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Friday, Jun 13, 2003

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Ayodhya issue — Searing search for solution

Rasheeda Bhagat

The Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, with the Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, Sri Jayendra Saraswati, in New Delhi.. Full marks to the seer for asking politicians to stay off the Ayodhya issue and allow spiritual leaders on both sides to reach a mutually acceptable solution.

WHILE much of India waits for the monsoon to bring down the temperature, the heat in Uttar Pradesh seems to be unrelenting... both in Lucknow and at Ayodhya. While the UP Chief Minister, Ms Mayawati, was on a foreign sojourn, the carpet was pulled from under her Government.

With Mr Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal withdrawing support to the Bahujan Samaj Party coalition government, her bete noir Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Congress(I) are flexing their muscles to send the Mayawati Government packing.

But the Governor, Mr Vishnu Kant Shastri, finally broke his silence on Wednesday, and proclaimed the expected — that he did not think the Opposition had proved that Mayawati Government was not in majority, and, hence, did not need to prove its majority on the floor of the House. The Opposition parties are seeing red. Charges are flying thick and fast about the Governor being an RSS man and, hence, supporting the BJP-backed UP Government.

Meanwhile, the RLD chief, Mr Ajit Singh, has cause enough to keep his flock of MLAs under close watch, even lock and key. So the RLD MLAs have been moved, en masse, from the scorching plains of Lucknow to the cooler environs of Srinagar.

Ms Mayawati is more than capable of fighting her battles, and with the BJP as her friend, should have little to worry about.

Another part of UP is hotting up too — Ayodhya. The Kanchi Sankaracharya is once again trying to sort out the masjid-mandir tangle. Full marks to him for asking politicians to stay off the Ayodhya issue and allow the spiritual leaders on both the sides to sort out things and reach a mutually acceptable solution.

But while no sane person would dispute his advice, the problem is that almost every religion has an inherent political component. For example, how can one even talk of the BJP without bringing into the discourse such Sangh Parivar groups as the RSS or the VHP.

Often, these have proved a problem for the ruling BJP, but none better than the BJP leaders know that without the former's blessings and the hard work at the grassroots level, the BJP may not be heading a coalition government at the Centre at all .

The same can be said for Muslim political parties that by themselves do not have much clout, except in pockets, in India's political scene. But they surely have a nuisance value when it comes to matters religious.

While the Islamic parties in India do not count for much, the Wakf Boards, the Muslim Personal Law Board and the Minority Commissions do have a lot of clout. Hence, the uproar over the Kanchi Sankaracharya's statement that 90 per cent of Muslims are not in favour of a mosque coming up at the disputed site in Ayodhya.

Who is he talking to, screamed the Muslim groups. Both the Muslim Personal Law Board and the Sunni Wakf Board, as well as other Muslim groups, denied that the Sankaracharya had talked to them recently.

Prominent Muslim leader Syed Sahabuddin was at his rhetorical best when he wondered at the premise for the Kanchi seer's optimism and said acidly, "Negotiations conducted in dark rooms with unknown faces and signed by unknown men cannot be a solution." But unfazed, the seer smiled away the questions from mediapersons and continues to be active behind the scenes.

Now, to the core issue of who the Sankaracharya has been talking to. And what is the basis for his saying that as huge a majority of Muslims as 90 per cent was not in favour of pressing their claim for having the Babri Masjid reconstructed on the very site from where it was razed to the ground in 1992.

Obviously, the 90 per cent figure is an exaggeration and has necessarily to be taken as a manner of speech rather than a studied estimate arrived at by elaborate surveys on the issue. If this is indeed the sense he is getting over the Muslim sentiment over the Ayodhya issue, then he must be talking to ordinary people who have no political stake.

I suspect he has been talking to that group of Muslims who are exhausted by the long battle over the Babri Masjid issue. The kind of battle that is fodder to the likes of the VHP and their political chelas, such as the Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, and helps them reap rich dividends in elections.

Or, those vulnerable Muslims who constantly live in fear of losing their means of livelihood as religious fanaticism scales new heights. A recent dialogue with a senior advocate from Ahmedabad was an eye-opener on the status of Muslims in Gujarat today.

"In most of the places those working as unconfirmed or casual labour have already been shown the door. Those who have managed to hang on did so by agreeing to lower wages. The BJP government and its supporters in the private sector have laid down a clear policy; when it comes to highly skilled people, like doctors, engineers, chartered accountants and other such professionals, make use of the services of Muslim professionals. But if you need unskilled work, give preference to non-Muslims as there are any number of contenders for these jobs," he said.

To such people, what would it matter whether a masjid or mandir comes up at the disputed site in Ayodhya?

Or, perhaps, the Kanchi seer has been talking to the really educated and intelligent Muslims, who may be able to tell the difference between religious passion for getting hold of an area believed to be the birthplace of a much-revered god, against a mere piece of land. A patch which is not a Kaaba or a Karbala (the most revered of places for Shiahs), but where a Mughal king had once built a mosque which was allowed to come to such a state of dilapidation that people had stopped praying there till, of course, the Hindus laid claim to it.

One has certainly heard this group argue that the number of Muslim lives that have been lost, the Muslim homes which have been looted and destroyed during Ayodhya-related communal riots, the number of Muslim women humiliated and raped, is not worth any place of worship. After all, no god demands such a huge price. So, then, one may well ask, what is preventing this group of Muslims from standing up and saying as much?

Several factors. First, the rhetoric of the Praveen Togadia/Bal Thackeray variety, which constantly heaps abuse on the Indian Muslims, questioning their `patriotism', taunting them for being "Pakistan supporters", making fun of their way of life and their lifestyle and, above all, propagating such lies as `hum paanch, hamarey pachchees'.

And the fear that the moment they say they are ready for a compromise on Ayodhya, this would be taken as their weakness or surrender and would only whet the appetite of the Sangh Parivar outfits for the demolition of mosques at Kasi, Mathura, and elsewhere.

Of course, this group would not constitute a 90 per cent majority. One is not sure if it would constitute any majority at all. But whatever its numbers, its hesitation to speak its mind, perhaps for the reasons stated above, is being fully exploited by certain section of Muslim leaders. One simple expression in Hindi/Urdu would sum this up neatly. Unki to dukan hi bandh ho jayengi (They'll have to close their shop).

For all that, if the Kanchi seer can steer clear of the dark political waters and carry on his campaign to find a negotiated solution outside the courts, collecting in the process at least a dozen sensible leaders from both the communities, the Ayodhya tangle can yet be resolved without loss of any more lives or homes.

Meanwhile, the Waqf and the Personal Law Boards have no problem waiting for the court verdict where they believe they have a strong case. This notwithstanding such blips as the excavation work going on at the site to find out if there was a temple on the disputed site before the mosque. And, perhaps, yet another mosque before that temple, and so on.

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