On My Terms is a fascinating autobiography which Sharad Pawar has just released. It reveals much about India’s political culture and ways of making the country work. Pawar has been in and out of favour with the Congress but managed to stay at the top thanks to his solid base in Baramati and a capacity to deliver. The best vignette is however what he reveals about the Babri Masjid issue. Given that once again, with the Uttar Pradesh elections only a year or so away, stones have begun to arrive for shilanyas at Ayodhya, it repays to read him.
The issue is of course with the Supreme Court. Pawar tells a story of how during the brief regime of Chandra Shekhar, he was involved in a genuine act of reconciliation. The original breach in the padlocked site had been made in the late 1940s with the tacit support of then home minister Sardar Patel and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Govind Ballabh Pant. Jawaharlal Nehru was dismayed but unable to reverse what had happened. Then, in the aftermath of the Shah Bano decision, Rajiv Gandhi allowed installation of the Ram Lalla. The atmosphere was getting tense.
Chandra Shekhar asked Pawar and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat to intervene to avert conflict. Shekhawat had contacts on the Muslim side in UP and Pawar could talk to the RSS.
They found that both communities were using the site. The idols were being worshipped in one part and Muslims were offering namaaz in another part. A cohabitation plan could have been worked out. But then the Chandra Shekhar government collapsed when Rajiv Gandhi withdrew support. The rest is history.
But here we are again. Sooner or later the Supreme Court will give a judgment. A little bit of advance thinking can do no harm. Communal harmony is much more important than the dreams of the VHP/RSS. The germ of the solution is in the Pawar-Shekhawat experience. It is possible to elevate this issue, which has become bitterly partisan, into a win-win solution for India. Here is how.
There will be a chance as and when the issue is no longer sub-judice to plan to turn Ayodhya into a multi-faith centre of a global scale. Jerusalem has a site where the three Abrahamic religions share the space despite their long and often murderous quarrels over the last several centuries. It is a global symbol of religious pluralism. There is no reason why, if India wills, Ayodhya cannot be made into a shining monument to the coming together of the Sanatan Dharma and Islam. There should also be facilities for a Buddhist shrine since the Tathagata preached in those parts.
It could be done by launching a global competition for a master plan inviting the best architects and designers.
A Ram temple plus a mosque plus a Buddhist shrine and a conference centre for multi-faith dialogue would declare to the world that India has been the land where religions have been born and have flourished. Thousands will flock to the site from around the world. They may come to visit only one holy place but will have the chance to see three.
India has travelled miles since December 1992. Let us celebrate and tell the world.
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