July 8, 2005
A second ungodly act was committed in the godly town of Ayodhya on July 5. The first was perpetrated on December 6, 1992. And the time has come to expiate the sinfulness of both acts in a manner that strengthens national integration and promotes communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims.
It is possible, of course, to argue with full justification that Monday’s terrorist attack at the temple complex in Ayodhya was not the second ungodly act, and also that the mob vandalism that demolished the Babri masjid-Ram temple structure was not the first. The original sin was committed centuries ago when a mosque was constructed in the name of Babar, an invader, at a place which most Hindus considered, and continue to consider, holy for them. It is a place associated with the name of Ram and the Ramayana that have uniquely shaped India’s national culture and ethos, something the poet Mohammad Iqbal himself once acknowledged by describing Ram as “Imam-e-Hind”. (That he later disowned this poem is another matter.)
Many well-meaning people who fervently believe in communal harmony, and who were understandably horrified by the hooliganism of self-styled Ram Bhakts on December 6, tend to deny the wide-scale temple-demolition and idol-breaking binge of several Muslim rulers in the past. Nothing good will come out of this attitude of denial, this attempt to falsify history. At the same time, nothing good, and only unmitigated harm, will come out of the bigoted misadventurism of Hindu extremist elements who thought that they were correcting a historical wrong by pulling down the Babri Masjid. They didn’t correct a wrong; they committed a new one. That ‘‘Talibani’’ performance was the mirror image of the totally unacceptable act of religious hatred and iconoclasm of certain Muslim rulers, who created a bad impression among Hindus about the great faith of Islam. Therefore, both the construction of the Babri mosque at Ram Janmabhoomi and its demolition centuries later constitute an affront to the spiritual and cultural ethos of India, which has always upheld tolerance and respect for each other’s faith as one of the highest human ideals.
Now yet another affront on these ideals has taken place. Insofar as the target of the failed terrorist attack was the make-shift Ram temple at Ayodhya, it was certainly an attack on the Hindu faith. Hindus around the world are understandably outraged. Nevertheless, it is necessary for Hindus and Hindu organisations to know three things. Firstly, their sense of outrage is also shared by Muslims and all other Indians. Muslim organisations have swiftly and categorically condemned the terrorist strike. Secondly, the tendency to associate Islam with this and similar acts of terrorism must be curbed. This tendency, when met with the reciprocal tendency among Muslim fanatics of berating Hinduism, breeds mutual prejudices. And mutual prejudices can be exploited by bigots on both sides. No true Muslim can commit or condone July 5, just as no true Hindu can commit or condone December 6.
A third and equally important message has emanated from the all-round condemnation of the terrorist strike in Ayodhya. Just as we must never associate Islam with terrorism (terrorists have no religion), we should also refrain from linking every act of terrorism in India with the people and government of Pakistan. Our anger and apprehensions about cross-border terrorism remain valid. Terrorism and religious extremism were indeed being exported from Pakistani and Pak-controlled territory for a long time as a matter of Islamabad’s state policy. India has countered it effectively, and the rulers in Islamabad know this. But they also know that this policy, and its companion policy of supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan, has boomeranged with costly effects on both the government and civil society of Pakistan. Frequent sectarian conflicts, including terrorist killings inside mosques, have compelled ordinary people, intellectuals and even many in the ruling establishment to conclude that encouragement to religious extremism and terrorism, either as a component of Pakistan’s anti-India strategy or for the Islamisation of Pakistan, is counter-productive. It is for this reason that we should positively appraise Pakistan government’s unequivocal denunciation of the terrorist attack in Ayodhya and, in particular, its statement that “such incidents, especially when religious sites are involved, are condemnable.” Hurriyat’s prompt and unequivocal condemnation of the terrorist attack is also a positive sign. Therefore, while continuing to demand that Pakistan must completely dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, and that it must fulfill its obligations under the Vajpayee-Musharraf joint statement of January 2004, India — with the bipartisan support of both the ruling and opposition parties — must vigorously pursue the Indo-Pak peace process. Nothing must be allowed to derail it. It is too important and strategically beneficial an agenda to be torpedoed by provocations. In this context, the BJP president’s refusal to blame Pakistan for the Ayodhya incident is as eloquent as the Pakistan government’s welcome gesture last month of inviting L.K. Advani to do the ‘‘shilanyas’’ for the restoration of Hindu temples at Katas Raj. This spirit of reconciliation and reaching-out must be relentlessly strengthened, both between India and Pakistan and between Hindus and Muslims in India.
Finally, condemnable though it is, the terrorist attack in Ayodhya could prove to be a turning point in the efforts to resolve the mandir-masjid dispute. It has the potential to yield a positive breakthrough if all those who are linked to, or are concerned about the dispute work together sincerely in the spirit of reconciliation. After July 5, the realisation that sensitive disputes like the one in Ayodhya should not be allowed to linger on endlessly and that it must be amicably resolved soon, has gripped the minds of all right-thinking Indians. Three pre-requisites for the way forward are clear. Muslims should respect the sentiments of their Hindu brethren to see a Ram temple constructed at a site they believe is Ram janmasthan. Similarly, Hindus and Hindu organisations should express sincere regrets to their Muslim brethren for December 6, recognising that what happened on that day was a shaming molestation of basic Hindu tenets, of the secular canons of the Indian Constitution, of the idea of India, and of God’s commandment to mankind to live in brotherhood and harmony. And hereafter, no re-opening of any other mandir-masjid issues.
The writer was till recently national secretary, BJP
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