As I sit down to write on the eve of August 5, 2020, my mind goes back to December 6, 1992. I was in my Jamia home, comfortable in the belief that after many years in foreign climes I had returned home where the remains of my loved ones were in nearby kabristans. For me, ghar wapsi meant just that.
I watched as stroke by stroke, kar sevaks did what they had to — youths donning orange headbands stood atop the dome, their pickaxes held up for the TV cameras, before striking the 16th-century structure. Leaders reached the spot to be seen and to cheer-lead the mobs. A sense of triumph was visible on the three faces that are etched in my mind — L K Advani, Uma Bharti, Murli Manohar Joshi.
Cut to 2020. Twenty-eight years later, they are too old and vulnerable to infection to help lay the first stone of the Ram Mandir. I wonder what they must be feeling now, sitting sequestered in their homes. Iqbal Ansari, son of the original litigant Hashim Ansari (now deceased), has also been invited. I will attend, he says. Gayatri Devi, who lives close by, will also go but for a different reason — to give peace to the soul of her husband who fell to “andhadhund” police firing during the demolition.
I also recall December 7, 1992, the day after, when I tried to drive myself to work. Jamia was then a sleepy place, a university campus which was identified as a “Muslim” institution. Near my house, I was stopped. It was in front of a gurdwara where random groups of young men did not ask my religion or harm me but warned me of “khatra” and asked me to turn back.
As I drove back, I thought of Jamia’s silver jubilee, when Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad sat on a wooden stage, alongside Jamia’s founders Zakir Husain, Mohammad Mujeeb and Abid Husain, and lauded the secular character of an institution that called itself Jamia Millia Islamia. Each stroke of the pickaxe was a blow to that secular character, which was the credo of each person present there.
With the razing of Babri, Muslims stepped on the road which would lead a decade later to Gujarat 2002, to lynchings, pogroms, riots, killings, incarceration, to the Ayodhya judgment in 2019 and finally, the Bhoomi Pujan.
Epithets and phrases race through the mind. “Ye to pehli jhanki hai/ Kashi Mathura baqi hai”. Shahjahan’s Taj Mahal or Rajput Hindu temple Tejo Mahalaya? Qutubuddin Aibak’s Qutab Minar or Vishnu Stambh? More jingles — “desh ke ghaddaron ko/goli maro salon ko”. Through this cacophony, the country will witness the grand ceremony where political and religious leaders, wearing protective masks, will assemble to honour the deity and devour prasad thalis.
Ramchandra Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma, wrote a small book on Sita’s rasoi after he visited the site and saw a lowly belan and chakla marking the spot. Where was this rasoi? What is real, what is mythical? It’s all astha, we are told. Either you believe or you don’t. Just watch your words and actions. A slight slip can get you stamped as anti-national, especially if you are a Muslim.
Allama Iqbal was a Muslim and among the tallest intellectuals India produced. His poem Ram spoke of Ram as an exalted being. He actually called him Imam-e-Hind. First, he praises India as the birthplace of philosophers, mystics and thinkers: Labrez hai sharaab e haqeeqat se jaam e Hind/Sab falsafi hain khitta e maghreb ke ram e Hind (The cup of Hind/Overflows with wine of Truth /Philosophers of West are its devotees). Ye Hindiyon ke fikr e falak ras ke hai asar/Riffat mein aasmaan se bhi ooncha hai naam e Hind (It is the high calibre of her philosophers/Which makes her name soar higher than the skies). Hai Ram ke wujood pe Hindostan ko naaz/Ahl e nazar samajhtey hain usko Imam e Hind (Hind is proud of the existence of Ram/The discerning eye seen in him, an Imam).
Khushwant Singh loved Iqbal and often quoted this poem as a mark of the India of his dreams. In his book, Need For A New Religion In India, which he dedicated to me, he wrote: “What matters most is whether or not India will continue to remain a secular state committed to socialism or become a Hindu Rashtra wearing a secular mask with an agenda of its own, including building a mammoth Ram Mandir at Ayodhya, preserving the Ram Setu and other relics associated with Hinduism. The choice is between an India of the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru on the one side (secular), and those of Vir Savarkar and Guru Golwalkar on the other (Hindutva)… We have to choose between remaining what we are or opt to become a Hindu Rashtra.”
From Allama Iqbal to Kaifi Azmi and hundreds of Urdu poets, Muslims and non-Muslims, have written on Ram. The August 5 ceremony may gladden many hearts but let me ask: Will it gladden the heart of the deity who is the ostensible raison d’être of it all? Once again, it is the poet (who Plato called the unacknowledged legislator of mankind) who says it all. Kaifi Azmi wrote a poem that seems to have been written for tomorrow. Doosra Banwaas was about Bhagwan Ram returning to Ayodhya after the demolition. He looks with anguish at the dead, the burning, the looting and the razed structure. Before entering a holy place, it is customary to do ablutions, for Muslims wuzu, for Hindus ashnaan. But what did the Bhagwan do?
Paaoon Saryu mein abhi Ram ne dhoey bhi na tthe/Ke nazar aaye wahan khoon ke gehre dhabbe/Paaoon dhoye bina Saryu ke kinarey se utthe/Ram ye kehte huey apne dwarey se utthe/Rajdhani ki fiza raas nahin aayi mujhe/Chhe December ko mila doosra banwaas mujhe. (In the Saryu Ram had barely washed his feet/With bloody blotches the water was replete/From the riverbank arose Ram without washing his feet/Saying this from his home he did retreat/The air of my capital city has turned vile/On December 6, I am sentenced to a second exile.)
This article first appeared in the print edition on August 5, 2020 under the title ‘The second exile’. The writer is former member, Planning Commission
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