The main argument in Chetan Bhagat’s article “Why We Need a Ram Temple in Ayodhya” can be quoted as follows: “(Ayodhya) is no ordinary site. As per Hindu faith, it is the birthplace of Lord Rama, one of the most worshipped gods in the religion…Thousands of mosques stand on erstwhile temples in India, courtesy Mughal rulers. Nobody is asking to restore those. But this is Lord Rama’s birthplace, replaced by simply one more mosque. That mosque can be shifted. The holy site of Lord Rama’s birthplace is a matter of centuries of faith. We can’t shift that.” He refutes the calls for maintaining the status quo or building a hospital using this argument of “immovable” sacredness of the exact spot. To Bhagat’s credit, he doesn’t condone violence, “including that happened in 1992” and wants the Muslim community to “bless” the building of the temple.
I have no problem with Chetan Bhagat feeling Hindus have been sidelined in “India’s efforts to respect all religions”. As a self-proclaimed Hindu spokesperson (his “we” refers to Hindus as the article makes amply clear), he has every right to voice what he feels is good for his people.
My problem comes with his framing of the Babri Masjid demolition as an inter-community dispute between Hindus and Muslims: IT SIMPLY ISN’T ONE. It was a criminal act against the idea of India at multiple levels- clearly anti-national. It was an act of violence against the Constitution and the values it upholds; a crime that violated and insulted the law of the republic. It was a project in social antagonism- one that woefully weakened the social fabric of the country positing one community against the other, as the demolition came at the end of a concerted effort to create “us” and “them”. Finally, the run up to the demolition was such a social divider which caused many communal riots. Its first casualty was the Indian nation, Indian state and the Indian people- a people who believed in a shared destiny.
If there is a crime, there has to be criminals. It is in the interest of justice that the ones who committed the crime be brought before the people and based on this, punished as per the rules and the judicial process. In the Babri Masjid demolition case, justice is still far away (The Supreme Court observed recently that the case has been pending for 25 years). The civil case regarding the ownership of the land is one thing; the criminal case on the demolition is quite a different one. Chetan Bhagat presents the issue as a matter of the past, and whether he meant it or not, it is an insult to the Indian justice delivery system for he seem to count the system as callous, forgetful and lacking in rigour.
The construction of Masjid demolition and temple-creation as a key issue has vandalised history, created an issue for communal polarisation and left a minority community particularly insecure. Those who are arguing for status quo maintain that this successful attempt at attack into history has already done the damage- all that can be done now is to keep the ground zero of demolition as a memorial of the attack. Those who argue for a hospital at the spot of Masjid demolition are of the belief that it will allow the wasting of a prominent narrative. Those who are asking for building a Masjid at the Babri Masjid demolition site are trying to address the issue of insecurity and the commitments of a secular republic to safeguard the worship places of all religions and give confidence to all religious groups. In short, they all have Indian society, atmosphere, history and state as central concerns.
Thus by posing the demolition of the Babri Masjid to be a Hindu-Muslim problem, completely ignoring questions of justice and being inconsiderate to concerns differently voiced, Chetan Bhagat is denouncing and insulting India.
Now, why do I accuse him of insulting Hindus? That allegation is not based on this article he writes for the Hindu community as a Hindu; but on a blog he wrote in 2013 posing as a Muslim (“Letter from a Muslim Youth”, Times of India Blog, June 30, 2013).
Chetan Bhagat’s Muslim imposter is asking for ways to go ahead through social development- deal with problems of schooling, power and water, and turn the willingness of the people in the community to work hard to a force to march ahead. This is his version of the invisible, unrepresented normal any other Muslim. Whatever other problems the blog had, it thought of Muslims as a forward-looking, aspirational community which believes in contributing to nation-building.
Chetan Bhagat in the present article frames Hindus as a backward-looking community that needs to derive a sense of power through reclaiming spaces of the past. Aren’t they bothered about their socio-economic conditions and of improving them? Don’t they deserve a decent standard of living and better opportunities? Why does Chetan Bhagat think Hindus are obsessed only with the past? Isn’t this an insult to the community? May be he didn’t mean it; but he comes across as someone who thinks rather poorly of Hindus.
One of the most important insights of The Mahabharata is that, the deeds done with a fear of being weak, end up being wrong precisely because they lack self-faith. Perhaps, it is this desperate sense of being feeble and victimised that has ended up making Chetan Bhagat’s article what it is!