Rashme Sehgal began her career as a poet-cum-short story writer in 1970s. She then shifted to journalism and worked with several leading newspapers including The Independent, The Telegraph and The Times of India
The falling of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, delivered a seismic shock to the nation’s social equilibrium. These seismic rumblings continue to be felt after the Supreme Court attempted to give legal closure to this divisive religious conflict that has plagued India through the decades. The Supreme Court in a unanimous verdict ordered that a Ram temple be built at the site of a masjid and an alternate plot of land to build a masjid be given to the Muslim community.
Unhappy with the verdict, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has gone on record to state that they will file a review petition against the verdict by December 9. The low key secretary of the AIMPLB Zafaryab Jilani commenting on the Sunni Waqf board decision to accept the judgement said, ‘The Sunni Waqf Board chairman (Zafar Faruqi) does not represent the views of the entire 20 cr0re Muslim population unlike the AIMPLB.’
When questioned that even Muslim intellectuals had spoken out against the filing of a review petition, Jilani snapped, ‘Why, are we not intellectuals? Why should you presume members of the AIMPLB are not intellectuals? We have discussed the judgement in tremendous details and have come to the conclusion that there are major errors in the Supreme Court judgement which we would like to highlight.’
One major error, according to Jilani, is that ‘the idols were illegally brought from the outer chabutra to the central dome of the masjid on the night of December 22, 1949. Then how can these subsequently be given the status of legal entities?’ He also questioned how the court could state that they have been there for hundreds of years.
As these thrusts and counter thrusts continue, there is little doubt that there can be no closure to the Ayodhya tangle simply because the identity and the rise of the BJP is inextricably linked with the Ram Janambhoomi issue and its corollary, the construction of the Ram temple.
The big guns of the BJP have made the construction of the Ram Mandir the central plank in several national and state elections. They are once again trying to make the Ram Mandir the key issue in the coming Jharkhand elections.
Still on Agenda
In his first election rally in Jharkhand, prime minister Narender Modi accused the Congress of delaying the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. Not to be outdone, BJP Home Minister Amit Shah spoke about how his government had facilitated the closure of this six-decade-long dispute with the highest court ordering that five acres of land at an alternate site be given for the construction of a mosque.
While the two prominent Muslim bodies continue to slug it out, how has the average Muslim reacted to the Supreme Court judgement? So far, they have responded with sullen silence. They do not see this as being a case of equitable justice. They also point out how the 27-year-long case against several BJP leaders including LK Advani and Uma Bharati, accused as being responsible for the demolition of the Babri Masjid, continues to drag on indefinitely.
But for them, a matter of much greater concern is Amit Shah’s announcement in Parliament that his government plans to push ahead with the citizenship bill which will link citizenship to religion as far as immigrants/refugees from neighbouring countries are concerned. This is highly discriminatory because while India will provide refuge to Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist immigrants, this will not be the case with Muslim refugees.
Shah also told Parliament that he planned to set in motion a National Register of Citizens which would use 1951 as its cut off date. But as experience has shown, the NRC in Assam has turned out to be a botched up operation which has left 19 lakh applicants out of the loop. A nationwide exercise could deprive millions of their citizenship is what many in the minority community fear. Senior constitutional advocate Rajeev Dhawan who had appeared for AIMPLB, the Sunni Waqf Board and three other Muslim applicants in the Ayodhya case are also pressing forward for a review of the judgement.
‘Muslims have never been responsible for disturbing the atmosphere in the country. Hindus do it.’ Clarifying this statement, Dhawan told a television channel that his earlier remark had not been directed at the Hindu community at large but only Sangh Pariwar since he believed many of these people were involved in acts of violence and incidents of lynching. ‘I am not talking about the Hindu community. I have faith in the larger Hindu community. In Ayodha, the majority of citizens who belong to the Hindu community do not agree with this kind of violence,’ he said.
Muddying the waters has been the recent statement of the chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities chairperson Ghaorul Hasan Rizvi who believes challenging the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya verdict will not be in the interest of Muslims and will “harm” Hindu-Muslim unity. The minority panel chief said filing the review petition would send a message to the Hindus that they were trying to put roadblocks in the way of building the Ram temple. He also urged the Muslim side to accept the five-acre alternative land to be given for a mosque, saying they would be respecting the judiciary by doing so.
Rizvi believes Muslims should come forward in helping to build the temple in Ayodhya, while Hindus should help in the construction of the mosque. This would prove to be a milestone in strengthening the social harmony between the two communities.
‘Review petition should not be filed at all because all sides, including the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, had promised that the verdict given by the Supreme Court will be respected,’ Rizvi said especially since all the concerned Muslim bodies knew only too well that it would be rejected ‘100 per cent’.
‘The common Muslim of this country is not in favour of a review petition because they believe the matter has been settled. So the question is for whom are you filing the petition for? Are you filing the petition to harm the brotherhood and disturb the harmony among the communities? Are you doing this for your personal satisfaction?’ he asked. An unexpected criticism has come from members of the Sikh community who have also expressed their ire at the verdict. They have taken strong objection to their religion being described as a ‘cult’, a word which has a negative connotation. For another, the judgement claimed that Guru Nanak Dev visited Ayodhya to have ‘darshan’ of Ram.
The Shiromani Gurudwara Committee (SGPC) has issued a statement condemning the verdict. The chairman of the SGPC Gobind Singh Longowal went public voicing his displeasure stating that Guru Nanak visited many religious places including Mecca and Ayodhya where he preached and spread the message of one formless god.
The Supreme Court judges have relied on the testimony of one ‘Rajinder Singh’ who claims to have an interest - ‘a person who claims to be having an interest in the study of religious, cultural and historical books of Sikh cult’, without consulting scholars, historians and other experts on this religion.
Kashi, Mathura Baaki Hai
In an attempt to break the deadlock over this Ayodhya tangle, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind head Maulana Syed Arshad Madani met RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in early September. Apart from the many issues discussed, Madani has reported having sought an assurance from Bhagwat that if the Muslims went along with the Supreme Court judgement, the festering issue of the status of the mosques at Mathura and Varanasi would remain undisturbed. Other issues that were discussed were incidents of mob lynching and the setting up of the National Register of Citizens. No one knows what assurances Madani was able to glean from the shrewd Bhagwat since both leaders have remained silent on this score.
But people living in Varanasi and Mathura have frequently expressed their apprehension that the Ayodhya dispute should not be allowed to shift to their cities. During the build-up to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, one slogan the Hindutva brigade often spouted was, ‘Yeh toh sirf jhanki hai, ab Kashi, Mathura baaki hai” (This is only the trailer, now Kashi and Mathura remain). This again was the slogan that thousands of kar sevaks chanted as they left Ayodhya a day after the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.
Muslims in Varanasi are openly apprehensive about the Sangh Parivar’s designs on the Gyanvapi mosque because they are pursuing the same tactics that were employed when the Ayodhya dispute had just started.
A large number of properties were acquired by and demolished by the Kalyan Singh government around Babri Masjid between October 1991 and December 1992. The reason stated for this acquisition was the ‘beautification and modernisation’ of Ayodhya. Several temples were demolished in this beautification spree which included Sumitra Bhawan and Sakshi Gopal temple. The mahants of these temples, Ram Gopal Das and Raj Mangal Das, did raise objections to these demolitions and took up the matter in the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court to little avail. The Sangh Parivar continued to tighten its hold over Ayodhya and all mahants who did not owe their allegiance to the RSS were eased out. Following the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Ram Kripal Das is reported to have disappeared under mysterious circumstances while Ram Mangal Das died an unhappy man.
A recent visit to Varanasi confirmed how a similar game plan is being unfolded in this city. Hundreds of houses, shops and temples have been destroyed so that the powers that be gain full control of the Kashi Vishwanath-Gyanvapi mosque complex. When local contractors and workers refused to demolish these buildings, the government is reported to have brought in contractual labour from Gujarat.
All this work is being facilitated by various departments of the BJP-led state and central governments accompanied by several Hindutva groups who are functioning under the banner of ‘Target Varanasi Project’.
The ostensible claim of the government is that they are going ahead to create a motorable access to the Kashi Vishwanath temple which is why this project is also called the Sri Kashi Vishwanath Corridor.
The redevelopment of these 45,000 square metres of land spread between Manikarnika Ghat and Lalita Ghat is being done under the supervision of the Ahmedabad-based HCP Design Planning and Management Pvt Ltd. The firm was founded by architect Hasmukh Patel, who helped design the Sabarmati riverfront development project.
Vishal Singh IAS, who is CEO of the Sri Kashi Vishwanath Mandir Trust and also secretary of the Varanasi Development Authority responding to accusations that the demolition work led to the destruction of several temples, insists not a single temple has been broken down in order to build the corridor.
Singh said, ‘One of our prime objectives is to restore these temples to their pristine state and once the master plan is finalised, we will float tenders in order to get specialists involved in this restoration bid.’
While it all appears to be smooth on the surface, what is happening in the subterranean domains of the government and within the hydra-faced right-wing Hindu outfits is something only time will tell. No wonder the majority of Muslims in our country are observing a sullen silence.