Time has come for grand bargain on Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute

The continuous legal saga around the Babri Masjid demolition will serve no other purpose but resurrect old ghouls and buried phantoms

Written by Manish Tewari | New Delhi | Published: June 1, 2017 5:51 pm
Babri Masjid, Ram janmabhoomi, Ayodhya, lk advani, mm joshi, uma bharti BJP leaders L K Advani, M M Joshi and others, having a meeting soon after Kar Sewaks started demolishing the Babri Masjid. Express Photo by RK Sharma.

On May 30, 2017, senior BJP leaders Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, and Uma Bharti appeared before a trial court in Lucknow to stand trial in the Babri Masjid demolition case. For these accused eminences, the frenzied events of December 6, 1992 must represent a paradigm far removed in space and time from their current pre-occupations and reality.

Perhaps these criminal proceedings isn’t the retirement many of them were looking forward to in their sunset years. Especially L K Advani — who took the BJP from a two-seat party in 1984, to 88 seats in 1989 and then onwards to the BJP’s first enduring coalition government at the centre from 1999 to 2004 — must be intrigued at the turn of events, if not understandably bitter.

Advani ji may wonder for the remainder of his very golden years, and may God give him a very long life, as to whether bailing out Narendra Modi on that fateful plane ride with Atal Behari Vajpayee in April 2002 to Panjim, Goa, to attend the National Executive Meeting, was perhaps the biggest political blunder of his long and distinguished career.

For him, the timing of the current summons couldn’t have been more ominous, coming as they have just ahead of the Presidential elections. The stance taken by the CBI counsel in the Supreme Court, which ordered an expeditious day to day trial, could not have been possible, without both explicit knowledge and instructions of the Prime Minister, to whom the CBI directly reports.

For, if anyone out of the BJP deserved to be the President of India, it is Mr Advani. It is another matter that a lot of folks, including this writer, are opposed to anyone from the RSS/BJP gracing that august office.

A host of other BJP leaders must be equally petrified today, as they have read the tea leaves very well. The one-and-a-half man oligarchy which rules the country can also turn on any of them at any point of time.

Enough of the present, however. It is time to turn the blood-stained pages of this most sordid saga in contemporary Indian history. It all began again on February 1, 1986, when Faizabad’s then District and Sessions Judge of Faizabad K M Pandey ordered the padlocks of the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi- Babri Masjid structure, which had been sealed for 37 years since 1949, to be reopened. He also ordered that access be granted to the idol of Ram Lalla mysteriously installed there since that fateful Thursday night of December 22, 1949.

Though a number of stories claim that the opening of the padlock was a command performance at the behest of the erstwhile Central government, led by Congress prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, the Liberhan Commission which subsequently enquired into the demolition of the Babri Masjid and it’s attendant circumstances for 17 long years – incidentally, at the cost of Rs 9.02 crores — found that to be untrue.

The unlocking triggered another round of anger, agitation and grief. The BJP/RSS and its many allied organisations sensed an opportunity for political revival and decided to up the ante. They launched a nationwide agitation for the removal of the mosque and it’s replacement by a temple. Consecrated bricks, ram shilas, were mobilized from thousands of villages, to be used in its construction.

The Ramjanmabhoomi agitation polarized India, culminating in the destruction of the mosque on that fateful December 6, 1992. The demolition unleashed a round of bloody communal riots across the country, laying the ground for the serial blasts that rocked Mumbai in March 1993 and spawned the first indigenous Islamist terror organisations.

For the next decade or so, from 1992-2002, the Ram temple matter went on the backburner. But when a trainload of kar sevaks aboard the Sabarmati Express had an altercation with Muslim vendors at Godhra railway station in February 2002, it seemed as if its ghostly apparition was raising its head again. In a horrendous turn of events, the burning of coach S-6 claimed 59 innocent Hindu lives.

The rest, of course, is history. The erstwhile Gujarat government allowed the dead bodies to be brought to Ahmedabad. In his testimony to the Nanavati Commission in August 2004, then DGP PC Pande said : “When I got to know that about 58 bodies were being brought to Ahmedabad or that they have already [been] brought, at that time I had a feeling, that looking to the communal situation of Ahmedabad…(which) is sensitive and like a tinderbox…in the prevailing circumstances if these dead bodies are brought to Ahmedabad then possibly it will create serious impact…”

A ghastly pogrom followed. It scarred and mutilated the soul of India, compelling then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to remind present prime minister Narendra Modi about his “raj dharma.” No description can capture the poignancy of Vajpayee’s stern warning to Modi that is available on You Tube. It is a must watch.

The Gujarat pogram led to the birth of the Indian Mujahedeen, which was aided and abetted by the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the ISI, and HUJI. At this time it consisted of students, most of them Kashmiris, studying in Deobandi madrasas in south Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Recruitment videos of Islamist terror organisations began to make plentiful references to the riots. They radicalized a lot of otherwise irreligious Muslim young men.

Now all this may seem like old hat but this chronology bears testimony to the destructive potential of energizing communal fault lines and laundering historical grievances, especially in the age of digital communication and social media.

The continuing legal saga around the Babri Masjid demolition will serve no other purpose but resurrect old ghouls and buried phantoms from the blood-tainted past, thus sparking off even more violence. It only serves those who have built their political careers on polarization to keep India on edge and keep emphasizing the otherness of those who disagree.

The time has come for a grand bargain on the Ram janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute. We must let go of the past. If we keep uncorking the poisoned chalice of history it will only consume us. As for the ensuing court proceedings, in the larger national interest they may perhaps serve no tangible purpose.

Manish Tewari is a lawyer, a Congressman and a former minister in the UPA government. He also serves as a Distinguished Senior Fellow with the Washington DC-based Atlantic Council

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