It was Rajiv Gandhi’s political blunders of conceding to the demands of the fundamentalists led to the resurgence of the BJP and revival of the Ayodhya dispute, which rekindled scars of partition and eventually completed the division between Hindus and Muslims in the country.
It was in 1985, Rajiv Gandhi reeling under various controversies, including the Bofors scam. In a bid to get out of the crisis, Rajiv began his mistakes of tinkering with India’s socio-religious fabric.
The first was to overturn the Supreme Court verdict in the Sha Bano case on the triple talaq issue. This was an attempt to appease the Muslim fundamentalists and the Muslim Personal law Board. Rajiv Gandhi enacted a law abolishing the alimony provision in conformity with the Sharia that principally govern the Muslim personal laws. Rajiv Gandhi’s “regressive” move upset the secular minded Muslim leaders and one of the prominent Muslim face in his Cabinet, Arif Mohammed Khan quit in protest against the move.
This decision opened the can of worms. The Hindu fundamentalists, including the BJP launched a scathing and relentless attack on Rajiv Gandhi over the Sha Bano issue. Surprising many, Rajiv Gandhi in his so-called balancing act, ordered the locks on the Ram Janam Bhoomi-Babri Masjid in Ayodhya to be removed. Until then, a priest had been permitted to perform puja once a year for the idols installed there in 1949. This step catalysed the rise of the right wing politics in India. And BJP, which that time had only two MPs, rose like a Phoenix.
In 1989, Rajiv Gandhi went ahead with negotiations with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and allowed Shilanayas, when the first stone of the proposed temple was placed. At this juncture, Rajiv Gandhi riddled with troubles. His mishandling of the situation in Punjab, Kashmir and Sri Lanka had resulted into the rise of terrorist activites in the country. To make matters worse for him, V.P. Singh quit the Congress and started his own party. Rajiv Gandhi thought the pandering to the majority community could be the only way to consoldiate his position. Toeing a Hindutva line, Rajiv Gandhi talked of a ‘Ram Rajya’ during his election campaigns.
The assurance of a “Ram Rajya” could not save Rajiv Gandhi, who lost the 1989 elections to V.P. Singh led Opposition. However, his move to open the locks benefitted the BJP, which stepped on the issue and in 1989 the party tally rose from two to eighty Lok Sabha seats. Then came L.K. Advani’s repeated rath yatras for the construction of the Ram Mandir and the consistent rise of the BJP. If Rajiv Gandhi ushered in the rise of the BJP, the former Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao consolidate the Hindutva brigade with inaction during the demolition of the Babri Masjid by the Hindu fundamentalists in 1992. After the demolition, the Central government went ahead and dismissed the Kalyan Singh led BJP government in Uttar Pradesh and virtually made him a martyr.
After stints of instable governments at the Centre, BJP led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee came to power in 1996. Though this government lasted for 13 days, the BJP returned to power to stay in power 13 months. Third time, the party yet again led by Vajpayee came to power and lasted the full term. The return of BJP under Narendra Modi finally changed the political goalpost from economic issue to muscular nationalism and politics of polarisation. As a BJP worker said-”We thank Rajiv Gandhi for everything.