“The Supreme Court’s order deferring the delivery of the high court verdict on the Ayodhya case underlines the edginess about the 60-year-old matter, the constant sense of alarm and false alarm. This has more to do with the long burden of bloodied history than any real threat of communal violence. The only fear was that each incident can create its own cycle of events.
The petitioner Ramesh Chandra Tripathi is known to have had a peripheral role in the case, if any at all. He surfaced on September 17, when he asked the Allahabad High Court’s Lucknow Bench to delay the verdict. The court took an adverse view of his petition and fined him Rs 50,000.”
There are three reasons, at least, there won’t be any violence. One, all interested parties know the legal battle will only shift to the Supreme Court. The Uttar Pradesh state machinery has gone into overdrive to drill this message into all and sundry. Police officials have met prominent community leaders and asked for their help in repeating this message. A host of prominent Muslim leaders met in Delhi and issued a press release, asking the Muslim community to stay calm, to not celebrate or protest the judgment, and remember that there is the option of an appeal.
Two, the Sangh Parivar wants peace more than anything else just now. The Ram Janmabhoomi temple is still top of its agenda (for the RSS and the VHP, at least, if not the BJP any more). But, to have a practicable plan to achieve that goal, it needs peace — space and time away from the spotlight. Which is why the Parivar is making tame talk of various parties coming together to pass a law in Parliament to build the temple, something the BJP could not do when it was in power at the Centre. During the course of his three-day stay in Delhi last week, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat insisted to all VHP and BJP leaders he met, that peace is the utmost priority. In fact, he is said to have spent more time discussing Kashmir than Ayodhya. Insiders say the RSS will wait till the aftermath of the HC verdict has gone away before making any plans. This is what VHP leaders are telling their followers.
Three, the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government want to maintain law and order to the point of an obsession. The administrative effort to that end is unprecedented. Anybody who has seen a riot at close quarters knows riots cannot happen when the government is committed to not letting them happen.
If there is any violence — there are fears regarding Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat — the Centre and state governments will act swiftly to contain it. Once the omens of violence have been negotiated, everybody will pay attention to the substance of the judgment. This is a unique case, and the judgment will have farreaching ramifications, regardless of appeals in the Supreme Court against it.
The verdict will tackle about 100 major and minor issues in the four suits that comprise the case. While earlier the case concerned only the inner courtyard where the domes of the mosque stood (the outer courtyard with the Ram Chabootra was with the Hindu akharas), in 1994, the entire plot including the inner and outer courtyards became contested when the Supreme Court met over the Presidential Reference. Will the High Court award the entire plot to one side or another? Or will it go by the divisions that existed when the masjid was demolished?
How the high court interprets the two surveys — the 2002 radar survey and the 2003 excavations of the Archaeological Survey of India — will also draw attention. The latter found remains of structures with features indicating the existence of a north Indian Hindu temple underneath where the Babri Masjid stood. The question is: was it a temple of Ram? This is open to interpretation. Then, the court has been asked to rule on whether this temple was demolished to build the mosque.
THE OTHER evidence includes travel accounts. The VHP emphasises observations of Joseph Tieffenthaler, an Austrian Jesuit, from the 1740s. He mentions accounts of Aurangzeb or Babur razing down the house where Ram was born to “deprive the Gentiles of the opportunity to practise their superstitions”.
The Hindu side gets annoyed by questions raised on Ram, an important deity whose stories are enmeshed in folklore in numerous ways. There is a claim that the worship of Ram began in earnest only in the 16th century. Whether this is true or not, there is always agitation when a matter of faith is tested on scales of science and history. The Sangh Parivar cites the example of the Shah Bano case, in which the Muslim community was not ready to accept a judge’s interpretation.
The Muslim side believes it has been treated unjustly. Their claim is simple: a mosque was wrongfully demolished; they should get the land back. Muslim leaders have said if it is proved that a temple was demolished to make the mosque, they would voluntarily give the land for the temple as the shariat forbids a mosque on contested land. But everybody knows it is nearly impossible to prove the demolition if it happened. In which case, they say, the law of the land should be applicable.
It’s not just the land; leadership on either side is also contested. The Muslim leadership is split into several groups. The quartet of Syed Shahabuddin, Azam Khan, the Shahi Imam and Jawed Habeeb, which was at the forefront in the 1980s, doesn’t see eye to eye now. In fact, Habeeb wrote a letter last month to the Prime Minister, asking for a last-ditch negotiation involving the BJP’s LK Advani and others. Nobody paid attention. The only platform that brings them together is the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB). It has brought a moderate touch; most of the Muslim leaders now say they will abide by the judicial process.
It’s not just about the land; the leadership on both the sides is also contested
The Hindu side, too, is divided. Besides the VHP, there is the Nirmohi Akhada and the Nirvani Akhada, both of the Ramanand sect, which claims Lord Ram’s legacy, and a few others. Since the 1992 demolition, the VHP’s credibility and popularity has dropped. The Nirmohi Akhada’s 1959 suit, moreover, is not for the land but for the management of the shrine, meaning they want the money that comes as chadhawa (offerings).
With about 30 parties in the case, it is difficult to say who represents what. This means anybody trying to talk of an out-ofcourt settlement has to deal with insecure leaders and their aggressive followers. This has impaired talks. Several people have tried to mediate, including Swami Swaroopanand, Acharya Kunal Kishore and Subramanian Swamy. (Swamy is still at it.) As we go to press, there is talk of negotiations breaking out. But VHP and AIMPLB have both denied any scope of negotiations before the verdict.
The irony, though, is in the name. A city dating back to the 10th century BC, Ayodhya means non-combatable in Sanskrit (from yudh, meaning war). And, therein lies the rub.
Photo: Ajay Singh
Illustration: Sudeep Chaudhuri