Note: This is a translation of journalist Pratap Simha’s original essay titled Matte Eddiruva Hale Vivadada Nepadallaadaru Avarannu Nenapisikollabekenisitu Ashte (Literal: Felt like remembering him again in the wake of the controversy that has erupted again) in Kannada in May 2009, published in Vijaya Karnataka. Translated with permission from the author. Dates and events appearing in this piece relate to the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
The whispers had begun to do rounds before last January (Ed: January of 2008): Kalyan Singh is all set to quit the BJP. He is upset with the attitude of various leaders in the party. Despite being a party vice president at the national level, he feels sidelined. Which is why he’s begun to look for alternate avenues. He has already started discussions with Mulayam Singh and very soon, is all set to join Samajwadi Party.
You couldn’t dismiss any of these rumours.
Kalyan Singh had quit the BJP once in 1999, formed his own Rashtriya Kranti Party and contested elections, had re-joined the party, and now wanted to quit the BJP again. With such a record, it was entirely believable that he would quit. The time finally arrived when you could believe these whispers. Kalyan Singh was the Lok Sabha member from Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr. However, during the delimitation exercise, Bulandshahr was declared a reserved constituency. In 2004, Khurja, which was a reserved constituency was represented by BJP’s Ashok Pradhan. Post-delimitation, Ashok Pradhan was given the ticket for the newly-minted reserved constituency of Bulandshahr during the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. This decision naturally invoked Kalyan Singh’s ire because among other things, Pradhan was his arch rival. There was yet another reason: in the 2007 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, Kalyan Singh suspected that Ashok Pradhan was behind the defeat of Singh’s son, Rajveer Singh. Even worse, in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the party gave the ticket to Ashok Pradhan without bothering to even seek Kalyan Singh’s approval. The very next day, Kalyan Singh had a private meeting with the Samajwadi chief, Mulayam Singh Yadav. Thus began the whispers.
However, Mulayam Singh denied that these whispers had any truth to them. Equally, he announced that he would consider giving a SP ticket to Rajveer Singh if the latter explicitly requested as such. The stage was set: on the one side, Kalyan Singh resigned from the BJP while on the other, Rajveer Singh formally joined SP. The moment that happened, rumbles of disquiet began within SP. Samajwadi partymen were scared: SP was associating itself with the man responsible for the demolition of Babri masjid, an association, which had full potential to arouse the anger of the large Muslim votebank of the party. And so, Mulayam made a statement on these lines: “We have not made any electoral alliance with Kalyan Singh. It’s just friendship on a personal level. However, Kalyan Singh needs to give an unconditional apology for his role in the Babri masjid demolition.”
Kalyan Singh was truly cornered. However, because the question involved his son’s political future, he was forced to make certain statements. On February 4, 2009, he issued a written statement that read thus: I own moral responsibility for the demolition of Babri masjid on December 6, 1992…I had resigned from my then post of Chief Minister owing to this moral responsibility…everyone has a right to feel proud about the religion they follow. Just like how Muslims have a right to be proud of Islam, Hindus too have the same right.
Note that he owned up to moral responsibility, he didn’t apologize.
However, this statement largely went unnoticed by the dirt-seeking media because polls weren’t announced yet. However, we’re now in the grip of election fever. As is wont, the Babri issue keeps cropping up frequently. Kalyan Singh, contesting as an Independent from Itah has the backing of SP. Therefore, he once again faces the prospect of apologizing for the Babri masjid demolition. On April 17, 2009, speaking from Aligarh, Kalyan Singh had this to say, as reported by Hindustan Times: Over 16 years after Babri Masjid was demolished, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh today said he very much wanted to prevent the razing of the 16th century mosque, but stopped short of apologising for failing to do so. Note that he still didn’t apologize.
This is the reason we need to feel proud about Kalyan Singh. Today the BJP might not have any use for him. Today, he might be excess baggage for the BJP, which perhaps wants him to leave the party. However, as a true devotee of Lord Rama, he stands the tallest.
Remember, he was the only person who relinquished his Chief Ministership for Rama.
Cut to 1992. Even prior, remember Rajiv Gandhi’s gift. In 1985, the Supreme Court, which ruled on the Shah Bano case, directed her husband—who had divorced her—to pay her maintenance. However, Muslim fundamentalists created a huge ruckus claiming that a divorced Muslim woman has no right to maintenance as per the Shariah. Duly scared, Rajiv Gandhi’s Muslim-appeasing government amended the Constitution so that it was in line with this injunction of Shariah. Hindus were outraged and began nationwide protests demanding the government to open the lock on the Ram temple so Hindus could worship there. Rajiv Gandhi who had mollified Muslims by bending the Constitution, now had to mollify Hindus. Additionally, he realized that Hindus had a valid point. Babri masjid wasn’t a scared place for Muslims on the lines of Mecca, Medina, Al Aksa, and Hazratbal. More importantly, both Islam and Christianity were religions alien to India. Muslim emperors of various dynasties who ruled India for nearly a thousand years destroyed thousands of temples.
The Rama temple at Ayodhya was one such temple.
When Babar’s general, Mir Baqi (or Banki) arrived at Ayodhya in 1528(1527) after defeating several Hindu kings, he had the mosque forcibly constructed on the edifice of the Rama temple, which was already destroyed. In our own time, the Babri masjid had no religious significance except for the fact that it was constructed four centuries ago. A few years ago, about 200 temples were pulled down in Gujarat for road-widening purposes and no Hindus made a big fuss. It’s incomprehensible to find anything of significance in a structure constructed by the military general of an alien invader: more so when no namaaz was being performed in that structure for centuries, and no Muslim ever went there on a pilgrimage a la Haj.
On the other hand, Hindus had been continuously fighting to reclaim the structure because of the deep religious and emotional significance it held for them. In 1949, the government agreed to allow Hindus to worship there only once every year. The Shah Bano episode provided Hindus with an opportunity to press the government to allow them to worship at the structure everyday instead of once a year. In 1986, Rajiv Gandhi took the courageous step of conceding this demand. Rumbles began to stir in several quarters. Within days, cries went up denouncing him as a Hindu-sympathizer. On the other side, Hindus, especially the BJP, made this a political movement and demanded that a grand Rama temple be erected there instead of just letting them worship there everyday.
The conflict suddenly took a major turn.
It mobilized votes in favour of the BJP with such astonishing pace that the party, which had just 2 Lok Sabha seats in 1984 had garnered a massive 86 seats in 1989. The assembly elections held in 1991 saw the BJP capture power in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Himachal Pradesh. Uttar Pradesh saw Kalyan Singh ascend to the Chief Minister’s chair on June 24 1991. However, after occupying the high chair, Kalyan Singh didn’t forget his goal. When the VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal and other nationalist organizations announced that they planned to carry out Kar Seva at Ayodhya on December 6 1992, anxiety prevailed over the survival of the Babri masjid. There was every possibility of the central government dismissing the Uttar Pradesh government. However, Kalyan Singh calmed these fears by giving a written assurance to the Supreme Court that he would save the masjid at any cost. This did two things at the same time: it saved his government from being dismissed and smoothened the way for Kar Seva. The happenings on December 6 1992 don’t need repetition. Once the Babri masjid was demolished, and a makeshift Ram temple was erected on the spot, Kalyan Singh bemoaned that he was helpless in preventing the demolition and resigned claiming moral responsibility.
This is the story in brief, of how Kalyan Singh gave up high office for the sake of a cause. Where is this man and where is someone like Yeddyurappa who was ready to split the party and cross over to JDS? It is well-known how Yeddyurappa knocked on Kumaraswamy’s doors asking for a minister’s berth in return for splitting the BJP in Karnataka. Even Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani stand diminished in stature compared to Kalyan Singh. Although it’s true that L K Advani galvanized the Ram temple issue into a national movement, although it’s true that the real beneficiary of this movement is Vajpayee, it is only Kalyan Singh who stands tallest. It is doubtful whether Vajpayee would become Prime Minister but for the Ayodhya movement despite the fact that he never wholeheartedly participated in the movement. He calmly enjoyed the fruits of a fierce struggle in which hundreds of thousands had literally shed their blood. He never endorsed the demolition. On his part, Advani stated before the Liberhan Commission that the demolition was the “saddest day of my life.” Further, his visit to Pakistan saw him hail Jinnah as a secularist, which was a great testimony to Advani’s opportunism.
Yet Kalyan Singh never wavered, was never in two minds about his commitment to the cause.
He could have adopted delaying tactics as soon as he was firmly seated as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, something that would’ve enabled him to enjoy the privileges attendant on a Chief Minister for a longer duration. However, within a year and a half, he made himself ready to sacrifice his chair. After he reassured the Supreme Court that he’d save the Babri masjid at any cost, he ordered the police force not to open fire on Kar Sevaks no matter how grave the provocation. It is for this reason that the Supreme Court in its enquiry named Kalyan Singh as a co-conspirator. Further, in 1997 when Singh was again the Chief Minister, Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon at the behest of Vajpayee, raised the banner of revolt within the party. Eventually Kalyan Singh resigned on November 12, 1999 and formed his own party. However, the ghost of Babri continued to haunt him. The Supreme Court sentenced him to a day in prison in addition to imposing a fine of Rs.1000. It’s nothing short of a cruel irony: the Ayodhya movement put Vajpayee in the Prime Minister’s seat, Advani in the Deputy Prime Minister’s seat, and put Kalyan Singh in jail.
Despite all this, Kalyan Singh was no longer wanted by the party.
Any political party that needs to live, grow, and thrive needs leaders of all sorts. We can divide these leaders into three categories:
- Those who are well-versed in the art and craft of winning elections, the strategists.
- Those who are well-versed in teaching administrative nuances to a newly-elected government. These are the policymakers and the “implementers.”
- The third is the class to people who represent the public face of the party, which has captured power. These people disseminate, defend, and justify the party’s ideology, programmes, and policies in the media, and act as the bridge between the government and the people. Equally, they send feedback to the government as to people’s perceptions about the government. Their job also involves addressing the concerns of party workers and devising strategies to keep them loyal and motivated.
However, the BJP, which came to power in 1998 didn’t merely forget all these three categories of people. In the heady feeling that power brings, it disregarded them all. Drunk with power, it didn’t heed the feedback of party workers. Leaders like Pramod Mahajan and Venkaiah Naidu ran amok and eventually, the BJP paid the ultimate price: a shameful loss in the 2004 elections. Ever since, it has never shown even a hint of stability. The list of backward caste leaders who were used and thrown by the party includes such people as Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti, Sadhvi Rithambara, and Vinay Katiyar.
Even despite this, Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh never forgot their commitment to Ayodhya.
Kalyan Singh’s 27-page affidavit submitted to the Liberhan Commission on December 2 2004, holds a mirror to his character. In the affidavit, he claimed that the demolition of the mosque was “was an act of God…whatever happened on that day, the deponent has no regret, no repentance, no sorrow, and no grief for that…(future) historians will record that Rama’s devotees and patriots demolished that structure, which symbolized slavery and stain. The disputed structure was a Ram temple and will always remain so.”
The BJP has since abandoned Rama. However, although he has distanced himself from the BJP, Kalyan Singh has remained a steadfast devotee of Rama. He could have shed crocodile tears like Advani and extracted his share of political mileage. He could have apologized. If he so desired, he could’ve exposed the hidden forces that worked behind the scenes to carry out the demolition. He could’ve begun an intra-party slugfest in public. However, he never let his personal grievances and frustrations interfere with his devotion to Rama. Such selfless, cause-dedicated people exist in droves in Karnataka’s BJP as well. However, when ultra-corrupt people and casteist worms are inducted wholesale in the name of Operation Lotus, such selfless people—people who actually toiled for and built the party, are quickly forgotten.
Kalyan Singh who has associated himself with the Samajwadi Party is now 77. In the course of his campaigning as an Independent from Itah, he fell down and broke his leg and is now in hospital. His political life is pretty much over. In the wake of the Babri masjid issue that has been rekindled thanks to the polls, this was an opportunity to recollect this backward-caste Hindu leader’s selfless commitment to the Ayodhya cause.