The Allahabad High Court judgment on the Ram Janmabhoomi, delivered on September 30, 2010, caused great discomfort to left historians and commentators. This discomfort has now increased with the Supreme Court setting up a panel for mediation on this issue with a time limit of eight weeks. And, there also seems to be a systemic campaign to build a communal narrative around this issue: To project it as a dispute between two communities while questioning the credibility of the panel itself (‘The mediation trap’, IE, March 11).
To begin with, Pratap Bhanu Mehta subtly questions the historicity of Lord Rama by taking the medieval period as the reference point for his existence: In 1989, left historians began this campaign by misusing the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU, to publish The Political Abuse of History: Babri-Masjid Ramjanmabhumi Dispute— An Analysis by Twenty-Five Historians. The launch of this book led to systemic efforts to project that Rama was not a historical figure, Ayodhya was a mythical city and, more importantly, worshipping Rama was a phenomenon which started not more than 300 years ago.
On the contrary, Sanskrit scholars like Maurice Winternitz (History of Indian Literature Vol, I-III), A A Macdonell (A History of Sanskrit Literature), A B Keith (A History of Sanskrit Literature) and John Brockington (Righteous Rama: The Evolution of an Epic) have clearly established that the story of Rama, that is, “Ram Katha”, dates back to almost fifth century BC, when it was told orally, and, later on, the sage Valmiki composed it around the third or fourth century BC.
As one goes through the accounts of foreign travellers, too, like William Finch and the Austrian Jesuit Joseph Tieffenthaler, who toured Awadh between 1766 and 1771, one finds out how committed and attached Hindus were to the birth place of Lord Rama. The fact is a large number of Muslims also support the construction of the Ram Temple. The issue of whether Lord Rama was born there or not, and whether a temple existed, has already been decided upon by the Allahabad HC. Now the dispute is over a piece of land and it is a title suit in the SC.
But still, attempts are being made to turn this issue into a Hindu-Muslim dispute by left commentators and historians. They have been, it seems, stung by the fact that contrary to the common expectation that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) would react strongly against the recent direction of the apex court, the RSS has refused to play into the hands of its detractors. Thus, attempts have begun to discredit the panel itself. Ever since the mediation panel has been set up, there have been concerted attempts to raise doubts about the credentials of Sri Sri Ravishankar. In his article, Mehta writes, without any evidence: “(Sri Sri) has more or less intimidated institutions arguing that violence will ensue if a temple is not built…”
Sri Sri has never intimidated institutions nor has he ever argued that violence would ensue if temple is not built. In fact, he had started the mediation effort months before the apex court’s decision. He has been honoured by the governments of several countries for his peace efforts and is a well-known international figure in the field of conflict resolution. Just because he is Hindu and a spiritual guru, he has become the target of the left.
His organisation, The Art of Living, is known to run a large number of social welfare projects. So it is not clear on what basis Mehta has written that, “(Sri Sri) represents the unsavoury aspects of a modern entrepreneurial figure to whom proximity to power matters more than spiritual values.” To accuse Hindu spiritual gurus who are gaining popularity is the latest weapon in the left’s argumentative armoury: But that won’t cut much ice now as they have lost touch with ground realities. They fail to understand that Lord Rama’s birthplace is revered by all communities in the country and any attempt to wedge a drive between them on this issue would be futile.
This article first appeared in the March 13, 2019 print edition under the title ‘Why the Left isn’t right’