From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 41, Dated October 16, 2010
The Ayodhya verdict has brought peace. But sections of the BJP want to use it as their ticket back. The RSS and the VHP don’t want any of it. SOPAN JOSHI reports
BJP VETERAN Lal Krishna Advani has sent feelers to his supporters that the party should try to mobilise public opinion on the Ayodhya verdict because it doesn’t have any other major issue. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat snubbed any such plans, saying the legal course is progressing favourably for the Sangh Parivar. Vishwa Hindu Parishad chief Ashok Singhal, insiders say, was unequivocal in conveying that the BJP, especially Advani, needed to stay out of the matter and leave it to the lawyers and the religious leadership. There has been no direct communication among them on this.
Advani told his followers to consider ways of rallying public opinion around the Allahabad High Court’s Ayodhya verdict, perhaps even plan another yatra. He mentioned roping in Uma Bharti, expelled from the party in 2005. Advani had invited her to accompany him to Somnath on September 25.
Some others in the BJP are also upset at the RSS thwarting any effort to make political capital of a golden opportunity. The RSS had instructed its cadres that if the court verdict would be unfavourable, all protest must be peaceful and symbolic. Whether or not it would have managed to keep the Sangh Parivar reined in is a matter of conjecture.
It will take a while to read more than 8,200 pages and figure the legal meaning of the verdict on Ayodhya. It diffused the anxiety of communal clashes by carving up into three the 11,700 sq feet of contested land — 130 feet wide and 90 feet long, it housed the inner and the outer courtyards of the Babri Masjid.
Muslims, especially in Uttar Pradesh, feel shortchanged. There is the option of appeal in the Supreme Court and the consolation of a third of the disputed land, even though their claim was dismissed. Are we looking at a similar situation a few years down the road, when the apex court gives its ruling? Would the matter die away if left to legal inertia for another 60 years?
Unlikely. Most Hindus grow up with narratives of Muslim invaders destroying temples. It doesn’t matter to them that it is impossible to prove that Ram was born where the Babri Masjid was built. The fact that Archaeological Survey of India found a temple under the site only enhances that feeling, although it may be impossible to prove that this was a temple or that it was destroyed to build a masjid.
Likewise, India’s Muslims grow up with accounts of how an idol was sneaked in and their mosque defiled on 23 December 1949. To them, it does not matter whether the mosque was built against the tenets of the shariat, or that it is not possible to prove who built the masjid — Babur, Aurangzeb, or somebody else — or why it did not have a minaret and provisions to perform the mandatory wuzubefore the prayer. These sentiments got fuelled further by the vandalism of 6 December 1992, and the inaction and complicity of the administration then.
These social narratives have not disappeared. Young people still grow up with them. Which is why when the media says young India has moved on to a point where the Ayodhya dispute is not that emotive, it is only a part of the story.
Truth be told, a section of India has moved on. In fact, this section has existed for a long time; it has grown and captured the media and become more visible. It didn’t care when the VHP converted a local dispute into a national campaign in the 1980s. This section does not recognise other parts of India where communal narratives are real. It sits up and takes note only when there is a major upheaval, like a communal riot. This part of India is sure modernity and economic growth will replace narrow communal thinking and the identity politics that makes a small plot of land in Ayodhya so important. It regards Hindutva as a revivalist ideology that will eventually go away.
What it forgets is that Hindutva is a product of modernity. Vinayak Damodar ‘Veer’ Savarkar, an atheist who went on to become the president of the Hindu Mahasabha, wrought the ideology about 100 years ago. It was a result of an educated, high-caste Hindu elite wanting to cut itself away from what it disliked about traditional Hindu society. It aims to create a potent, masculine society capable of defending itself militarily, along the lines of European nationalism.
We need to remember this because television news anchors do not repeat it. Reactions in the media can’t be taken seriously on this because how people react to Hindu-Muslim relations depends on who is asking; responses are measured. (Except in studio panels, where anchors and experts know each other’s positions and only strive to perpetrate them.) The media, lest we forget, is driven by a herd mentality. Most newspapers say the disputed site is 2.77 acres, when it is actually a much smaller 0.26 acre; the 2.77 acres is what the Kalyan Singh government acquired in 1991, which was cancelled the next year, but remains stuck in the media’s memory. Is this the media we are to trust for reading the pulse of the nation?
IT IS only when you sit down to talk that the visceral comes out. And a question gets asked of the interviewer: Are you secular or pro-Hindu? Those are the two positions. Once the rehearsed lines are gone, it becomes apparent: most Hindus want a temple, most Muslims want a mosque. Right there. How they want to build it varies from person to person. And it is not only the uneducated and the poor. Journalists, academics, policemen, lawyers — in fact, the educated argue their emotional position with greater conviction and historicity, believing their evidence is empirical, indisputable.
Hashim Ansari, 90, is the oldest surviving litigant in the Ayodhya case. He has adjusted well to what the media demands. Sometimes he speaks with passion about the composite culture of Awadh, about how Hindus and Muslims actually stick together and how it is politicians who make them fight. Other times, the insecurity of belonging to the minority takes over. Then he complains of the injustice, of a masjid surreptitiously occupied in 1949 and demolished in 1992; he abuses the politicians who play on the insecurity of Muslims.
In Ayodhya, there is fatigue with this vexatious subject, with the media circus playing out on the streets. “We’ve been made into a caricature. This is Peepli [Live],” says Yatindra Mishra, a writer from the erstwhile royal family of Ayodhya. His uncle, Shailendra Mohan Mishra, distinguishes Ayodhya’s Maryada Purushottam Ram, who lives by a code of ethics, and the aggressive, vengeful Ram of the Sangh Parivar. But when you ask about the temple, pat comes the reply: “For Muslims, it is just a masjid Babur built. For us it is not just a temple. It is our lord’s birthplace. It means to us what Mecca means to them.”
So, can Advani summon up a frenzy like in the early 1990s. No. People have seen the BJP profit from the dispute and do nothing to resolve it. “If Baba Ramdev were to launch himself politically, this would have been the right time,” says a senior BJP leader. “He has credibility among Hindus.” Ramdev cannot do that because he relies on the network of the Arya Samaj, which shuns idol worship.
The immediate political benefits of stoking religious fervour outweigh the effort required to find a solution that gives dignity to both the communities. Two decades ago, there were mediators, people who had standing and credibility on either side due to associations fostered over time. For example, Syed Shahabuddin remembers his meeting with the erstwhile Paramacharya of Kanchi, because he asked Shahabuddin to pray at the mosque adjacent to the Kanchi math. Ansari’s friendliness with the late Param hans Ramchandra Das, president of VHP’s Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, is well known.
Such people are not around now. This is a problem of modernity. The composite culture of Awadh was a product of community life, of festivals celebrated together. Modern life allows little time or space for community. An entire generation of people knows only one Indian language; it is neither familiar with India’s cultural variety nor has the inclination for it. The polyglot politicians and public figures of yore are gone.
YET, MODERNITY has not transformed India so much as to ascribe popular sensitivity to such religious matters. It may happen at some distant stage, it does not seem possible right now. So, is a compromise possible? Mediators had backed off as nobody was willing to talk, hoping for a favourable verdict. Now, there are several statements calling for negotiations to begin. The Nirmohi Akhara has proposed a modest temple, as opposed to the grand temple the VHP wants.
Muslims have shown character in their conduct after the verdict. It is now up to the Congress — as also the BJP — to show generosity and assure the Muslims that the verdict does not weaken their position in Indian society. Regardless of the Supreme Court hearing, the parties will have to show political commitment for a negotiated solution, the kind of flexibility they used over the Nuclear Liability Bill. And the RSS will have to keep a tight leash on BJP’s political opportunism.
THE MEN WHO SWAYED THE CASE
A former IPS officer and a lawyer joined to fight for the Hindu cause
ACHARYA KUNAL Kishore had given up on the Ayodhya dispute some 17 years ago. An IPS officer on special duty in the Ministry of Home Affairs, he had handled the 1989 negotiations between the two Babri Masjid committees and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Two times, the matter came close to an agreement and then fell apart, he says. After the demolition in 1992, he returned to Patna, took voluntary retirement in 2001, and settled into a life of religious studies and administration of shrines in Bihar.
In 2009, during a stop-over at Ayodhya, he heard of Syed Shahabuddin’s visit there. “He met Nritya Gopal Das, president of VHP’s Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, and told him he’s coming there with a court order to build a masjid where Ram Lala has his makeshift temple, and sought the mahant’s help for the same.” It made him realise the VHP case was weak, based more on faith than historical facts.
He expressed concern to Dwarka Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand in Kolkata. The seer said his outfit Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Punaruddhar Samiti was party to the case, and could be the medium to introduce new research in the case. He called his disciple PN Mishra, a lawyer in the Calcutta High Court and the Supreme Court, and asked him to handle the case. Kishore had trained in Sanskrit and history, and Mishra is known for his grasp of civil law. The two started working in tandem in September 2009. They gathered historical material, interpreted scriptures and scoured case law.
Ranjana Agnihotri had handled the case for the samiti since 2003 on her own. After the current bench was constituted last December, there was agreement that the court should work faster to complete the case before Justice DV Sharma’s retirement.
Zafaryab Jilani of the Sunni Waqf Board was the first to start arguments. After he finished, Nirmohi Akhara’s Ranjit Lal Verma took over. He was poorly prepared and the court pulled him up. When the turn came to arguments for the Hindu side in the first two suits, there was no preparation.
“Suresh Das (of VHP and Digambar Akhara) came to me in anxiety, saying his lawyers needed more time. I told him we were prepared,” says Ranjana. On 15 March, Mishra started his arguments, which went on till April-end.
Other lawyers affirm the court gave Mishra so much time because he had research material to back his claims. Thereafter, when other lawyers argued the case from the Hindu side, if they would stumble on an argument, the court would remind them of Mishra’s submissions.
“We submitted 130 documents that were not on record,” says Mishra. Apart from travellers accounts (to add to what the VHP lawyers had already put on record), Mishra and Kishore had created a new hypothesis based on inconsistency in inscriptions of the Babri Masjid. Mishra argued that Babur had neither destroyed a temple nor built the Babri Masjid, and that the temple was destroyed under Aurangzeb’s orders. “At least one judge, Justice Agarwal, had accepted our hypothesis,” says Kishore.
Their other major argument was that the Sunni Waqf Board’s case was time barred. “A long time ago, former Attorney General of Bihar, Lal Narayan Sinha, had told me that the waqf board filed its case later than the law of limitation allowed, but I just did not remember his reasoning,” says Kishore.
When he mentioned this to Mishra, he went to work scouring the intricacies of the law of limitation. The day before he had to argue the matter, he found the reasoning. Other lawyers affirm the Hindu case would have been weak without Mishra’s arguments.