Sushma Swaraj and Ayodhya-Ram Janmabhoomi movement: Feisty BJP leader who wore Hindutva identity, politics on her sleeve

Unlike majority of BJP leaders, Swaraj's defence of BJP in the Liberhan report included keeping Muslims on board too. She told the Parliament that the report, a long-running inquiry commissioned by the Government of India to investigate the destruction of the disputed structure Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992 led by retired High Court Judge MS Liberhan, had the potential of starting communal riots, 'as it asked Hindus and Muslims to dump their community leaders'.

FP Politics August 07, 2019 15:59:19 IST
Sushma Swaraj and Ayodhya-Ram Janmabhoomi movement: Feisty BJP leader who wore Hindutva identity, politics on her sleeve
  • Belonging to a generation of Bharatiya Janata Party leaders who were mentored and handpicked by veterans like LK Advani and Vajpayee, Swaraj had an interesting side — one where she wore her Hindutva identity and her politics unabashedly on her sleeves

  • For instance, in 2012 (during campaigning for Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha Elections), in an exclusive interview with NDTV's Sreenivasan Jain, the then Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Swaraj accepts whole heartedly that she had 'no problem' with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992

  • While asking the then home minister to scrap the Liberhan report 'lock, stock and barrel', Swaraj said, 'khuda ke liye report ko kharij kijiye'. The use of the Urdu word for God instead of the usual BJP-style of invoking the ishwar or Ram was Swaraj's politics

India overwhelmingly mourned the death of Sushma Swaraj — a tall stateswoman from the Bharatiya Janata Party who broke all sorts of glass ceilings in an era when women were not a very common sight in Indian politics, especially in pivotal roles. The last time such resounding gloom spread through the entire nation was when Atal Bihari Vajpayee passed away last year in August.

Belonging to a generation of Bharatiya Janata Party leaders who were mentored and handpicked by veterans like LK Advani and Vajpayee, Swaraj had an interesting side — one where she wore her Hindutva identity and her politics unabashedly on her sleeves. Be it the Parliament or the media, she did not hide this facet from anyone.

A latecomer to the BJP, Swaraj rose from socialist ranks and very soon held the confidence of top leaders and veterans in the party. She started her political life with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)' student wing, and was later inducted into the BJP.

Sushma Swaraj and AyodhyaRam Janmabhoomi movement Feisty BJP leader who wore Hindutva identity politics on her sleeve

With Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj was picked by BJP to lead charges against Liberhan inquiry report in Babri Masjid demolition case in Parliament in 2009. AFP

Unlike the usual crop of Hindu leaders which the BJP brandishes, Swaraj was quite unusual. Known especially for her "oratorial", "administrative" and "kind and compassionate" nature, the former Union Minister was probably one of the very few BJP leaders who has not been cast as a Hindutva leader. Swaraj had the maturity to not appropriate Hinduism at every chance she got. So, the few times that Swaraj spoke in favour of Hindutva and Hinduism, it stuck.

For instance, in 2012 (during campaigning for Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha Elections), in an exclusive interview with NDTV's Sreenivasan Jain, the then Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Swaraj accepts whole heartedly that she had "no problem" with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992. Swaraj said that she travelled extensively with Advani during the rath yatra and the leader was, in fact, put in charge of the Haryana leg of the yatra. "I was travelling with Advaniji in the entire total Haryana campaign. I was with him on the Rath throughout." But on the day Babri Masjid was demolished, she was in Mizoram with her husband Swaraj Kaushal.

"So is it fair to say that you don't have any regrets about it? Not about the Movement, but about the demolition," asked Jain.
" About the Movement I don't have any regrets," replied Swaraj.

When Jain accused her of being cagey, Swaraj retorted: "I gave this answer on the floor of the House while participating on the question of Liberhan Commission Report. I was very forthcoming. And I told the Parliament that if you think that we're responsible for this demolition, we're ready to take punishment. All the 116 sitting here will take punishment. All the 45 MPs sitting there will take punishment. You punish us, why don't you punish us? We're ready to take punishment for that. So I was very categorical, very, very categorical on Babri Masjid case and my stand is very clear."

Swaraj's response also brought back memories from 1996 Lok Sabha when while defending the no-confidence motion against the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Swaraj delivered one of her most fiery speeches in Parliament. One of the topics that she spoke on was Article 370, ironically also the subject of her last-ever tweet. "Mr Speaker, we are communal, because we advocate the singing of Vande Matram, Yes, we are communal, because we fight for the respect of the national flag, we are communal, because we want to abolish the 370, we are communal, because we want to put an end to discrimination based on caste and creed in this country, yes we are communal, because we want to get the Uniform Civil Code implemented in this country. We are communal because we want the voices of the Kashmiri refugees to be heard." PA Sangma was the then Speaker of Lok Sabha.

Chosen to spearhead BJP's defence against the Liberhan Ayodhya Commission of Inquiry, Swaraj, along with colleague Arun Jaitley, were supposed to lead the charge in Parliament in 2009. Reportedly, the Sangh did not want either Swaraj or Jaitley to lead the charges, but Swaraj grabbed eyeballs with her impassioned defence of the BJP as well as for taking a firm Hindutva line which appeals to the Sangh.

Reports from then describe how her mentor Advani, the architect of the Ayodhya movement, placed his hands over her head blessing her in appreciation of her performance.

Unlike majority of BJP leaders, Swaraj's defence of BJP in the Liberhan report included keeping Muslims on board too. She told the Parliament that the report, a long-running inquiry commissioned by the Government of India to investigate the destruction of the disputed structure Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992 led by retired High Court Judge MS Liberhan, had the potential of starting communal riots, "as it asked Hindus and Muslims to dump their community leaders".

While asking the then home minister to scrap the Liberhan report "lock, stock and barrel", Swaraj said, "khuda ke liye report ko kharij kijiye'. The use of the Urdu word for God instead of the usual BJP-style of invoking the ishwar or Ram was Swaraj's politics. Not overbearing, but unapologetic. Not communal, but not apologetic either for believing in what she does. Swaraj called for the report to be dismissed because it said that the Ram temple agitation was not a people's movement. "It was the largest people's movement of post-Independent India that turned LK Advani into a mass leader".

In fact, she told the Parliament that during the Ayodhya yatra, when she was managing the Haryana leg of the movement, "every morning she would do an "aarti" of the vehicle and pick up dust from the wheels and put it on her head. She had also blasted Liberhan for "daring" to call Ram a "Hindu" god when "Ram was really the soul of India". "Did kar sewaks dismantle the disputed structure? Yes. Was there a conspiracy? No," she told the Parliament and added, "Yes, we are ready for any punishment, if you want to punish us. Both leaders inside and outside the House are ready."

The thing about Swaraj was that despite her strong assertions, she was never seen as a quintessential Hindutva leader. She was seen as a woman politician who acted as a role model for many, a politician who, despite her ideological differences with her adversaries, was always friendly and warm. She leaves behind the legacy of a strong woman Indian politician who flourished during an industrious era which also saw a strident rise in the Hindutva politics. And probably that's why, despite being an distinguished saffron party leader, Swaraj will always be known for her helpful tweets, unmatched oratorial skills and a role model for all women who broke glass ceilings.

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