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Thursday, September 23, 2021

The past in the present

Ayodhya events and Shiv Sena’s reiteration of support for Ram Mandir resurrect past ghosts

Written by Jyoti Punwani |
Updated: August 10, 2020 9:27:12 pm
Ayodhya Ram TempleTo punish the current generation for the sins of their ancestors is a medieval mindset. In fact, a large number of the current generation are the descendants of the very people who were persecuted.

Till August 5, 2020 came, Mumbai thought it had done with this part of its past, when “Mandir wahin banayengey, Jai Shree Ram’’, had been flung like weapons, chanted by lynch mobs with the police simply watching. Even those badly mauled by the violence that broke out in Mumbai hours after the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was demolished, had learnt to live with these wounds inflicted more than a quarter century ago. Moreover, a new, confident generation has come of age since then, untroubled by those dark images.

Nothing was more illustrative of the change in the city than the elation with which the new coalition that took power last November was greeted by Muslims, who had borne the brunt of the post-Babri demolition riots. They have a special regard for the chief minister, never mind that he was son of the man indicted by a judicial commission for directing attacks on their community during the second phase of the riots.

But echoes of that dark past have suddenly become louder, as the slogan “Mandir wahin banayengey” has become a reality. As was pointed out repeatedly during the Srikrishna Commission hearings, this slogan is communal because of the word “wahin”, at that very spot, which is where the Babri Masjid stood. What greater disrespect can there be to the 900 Mumbaikars who were killed in the riots than their families seeing the bhoomi pujan of the mandir performed by the head of state “at that very spot’’?

Even that could have been ignored by Mumbaikars, had it not been for Uddhav Thackeray’s enthusiastic declaration that he would attend the programme, even before having been invited. During the riots, his father had boasted in his daily Saamna that Shiv Sainiks had demolished the Babri Masjid. The paper’s editor Sanjay Raut has reiterated that proud claim. Insisting that “clearing the place at Ayodhya for constructing the Ram Temple was never a crime”, he has suggested “winding up” the case against those who demolished the masjid.

This is the unabashedly Hindutva party of old. It’s not as if those who welcomed the formation of the new coalition in Maharashtra thought the Shiv Sena had suddenly become secular. What mattered more was the way it stood up to its old, seemingly invincible ally. Since the Sena’s been in power, there’s been little evidence of discrimination against minorities. Maharashtra saw prolonged anti-CAA/NRC demonstrations with relatively mild interference by the police. The government also acted swiftly to counter the BJP’s communalisation of the Palghar lynching of two sadhus in April.

Given this, the Sena’s insensitive pronouncements in support of the Ram Mandir might have been shrugged off, even if unhappily, as a compulsion to retain its Hindu base. After all, hundreds of Shiv Sainiks had rioted on the orders of their sahib over this very issue, and many of them faced arrests and lengthy trials.

But then came Bakr Eid, the second most important religious occasion for Muslims. The way it was mishandled has made Muslims, for the first time, question whether this government is indeed secular as it has often proclaimed.

Not just in the BJP-ruled neighbouring states of Karnataka, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, but even in Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh, the ritualistic animal sacrifice was performed with clear-cut directives necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. But Maharashtra’s capital, represented by six Muslim MLAs, two of them cabinet ministers, saw truckloads of animals held up by police at check points, even as the MLAs held endless discussions with the home minister, and finally with the man said to control this government, Sharad Pawar. Alas! Despite practical suggestions aplenty, no resolution emerged. Even the decision to allow slaughter in the city’s only licensed abattoir came from the court.

The totally avoidable losses suffered by farmers, dealers and customers has left the community fuming, and given a handle to both the BJP and the AIMIM to gloat. But here’s the thing: Even while rejecting his suggestion of a “symbolic’’ sacrifice as unIslamic, Muslims are not blaming Uddhav Thackeray. He didn’t know the religious significance of qurbani— it was the responsibility of those who did, that is their elected representatives, to convince him, they argue.

Why did these Muslim leaders and Congress-NCP veterans fail to resolve this sensitive issue? Were the former afraid of insisting on proper arrangements for the festival — which was their right — because they wanted to avoid a repeat of the Tablighi stigma? Interestingly, no such qualms plague the Sena; its transport minister has arranged buses for Mumbaikars to travel to the interiors for Ganesh Chaturthi.

There is another explanation — the Congress-NCP were back to their old habit of taking Muslims for granted, knowing they would have to vote for them eventually.

Ayodhya on August 5, therefore, became a double dose of bitterness for Mumbai’s Muslims.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Mumbai

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