Two Tales Of One City : Ram’s Holy Ayodhya, Yogi’s Avant-Garde Ayodhya
As we go to the Press the Supreme Court started hearing the case to decide the title rights to 2.77 acre land on which the disputed structure stands. All the Parties, tired and at their tethers end want the case to be decided quickly.
- Whatever the decision might be, Ayodhya is not going away, nor is Yogi Adityanath, nor the Shia and Sunni Boards.
- Both the temple and mosque are bound to be built. How, where and by whom, will either the Supreme Court decide or some special committee will broker a compromise?
- Left to themselves the Muslims and Hindus in Faizabad division have lived in harmony since the Nawabs of Awadh ruled Awadh with their capital first in Faizabad and then in Lucknow, most likely come quickly to an understanding which will be acceptable to all the communities
- Any judgement is unlikely to cause trouble in Faizabad if politicians do not jump in to stir the pot.
We discuss all possibilities and options, with reference to the happenings in the past.
Yogi Adiityanath seems determined to be the modern incarnation of Maharaja Dashrath and restore the prestige and primacy of Ayodhya it enjoyed in the time of the benevolent maharaja. To put the sleepy decaying town in the focus, Yogi and the Governor and most cabinet ministers celebrated Diwali this year. They are declaring their intention to make Ayodhya not only one of the most sought after destination of Hindu pilgrims but make it like Varanasi, so that it creates a curiosity in the international tourist to explore and feel its centuries-old ambience and culture. If freely roaming cows in the lanes leading to Kashi Vishwanath temple and monkeys are a nuisance to the pilgrims climbing steps for prayers at Hanuman Ghadi, which was ‘honoured’ by Rahul Gandhi. However, it is noteworthy that Ayodhya, the birthplace of Purshottam Ram was as brightly illuminated, decked up and dazzled with buntings, flowers and pictures, as on the this Diwali. The priest at Kanak (gold) Bhavan, still maintained as if Ram and Sita were living there said, ‘Last time Ayodhya might have been as decked up and illuminated, as when Ram and Sita returned after 14 years of a banishment.’
A beginning has been made, a nagar nigam (Civic board) has been set up for civic services which is acutely needed, all over the open drainage cause unbearable stink. In fact Ayodhya is in such a bad state that if Yogi really wants to put it on the world map, he will have to have a lot of patience and devote a lot of time. But if he succeeds, he would have earned the gratitude of millions of Hindus the world over.
Hope of better amenities and quality of life has been rekindled. A typical Ayodhya Brahman, he has a kiosk kind of shop selling items of ‘prasad’ near the entrance of the makeshift temple. I asked him what he expects now from the promises made by Yogi. First he refused to talk saying he was tired of reporters asking either the same or silly questions for the last 25 years, but when I spoke in Avadhi and told him that my family’s ancestral home and two temples, were in Ayodhya, he opened up.
‘Yogiji has at least been modest enough to say he will try to make UP like Ram Rajya. He did not say he was incarnation of Ram and would establish Ram Rajya. Rather he was positive and made no distinction on communal lines, so Muslims too are hopeful that Hindus and Muslims would live in harmony forever. Remember Advaniji. He was coming here to save Ram riding on a Chariot. He wanted to save Ram, the Purshottam Ram, who is protector of all of us. He was coming here to protect the protector. He should have utmost claimed to be Hanuman.’
And as I was leaving, he said glory to Ayodhya can be restored only if a satisfactory settlement of the Babri Masjid Demolition issue, fractious to put it mildly can be brokered. How worldly-wise this simple, half –literate Brahmin was.
I remember the tension in Faizabad, seven km from Ayodhya and almost an eerie silence in Ayodhya when I came exactly a week before the demolition. As one entered the outskirts of Faizabad while driving from Lucknow, I saw a large number of tents in the huge Maidan. Stationed there were 50,000 jawans of Rapid Deployment Force. Opposite that maidan was Commissioner’s residence. He told me that he did not know much because he had just been posted after three year stint in Brussels, he telephoned the Collector, some Srivastav and told him that he should send an ADM with me to Ayodhya.
As we entered Ayodhya, it seemed that the whole place was shut, most shops seemed closed, no children could be seen, the place came alive when we reached the site. Adjacent to the disputed structure there was a vacant plot. It was bought by VHP, its leaders wanted to expand the temple area once the dispute was resolved. But the state government had through a decree stopped doing anything on the plot. We stood there talking to some locals, when a young man, probably seeing our photographer taking pictures, walked up to me and said he would like to talk about his own feelings.
He was an engineer and had come from P. V. Narasimha Rao’s village. I asked him was he not afraid of dying, 50,000 jawans of RDF were nearby? “I feel blessed. I am 28 and might live for another 60 years, but if I die here, the birthplace of Ram, I will attain moksh. Almost 2000 more are coming from my and nearby villages.” There was no use arguing with him or any other, they were a frenzied lot.
On my way back I met the Collector. He asked me what did I feel, and without a pause I said, the structure will be demolished. The fuse was already lit. The Collector’s hands were shaking as he made tea. A promoted IAS, he was due to retire in six months and was keen to get his two daughters married. “I know by that time I will be suspended.’’
Driving back, I met Chief Minister Kalyan Singh. He asked me the same question, will the Structure stand or be dismantled? my answer was the same it will be dismantled. Kalyan Singh vehemently refuted me and asserted that the 50,000 RDF would be deployed to stop those who might try to take law into their hands.
Muslims and Hindus Of Ayodhya-Faizabad
When in 1948, the idols of Ram and Sita were ‘discovered’ in corner of a room adjacent to a longish room, known as Sita rasoi, adjunct to Babri mosque, litigation was bound to follow. The then Chief Minister G. B. Pant called Muslim community leaders from Faizabad to discuss the issue generally and to ask them to name a Custodian to manage the disputed site until the court’s decision.
The Muslim leaders unanimously named Priya Dutt Ram, a prominent person, but more importantly a Hindu. And the community must have been been happy and satisfied with him for he remained custodian for over 20 years until his death. After him, his nephew was nominated, and he remained custodian till Rajiv Gandhi decided to get shilanyas performed there. It is then the keys were handed over to a magistrate.
To the people in Faizabad it was not surprising that a Hindu was chosen, they have lived not only in harmony but with trust since the Nawabs ruled Awadh. The treasurer and in charge of Nawabs’ khazana was a Hindu, from a prominent family from Ayodhya. When the Nawabs shifted to Lucknow the family from which treasurers were appointed also shifted.
The last of the Nawabs, Wajid Ali Shah, patronised Kalka and Binda Din, and not shairs. When Wajid Ali Shah was arrested by the East India Company and taken to Burmha, the oly one who went him was a Hindu courtier. He was cremated in Motia Burj, where Wajid Ali was brought back.
Even today, the harmony is visible. Left to them the 25 year old dispute will be resolved in no time. But that the politicians’ won’t like.
I tried to argue. On the narrow road which leads to the disputed site, not more than 10 jawans could stand in one line. Confronting them would be two lakh Ram Lalla ki Jai shouting ochre-robed Swamis and a mass of two lakh karsewaks ready to die for Ram. Firstly I said no one will order to fire at Swamis, but even if some commandant did, would jawans open fire at persons in the front who their mothers always described as Holy men.
Kalyan Singh was however not convinced and said he had something up his sleeves and he was hopeful that the dispute would be resolved before things went out of hand.
Singh’s proposal was, the temple will be built at the site and a grand mosque two km away. He said along with the mosque, a madarssa, and unani medical centre will also be set up. And then he added that he would carry first bricks on his head for the mosque and Shahbuddin would likewise carry first bricks for the foundation for the Temple. “What can be more secular.” Of course Shahbuddin had no time for such compromises. His solution was more damaging to the social, balance. And according to Arun Nehru, who was then Internal Security Minister his plan was seditious but he cowered down when that the government had come to know of his plan. The rest is history.”
The resolution of the problem is rather difficult, because it is caught between politics, religion and petty communalism. The Sunni Board is adamant and in the present mood it is unlikely to endorse any compromise. The only way left then is to let the hearing start and wait for the decision of the three-judge Bench headed by the Chief Justice.
But here politics enters. The Congress Party fears that if the apex court allows Ram mandir to be built at the site, it will swing votes of millions of grateful Ram bhakts in favour of the BJP in the election in 2019. The Sunni Board is additionally worried that the BJP is in power both at the Centre and the State.
This led to political and not legal slugfest in the preliminary hearing of the case in the three-judge Bench. Kapil Sibal, the former Congress minister and advocate for the Sunni Waqf Board was at his aggressive best and demanded the formation of a bigger Bench and that the case differed until the 2019 election. In fact he and the lawyer for another Muslim outfit questioned the ‘hurry and the timing’ for opening the case now. Obviously, they meant the election in Gujarat. ‘Why was it not heard earlier? Why suddenly now?’ And then he said the case will decide the country’s future..’ and there was also a hint that secularism was under threat.
Does it mean one leaves the title undecided and let it fester like gangrene. And how does the decision on title to a property affect secularism?
One wonders if the Congress and Muslim outfits will let the dispute settled ever. Unless the whole site is awarded to Sunni Waqf Board, which will be gross injustice.
The best thing would be unmindful of what might be transpiring in the Court, Yogi presses on his plans to restore Ayodhya to the glory and prestige, we read it in Dasrath’s era. Let not only the Ram Bhakts but genuine Indian feel proud. Like Varanasi let Ayodhya be on the world map.
Forget about politics and pseudo-secularism, remember the rhythms of the religious town of Ayodhya continue as they have for millennia. It was a sleepy little town, but has been woken up by Yogi.
He has over four years to fulfil the dream of not only the Hindus but Muslims in Ayodhya. True, for they live in the present in the Ayodhya of the past.
By Vijay Dutt