Tempered by power, BJP’s shift away from 1989 Palampur Resolution on temple rows

With the Kashi Vishwanath Temple-Gyanvapi Mosque and Krishna Janmabhoomi-Shahi Idgah Masjid disputes back in the spotlight, the BJP’s Palampur Resolution has also made a return to the political discourse. The ruling party appears to have made a shift away from its stand on temple-mosque disputes as mentioned in the political resolution adopted at its National Executive meeting held from June 9-11, 1989, in the hill station in Himachal Pradesh.

With this resolution, the BJP — described by its veteran leader L K Advani as the “chosen instrument of the divine” to end the country’s problems — decided to participate in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, which, till then, was spearheaded by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). The Palampur declaration is considered to be the most vigorous form of religiosity among the BJP’s political documents and with it Hindutva was officially added to the party’s doctrine. The party also rejected court orders that did not back its claims on the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site, saying, “The nature of this controversy is such that it just cannot be sorted out by a court of law.”

The BJP national executive also hit out at the “callous unconcern” of the “Congress Party, in particular, and the other political parties in general” for “the sentiments of the overwhelming majority in this country — the Hindus”. It added. “A court of law can settle issues of title, trespass, possession etc. But it cannot adjudicate as to whether Babar did actually invade Ayodhya, destroy a temple, and build a mosque in its place. Even where a court does pronounce on such facts, it cannot suggest remedies to undo the vandalism of history.”

Explaining why it believes that courts cannot settle disputes related to temples and mosques, the party document said, “As far back as 1886, a British Judge Col. FEA Chamier, disposing of a civil appeal relating to the site, observed in a helpless vein: ‘It is most unfortunate that a Masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus, but as that occurred 356 years ago, it is too late to remedy the grievance…’ (Dated 18th March, 1886 Civil Appeal No. 27 of 1885, District Court, Faizabad). In this context, it should not be forgotten that the present turmoil itself stems from two court decisions, one of 1951 and the second of 1986. On March 3, 1951, in Gopal Singh Visharad versus Zahur Ahmad and others, the Civil Judge, Faizabad observed, inter alia: ‘…at least from 1936 onwards, the Muslims have neither used the site as a mosque nor offered prayers there, and that the Hindus have been performing their Pooja etc. on the disputed site.’ Then, on 1 February, 1986, District Judge Faizabad referred to this 1951 order and directed that as ‘for the last 35 years Hindus have (had) an unrestricted right of worship’ at the place, the locks put on two gates in 1951 on grounds of law and order should be removed. (Civil Appeal No. 6/1986).”

The Palampur Resolution helped the VHP step up its Ram Temple movement, and the agitation, which gained momentum with the BJP’s backing, forced then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to permit the shilanyas ceremony on November 9, 1989. The BJP too embarked on an extensive campaign for the construction of the Ram Temple, which was fulfilled as works began following a favourable Supreme Court verdict on November 9, 2019.

For current BJP leaders too, the Palampur Resolution was a significant milestone. In his book, The Rise of the BJP: The Making of World’s Largest Political Party, which he co-authored with economist Ila Patnaik, Union Minister Bhupender Yadav wrote: “The Palampur session in 1989 was the turning point for the BJP’s demand for the Ram Mandir. It laid the foundation for an agitational program to take the BJP’s message from cities to remote villages of India.”

As a saffron party leader put it, the new BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not want to enter into yet another temple campaign but solely relies on the judiciary to give a green signal to correct “historical errors” and restore to Hindus their most holy places of worship.

While the ruling party’s critics may term it a “change of stance” amid expectations that the courts will adopt a favourable approach to its issues, BJP leaders argue that the “context” has changed — from being an Opposition party fighting against Congress dominance, the BJP has become the dominant force in Indian politics. As an Opposition party, the BJP could demand that the government in power settle disputes and express disapproval of a court verdict or the government’s decisions by citing public sentiment, some party functionaries said. They pointed out that as the party in power the BJP is now called upon to resolve sensitive disputes, and the government has to act in a particular way because it has various obligations and its actions are scrutinised inside and outside the country. According to them, the government has to act fairly and through Constitutional means even while pushing the saffron party’s agenda.

The Palampur Resolution was drafted when the BJP was at a crucial juncture — Mandal politics that shook Congress dominance had strained ties between the BJP and the National Front (of socialist and some liberal regional parties), which had come together entirely on the agenda of anti-Congressism. Their base was non-Congressional ideological unity.

But the increasing uneasiness of upper-caste Hindus encouraged the BJP leadership at the time to give up its moderate line and adopt ways to consolidate Hindu votes. The leadership had to chalk out politico-religious activities such as the Ram Rath Yatra and the Ayodhya kar seva to take the party to greater electoral heights.

The party diluted its hardline Hindutva stance following the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. The BJP, with Advani at its helm, tried to re-adopt hardline Hindutva after the BJP-led NDA lost power at the Centre in 2004. At the party conclave in Ranchi that November, Advani made an unsuccessful attempt to take the party back to the Hindutva line but the mood of the nation had changed by then. This was reflected in the even stronger return of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2009.

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