Ayodhya Dispute – Time to Reflect

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Late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s decision to unlock Ram Janam Bhoomi – Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya in 1986 has already cost the nation dear and continues to do so even today.  In Volume Two of his memoirs, former President Mr Pranab Mukherjee has termed it as an ‘error of judgement’ by Rajiv Gandhi who saw consolidation of Hindu votes as a readymade recipe for an electoral victory for Congress. In the aftermath of Shah Bano case, where most of India felt that government had capitulated to fundamental Muslims, Mr Gandhi needed a reason to woo Hindu voters. In his wisdom and that of his advisers, they saw an opportunity in opening of Ram Janam Bhoomi – Babri Masjid site that had been locked since 1949 so that Hindus could offer prayers to Ram Lala. Without a doubt this turned out to be a very unwise move that has kept communal tensions on the boil ever since. It is also perhaps the biggest reason for the present Hindu – Muslim divide that has reached alarming proportions today.

Presently the case is in the Supreme Court and next hearing has been scheduled for 08 February 2018. Most critics feel that an early decision in favour of Ram Mandir will benefit BJP immensely in 2019 general elections while Congress could fall even below its current tally of 44 seats in Lok Sabha. It was probably with this in mind that Mr Kapil Sibal, Senior Congress leader, appearing on behalf of some Muslim litigants in Supreme Court on 05 December 2017 requested the court to postpone the verdict and resume hearings only after completion of national elections in 2019. It is no secret that Congress party can ill afford to take such a stand openly in view of further loss of credibility with Hindus who want an early settlement. Sunni Wakf Board has clarified that no brief was given to Mr Sibal as he does not represent them and that they prefer an early settlement. Unfortunately the court records of 05 December 2017 list Mr Sibal as a lawyer representing the Sunni Wakf Board. Mr Haji Mehboob, the private litigant who is being represented by Mr Kapil Sibal, also clarified that he preferred an early resolution of the case. Mr Mehboob’s claims of being a member of Sunni Wakf Board were refuted by Chairman of the Board. There is no doubt that a web of lies and half truths is being spun by all concerned. What cannot be refuted is that Mr Sibal was using his presence in court to covertly further his party’s case by firing the gun from shoulders of those who hired him.

Many Muslim organisations including Shia Wakf Board, Sunni Wakf Board, All India Muslim Personal Law Board and Babri Masjid Action Committee claim to be interested parties apart from some private litigants. The ownership of disputed site is also being contested between Sunni and Shia Wakf Boards. The later has gone on record to state that they are willing o consider the option of giving the disputed site for construction of a Ram temple and would be happy to construct a new mosque at a favoured site in Lucknow instead. This obviously does not find favour with other Muslim organisations. On the political front, any such accommodation is likely to benefit BJP to the utter discomfort of Congress party. However in the current charged environment it is unlikely that any such proposal will see the light of the day.

It will be imprudent to assume that once a court verdict is given, all will be well. As things stand there are clear indications that the losing side will not take it as a fait accompli in interest of the nation. There are bound to be violent protests that will spread across the nation. The divide between Hindus and Muslims will increase – possibly to a point of no return. This sounds harsh but the possibility of it happening cannot be ignored. Fundamentalists on either side will have a heyday. If the verdict is not in favour of Muslims, it will gravitate into an international issue and Islamic fundamentalists will see it as an opportunity to make further inroads in India. A verdict against the Hindus will, in all likelihood, give boost to right wing Hindus and a rise in Hindu fundamentalism will be a natural progression. The resultant communal divide and mistrust will again be exploited by Islamic fundamentalist from across Indian borders. Therefore whatever be the verdict of the court, the nation will suffer. One wonders if Congress party realises the harm it has done by that one ill conceived decision in 1986.

Is it advisable to defer court’s decision? Frankly deferring the verdict will not help as the problem will remain and with passage of time attitudes will only harden further. Therefore an early decision is possibly a better option. What will be necessary however is a will to develop a climate for peaceful acceptance of court’s decision. This of course is easier said than done and a task that may appear undoable at the outset. The onus will lie on the government on one hand and political, community and religious leaders on the other. If efforts are genuine then without a doubt there will be some positive fallout which will go a long way in maintaining peace and harmony.  It may be prudent on part of successful litigants to shun any over the top celebration that may hurt feelings of the other party. This will be an important aspect in the aftermath of court’s verdict. The Supreme Court on its part must make sure that the decision is based on sound and irrefutable evidence. It should not shy away from explaining in detail to all concerned on how and why it arrived at a particular decision. Such transparency will bode well and hopefully sanity will prevail among all concerned.

Both Hindus and Muslims have to understand that whatever is built on the disputed site – be it a temple or a mosque – the nation will pay a heavy price either way. Will a temple or a mosque built over blood of thousands of innocent and possibly misguided people be a worthy place for worship? Surely no God, whatever his name or identity, will ever be happy with an abode like that. Do we want to be labelled as a society that lacks compassion and tolerance? Do we want to be known as a society that chased false pride so intensely that angels became devils instead of practicing humility that has the strength to change devils into angels? While political, community or religious leaders may ignore these questions in pursuit of their narrow and selfish motives, no society as a whole can afford to do so. The happenings in Kerala, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh over the last few years are clear warning signs that must not be ignored. The final picture, without a doubt, is likely to shake the very foundations of our great nation where violence and anarchy will take centre stage.

Can we rise as a nation and ensure that the disputed site becomes a SYMBOL of Compassion & Tolerance where Humility won over Pride – a place where future generations, irrespective of their faith or religion, can come and pay homage to the generation that created it while taking a vow to carry forward the same for all times to come?

Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.

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