Dr Jay Dubashi
Dr Murli Mano-har Joshi, who was BJP president at the time, and Lal Krishna Advani, who had preceded him in the post, were arrested on Tuesday, December 8th, 1992, two days after the disputed structure at Ayodhya came down. They were taken to Matatila and released on Sunday, January 10th, 1993. They arrived in Delhi by train on Monday, January 11th where some of us received them.
A reception was held at 11 Ashoka Road (BJP headquarters) in the evening at 5 o’clock on the same day. I remember giving a hand to Joshi as he got down by car at 11 Ashoka Road and we embraced each other. Advani had already reached the party office where a small gathering greeted him. Advani was always rather formal, and we did not embrace.
Joshi was more of a scholar than a politician, and had a professorial look about him. Though I was close to all three of them – Joshi, Advani and Vajpayee – I was more at ease with Joshi.
There was a meeting of the so-called core group – meaning some of us who lived in Delhi and were available at short notice – at Ashoka Road at 9 am on Tuesday, followed by a press conference at 11 am. Advani said, “I am not ashamed,” when asked how he felt about the demolition of the disputed structure. Joshi didn’t say much. Advani’s press conference was held on Tuesday, January 12th, 1993.
I give this remark (“I am not ashamed”) as it appears in my diary. Both Advani and Joshi seemed to be in a fighting mood. The 30-day stay at Matatila, where they were interned, seems to have done them good. Their initial reaction, as indicated by their body language, was that there was nothing to be ashamed of though it seemed to me they were a little guarded in their remarks.
A few days after their return from detention, or maybe just before it, there was a meeting of the National Executive in Delhi (Parliament Annexe, as usual) though there is no such entry in my diary. Maybe I was a little busy with my own personal activities, as I had been invited to London around this time by the British government for a fortnight – long sojourn in London. I do not now remember whether Advani and Joshi were present at this meeting, but they must have been. Atal Behari Vajpayee certainly was. I remember meeting him at the entrance and escorting him to the hall where the meeting was held. He was not in good mood and we hardly exchanged a word. He seemed a little preoccupied, which was not unusual for a man who was not too happy with recent events.
Vajpayee has always been a most gentle and genial individual, almost always cheerful although doesn’t show it, unlike Joshi or Advani, who are serious people. Vajpayee is not just a political leader but a natural leader of men, with a tremendous sense of humour and a poet’s sensibility, which is rare among India’s politicians. He has a way with words, which just tumble from his mouth in cascades of well turned out sentences, and even in private conversation, he is in full flow, each word in its careful place, like a poet arranging his stanzas. But on that particular day of the National Executive Meeting, he seemed a little out of sorts, a little morose and visibly preoccupied with some problem or problems, about which he was not forthcoming.
At National Executive Meetings, it is usual for Vajpayee to give what the French call a “Tour d’Horizon”, a general view of things, political as well as other, a kind of a summing up, which provides direction to the party, particularly to workers like us, who are too busy with their own work to devote much time to broader things. It is something between a pep talk and summing up and is always the highlight of meetings addressed by him. We always look forward to it and come away refreshed by his insights and perspectives which always cast a fresh light on the shifting scenario.
We always listen to him most attentively and almost always in pindrop silence. But this time Atalji was not his usual self. He remained more or less quiet throughout the session, and when time came for him to sum up the proceedings and make his own remarks, he uncharacteristically clammed up. There were long intervals during which he could not or would not say a word. The meeting was naturally about Ayodhya and was taking place in the shadow of the collapse of the disputed structure, in which the party or some stalwarts in the party, had taken a leading part. We were all very enthusiastic about the whole thing – I had myself written a number of pieces in Organiser, comparing Ayodhya to the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989 which was followed by the fall of the Soviet Union itself in 1991, trying to place the three events, Ayodhya, Berlin Wall and the fall of the Soviet Union in proper perspective, and the articles were widely quoted in the press in India as well as abroad – and the atmosphere at the meeting was one of great excitement accompanied by great joy.
But Atal Behari Vajpayee remained silent for a long time, as if he was trying to say something but could not find words for it. This happens to people who are overcome by emotion at some event, which is either unexpected or for which you have waited for a long time, and surprised at the sudden result. I am sure this must have been the case when on the midnight of August 14th, 1947 Congress leaders, and particularly Jawaharlal Nehru, stood up in the Parliament to greet the dawn of independence for which they, along with millions and millions of Indians had slaved all these years, and now, suddenly, the stroke of midnight the chains would suddenly snap away and a nation would rise as one man to greet a new dawn – and a new page in history. Ayodhya was another new page in history and it too was greeted by all Hindus with great joy and happiness, and we all hoped that Atal Behari Vajpayee would join us in the new pilgrimage.
(This is second of a series of articles on the Ayodhya movement.)