken at Palampur. You are now willing to be bound by the court’s verdict on Ayodhya.
Because we are now the ruling party, and we subscribe to the NDA’s agenda.
But were you not bound by the court’s verdict as an Opposition party?
We could appeal against the verdict. The Congress(I) government created a precedent when it overruled the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Shah Bano case by passing legislation. Even today nothing prevents us from legislation being enacted. But that cannot be done, because we are bound by the NDA agreement.
You have been reported as saying that the Ayodhya issue will not influence the outcome of the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. But how do you explain the timing of the VHP’s announcement?
The Ayodhya issue has been pending for a long time. It is not the VHP but the press that raised the issue this time. If the press keeps off the issue, nothing will happen.
It was the VHP that fixed the deadline, during the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad in 2001.
They have only taken a decision. Who can prevent the VHP from taking a decision? Every party can take its own decision and announce it. The VHP is an independent organisation. Its leaders feel they are bound by the decision taken at the Dharma sansad. What actually happens at that time (March 15), let us see.
Do you think the VHP is not serious about what it says?
I don’t know. How am I to pass judgment on the VHP? From all their statements, they appears to be very serious. But why should the government think of it?
If they are very serious, the government ought to have done something. But it appears the government is not serious about it, and has not done anything.
We must have some patience.
The Narasimha Rao government also displayed remarkable patience, and the country suffered because of the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.
How did the country suffer? Your views are different. Somebody else will say the country did not suffer. You cannot pass judgment on what happened in history.
The government did not even ask the court to expedite the hearing of the title cases.
We can request. If we come to power in Uttar Pradesh, we have said in the agenda, we will take steps to expedite a resolution. It is the court that should expedite the matter. We can only request.
Don’t you think the government ought to take some steps to prevent the VHP from going ahead with its plans?
All these concern the government. The party does not interfere in governmental responsibilities. Who am I to advise the government? It is a matter of administration.
Is there a sense of helplessness in the BJP? You have said that you advised the VHP not to undertake the Chetavani Yatra, but it went ahead. The VHP has also rejected your plea to defer kar seva until 2004, when the Lok Sabha elections are due. You seem to be unable to influence the VHP’s decisions.
There is no helplessness. We have ourselves made a similar demand. As a Hindu, I feel there should be a temple there. But I am the president of a party that has taken a stand. And we have conveyed our stand. Who are we to prevent them (the VHP)?
The VHP is part of the Sangh Parivar and you don’t have any influence over it?
Parivar, maybe. I have always said the Sangh is like a university. They too studied in that university. We too… We are in a field, they are in a different field. Neither does the VHP have any control over us, nor do we have any control over the VHP or any one of the Parivar organisations.
In the National Agenda of Governance there is a moratorium on individual parties of the NDA pursuing contentious issues. The Prime Minister has, however, not only promised the resolution of the Ayodhya issue before March but also reconstituted the Ayodhya Cell in order to facilitate negotiations between the two communities. Do you think it is a violation of NAG?
When we drew up the agenda, all issues that were not accepted by us were considered to be contentious. Nobody in the NDA objected to the Prime Minister’s promise on Ayodhya. The Prime Minister has said that he will try to find a solution. It has not been possible so far.
What has been the contribution of the Ayodhya issue to the BJP’s growth? Would you say it was phenomenal, especially before the demolition of the Babri Masjid? Is Ayodhya an issue in the February Assembly elections?
Every election outcome is a cumulative result of many factors, such as a party’s organisational structure, its acceptability among the people and its leadership. The Ayodhya issue did contribute to the party’s election victories after the Palampur resolution. But I cannot quantify the extent to which we have electorally benefited from the issue. We have never seen it from the viewpoint of seeking electoral mileage. But many changes have taken place since then. Every political party is a growing party. The situation is not static. It is a question of adjustability. Today Ayodhya is not an issue in elections any longer. Not even in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, which have so far seen only a low-key campaign.