Varanasi Must Be Saved from Becoming another Ayodhya

THE TREMORS caused by the twin blasts in Varanasi on March 7 have been felt all over the country. While Varanasi promptly plunged into the act of rescuing and treating the injured, the whole country was one in condemning the blasts and the resultant loss of innocent lives. The people of Varanasi have since displayed a remarkable resolve to maintain peace and uphold the city's great tradition of composite culture and communal harmony. Varanasi had stood out as a centre of peace and secular resistance in the wake of the fascist demolition of the Babri Masjid, more than a decade later the city has once again refused to be provoked into communal violence in spite of dastardly attacks on its own people. India must emulate this exemplary culture of popular unity and communal harmony in the face of similar attacks and adversities.

The post-blast peace in Varanasi has been all the more remarkable because the BJP and the Sangh brigade had lost no time to launch its familiar attempts to communalise the issue and vitiate the atmosphere. Advani and Rajnath Singh have been quick in announcing rathyatras ostensibly for the sake of promoting national integration. The BJP which has suffered serious political reverses in the state clearly sees the blasts as a great opportunity to reenergize itself and renew its vicious communal political offensive. But to their credit, the people of Varanasi have so far successfully foiled the Sangh's designs while coping resolutely with the shock and trauma of the blasts.

While most media analyses have tended to generalize the Varanasi blasts as yet another act of terror and use it as another occasion to repeat the usual anti-terrorist prescriptions, the choice of the specific venue and time obviously suggests an element of deep-rooted political conspiracy. Of late, Uttar Pradesh has seen a spate of incidents of communal and mafia-criminal violence and political killings. The state is also witnessing rapid political developments leading to deepening crisis and uncertainty and sharp political competition and polarization. Clearly, the blasts cannot be viewed in isolation from this developing political context.

The choice of Varanasi , and more so the specific sites of blasts within the city, is also loaded with tremendous potential for communal political mischief. Eastern UP has emerged as the hotbed of communal and criminal operations and Varanasi is the nerve-centre of this region. It is also no secret that the Sangh identifies Kashi as one of its key strategic political targets along with Ayodhya and Mathura . At a time when UP is passing through a serious political crisis and a phase of sharp polarization, Varanasi obviously remains central to every design on the future of the power equation in Lucknow .

Let us also not miss the larger political context beyond the immediate political future of Uttar Pradesh. We have just seen huge popular mobilizations opposing the Bush visit to India . The protests have been marked by massive participation of the Muslim community, a community that has had to face heightened multi-pronged attacks in recent years. We have also seen a welcome ideological and political crisis within the BJP and a steady decline in its political appeal. The BJP-Shiv Sena brand of communal politics is fast losing its edge. In terms of issues, Ram has lost out to Roti and basic concerns like livelihood, employment, social security and human dignity have come to the forefront. It is this direction of the developing situation that poses a much bigger danger to communal political forces than any self-styled opportunist electoral combination that may call itself secular. The Varanasi blasts have the mischievous potential of derailing this process and providing fresh fodder for the communal brigade.

This is why Varanasi demands a powerful intervention and prompt response from all progressive secular forces. It is heartening to note that the CPI(ML)'s timely intervention in Varanasi facilitated a series of encouraging popular initiatives. Activists of AISA organised a blood donation camp to help blast victims and of course remained vigilant against the evil designs of the Sangh outfits. Defying the blasts and the BJP's attempt to whip up communal tension, the CPI(ML)-led Rozgar Adhikar Abhiyan ended on a successful note in Varanasi on March 9-10. This provided a ready platform to the toiling masses and the secular progressive intelligentsia to demonstrate their resolve and strength, and the forces who wanted to use the blast victims to further their own sectarian and cynical political agenda were thwarted in their ugly bid.

After the Ayodhya events of December 1992, Comrade Vinod Mishra had led a march in Varanasi with the pledge never to allow Varanasi to become another Ayodhya. We must remember and redeem that pledge today like never before. Varanasi must be saved from becoming another Ayodhya, UP must be saved from being turned into a second Gujarat .