BJP chief in limbo as 'ally' pulls out of pact

AB Vajpayee, parliamentary leader of the Hindu nationalist BJP, should by now be packing his bags ready for removal to 7 Race Course Road, the prime minister's official residence. Instead he is twisting in the wind.

He has two big problems. The first and most urgent is that a crucial ally in the south, the former film star Jayalalitha, who faces serious corruption charges after her term as chief minister of Tamil Nadu, refuses to back him.

It was said that she wanted her proxies to be the ministers of finance and law; alternatively, that she wanted the dismissal of her deadly rival who now runs the southern state. Whatever it was, Mr Vajpayee refused to grant it, and Jayalalitha pulled her 27 MPs. Mr Vajpayee was left well short of a majority.

Last night the head of state, President KR Narayanan, met leaders of the other main groupings, Congress, the United Front (UF) and the two main communist parties, to see if they had any bright ideas. But as both Congress and the UF are effectively leaderless, and as it was their latest quarrel which brought on the recent, unwelcome election, no one was optimistic.

Mr Vajpayee's immediate problem stems from the treachery of a dubious ally. But his other problem is more fundamental: he has proved unable, after nearly 50 years of trying, to amass the sort of broad national support that the Congress Party used to be able to take for granted. The disputed religious site in Ayodhya, symbol of India and the world's doubts about Mr Vajpayee's party, continues to haunt him.

The BJP overflows with patriotic emotion; it stands for India strong, self-confident and with nuclear missiles targeting Peking. But in its heart of hearts India doesn't buy it. Ayodhya explains why not.

It is a small town in the fertile plains of Uttar Pradesh, east of Lucknow in the north of the country. To call it dilapidated would be a kindness: it looks like one of the frontline towns in Bosnia or Croatia in the heat of the recent wars there. It is a town of ruins, crumbling carcasses of long-ago invasions which the people inhabit without complaint, knowing nothing different.

But one of the ruins is special. It was demolished so thoroughly that not one stone remains on top of another. This was the mosque of Babri Masjid.

On 6 December 1992, a crowd of Hindu zealots, including the president of the BJP, LK Advani, Mr Vajpayee's right-hand man, and several of the party's MPs, gathered here and while police looked on they destroyed the mosque.

It was an explosive event, unleashing a volcano of Hindu versus Muslim communal anger in which perhaps 2,500 people died across the country. Mr Advani and several other top leaders were arrested, and the RSS, the paramilitary force that stands behind the BJP, was banned. But for the moment at least, Mr Vajpayee was unrepentant. Weeks after the demolition he declared that the mosque was "a symbol of shame and has been erased".

For the Hindu zealots, it was their movement's finest hour. But for Mr Vajpayee and the others in the party who crave national power it was, as Mr Vajpayee later admitted, "the party's worst miscalculation".

It is hard to grasp why the destruction of a seedy old building, unused for religious purposes since 1949, should dog the Indian imagination in the way it does. The ostensible reason is that the spot on which the mosque stood was the birthplace of Rama, "lord of the universe" in the Hindu pantheon and appropriated by nationalists as their divine mascot. Like thousands of Hindu temples across the north, it was destroyed by fanatical Muslims during the numerous invasions that wracked the country - supposedly in 1528, on the orders of Babur, founder of the Mughal empire - and replaced with a mosque.

The temple's erasure and replacement are conjectural as no archeological evidence has been found, but then so is the birth of Rama. When the abject and humiliated Hindus began chafing at the British yoke and casting around for a symbol of national pride to unify them 150 years ago, they hit on Ayodhya and the long-vanished temple there. Demolishing the mosque and rebuilding the temple have been the most important projects nursed by nationalists since.

Ayodhya has always been a potent rallying cry for the BJP. But the destruction in 1992 was a watershed. The symbol of national humiliation was gone - replaced by a makeshift temple in a tent, a messy ongoing wrangle in the courts, and a dire warning of the apocalypse awaiting any government that ventures down the communalist path.

The bloodshed that followed the mosque's demolition drove home the danger of igniting such raw emotion in a union as fragile as India's. But Mr Vajpayee has been unable to find any comparably effective way to set the electorate on fire.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?