Minutes after the Supreme Court delivered its verdict on Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit case, the Congress said Saturday it respects the decision and declared it was in favour of construction of a Ram temple. There was no mention of Babri Masjid, the rebuilding of which then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao had publicly committed to in 1993 — or the fact that one side had several questions about the verdict.
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The Congress, which sank into political insignificance in the Hindi heartland in the last three decades after it got caught in the Mandal (social justice) versus Kamandal (Hindutva) narrative, appeared to be circumspect and wary of the political fallout of the verdict especially since it was a unanimous one. Perhaps, learning from the experience of the last three decades, it subtly sought to move the present day Congress closer to the Congress of three decades ago.
For, it was the Rajiv Gandhi government which allowed the opening of the locks of the Babri Masjid in 1986 and permitted Shilanyas there three years later. Rajiv began his campaign for the 1991 Lok Sabha election from Ayodhya promising to usher in Ram Rajya. In 1991, the Congress manifesto for the Lok Sabha polls said the party was for construction of the temple without demolishing the mosque. Rajiv’s Congress perhaps wanted to appropriate or defuse the Sangh Parivar’s Hindu card.
Cut to 1991, Rao’s Congress government enacted a law laying down that the religious character of a place of worship shall continue to be what it was on August 15, 1947. The attempt was to assuage Muslims who were getting apprehensive of the Sangh Parivar’s Kashi and Mathura agenda. By keeping the contentious ‘Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid’ complex out of the ambit of the law, the Congress sent a signal to Hindus too.
The same Congress, however, held Rao responsible for the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Asked about his commitment to rebuild the mosque, Rao told India Today in January 1993 – a month after the demolition: “We are not going back on that now. We have said we would see to it that it is rebuilt. That’s all. There are so many other cobwebs we have to remove. The whole thing is in litigation. But then I had to make the commitment to rebuild it. I was duty-bound.”
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Rao was purged. And the party, through the 1990s, spoke about the 1991 Central law. At the same time, ever since the mid-1990s, the Congress — wary of the electoral slide — was silent on both the temple and the mosque. The party recalibrated its line to support either a negotiated settlement “between parties to the dispute” or await for a judicial settlement. Today, it was, however, silent on the mosque and asserted it was in favour of construction of a Ram temple.
The Congress Working Committee met at party chief Sonia Gandhi’s residence even before the Supreme Court began reading out its verdict. The meeting began at 10 am. Over an hour of discussion later, the CWC pronounced the Congress’s stance.
“The Indian National Congress respects the verdict of the Supreme Court in the Ayodhya case. We appeal to all the parties concerned and to all communities to abide by the secular values and spirit of fraternity enshrined in our Constitution and to maintain peace and harmony. It is the responsibility of each one of us to reaffirm our tradition of mutual respect and unity among all that has defined our society through the ages.”
An hour later, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “The Supreme Court has pronounced its verdict in the Ayodhya matter. While honouring this court verdict, we all should maintain mutual harmony. This is a time for brotherhood, trust and love among us all Indians.”
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Echoed Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. She said “all parties, communities, and citizens should respect the decision and maintain our centuries-old culture of living in togetherness. We all have to together strengthen mutual harmony and brotherhood.”
But Randeep Singh Surjewala, the party chief spokesperson, said the Congress was in favour of construction of a Ram temple. He said the Supreme Court has respected “belief and faith.”
“The decision of the Supreme Court has come. Naturally, our reply to your question is in the affirmative. The Congress is in favour of construction of a temple for Lord Ram,” he said replying to a question.
Asked about the All India Muslim Personal Law Board’s unhappiness, he said: “They have also said that they deeply respect the judgment of the Supreme Court of India. Of course, everybody has a right to their own legal remedies and they can always choose to exercise their remedies but, as far as the Congress goes, we have said what we have to say.”
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Attacking the BJP, he said the Supreme Court’s verdict has opened the doors for construction of a Ram Temple and at the same time it has for once and for all shut the doors for BJP and others to use people’s faith and belief for political gains. Because Lord Ram “vachan ki maryada ke liye tyag ka prateek hain, sattah ka bhog ka nahin,” he said.
“Lord Ram is a symbol of sacrifice, mercy, love, good conduct, harmony, communal harmony. Individuals and parties had been using Lord Ram for political purposes. But today’s verdict has shut the doors at those group of people or political parties who want to enjoy power by using the name of Lord Ram,” he said.
Welcoming the verdict “on Ayodhya and the construction of Ram Temple,” senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said: “Land for Mosque confirms that justice and equity have prevailed. Unanimous verdict is laudable as issues involved were not only legal and historical but also fractious, emotional and religious.”
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Speaking to The Indian Express, CWC member and former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said: “We never said that we are against construction of a Ram Temple. We only said it should be settled in a Constitutional manner.” On the Congress’s silence on the mosque, he said “The court has said it (demolition) was not lawful.”
Asked why the Congress was silent, he said: “What is need of saying now? There is no need. Now the question is the Supreme Court judgment. So, unnecessarily, why should we bring up old issues? There is a judgment, there is some settlement…we are welcoming it…we don’t want to bring back old disputes again. Disputes have been settled, since it has come to an end, the Congress welcomes it.”
On the mosque, he said: “We are for it also because as a whole, whatever the judgement has been given we respect it, we welcome it..the court has made it clear that 5 acres should be given for construction of a mosque.”