Why Ayodhya hasn't been allowed to develop

Last Updated: Thu, Dec 06, 2012 10:54 hrs

'...And the Germans kill the Jews
and the Jews kill the Arabs
and the Arabs kill the hostages
and that is the news

...is it any wonder, that the monkey's confused...'

Former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters in the album Amused to Death.

It was the Associated Press (AP) ticker in our Kolkata newsroom that first told us that something was wrong at Ayodhya that Sunday morning.

Even as domestic wire services continued to maintain that the situation was 'tense but under control', the AP reported that Hindu activists had stormed the 16th-century Babri Masjid and started vandalising it.

By late afternoon, we had the first pictures of jubilant kar sevaks waving saffron flags atop the demolished dome.

By late evening, India was under lockdown, and burning.

Despite the imposition of curfew and the deployment of the army and paramilitary forces across the nation, at least 2000 people were killed - many in police firing - in the week-long riots that followed.

I remember the palpable fear and uncertainly written across Kolkata, as we roamed it armed with "curfew passes", raising both our hands in the air whenever we crossed a military patrol. And this was a city almost a 1000 miles from Ayodhya.

Twenty years later, we have learnt nothing. Ayodhya still remains a town with religion, and nothing else.

Why is it so hard to understand that the demolition had nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with politics?

Twenty years later, the Muslim leader still knows that religion is an emotive issue around which he can quickly gather supporters, particularly if he can raise fears of persecution and intimidation by the majority.

Hindu leaders still continue to hope that the 'Hindu vote', hopelessly fractured over caste and other fault lines, can be harnessed as a bloc.

So what if innocents die in the process? For them, it is collateral damage, which can probably be used to stoke more polarisation, and more votes.

The way the Congress government led by Narasimha Rao did nothing to stop the demolition is itself significant. Former Intelligence Bureau Joint Director Maloy Dhar, who passed away recently, once told me the government - Rao and his home minister SB Chavan - was well aware that the BJP-VHP-RSS combine had meticulously planned and prepared for the demolition months in advance. Yet they did nothing to stop it, because they believed that after being forced to play its trump card, the saffron combine would be a spent force, lending further weight to the Congress Party's secular credentials.

But are only politicians to blame?

Why has Ayodhya not developed in the past two decades?

My friend and the editor of Indian Defence Review, Captain Bharat Verma, has some thoughts on this.

He points to the city of Atlanta in Georgia, United States. Once a railhead in the deep south which grew into a large town, the city's elected administrators aggressively wooed big business, giving them tax and other sops.

Today, it is the headquarters for Delta Airlines, Coca Cola, CNN, and a host of Fortune 500 companies. Jobs, development, law and order, growth, living conditions is what the local government, run by the mayor, is judged and re-elected on.

Why, asks Verma, can't we do the same?

In India, the basic building block of the state is the district, which falls under the district magistrate.

Appointed by the state government, many of them are rookies from the IAS training college, not even sure about their own mandate. He or she is thus usually unwilling to rock the boat, or change the status quo. So what if law and order, education, public health, revenue and host of other powers for the entire district rest on their shoulders?

One of the primary reasons why Ayodhya remains a temple town with a bleak future today is because successive district magistrates, despite their vast powers, did nothing.

A modern India cannot afford to be divided on petty religious and ethnic grounds. Our youngsters need work, not an environment vitiated by ethnic and religious bigotry. We need food, clothing, housing, shelter, water, power and an atmosphere which rewards hard work and inspires innovation. We need law and order. We need a government that is transparent and accountable. Is that too tall an ask?

Look around you. The answer, obviously, is yes.

Our leaders clearly believe that empowering the people through education and development would weaken their hold, make them more accountable.

It is far easier to play the religious card, the ethnic card, to divide and rule. It is far, far easier to point to the lack of education and development, and cry wolf.

The good news is that despite this, we still retain and exercise the right to elect or re-elect our leaders every five years.

The good news is that you can delay or stall education and development, sometimes inordinately, but you cannot stop it. Today, technological advances, particularly cable TV, the mobile phone and the Internet, have not only ensured that the common man is increasingly aware of his rights, but is also empowered to seek them.

The bad news is that 60 years of divisive politics have made many of us cynical and apathetic, always telling ourselves that it's futile fighting against the all powerful system.

The bad news is that even as I write this, Ayodhya, like this time of the year every year for the past 20 years, is living under fear of yet another communal flare-up.

Education can only take you so far. It's how you use it that matters.

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Ramananda Sengupta is a senior editor and strategic analyst

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