Destruction of Buddhist monuments in Afghanistan and the Babri Masjid

PUCL Bulletin, 2001

– By Anand Patwardhan

To Prime Minister Vajpayee,
We all appreciate your appeal to world leaders asking them to condemn the Taliban for vandalizing and destroying historic Buddhist monuments and archaeological sites in Afghanistan. It is an act of incredible stupidity.

But was it not you sir, who less than two months ago defended the destroyers of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya and described their intentions of building a Ram temple in its place as being “in the national interest”? Does the similarity in the thought process of you, your party and the dreaded, hated, Taliban, not strike you?

Granted, perhaps the Babri Masjid was perhaps not as valued an object of art or even of archaeology as the monuments in Afghanistan. But is it not indisputable that demolishing it, hurt the sentiments of a religious minority as well as the sentiments of a secular (though unfortunately largely silent) majority that had been nurtured on the belief that this country is proud of the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and that it believes in tolerance and humanity?

At the time of the Masjid demolition, the destroyers openly stated that they were driven by their sense of intense piety; that they were the children of God (“Baccha, baccha Ram ka, Janmabhoomi ke kaam ka”). The Taliban says the same. Their god has told them to destroy all idols. Is their intolerance really very different from yours? Will the world stand by and reward them for this intolerance as the people of this nation stood by and rewarded you for yours?

Your party had two seats in Parliament before it started the campaign to demolish the Masjid. The campaign brought you to power and from time to time, whenever necessary, you revive these very sentiments of intolerance, to keep yourself in power. But you are of course not as crude as the Taliban. You sit in an office under a photograph of Mahatma Gandhi, a man who was killed in 1948 by the gurus of your own ideology, a man whom you murdered once more on December 6, 1992 and then again for the third time on May 11, 1998 when you exploded once and for all, India’s claims to pacifism. Yes, you can take refuge in the fact that you were not alone in your madness. At least 5 other nations preceded you.

Should I be consoled by this? That my nation is no worse than an America that bombed Hiroshima? Than a Pakistan that invokes Jehad? Than an Afghanistan? I do not wish to neutralize the horror I feel at the destruction of Buddhist monuments with the thought that my national leaders did the same thing a decade ago. But I do believe that if this act sparks in us the desire to fight intolerance of all kinds, then surely the Buddha will not have lived and taught in vain.