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Saeed Naqvi is a Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and a senior journalist.

A hundred million Muslims search for a party

he more the communal picture changes since the demolition of the Babri Masjid 20 years ago this week, the more it remains the same. Possibly with one variation: the political insecurity of the Muslim grows with each turn. The mosque was demolished on 6 December 1992, but the planning for the event had preceded three years earlier. It was a brilliant marketing strategy by Hindutva craftsmen who had outlined the project of casting bricks, some in silver and gold, to be sanctified by the temples of India and eventually reach Ayodhya for the construction of the Ram temple with 108 pillars across two storeys, sprawled over 270 feet, which will be its length, quite in harmony with its 125 feet height.

The passage of the sanctified 275,000 shilas or bricks through towns and villages towards Ayodhya clearly created tension. The Bhagalpur riot of 1989 was a consequence. I happened to be in a village called Chanderi. Riots in Bhagalpur had broken out on 24 October. By 27 October, the area was tense enough to warrant the appearance of Major G.P.S. Virk of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry Regiment in Sabaur thana overseeing the contiguous settlements of Chanderi and Rajpur.

The two villages have a population of about 2,000 each, of whom about 10% are Muslims. (Remember I am describing the scene as I saw it in 1989, and the riots in Faizabad last week are a replica: in other words, nothing has changed.) Rajpur has a ramshackle mosque, which even the Chanderi Muslims visit on Fridays. But because of the fear that an aggressive shila pujan processions would pass 27,000 Bihar villages, the Chanderi Muslims set up a small shack for a mosque of their own so they would not have to undertake the risky journey across paddy fields to Rajpur for prayers.

In the saffron atmosphere, the emergence of a notional thatch mosque was resented by those high on the heady idea of sanctified bricks devotedly carted for the Ram temple. Tensions caused the 100 or so Muslims to seek security in numbers. Major Virk shepherded them to the largest Muslim house in the village and, to ensure security, left a posse of policemen to keep watch.

Next morning, when Virk returned he was in a state of daze. The police were missing. The safe house for the Muslims had been gutted. From Chanderi's central pond, covered with hyacinth, protruded human parts — hands, legs, heads. The people around the pond denied they had seen anything.

Obviously unnerved by the saffron surge, the Congress instructed its UP Chief Minister Narayan Dutt Tiwari to arrange for the "shilanyas" or stone laying ceremony of the Ram Mandir's outer walls on the disputed spot demanded by the Hindu extremist VHP. This, the Congress coyly agreed while publicly denying that it had supervised shilanyas on "disputed land". The sleight of hand became common knowledge.

This, it turned out, was part of the party plan. Kicking off the party's election campaign from Ayodhya, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had promised to establish "Ram Rajya" in the country. What surprise then that the shilanyas was supervised by the Congress, even though the cheery slogans were mounted by the VHP: "This is not the foundation of a temple but of the Hindu Rashtra".

Would you be surprised that one of the wisest Congressmen I have known, a deep, cultured man, Saiyid Nasir Hussain, sat in his office in the Faizabad mosque, held his head in the cusp of his hands, and wept, "They have cheated the Muslims"? He then blurted out: "The deal with the VHP had been struck at the very top." He knew what he was talking about. "In UP the Congress is finished." So far, he has proved right.

Of course, the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation, L.K. Advani's "rathyatra" was a cunning, multipurpose political project — to neutralise the caste forces unleashed by V.P. Singh's promotion of the Mandal Commission report giving reservations to the lower castes, thus destabilising the centuries old caste pyramid.

The problem for the 100 million Muslims particularly in the northern and western states is this: he cannot vote BJP, will not vote Congress (if he can help it) and is disgusted with the SP.

Ghalib's line is apt:

Chalta hoon thodi door har ek Tez rau ke saath,/Pahchanta naheen hoon abhi Raahbar ko main

(I join everyone who is ahead in the caravan,/I have not yet recognised the leader who will show me the way).

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