I HAVE not been able to make out why the ruling Congress has been inactive when it could have taken the initiative in bringing the two communities, Hindus and Muslims, together to discuss the Babri masjid-Ram Janambhoomi dispute after the Allahabad High Court judgment. It has opened a window which still remains ajar after five weeks.
If the opportunity is not exploited, the parties concerned will meander to Supreme Court in appeal. Central minister for Minorities Salman Khursheed has said that the judgment has made the ground smoother. But both the party and the government have remained distant.
The consideration before the Congress may be the same old fear of annoying one community or the other and losing votes. The problem is too big to be trivialized or politicized because the Lok Sabha election is more than three years away.
The reason why I am appealing to the Congress is the clout it enjoys for being in power at the centre. The party has also better credentials on secularism than the BJP. If the Congress were to try to sort out the dispute, it would be taken seriously. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that the Babri masjid was demolished when the Congress was in power at Delhi.
I wish the BJP had been less aggressive. The judgment has given Muslims on third of the site. Without their cooperation, no mandir can come up there. Moreover, the nation wants a peaceful solution, not threats of ever-growing dispute. The RSS did well to stop L.K.Advani from going ahead with another yatra. He does not seem to be repentant over the killing of hundreds of people in the wake of yatra 18 years ago.
I have not met any Muslim who does not feel that the judgment was unfair to the community. Now his fear is that some other mosques may be targeted soon. Already some Hindutva votaries have threatened to demolish the mosques which have stood by the side of temples in Mathura and Varanasi for centuries.
When the Babri masjid was demolished in 1992 the Muslims knew that they would not get back the mosque site. Yet they went to the court to claim ownership. They probably thought that by doing so they would warn the Hindutva elements not to repeat what they did to the Babri masjid.
Today they are undoubtedly angry but feel helpless. I can see a lot of activity in the community to discuss what it can do. I wish it had made a joint platform with Hindus and Sikhs who were horrified to see on television screens the pulling down of the masjid, stone by stone. Together they could have made an issue beyond the Muslim community and turned it into a point to reassert the country’s ethos of secularism.
I have not liked the speeches by some Muslim leaders. One went to the extent of saying that the Muslims had lost because they were not powerful. He appealed to the younger generation to build up power. Such speeches only arouse passions and evoke equally strong words from the other side. They do not sort out the issue.
The Hindus must realize that the problem is deeper than the loss of the Babri masjid. Muslims, who have been living under suspicion and bias after partition, are losing faith in India’s claim to be a secular society. How to give them confidence is the nub of the problem.
Parliament enacted in 1993 a Place of Worship Bill to lay down that the temples, mosques, gurdwaras, churches and synagogues would stay as they exited on the Independence Day on August 15, 1947. The courts were barred from entertaining any dispute relating to places of worship. The Babri masjid could not be included because a case on its ownership was already pending before the Allahabad High Court.
That law should be incorporated in the constitution so that the Muslims feel more confident. Also the two houses of parliament should pass a resolution to buttress the constitutional guarantee to the Muslims. They constitute the largest minority, 16 per cent, in the country and cannot be allowed to go into shell or become sullen. If they continue to stay alienated, India should forget the growth rate beyond 9 per cent.
I recall Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee asking late President R Venkatraman to have a dialogue with the community. He asked me to help him. We met several Muslim leaders, Maulana Mujahidul Islam Kazi, who was keen on a settlement. Why we could not proceed very far because the BJP never offered anything specific which we could place before the Muslims.
Again, the RSS and its parivar have to decide whether it wants to begin a new chapter of conciliation with Muslims. If it were to guarantee protection to all mosques since August 15, 1947, as is the law, a settlement is possible. Otherwise, the Muslim community will appeal to the Supreme Court against the judgment. That means the problem may be hanging fire for years. And there is no certainty that the community which loses in the Supreme Court will accept the verdict.
The Hindutva elements should tear a leaf from the neighbouring country of Pakistan. The Gurudwara Shaheed Gunj exists as the Gurudwara at Lahore following the Privy Council’s judgment in 1948. The Islamic state of Pakistan has protected the structure and the sanctity of gurudwara and religious elements have never tried to undo what the highest court had decided.
Once the Muslims feel secure about their worshiping places, they should make a gesture on the Babri masjid. I know the argument that Muslims cannot gift a mosque’s site to anyone. But bigger than this belief are the sense of tolerance and the spirit of accommodation without which the Indian polity cannot stay united. Muslims should, however, have a mosque in the complex near the proposed Ram Temple.
Two judges—one of them was a Muslim—have said in their 2-1 verdict that beneath the mosque was a temple. They have based the judgment on the archeological survey report. They have also given sanction of law to the belief. Many may not like it. But this is the high court’s judgment. The Supreme Court can reject or can uphold it.
Ideally, as I wrote earlier, the site should be left vacant to bear testimony to the murder of our multi-cultural, multi-religious society on December 6, 1992. But the court in its wisdom has given a verdict which tilts towards Hindus.
Muslims should consider giving them the entire site if a constitutional guarantee and Parliament resolution are forthcoming that mosques will stay mosques as they existed on the day of independence. The quality of gesture is in giving, not in taking.