With the pronouncement of the verdict in the Babri Masjid demolition conspiracy case, one of the longest historical controversies in India ended along with the hope of justice in what was arguably a crime committed in daylight. I am not going to cast aspersions on the court’s decision. My concern is who is responsible for torment these innocent accused went through for 28 years? All of them were not ordinary people — they included the president of a national party, central ministers and chief ministers. This is also a time to introspect the faults of the Muslim community which landed them in the humiliating situation of losing a 500-year-old mosque.
The Muslim community did not realise that since 1949, the year when idols were put under the dome of Babri Masjid, they have been fighting against an extremely dedicated organisation comprising volunteers who have no domestic liability and who have no qualms in turning to violence to achieve their goals. In contrast, the Muslim community lacks real leadership and political statesmanship, which is imperative for solving any national dispute. Suffering from the self-styled firebrand and semi-literate leaders, the community has been unable to read the message on the wall. They were being played in the hands of the “non-worldly” over-religious “Mullahs” and “Moulvis” who declared that once a mosque is established, it will always remain a mosque and the site of any mosque cannot be used for anything else till the Day of Judgment. They failed to understand that it was not a religious issue but a political one and hence needed a political solution.
This, of course, is not the first time a mosque land has been repurposed. There are enough examples even in the Arab world and Pakistan. One of the arguments from some Muslim intellectuals that went unnoticed even within the community was to shift the Babri Masjid to save the mosque and the dignity of the community. The difficulty and rigour involved in the task of shifting the Babri Masjid could have stopped further controversies from coming to the surface.
Another wonderful suggestion came from some human right activists that Muslims should withdraw themselves from this controversy and the matter should be resolved between BJP (RSS /VHP etc) and other political parties who were opposing the BJP at that time. This suggestion also went unheard.
The assertion by Muslims that they would surrender their claim if it can be proved the Babri Masjid was constructed by demolishing a temple was myopic. Such a claim can open up a Pandora’s Box. Indian rulers would often demolish worship sites after victory. History has witnessed many Hindu Rajas demolishing shrines of other faiths to demoralise their subjects psychologically and prevent revolts.
After putting idols (“appearance of idols” in the words of the RSS), the “status quo” was established and Muslims were prevented from offering prayers in the masjid. At that time, Jawahar Lal Nehru was the prime minister and he asked the erstwhile district magistrate of Faizabad to remove the idols, which the latter refused. He must indeed have been a powerful district magistrate to defy the charismatic prime minister. Muslims didn’t pay heed to this fair warning, but kept fighting for a structure.
During the tenure of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Hindus were allowed to worship at the disputed site and just before the parliamentary elections, the shilanyas ceremony was performed. Even then the Muslim community didn’t realise the mood of the nation, instead they formed the Babri Masjid Action Committee, a body without an office or a telephone number.
In 1992, under the Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, the Babri Majid was demolished. The entire episode was captured by cameras. The world witnessed many BJP leaders hugging each other and distributing sweets in the paroxysm of euphoria. The nation knows who demolished the Babri Masjid, but the CBI could not convince the judiciary. After the demolition, all law and order agencies went into a slumber for two and a half days while the kar sevaks built a temporary mandir that has since been used to conduct pujas. In such circumstances, it was next to impossible for Muslims to regain possession of the disputed site, even if the court had ruled in their favour.
But the Muslims kept on fighting for a building that was no longer in existence. They could easily leave the disputed land if not for the VHP, RSS or the BJP, but in favour of the common Hindu brethren, who were convinced by this time that Lord Ram was born exactly under the dome of Babri Majid. I remember Akhlaq Husain Qaimi, a bright and learned Islamic scholar, suggesting that Islamic law advises leaving disputed sites to avoid bloodshed and disharmony. Islam doesn’t permit anything that leads to violence. The religion has enough space to accommodate many things. It is only the heart of the followers that has to become more generous.
An Urdu poet has written very poignantly:
Meri khahish hai ke aangan mein na deewar uthhe/Mere bhai mere hissey ki zameen tu rakh ley
(O brother, I only wish there are no walls in our home, you are welcome to take my piece of land for yourself)
This dispute is not an exception, There now seems to be an unwritten set of pattern common to all communal riots. First, the communal riots break out and then the PAC and paramilitary forces come and dole out a particular brand of justice to a particular community, as they did in Moradabad, Maliana and many other places. Then, the peace makers surface and raise the slogans of Hindu-Muslim Bhai Bhai. So it is a good time to raise slogan of bhai-bhai. After all, we have been living together for centuries now.
The Muslims could reflect on how the situation got worse and why the largest community in the country became hostile towards the second largest community? We still don’t realise that orthodox orators, some Urdu papers, maulvis and some Muslim politicians poured their reasonable share of fuel into the cauldron of communalism.
The problem is that Hindu organisations want to “avenge” history and Muslims want to preserve it. It is the right time to look back at the sectarian examples from history, that did not succeed despite riding on strong anti-secular impulses. For instance, the Ram Rajya Parishad contested in the 1952 general election and polled a mere 1.97 per cent votes despite making Ayodhya its agenda. But then, how is it that the same agenda enabled another party to form the government at the Centre as well as in many states.
Soon after the Babri Masjid verdict, RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat issued a statement saying that there was no question of victory or defeat in it and that it was a victory of all Hindus and Muslims. However, after the foundation stone of Ram Mandir was laid, Vinay Katiyar, a leading figure in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, said Mission Ayodhya has been fulfilled and that Kashi and Mathura will be reclaimed. An overzealous worker has already filed a case in Mathura to remove the historical masjid. Meanwhile, the members of Babri Masjid Action Committee have disappeared. A new set of mullas have taken their place and are seen on TV occasionally.
The only positive aspect of last year’s Supreme Court verdict is its emphasis on the Place of Worship Special Provisions Act (1991). This has given unalterable and permanent character to all religious places as on August 15, 1947. If this Act is enforced conscientiously, it can be hoped that there would be no further disputes in future. This government has to be extremely careful in implementing the provisions of this Act because some Hindu parties and individuals have adopted a very clever stance on electronic media. They say: Filhal koi aur dispute agendey par nahi hai. (For the time being, there is no other dispute in our agenda). This “filhal” should not be given a chance in the possibly amicable future. All mandir parties are happy at the success of their convictions but they should hark back to Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao, who wittingly or unwittingly, played their roles on giving the controversy the shape it ultimately got.
Last but not the least, the Muslim community should realise that they have lost a sizeable group of friends among Hindu community by their behaviour. The alienation began during the Shah Bano case and neigbouring Muslim countries Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Iran contributed to the milieu by turning into Islamic states, which jolted the Indian psyche too. Now the time has come to introspect and regain our lost friends in the Hindu community. For this purpose, we should rejuvenate and imbibe secular values before expecting it from others.
Alvi is an Urdu writer, critic and literary historian