ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Mask Slips

If the suo motu statement made by the Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on the 8th anniversary of the Babri masjid demolition, to the effect that the campaign for construction of a Ram mandir at the very site of demolition is a manifestation of the (Hindu and thereby Indian) nationalist sentiments and this remains still an unfinished task, made waves, it was not just because it went against his carefully cultivated liberal image. It was more because of the unexpected suddenness and decisiveness with which he apparently opted to throw away his mask of years, which is at least to an extent seemed to fuse with his face. In fact, even in late September, while on an official tour to the US, he had declared, in a public function organised by the VHP, that he would ever remain a swayamsevak. That also created ripples, mainly because it was considered highly inappropriate for a prime minister to take such a partisan stand, that too on foreign soil on an official tour. But at least on that occasion he did ostensibly make amends, after a brief time lag, by giving a (Clintonesque?) twist to the meaning of swayamsevak, which he is known to be quite adept at. And the widespread feeling that this was rather an unguarded pronouncement made somewhat under the compulsions of the very occasion itself persisted.

This time round, there was absolutely no such escape route. The statement on the character of the Ram mandir campaign, though made (outside the parliament) in the context of the opposition demand on the floor of the parliament for the expulsion of the three chargesheeted cabinet ministers accused of demolition of the masjid, was virtually unprovoked and deliberately crafted. Not only that, the clarifications that followed further reinforced the original position. The next evening in an Iftaar party, he declared that the final solution can come either in the form of the Supreme Court deciding in favour of construction of the temple at the site of demolition or through an out of court negotiated settlement leading to the same outcome. Subsequently even on the floor of the parliament he did rather doggedly defend his original position, while making only small and token concessions, by retracting some of the subsequent clarifications, to the tantrums raised by a number of his NDA allies. Evidently, this was not a case of slipping mask. It was as if he was deliberately throwing away, so to say, the role assigned to him by the Sangh parivar. And the element of sudden surprise was too conspicuous to be ignored.

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