Babri Masjid, with 20 years of hindsight

The demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, was unquestionably the most significant blow against the secular fabric of the Indian nation. Twenty years later, it is worth asking: how do we assess that event in the context of the unfolding history of our nation? And how do we see the current conjuncture in relation to the conjuncture that produced the demolition of the mosque?

The fact that the whipping up of sentiments on the issue catapulted communal-fascist forces to the centrestage of Indian politics from where they could make a bid for power, is obvious. In fact, it was the second big boost to these forces, after Emergency. It is also clear after their stint in power that while they can do much damage, they are not yet in a position to impose their agenda upon the country. Bourgeois commentators are in the habit of talking about the BJP having "mellowed" over the years; the question, however, is not one of "mellowing". It relates to the balance of forces that does not yet allow Hindutva groups the kind of power that they need to impose their agenda. Not only was the BJP's effort at altering the Constitution stillborn, it could not make much headway even on specific issues like building a Ram temple, or amending Article 370, during its years in office.

But while this must be a source of satisfaction for secular and democratic forces, it cannot be denied that there is a creeping fascism in the country, which is not confined only to the Hindutva groups. Whether it is Mamata Banerjee's police taking university professors into custody for circulating a cartoon, or the PMK asking for the ostracism of Dalits, two girls in Maharashtra being arrested for Facebook comments unpalatable to the Shiv Sena, or the atmosphere of intimidation that leads to Mumbai being shut down after Bal Thackeray's death (a man whose life was a classic example of that of a fascist); whether it is the swagger with which a Narendra Modi struts about projecting himself as the next prime minister; or the spreading "culture of cruelty" exhibited in the glee surrounding the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, or the prolonged communal carnage in Assam; the reality of fascism creeping upon the nation is undeniable.

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