Oh, Ayodhya! It’s time for Muslims to introspect


Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO

With a constitution bench of the Supreme Court due to pronounce its verdict on “one of the most important cases in the world” (chief justice designate, Sharad Arvind Bobde) anytime before November 17, it feels good listening to sounds of music emanating from all quarters.

Surprise, surprise. In an apparent U-turn, the RSS is asking all Indians to “wholeheartedly support” the impending ruling of the apex court in the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi case. Also singing the same tune are several Muslim religious and social organisations, Muslim MPs and intellectuals. What’s more in the last few days, similar sentiments have been expressed at several joint Hindu-Muslim meets, many of them initiated by the BJP, RSS and VHP .

Needless to say all must support and celebrate this new-found love for peace at all costs, respect for the rule of law and the verdict of the highest court in the land. However, considering how much hatred has been generated, how much blood has been spilled in the course of the dispute over this piece of land in Ayodhya, pardon my doubts over the durability of this belated bonhomie.

It is worth recalling that the judgment of the Allahabad High Court in 2010 was prompted by sentimental and political considerations rather than legal ones whereby Hindus got something and so did Muslims. The higher judiciary’s curious take-some-concede-some approach proved to be unacceptable to Hindu and Muslim litigants and therefore the appeal in the apex court.

If legal considerations are the sole criteria, the Supreme Court is unlikely to deliver a please-all, win-win ruling, one party is going to win the case while the other will lose. What then?

Scenario 1: The verdict goes in favour of a Ram Mandir.

In such an eventuality, there is little doubt that even if feeling aggrieved a large majority of ordinary Muslims will simultaneously heave a sigh of relief. The reason is simple: Far too much Muslim blood has been spilt. Even if the verdict is in Muslims’ favour, who will dare re-build the mosque in Ayodhya? Which political party will support it? Which Muslim will go to offer prayers there?

But what about the All India Muslim Personal Law Board with its consistent, intransigent, once-a-mosque-always a mosque stance even while reiterating they will respect the court’s verdict? Will the ulema petition for a review of the judgement of a ruling by a 5-member constitution bench if it rules in favour of a Ram Mandir? Or will they seek solace in their helplessness given a majoritarian dispensation?  Or will they at least now introspect over their own contribution in the astronomical growth of hardline Hindutva since the mid-1980s?  

Scenario 2: The verdict goes in favour of the Babri Masjid.

Will the sangh parivar stop at extending “whole-hearted support” to the highest judiciary? What happens to it’s over three-decades-old mandir wahin banayenge vow? What happens to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s repeated reiteration since 2017: “The Ram temple will be built at the Ramjanmabhoomi and nothing else will be constructed on that land.” Perhaps, the sangh parivar is confident of the apex court’s ruling in favour of the Ram Mandir. Or, perhaps it has been assured by the Modi government that, as earlier demanded by the RSS supremo, in case of an unfavourable judgment it will bring a new law to nullify the court’s verdict. Which political party will today oppose the passage of a law for Ram Mandir?

Remember, above all, for the sangh parivar the Ramjanmabhoomi is a “matter of faith”. And recall, there is a precedent of the Indian Parliament choosing to place faith above law. In 1986, the then Congress government led by Rajiv Gandhi ensured the passage of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill, 1986. It was in deference to the Muslim insistence – following the apex court’s verdict in favour of Shah Bano — that the faith-based Shariah Law takes precedence over the law of the land. If the law can be changed for Muslims, why can’t the same be done to respect Hindu sentiments? This has been the RSS parivar’s running argument since the launch of the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation since 1986.

Opinion among Muslims is today divided over what they should do in case the Supreme Court rules in their favour. A section among them has recently been arguing that Muslims should go for a negotiated settlement. Let Hindus build a Ram temple at the disputed spot in Ayodhya in return for certain assurances (from whom?), including the assurance that no future dispute will be raised in respect of any other mosque in the country. A smaller number is arguing that Muslims should unconditionally give up their claim as that would earn them a lot of Hindu goodwill.

Alas, however well intentioned, the time for earning Hindu goodwill, I believe, is long past. Five months before the Babri masjid was demolished (December 1992), in an article published by the now defunct weekly Sunday Observer, I had argued why in the interest of the minority  community and the national interest Muslims should voluntarily hand away their legal claim to the Babri Masjid. Not to any constituent of the sangh parivar but to the President of the Indian Republic or the Supreme Court. Let them decide whatever they thought to be in the best interest of national unity and communal amity. The article reminded Muslims that the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 offers statutory protection against any future agitations concerning all other mosques in the country.

In response, I got a mouthful from several secular Hindu friends who asserted: The Babri Masjid is not simply a property of some Muslims but also a symbol of secular India. Who the hell are you (me) to talk of gifting it away? Around the same time, at a small informal gathering of Muslims in Mumbai, friend Gulam Peshimam made a suggestion: “Let us Muslims dismantle the Babri masjid brick by brick and rebuild it some other location. Let Hindus build their Ram Mandir at the disputed spot”. He was shouted down by the rest of the gathering, warning that he will be stoned by fellow Muslims if he made any such suggestion in public.

Given the backdrop of the then simmering secular outrage over the Rajiv Gandhi’s capitulation to Muslim fundamentalists, such a unilateral gesture then could perhaps have saved precious Muslim lives and properties. Perhaps it would have gone a long way in reversing the forward march of militant Hindutva. Perhaps Indian democracy would have been spared the systematic subversion of its institutions. (There is no sign of any court order for punishment of those responsible for the criminal demolition of the Babri mosque, or for the countrywide anti-Muslim violence in its immediate aftermath). Perhaps the country would not have ended up in today’s majoritarian dispensation.

A bit of introspection now might help Muslims realise how, thanks to their own inflexibility and short sightedness, they have contributed to a situation where today they find themselves in a no-win position, irrespective of which way the impending verdict goes. Having failed to engage with secular-minded Hindus, Indian Muslims have now to contend with the votaries of Hindu Rashtra.




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