By Irfan Engineer
(Secular Perspective November 16-30, 2017)
Babri Masjid is once again in news. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has taken an initiative to bring all stake holders for negotiating an out of court settlement. Apparently the initiative is in his personal capacity. However, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is well connected with the BJP leaders. When he organized ‘World Cultural Festival’ on the Yamuna flood plains, the pontoon bridge for crossing over the river bed was constructed by none other than the Indian Army. He could get the Prime Minister of India to inaugurate the event. When the National Green Tribunal imposed Rs 5 crore as an interim environmental compensation on the foundation for the event’s impact on the environment, he shirked from doing so and yet could go ahead with the event.
To firm up his initiative on settling the Ramjanmabhoomi – Babri Masjid (RJ-BM) dispute out of court, he met the Home Minister Mr. Rajnath Singh as well as the Chief Minister of UP. All the leaders of the Sangh Parivar and Hindu Supremacist organisations have declared their support to the initiative and expressed their desire to settle the dispute out of court. Even if technically the initiative is not on behalf of the state, it is apparent that it has blessings of the BJP led governments in the State as well as the Centre. However, in case the dispute is not settled, there is a window for both the Governments to dissociate with the initiative.
Earlier in the month of March, Subramanian Swamy BJP leader and nominated Rajya Sabha Member had sought an urgent hearing of the appeal against the order of Allahabad High Court dated 30th September 2010 in the RJBM title suit. Subramanian Swamy had no locus standi in the case and was not a party in the Appeal. Yet the Supreme Court exercised its discretion and even asked the BJP leader to talk to all parties to the case and bring them to negotiating table. In a surprise development, the Supreme Court on 21st March 2017 urged the rival parties in the Ram Janamabhoomi – Babri Masjid (RJ-BM) case to negotiate and resolve the dispute in a spirit of give and take. The then Chief Justice of India J. S. Khehar had offered himself to be a mediator should both the parties agree. However, after the Apex Court realized that Subramanian Swamy was not a party to the Appeal, it dismissed his Application for urgent hearing.
Vulnerability of the Muslim community
If RJ-BM dispute is news once again, there must be elections round the corner! And yes elections are round the corner! The civic polls will be held in the state of UP beginning November 22 in three phases. Around 30 million voters would be eligible to exercise their franchise in these polls to be held for over 650 posts, including 438 municipal boards, 202 town areas and 16 corporations, also comprising two newly constituted Ayodhya Nagar Nigam and Mathura-Vrindavan Nagar Nigam. The Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had kicked off his campaign from Ayodhya on November 14. The forthcoming State Assembly elections in Gujarat are also increasingly becoming a tough fight for the BJP.
The upcoming municipal polls in UP would be a key test for the CM Yogi Adityanath who is also being projected as one of the important Hindutva icon by the BJP. The outcome of the civic poll would indicate the mood of the voters ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In fact the CM Adityanath had organized a grand Diwali celebration in Ayodhya with lighting record number of lamps and announced installation of statue of Lord Ram on the banks of River Saryu with tax payer’s money. The programme included grand Aarti and performance of Ramlila by artists from Indonesia and Thailand. All this while hundreds of children suffering from encephalitis and other curable diseases have died in BRD hospital in Gorakhpur where the CM has his political base. Children’s deaths are a result of crumbling infrastructure of the hospital and lack of payment for oxygen supply. The public health expenditure in UP is abysmal for a population of 220 million. The public health budget was in fact reduced from Rs. 17,828 crores in 2061-17 to 15,834 in revised estimate for 2016-17. The budgeted amount on public health fell from Rs. 17,823 to 17,181 in the 2017-2018 budget.
However, more important reason behind the Hindu supremacist blessed initiative to settle the RJ-BM dispute out of Court seems to be that the Muslim community is most vulnerable at present. The Hindu Supremacists believe that their combined political might may not be better at any other time. They are in a position to corner the Muslim leadership and coerce them into accepting a solution which favours Hindu Supremacists. The state encouraged sectarian division within the Muslim community in order to weaken them. From nowhere a section of Shia sect of the Muslim community claimed that the disputed land belonged to Shia Central Waqf Board.
Dividing Muslims and uniting Hindus
About 70 years after a local court in Faizabad ruled in favour of the Sunni Waqf claim over Babri Masjid following a dispute with the Shia Waqf, the Shia Central Waqf Board has decided to challenge the old order and simultaneously suggested an “amicable settlement solution” to the RJ-BM dispute and suggesting the construction of new mosque at a distance from the temple. The Shia Central Waqf Board did not file any application to be impleaded as a party to the proceedings in any court all these years. The BJP has always tried to exploit the sectarian division among the Muslims. During the last General elections, Rajnath Singh met Shia Muslim leaders to divide the Muslim community. The BJP tries to convey that Shias, the Sufis and Muslim women are supporters of the BJP. Subramanian Swamy once said that the BJP needs to unite all Hindus and divide the Muslims.
Shia leaders publicly stated that they were willing to resolve the RJ-BM row and letting the Hindus construct Ram Temple on the land. Mosque could be constructed elsewhere they said. This was the straw in the wind that the Hindu supremacists wanted to clutch onto. Now, even a section of Muslims (should we say sarkari Muslims?) wanted a Ram Temple constructed on the disputed land and the recalcitrant could be coerced into accepting the terms propounded by Hindu Supremacist. The sarkari Muslims would be accommodated somewhere on the lower rungs of power structure and indeed, some of them were promptly appointed to the UP Waqf Board.
The will of the Muslim community to resist any coercive attempt and let the institutions of democracy decide the dispute has to be broken. The Hindu supremacists didn’t have faith in the institutions of democracy, particularly the judiciary when they demolished the Babri Mosque and they don’t seem to trust the judiciary to favour Hindu supremacists and privilege faith over the law of the land. That is because the law of the land is clear. Faith of one community has no place in adjudicating disputes between two communities. The Hindu supremacists seem to be in a hurry to pre-empt judicial adjudication by the Apex Court.
It is not surprising that All India Muslim Personal Law Board leaders have placed its faith on the judiciary and are willing to accept any judicial outcome. They at least stand a chance to argue their case on the basis of their title to the land. All those whom Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has assembled in Ayodhya would not touch the issue of title of the land under dispute with a barged pole. The only issue in Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s darbar in Ayodhya would be faith. Sri Sri has already indicated his solution to the dispute by putting words in the mouth of Muslims. He said, “by and large” Muslims were not opposed to a temple on the site. How did he reach the conclusion when the major stake holder in the dispute – the Sunni Waqf Board has not shown its willingness to come to the negotiating table! To which Muslims he talked to and how did he reach the conclusion about views of ‘Muslims by and large’? Sri Sri is seen by even a section of Hindus who have fought for Ramjanmabhoomi as an outsider to the dispute who is trying to grab fame at the last moment on their hard work! Muslims are apprehensive as he has offered no concrete formula for resolution of the dispute.
There are Hindu Supremacists who want the entire 2.77 acres of land for construction of Ramjanmabhoomi Temple. Others want entire 67 acres of land which has been acquired by the Central Government around the 2.77 acres of land under dispute. Still others say no Mosque should be allowed in the region of chauriyasi kosi (84 kos or 168 miles) parikrama which would mean much beyond Ayodhya and Faizabad. Muslims in Sri Sri’s darbar would be able to negotiate whether Mosque should be anywhere at all on the 67 acres of land acquired by the Central Govt. or beyond 67 acres or even beyond chouryasi kosi parikrama.
If today Hindu supremacist are eager to reach a negotiated settlement, they opposed such moves earlier when they were not in a strong position. One out many attempts was made by the Shankaracharya and religious leaders from Muslim community. Muslim religious leaders had then given favourable statements and nod at the initiative. They were hopeful of the initiative leading to an amicable settlement with the spirit of give and take. However, the Sangh Parivar opposed the initiative as they then felt that a settlement would be reached without their involvement. Statements were planted in the media that Shankaracharya was a devotee of Shiv rather than Lord Ram. Shankaracharya withdrew from the initiative and the settlement did not materialize. The inhabitants of Ayodhya would have long settled the issue in the spirit of give and take had the dispute been left to them. The Head Priest of Hanumangarh, the largest temple in Ayodhya, Mahant Gyandas has organized iftaars for Muslims inside his temple and repaired Mosque situated on the land owned by his temple with their funds. Muslims have invited Mahant Gyandas, inside their mosques. Such was the amicable relations between Hindus and Muslims of Ayodhya during the peak of Ram temple agitation. The agitators were mobilized from outside.
More than Temple or Mosque, we need to reclaim our democracy and democratic institutions which are being compromised in Sri Sri’s initiative and the Hindu supremacists that are gathering around him. A number of win-win solutions have been suggested. However the solutions won’t be acceptable to either the Hindu supremacists or to the Muslim communal leadership. The win-win solutions will succeed only with the marginalisation of both.
For history of the RJ-BM dispute see (Engineer 2017)
Engineer, Irfan Asgharali. History and Nature of the Ayodhya Dispute. 1 April 2017. http://www.csss-isla.com/secular-perspective-april-1-to-30-2017/ (accessed November 16, 2017).