The Rediff Special/Vivek Fernandes
On September 22, 1949, a statue of Lord Ram mysteriously found its way into the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Soon after, the courts shut down the mosque, declaring it 'disputed property'.
Thirty-seven years later, on February 1, 1986, Hindus were permitted to worship there. And in November 1989, the Bharatiya Janata Party-Vishwa Hindu Parishad combine laid the foundation stone for a temple at the site.
The Muslims, meanwhile, had constituted the Babri Masjid Coordination Committee to reclaim what they said was theirs. But even as the case was in Supreme Court, the BJP, VHP, and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh called for kar seva [voluntary labour]. Thousands swarmed over the Babri Masjid to raze it to the ground on December 6, 1992.
Thus was born one of independent India's most dangerous disputes.
THE ghosts refuse to be exorcised.
Nine years after the Babri Masjid demolition, though a solution to the dispute is not in sight, you can be sure of one thing:
The Sangh Parivar will resurrect the issue. And soon.
Politicians and observers say it will be the trump card, once again, of the BJP, VHP and RSS in the forthcoming election to the Uttar Pradesh state assembly.
"There is not the slightest doubt about it," said Syed Shahabuddin, former diplomat and member of Parliament and now convenor of the BMCC.
"The BJP has no option," he said. "The situation in UP is so bad that it will have to resort to playing the community card. The BJP may well say it isn't part of their manifesto, but rest assured they will harp on the issue."
Professor Zoya Hasan of the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, believes the same.
"One cannot say the BJP has put Ayodhya on the backburner," she said. "A prototype of the temple is all ready. [Union Home Minister Lal Kishenchand] Advani recently compared the Ram Janambhoomi movement to the national [freedom] movement, and the prime minister announced in Lucknow that he would somehow sort the issue out by March 2002. So you can be assured the issue will not be sidelined."
Hasan, however, feels the issue will yield no more political mileage.
For his part, political analyst Prem Shankar Jha believes the BJP is done with the controversy. His reasoning:
1. The BJP feels it has exhausted the Hindutva appeal among the voters, and that it needs to broad-base itself to win votes. Other issues, therefore, will be given prominence.
2. The National Democratic Alliance partners insist on curbing the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas-VHP-Bajrang Dal, as the price of their cooperation.
Jha believes the BJP will "make some noise in the coming election, but will not go too far because of the need to maintain the unity of the NDA".
In tune with Jha's prediction, the BJP has already started making 'noise': Its MPs chanted 'Jai Sri Ram' outside the Lok Sabha, and, with some help from the opposition, halted Parliament proceedings.
As for rhetoric, you have plenty of that too. Here's what both sides say about a solution:
"[Former prime minister P V] Narasimha Rao [who was in power in 1992] is a liar, he two-timed the nation!" thundered the VHP's B P Singhal. "How could he on the very same evening of the demolition state that the 'Babri Masjid' was destroyed when in the white paper published by his own government the same structure is referred to as 'Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid complex', 'disputed shrine' and 'disputed structure'?"
A pause, and Singhal answers his own question: "It is only because he wanted to entice the people and attach a reprehensible stigma to the Hindus."
Singhal says a Supreme Court order had mentioned that the disputed structure saw no namaaz since 1934. "Would any Muslim scholar with all his Muslim jurisprudence still call it a mosque?" Singhal asked. "When the structure fell, for all purposes, it was a functioning temple!
"The case has been languishing in the courts technically for over 50 years now. Even in India, with its rotten efficiency, have you ever heard something as ludicrous?"
Shahabuddin defends his claims: "We have been fighting for our rights legally since 1986 and have repeatedly asked for day-to-day hearings, but to no avail. The differences between us and the Ram Janambhoomi activists are irreconcilable."
In Hasan's opinion, only the courts can provide a solution. "We must wait and abide by the court rulings," she said. "Faith is not above the law. Faith is not above the facts. I believe the Indian Constitution is a secular one and we must uphold its letter and spirit."
But again, that is debatable. Jha believes "the answer will probably not come from a court. Courts can only decide issues of ownership. This dispute is not about ownership but about religious sentiment. The only solution I can see is a sensible trade-off entered into by Hindu and Muslim leaders, backed by at least their moderate-centrist elements."
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