Beyond Ayodhya’s Watershed
Late Girilal Jain, an intellectual giant who was the editor of the Times of India, was a great advocate of Ram Janmaboomi movement. He never cared for being “politically incorrect” those days. After the demolition of the disputed structure at Ayodhya in 1992, the then Narasimha Rao-led government had promised to “rebuild the Masjid” on exactly the same spot of demolition, Jain had penned this piece, which we have retrived from his archive. The piece was prophetic if we see the final Supreme Court verdict on the issue. We are reproducing the piece.
Muslims Have To Reckon With Realities
An historic opportunity for genuine and long-term Hindu-Muslim understanding offered by repeated and passionate pleas by Hindu organisations for the Ramjanmabhoomi site in Ayodhya has been thrown away. But all is not yet lost. Something can still be salvaged, and a new beginning made.
Amidst widespread riots touched off by the demolition of the ambiguous Babri structure in Ayodhya, it would, on the face of it, appear perverse to suggest that this very development offers us another chance. But this is so, as I hope to show. Of course, certain preconditions have to be met if this opportunity too is not to be wasted. The bloated rhetoric of secularism, constitutionalism and rule of law has to give way to commonsense and realism and the Muslim leadership, such as it is, has to recognise the urgent, indeed desperate, need for a change of course on its part.
The preconditions are tough. The chances are that they will not be met. The Muslim leadership has not shown much capacity for realism at any critical juncture since the battle of Plassey in 1757. This observation applies as much to the 1940 Lahore resolution of the Muslim League in favour of partition as to other critical moves. There have, of course, been exceptions. But men like Maulana Azad have never commanded the allegiance of the community.
Similarly, the dominant ruling elite, especially that in control of the media, are too intoxicated with borrowed ideas and phrases to give up the empty rhetoric of secularism and rule of law. The prospect is that the rhetoric will continue to bloat.
On top of it, we have judges ready to usurp the powers of the executive in their anxiety to prove their credentials and the President of the republic who does not believe that discretion behooves his office better than public or semi-public statements. Even so, one must hope against hope. The apparently impossible does become possible if only once in a blue moon.
A number of points were self-evident long before the demolition of the structure in Ayodhya. First, Muslims could not possibly hope to get the Ramlalla idols removed from there, either on their own, or with the help of the government, and reconvert it into a proper mosque.
Secondly, the denial of that space for inclusion in the proposed Ram temple would keep alive the centuries-old dispute and continue to poison Hindu-Muslim relations.
Thirdly, the stage was past when the issue could be put back into cold storage. However condemnatory one’s view of the activities of the VHP, the RSS and the BJP, they had mobilised Hindu opinion to a pitch unknown in the history of Hindus as Hindus.
Fourthly, a “compromise” solution was not possible in view of the attachment of millions of Hindus to the site called the Ramjanmabhoomi and the Muslim refusal to concede it. Finally, courts could not be particularly useful, however elevated their view of themselves and however great the trust in them of the proponents of the rule of law.
All that notwithstanding, however, it was unrealistic to expect either that Muslim leaders would agree to hand over the site for the proposed temple, or that the government would take it over and transfer it to the VHP, or that it could persuade Muslim leaders to be realistic. My own pleas to both was a case of hoping against hope.
The controversial building is now gone; the government’s “brave” declarations notwithstanding, one must be out of one’s mind to believe that it can ever be rebuilt. The consequences would be too grim even for a Nero, or a Babar or an Aurangzeb, to contemplate though one cannot be too sure about our courts anxious to order the government about.
A Ram mandir already exists on the site, even if a makeshift one. The government’s proposal to rebuild domes appropriate to a mosque on top is too ridiculous for words and speaks of the straits to which it has been reduced. It can, of course get a Ram temple built on the adjoining land and hope that it can then persuade Hindus to shift the idols. But that is moonshine.
Two Ram Temples
The present government can at best begin constructing a temple; it is unlikely to be in a position to complete it. And what if it does? We shall then have two Ram temples side by side, both devalued because neither will be seen as being complete.
In plain terms, Muslim leaders have no bargaining power left. The demolition squad has finally divested them of it, however much most of us (Westernised elite) may denounce the squad. In historical terms, it is immaterial whether or not Muslim leaders acquiesce in some so-called decisions of the government; for in reality, the government is paralysed and is unlikely to regain much room for ma¬noeuvre.
It would still be idealistic to expect Muslims to withdraw their claim to the site. But it is not wholly inconceivable that they can see some light, stop pressing the demand for reconstruction of the ‘mosque’, in course of time allow the claim to the land in question to lapse, and settle for the offer of a mosque around Ayodhya.
A couple of points may be addressed to Muslim leaders. First, it is time they realise that the secularism-pseudo-secularism debate is essentially an intra-Hindu affair. It is, in a sense, a replay, doubtless in very different circumstances, of controversies between modernisers and traditionalists beginning in the early 19th century. When I made this point some months ago, Syed Shahabuddin wrote to me to refute this proposition on the plea that Muslims had a vital stake in the outcome of the debate. It would have been more pertinent for him to say how they could influence the outcome from the position of self-imposed marginalisation and of being objects of wooing (and that too for limited electoral purposes) they had reduced themselves to.
It would appear reasonable to think that this point did not even occur to him. For, I have yet to meet a Muslim who has realised that the description, or treatment, of his community as a “vote bank” is insulting. Similarly, it is not easy to find many Muslims who recognise that Indian nationalism has to be rooted in the Hindu ethos and that those who deny this self-evident proposition are ignoring the dramatic change that has taken place in the Indian scene in recent years, partly as a result of the VHP’s campaign over Ramjanmabhoomi.
Secondly, their own experience in a number of riots in recent years should convince them that they need the goodwill of Hindus which the Congress, decrepit in much of north India, the two communist parties, virtually non-existent beyond West Bengal and Kerala, the various Janata Dals, centred on individuals preoccupied with themselves, can no longer assure for them.
In the hot house atmosphere of New Delhi and South Delhi, a different world even from the old city, certain attitudes and postures prosper. Elsewhere the reality is different. Located in New Delhi, the Union government has become a prisoner of this make-believe world.
By Girilal Jain