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Here We Go Ram Again

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA | SWARAJ AUR SAMVIDHAN<br> It is election season. And so Ayodhya has to return as a subject of discussion. The crisis continues to signify a breakdown of our legal and constitutional arrangements.

Written by Pratap Bhanu Mehta |
February 9, 2009 3:45:42 pm

It is election season. And so Ayodhya has to return as a subject of discussion. The crisis continues to signify a breakdown of our legal and constitutional arrangements. The demolition of the Babri Masjid was an act of constitutional usurpation for which there have been no real apologies. Now the alliance between Kalyan Singh and Mulyam Singh is a reminder of just how meaningless the so called secular-non secular divide has become in Indian politics. Most members of any single political party could easily belong to any other; the Congress may have gone after Narendra Modi in Gujarat,but had no compunction in giving tickets to so many former members of the BJP. And it is still something of a travesty that while we worry about other forms of communal consolidation,we do not worry about open consolidation and flexing of caste power,especially amongst already-powerful groups like the OBCs. What does this say about our democracy?

If Ayodhya is about religion,it is about religion in its most sordid sense. The Indian legal system has,for four decades,been unable to decisively lay the dispute to rest. In the process of adjudication and procrastination it has relied on so many legal non-sequitors that no one is sure what the grounds of any verdict are going to be. A political movement spearheaded by the BJP took the Ayodhya movement to new emotive heights,and often left its mark of violence on hundreds of innocent citizens. The Congress first opened up the issue to compensate for its own myopic interpretations of secularism and is still not sure where it stands. There is an assortment of groups,from the VHP to the Babri Masjid Action Committee,whose claims to represent their respective communities are,at best,dubious. Finally,there is the democratic voter at large. It is difficult to gauge the real depth of feeling on this issue,but one thing is clear: while a significant minority is passionate about building a Mandir,and a tiny minority passionate about stopping it,most are too fed up to care. “Let’s get on with it,” is probably the dominant political sentiment. With these protagonists can there be any real solution?

In some ways it is understandable why the Ayodhya issue has political uses. It gave most political parties their symbolic identity. Take away the issue and one of the central faultlines in Indian politics simply falls away. Which is why everybody will ensure that there is never a political settlement; which is why everyone has an interest in keeping the issue alive. Given the realities of Indian politics,a dogmatic insistence on a legal solution is simply moral laziness,the privileged preserve of those who do not have to face violent rampages. As much as some of us loath the idea that on the Ayodhya issue,even an inch should be conceded to the BJP,we should recognize the fact that our institutions and our high-minded legalism does not protect those Muslims on behalf of whose interests we pretend to speak. The law often does not protect innocent citizens,the law is not a political answer to Hindutva,and the law is not a substitute for an enduring political settlement.

That any temple built at Ayodhya will have been built on the blood of so many innocent lives,and by imperiling so many moral and constitutional principles,ought to be a matter of shame for most Hindus who care about Ram. This is an issue on which there is unlikely to be any settlement that appears just,and there are no guarantees that even a settlement will lay many of the murderous edges of Indian politics to rest. But it will take a divisive issue off the agenda and potentially transform our politics. There is no option other than to try. As a society we long gave up on justice. At the present conjuncture,we can only hope that we will at least opt for prudence.

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