Saturday, October 02, 2010
Ram ki Nagri, once again
But Ayodhya judgement at best a partial closure
During a recent television debate on ‘Saffron Terror’ (the coinage is an oxymoron, but such details don’t bother the ‘secular’ intelligentsia of this wondrous land of ours) I found myself seated next to Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen president and MP from Hyderabad Asaduddin Owaisi. Within minutes I was convinced that Mr Owaisi, dressed in an achkan and his heart bleeding profusely for suspected terrorists, lacked both manners and grace. He would interrupt everybody, insisting he had the right to have his say -- without, of course, conceding that right to others. Half way through the show, he suddenly turned towards me and smugly asked, “Will you accept the court’s verdict on Babri Masjid?” I refused to answer him, and for good reason. Later, after the show was over, I asked him, “Will you accept the verdict?” His answer was spontaneous, “Yes, we will.” And then added slyly, “But that’s not the issue. Will you accept it?” I headed for the studio exit.
Mr Owaisi’s question was not as innocuous as it may have seemed to others. For nearly three months a story had been doing the rounds in Delhi, the sum and substance of which was that the much-anticipated judgement in the Ayodhya case would be a two-one majority verdict in favour of the Muslims, upholding the Sunni Waqf Board’s claim to the disputed 2.7 acre land where the Babri Masjid stood till it was demolished by enraged Hindus on December 6, 1992, to reclaim Ram Janmabhoomi and rid India of one of its many monuments glorifying invaders who remorselessly laid the lives of kafirs to waste and destroyed their places of worship with vengeance.
Those who believed this story pointed to tell-tale signs: The pattern of deployment of security forces; the choice of date for the verdict (it was originally scheduled for September 24, a Friday); and the cockiness of Muslim organisations not known for holding the secular judiciary of India in high esteem and their repeated assertion that they would abide by the judgement. Mr Owaisi had obviously heard and believed the story. When I expressed my doubts about its veracity to a fellow columnist, he sneeringly replied, “You are living in denial.” Days before the judgement, questioning the wisdom of those who did not want it to be delayed any further, he tweeted that the “verdict will leave lotuswallahs disappointed”.
South Delhi’s commentariat is adept at the game of Chinese whispers, but it is also divorced from reality, preferring fiction over fact. The verdict of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court -- really three separate judgements with the judges concurring on certain key issues -- bore no resemblance to the inspired ‘leak’. The judges agreed on three important issues: Muslims do not have exclusive claim to the site held sacred by Hindus; the ground where the central dome of the Babri Masjid stood belongs to Ram Lalla as has been argued for centuries by Hindus who believe it is Ram Janmabhoomi; and, a temple existed at the spot that was selected by Mir Baqi to build a mosque to celebrate Babur’s victorious military campaign in the region. On the third point, two of the three judges also agreed that the temple was desecrated and destroyed to build the mosque; one of them held this to be un-Islamic, a point validated by theology.
It’s politically correct to say there are no winners and losers following the Ayodhya verdict. But we all know that’s not true. Why else would Mr Owaisi, whose party was last in the news for opposing ‘Hyderabad Liberation Day’ celebrations on September 17 because “many Muslims (razakars) were killed” when the people rose in revolt in 1948 against the Nizam for refusing to join the Union of India, be incandescent with rage? The same man who, having willed himself into believing the cockamamie story that two of the three judges would rule in favour of the Muslims, told me he would accept the High Court’s verdict, is now indulging in what comes easily to him and his ilk: Intemperate, provocative language. “We are not satisfied with the judgement. The evidence presented by Muslims to the court was strong… It seems that it has not been given due consideration,” he told one newspaper. To another he said, “There is anger building up among the Muslim community over the verdict but, god willing, it may not translate into street violence.” Notice how he is leaving the option of mobs taking to the streets wide open. Mr Owaisi is not alone; he has Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav of “ek parinda bhi paar nahi kar sakta” fame, to keep him company.
At the same show I was interrupted by a leading light of south Delhi’s commentariat when I made bold to suggest that little purpose will be served if we keep on going back to history. “What history? Tell us,” he tauntingly said and, along with Mr Owaisi, broke into raucous laughter. I could have given the example of the vandalism that had occurred in Ayodhya in 1528, and elsewhere in India since then: Varanasi, Mathura, Ajmer, Delhi -- the list is endless. But I chose not to bite Mukul Kesavan’s bait, choosing, instead, to place my faith in the wisdom and fair play of our secular justice system. That faith stands vindicated today. At one level, the Ayodhya judgement liberates Ram Janmabhoomi and serves to address, albeit partially, latent and lingering Hindu disquiet. At another level, it is a deeply personal victory for me and some other writers, all of them close friends and professional associates, who chose not to sway with the wave and told the truth as it was rather than join the crowd of intellectually bankrupt dhimmis who unfortunately hold positions of power and authority in free, secular India. They are the real losers and look more pathetic than ever before.
Let me conclude by quoting Nirad C Chaudhuri, a writer whom I greatly admire for speaking his mind freely and without caring a hoot about how many toes he tread upon: “Muslims do not have the slightest right to complain about the desecration of one mosque in Ayodhya. From 1000 AD every temple from Kathiawar to Bihar, from the Himalayas to the Vindhyas has been sacked and ruined. Not one temple was left standing all over northern India. They escaped destruction only where Muslim power did not gain access to them for reasons such as dense forests. Otherwise, it was a continuous spell of vandalism. No nation with any self-respect will forgive this. What happened in Ayodhya would not have happened had the Muslims acknowledged this historical argument even once.”
Well-meaning people believe the Allahabad High Court’s judgement will help bring the Ayodhya dispute to a closure. But the Ayodhya dispute is a manifestation of the historical faultlines that run deep through our society. Till such time we admit the existence of the faultlines and accept the causative factors, there can be no real closure. Settling a title suit is not quite the same as addressing what Niradbabu described as the “historical argument” of India’s imperfect past which makes our future tense. Sadly, though not unexpectedly, there is little or no reason to believe that we are anywhere near a real closure in the absence of any meaningful and sincere acknowledgement of the “continuous spell of vandalism” as symbolised by the monument to honour Babur which stood in Ram ki Nagri till December 6, 1992, and whose reconstruction is still being sought.