Rasheeda Bhagat

The best scenario that can be envisaged after the Ayodhya judgment is one of extraordinary gestures involving a mind-bending leap of faith, by both the communities that have a stake in the disputed land.

A judicial decision on the ownership of the disputed land at Ayodhya cannot be put off any longer. The Supreme Court, which deferred on September 23 the Ayodhya verdict vis-à-vis a petition saying there is still a chance of reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims, will have to take a call on September 28. If it does not allow the Allahabad High Court to pronounce judgement on the 60-year old dispute before the end of September, the matter will turn infructuous as one of the judges involved retires. And heaven knows if the people of this country have the energy or patience to wait for a few more decades for the verdict.

No doubt, the Government would want the status quo to continue, clearly believing that the longer a matter lies buried, the better, as it would absolve it of the responsibility of taking a firm stand. A firm stand not only in maintaining law and order but in enforcing the verdict, as this cannot be done without displeasing one or the other of the two major vote-banks — Hindus and Muslims.

Vote bank politics

Oh yes, despite the BJP's berating the Congress for having used Muslims as a vote-bank for long decades, it is also guilty of vote-bank politics. The entire country has been put on an alert, travel plans were hastily altered in view of the expected judgement on September 24. All my internet bank transactions from September 23 could not be followed by an SMS as my bank regretfully informed me that the government had banned bulk SMS services from September 23 to 29.

So it looks as though the die is cast and a verdict will have to be announced. Surely no magic wand can be waved that, in six days, can make Hindus and Muslims arrive at an “amicable solution” to this vexing dispute.

Some political commentators have suggested that the masjid-mandir issue no longer evokes the kind of heated passion it did in the run-up to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. It was 20 years ago that Mr L.K. Advani launched his Ayodhya rath yatra which galvanised Hindus on the fantastic premise that they were discriminated against in an India that pampered and appeased Muslims!

The elections were won by the BJP on this emotive issue; first, States in the Hindi heartland came into its kitty and, in 1998, its Lok Sabha seats swelled to put a BJP-led coalition in the seat of power in Delhi.

But time can wear out the best of appeals and, in the search for rozi and roti, the millions who remained dull and lustreless in a shining India moved away from the BJP to vote in the Congress-led UPA-1.

Matter of faith

Now, the fact remains that millions of Hindus believe that Lord Ram was born in Ayodhya and venerate the disputed site as Ram Janmabhoomi. And it is historical that Babur did indeed build on the site a masjid, called Babri Masjid.

The Hindus claim that a temple at the spot was demolished to build this mosque; Muslims dispute this, and each side pulls out a plethora of evidence to prove its point until everybody is confused. Because it was a disputed site namaz could not be performed at the masjid for decades. It should be remembered that when, in 1949, idols of Lord Ram appeared inside the mosque, allegedly placed there by Hindus, Muslims protested, and both parties filed civil suits. The government then proclaimed the premises a disputed area and the gates were locked, till they were reopened by Rajiv Gandhi's government in 1985.

Anyway if a judgement is indeed delivered on September 28 by the Allahabad High Court, violence is bound to be instigated by the side that loses the suit. Hence the Centre has asked all the States to be on high alert and the Chief Ministers to remain in the State capitals.

Time to let go

Now, let me have my say on what should happen: I believe the Muslims should seriously consider the fact that Ayodhya is an extremely sacred and religious site for Hindus.

There is a shade of opinion that once a mosque has been “desecrated” by the placement of Hindu idols, namaz can no longer be offered there. But, of course, it can be argued that since that mosque was torn down, this sentiment would no longer be relevant in a brand new mosque.

Even so, Lord Ram is revered by the Hindus as a God; Babar is no God for the Muslims, who have only one God in Allah.

More important, Babar was not even a prophet or a religious figure; he was only a king, and Muslims love to say that, in the eyes of allah, raja ya runk (king or beggar) is the same. Let us consider a scenario in which the Ayodhya land is given to Muslims. And they, in turn, thank the court, express their faith in the country's judicial system and hand over the site to Hindus for the latter to build there the temple of their dreams. In such a venture the first brick could be laid by a prominent Muslim.

In return, the Hindus or the government could give Muslims a large chunk of land where not only a grand mosque but also a grander University and a multi-speciality hospital could be built.

After all, Indian Muslims need the last two much more than places of worship. If Allah really resides in your heart, than the smallest masjid is sufficient to reach out to him. But to stake their rightful claim in a resurgent India and a superpower of tomorrow, Muslims need good education, employment opportunities and a life of dignity.

Such generosity must not to be mistaken for weakness; it comes with an extraordinary leap of faith. I have no illusions that the Muslim leadership spearheading the Babri movement will make any such gesture.

But imagine if it did pull off such a feat! To do this would be to pull the rug from under the feet of those right-wing outfits that don't hesitate to dub Indian Muslims jihadis and anti-national. Such a gesture would be termed a “sell-out” by the fringe elements among Indian Muslims who talk the language of terrorism and bombs.

But what brings hope is the certain knowledge that both these elements, thankfully, constitute a minuscule minority in India today, where the youth — more than half our population — are firm in their quest for a better tomorrow.

Related Stories:
The Babri affair
What led to the Babri Masjid demolition?

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 28, 2010)
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