Aijaz Zaka Syed
IT has been nearly 27 years since the destruction of the 16th century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. And it still feels like yesterday that the tragedy that changed India forever struck. Most of us remember where we were or what we were doing that fateful day. It is as if time has stood still all these years. It indeed has in many ways.
Meanwhile, a whole new generation of Indians has grown up. Indeed, the majority of Indians today had not been around when the iconic mosque was torn down by a frenzied mob, in full view of the world and in the presence of thousands of defenders of the law.
Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao reportedly slept through that portentous day, literally. And with him slept the Indian state, its formidable institutions and the rule of law.
The ghosts of Ayodhya just refuse to go away. They have been kept around and busy, with great effort and ingenuity. The tragedy has remained as fresh as ever like a deep, festering wound that just wouldn’t heal. Especially for the 200 million Indian Muslims. Even if some of them had wanted to forgive and forget what happened in Ayodhya that cold day in December of 1992 and move on, they have been prevented from doing so, thanks to the concerted efforts of Hindutva groups to keep the issue alive.
The rag-tag army of bigots once dismissed as “the fringe” has gone mainstream with its own governments in Delhi and Lucknow. The Parivar truly rules the great Gandhian democracy now in every sense, controlling all levers of power. Indeed, it has never been more powerful and all-encompassing in its insidious history.
Not surprisingly, the Right has reasons to believe it can now use its unprecedented power and clout to have its way, including “encouraging” a favourable verdict from the Supreme Court on the ownership of the land where the Mughal-style mosque stood for four centuries before being razed to the ground by Hindu mobs on what was described as the ‘darkest day’ in the history of Indian democracy.
Hindutva groups have long claimed that the Babri Masjid had been built on the ruins of a temple and at the birthplace of Lord Ram. Not only are they certain about the birthplace of a mythical figure, who is said to have lived tens of thousands of years ago, but they also insist he had been born at the exact spot where the central dome of the now martyred mosque stood.
The fact that there is no historical or physical evidence to back any of these claims seems to matter little. Even Tulasidas, the legendary 16th century poet who penned the epic Ramcharitmanas —something like a Shah Nama for Lord Ram in Awadhi — 30 years after Babri Masjid had been built by the Mughal governor Mir Baqi, makes no mention of the existence or demolition of any Ram temple in the temple town although the classic includes every tiny little detail about Ram.
But then facts have been of little consequence in this bitter battle for power and assertion of Hindutva supremacy. All these antics over Ayodhya are but a ploy, just a means to acquire and perpetuating power for the RSS-VHP-BJP combine.
And 27 years after the destruction of the mosque, a catastrophe that shamed India before the world and caused widespread rioting, bloodshed and thousands of killings, the BJP and its clan still believe that they can still fool the devout Hindu majority of the country as well as courts.
As eminent jurist A G Noorani suggests, Modi’s BJP appears determined to push ahead with its ‘core agenda’. It has already scrapped Article 370 that assured autonomy to Kashmir. The other two key issues remaining on the saffron agenda are Ayodhya and a Uniform Civil Code. If communal peace and wellbeing of the republic are destroyed in the process, so be it. It is a small price to pay for the BJP duo’s delusions of grandeur.
Given all this madness and mayhem, I have often wondered if it would have helped if the Muslims had voluntarily given up their claim on the Ayodhya mosque site in the interest of peace and communal amity. After all, the mosque has already been demolished and there’s little hope of it being rebuilt in the foreseeable future, given the unprecedented polarization and the total dominance of the Right.
Many well-wishers of the community and secular liberals who sincerely want the two communities to bury the hatchet and start afresh have called for turning the Ayodhya site into a museum or park of some sort for the greater common good.
Wouldn’t it have been better for everyone concerned, therefore, if the Muslims had surrendered their claims over the mosque and the land on which it once stood? The answer is ‘no’. First, it is the Muslim belief that all mosques belong to Allah and we have no right or liberty to give them away, even if we were willing to. Second, even if Muslims were to demonstrate magnanimity and gave up the claim over Ayodhya in the interest of peace and amicable relations with the Hindu brethren, there’s no guarantee that the Parivar would mend its ways.
If the Ayodhya issue were resolved tomorrow, you can bet your life that the RSS would come up with another equally emotive issue to keep stirring the pot. It already has deployed many such weapons from its deadly arsenal, from ‘love jihad’ to cow slaughter to other imagined wrongs. Besides, there are hundreds of other mosques like Gyanvapi Mosque of Varanasi and Jama Masjid of Mathura on the ‘hit list’ of the VHP and company. Why even Taj Mahal, the eternal symbol of love, is claimed by the Right as a Shiva temple and a Rajput palace, for crying out loud! There is no end to this witch hunt.
The Muslims have therefore no option but to patiently hope and wait for justice from the SC. The top court intervened when the Allahabad high court, instead of delivering justice on the basis of facts on the ground, in a 2010 judgment invoked “faith” and ordered the Ayodhya land to be divided into three parts (two parts for Hindus and one for Muslims).
Unfortunately, courts have repeatedly let down the country’s largest minority. Instead of penalizing those who destroyed Babri Masjid and nearly destroyed the country, they were allowed to get away with murder and occupy the highest offices in the land. Indeed, the BJP wouldn’t be ruling India today if it were not for the abject failure of courts to hold it to account for its high crimes against the nation.
Despite being the aggrieved party, Muslims have demonstrated exemplary restraint and repeatedly emphasized that they respect the rule of law and would go by the court verdict no matter what. Hindutva groups, on the other hand, have been throwing their weight around to bully Muslims into an ‘out-of-court settlement’.
Compromises and settlements are possible between the equals. When one side is hopelessly weak and the other side all-powerful, with the might of state institutions behind it, only courts offer the hope of justice. This is not a dispute between the Hindus and Muslims. This is a battle between right and wrong, justice and injustice, and the rule of law and jungle law.
At stake in Ayodhya is the very future and wellbeing of India as a secular and pluralist democracy and a law-abiding society. One only hopes the highest court in the land is aware of its responsibility and duty to the Constitution and recognized principles of justice.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award-winning journalist and former editor. Email: Aijaz.firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @AijazZaka