K.N. Panikkar


It should be clear to everyone, most of all to the judges who ordered the judgment deferred, that if the issue has defied a solution for a hundred years, no miracle is likely in less than a week.


The Supreme Court of India on September 23 gave a pause to the vexed Mandir-Masjid controversy and the contending title claims to the site made by the Muslim Waqf Board and the Hindu Dharam Sansad, by directing the Allahabad High Court to defer the pronouncement of the long-awaited judgment. Now, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia is set to decide on the matter on September 28.


The learned judges of the Supreme Court, whatever their publicly stated positions, are not so naïve as to believe that within less than a week a solution could be found for the contentious case. It should be clear to everyone, most of all to the judges, that if the issue has defied a solution for more than a hundred years, no miracle is likely to happen within less than a week. All the water that has flowed down the Sarayu river through all these years has not helped Ayodhya to recover the meaning of its name — a place without war. On the contrary, the claims and counter-claims by the parties involved in the dispute have only helped to harden the respective positions, which have spread the hatred and distrust thus generated to the whole country.


Given these facts and the situation, what prompted the judges last week to grant a stay could not be the possibility of an imminent solution. They were probably trying to convey a message to the nation, particularly to those who are party to the dispute, as well as to the government. The case has dragged on for such a long time under the assumption that it could be resolved by the intervention of the judiciary. The court now seems to suggest that it is not the case; a real solution lies in the political domain, with the active participation of civil society.


The salience of the civil suit lies in the fact that it is implicated in the larger issue of the dispute pertaining to the Mandir and the Masjid on which the court cannot really pronounce a judgment, even if it gathered evidence from historians. The government was using the judiciary as an escape route. And the judiciary, instead of dismissing the case, attempted to overreach itself. As far as the civil suit for the title of the land is concerned, it was in fact decided in 1885-86. It was in the post-1857 period when political conditions were fluid that the mahant of Ayodhya constructed a chabutara on the land leading to the masjid and started worship, claiming it to be the janmasthan of Sri Ram. The mahant filed a case in 1885 claiming title to the land, but it was dismissed. So were his appeals to the superior courts. The British officials favoured the status quo, for religious and political reasons.


Record of aggression


The history of the Mandir-Masjid dispute during the post-Independence period is but a record of aggression by Hindu communal forces, and a series of compromises and reconciliation bids by the Central government led by the Indian National Congress, particularly under Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao.


In 1949, Hindu communal forces conducted a seven-day continuous recitation of Ramcharitamanas, which proved to be the precursor to the installation of an idol of Ram Lalla in the mosque. The fact that they got away with the defiance of the state not only emboldened them to indulge in further aggression, leading ultimately to the demolition of the Masjid. During this period, the Sangh Parivar not only organised a series of agitations to mobilise Hindus in the name of Ram but also made preparations for the construction of the temple. It assiduously built up a tempo of aggression, with Uma Bharti and Rithambara leading the charge. The finale of this carefully constructed aggression was the Rath Yatra led by Lal Krishna Advani 20 years ago, which finally led to the demolition of the Masjid in 1992. The demolition was a criminal act according to the laws of the country, as the mosque was a 400-year-old historical monument that the state was committed to protect.


While the Hindu communal forces were engaged in a progressive assault, the state was unable to solve its own political dilemma. The Congress which led the government during this period was committed to secularism in principle, but the party realised that it was not possible to survive without the electoral support of Hindus. As a consequence, the party indulged in secular rhetoric, but followed communal politics in practice. It pursued what has now come to be termed ‘soft Hindutva’. Through this means it hoped to outsmart the Hindu communal forces.


The leader who initiated this disastrous policy was Rajiv Gandhi. He ordered the opening of the locks of the Masjid, thereby permitting Hindus to perform puja inside. He did this in order to steal the thunder from the Hindu communal forces. His successor-Prime Minister pursued the policy of compromise much more vigorously, and ‘officially arranged’ the shilanyas of the temple. The Congress thus became an appendage of communal forces; that is what emboldened a mob to demolish the Masjid, thus inflicting a major blow on democracy and secularism.


Decisive factor


The failure of the Indian state was a most decisive factor behind the act of demolition. As is evident from the account given later by Narasimha Rao, it is clear that the state failed to discharge its duty of protecting the monument. It failed to prevent Mr. Advani’s Rath Yatra, which led to the loss of several lives: everybody knew it would have disastrous consequences. Even after the demolition, the construction of a temporary temple was not stopped. At least now the state can rectify its mistakes by charting out a bold and innovative step in line with the principles of secularism.


The parties to the dispute and those who indulged in violence in the name of Ram are not representatives of India’s Hindus and Muslims. They have no authority to speak on behalf of Hindus and Muslims. They are actually seeking to coerce the members of these communities by claiming to speak on their behalf.


(Dr. K.N. Panikkar is a former Professor of Modern History with Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. He is currently Vice-Chairman of the Kerala State Higher Education Council, Thiruvananthapuram.)


(The Hindu September 27, 2010)

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