Writer-activist Arundhati Roy describes the Ayodhya verdict as a “political judgement”. A group of left historians and intellectuals led by Ms Romila Thapar sees the order as a “blow to secularism”– even worse, a “legitimisation of violence and muscle power (demolition of the Babri mosque on December 6, 1992).”
An ultraliberal editor notes that the verdict “makes you wonder whether anything straight can ever emerge from the crooked timber of the majoritarian mind.” Are they right? Yes and no. Yes, because the verdict does seem to be ‘political’ by the mere fact of not awarding the title to the 2.7-acre disputed site to anyone and instead deciding to trifurcate it between the three parties to the dispute. And by giving weight to the Hindus’ belief of the site being the birthplace of Lord Ram, the order appears to be a “legitimisation of violence and muscle power” (what greater proof of this was needed than distributing of ladoos among the chief instigators of the mosque demolition?).
But the left-ultraliberal intellectuals are not right beyond this point. The first thing to remember about the Ayodhya dispute is that it is not a religious dispute: it is a political dispute. The Babri mosque was one of the hundreds of mosques across the country where no Muslim ever went to pray. A community is attached and sensitive to a living place of worship, not an abandoned one. If any Muslim felt an attachment to the Babri mosque it was more as a symbol of their religious community’s pride, rather than as an Islamic shrine. On the one side we had the insistence of Hindu groups to build a Ram temple exactly at the site where the Babri mosque stood because a) it was the birthplace of Ram and b) the mosque was built on the ruins of a temple, and on the other, the refusal of the Muslim groups not to give an inch of the land.
Religion was the outer garb of the dispute. On a national scale, we had Hindus and Muslims politically arrayed in a Karbala/Kurukshetra to decide who is stronger than the other. It became a game of power; and where power becomes the obsession, it can only be politics, not religion. Religions do not fight for power. The Ayodhya dispute was not a conflict between Hinduism and Islam. The groups that were party to the dispute, in the court and outside, belonged to Hindu or Islamic faith of course, but Hinduism and Islam were not fighting to eliminate each other at Ayodhya or across the country. The principle of co-existence of religions or religious communities was neither jettisoned by the Hindu nor the Muslim groups. Even the extreme Hindu groups that were critical of political parties’ ‘pseudo-secularism’ did not give up their adherence to the Hindu tradition of accepting heterodoxy–many ways to God.
The historians who want to continue to argue on whether the Babri mosque was built at the site of a Hindu temple or not are ignoring the harsh reality of Ayodhya being a power conflict. The court may have gone out of the way to trifurcate the land (and there may be a valid question to ask the judges, why not two parts, why three); yet, the court seems to have understood the issue at stake better than our aggrieved left-ultraliberal intellectuals. The whole problem of Ayodhya boiled down to whether a temple and a mosque could co-exist, and the court has resolved that in a very logical manner. It looks like a political verdict, because it is a resolution of a power conflict. A resolution of this kind by political parties would not have been acceptable to all parties; the court’s political decision is backed by judicial sanctity.
Deep in the heart of the leftists and ultraliberals is the ideological commitment to safeguard the interests of minorities in this country. The Ayodhya verdict provides a historic opportunity to work meaningfully for the cause. Building a temple and mosque in close proximity at Ayodhya would go a long way in de-stigmatising the Muslims whose attachment to Indian land and fellow-feeling with Hindus have been looked at with suspicion since the formation of Pakistan. Imagine where Muslims will be if they lose the case in the Supreme Court. They will not fully own the site, and the hostility of Hindus toward them will be doubly reinforced. If Muslims agree to share the site, Hindus will be under great moral compulsion to be magnanimous toward Muslims as a whole.