December 19, 2000


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Arvind Lavakare

Ayodhya's Original Sinners: Part I

The obstinate obscurants

Cowards, all of them. Cowards --- from Chandra Shekhar to Somnath Chatterjee, from "Maulana" Mulayam to Mamta "Cry-baby", and from Jaipal Reddy to A B Vajpayee. All of them blamed each other in last week's censure motion debate in Parliament on the Ayodhya event of December 6, 1992. None of them had the courage to recall the critical path of the government-initiated negotiations in December 1990; none of them therefore had the courage to point a finger at the truth.

And what was the truth? The truth is that the demolition thing would not have happened but for the above parleys being rendered sterile by i. some obstinate, obscurant Muslim leaders who fled from the last stage of debate and ii. the support given to those Muslims by the pink "historians" packed in Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University. If future history is ever written truthfully, these two sets of people will be found guilty of being the original sinners, the perpetrators of all that befell our nation after the demolition on December 6 of the structure that, be it noted, was acknowledged by the Congress government of India's White Paper of February 1993 as being "commonly known as Ram Janma Bhumi-Babri Masjid" -- not merely Babri Masjid.

Let it also be noted that, according to Appendix V in the above White Paper, a structure called the Ram-chabutra (standing within the courtyard of the disputed structure) was also demolished on December 6, 1992. Hence, worship by Hindus in general of that place was interrupted.

We'll go to the December 1990 negotiations later. The basic fact is that Vajpayee's third "clarification" about his remark on Ayodhya the other day in favour of the Ram temple at the disputed site while respectfully locating the Masjid elsewhere is not a new solution as was believed by some; nor was it ever Vajpayee's solution. It was in fact first brought up by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

From 1986 onwards when the VHP and Bajrang Dal, its youth wing, stepped up their campaign for the construction of a Ram temple on the spot where the Babri building stood, they had not campaigned for the obliteration of the old by the new. What they suggested was that the Babri building be moved to another site, the way the Abu Simbel temple in Egypt was moved out of the way of the Aswan Dam. India had the technology for this kind of operation as was proved when the old Kudavelli Sangameshwar temple in Mehboobnagar in Andhra Pradesh was taken apart and rebuilt 600 metres from the original site to save it from submergence. (The Times of India, January 28, 1990). Vajpayee's BJP only supported the VHP proposal at the political level.

Also little known (forgotten?) is that several Shia Muslim leaders had agreed to this shifting plan. For instance:

  • Ashgar Ali Abbas, general secretary (in August 1990) of the All India Shia Political Conference, is on record as having told a news magazine that "We are in favour of restoring it (the Babri building) to the Hindus because it belongs to them. We would be satisfied with a mosque built from the debris of the existing structure to which Hindus have already given their consent."
  • President of the Indian Muslim Youth Congress was reported (The Indian Express, May 10, 1990) as urging the government to hand the Babri building to the Hindus by means of legislation, arguing that this would go a long way in bringing Hindus and Muslims closer together. He had also protested that Mohammed Azam Khan, labour minister in the UP government of Mulayam Singh, was an office-bearer of the "communalist" Babri Masjid Action Committee.
  • Iqbal Ahmed, member of the BJP state executive, had declared "Ram was our ancestor and construction of a Ram Mandir is the moral responsibility as much of the Muslims as of Hindus."

One alternative solution was to have a new temple that incorporated the existing structure. Another was to let the status quo continue until the judicial apparatus gave its final verdict in the long-pending suits filed over the ownership of the Babri site. The Hindu activists contended that the matter of ownership could not be decided by a law court because the Babri compound had been decided by Muslim invaders who legitimised their conquest of Ayodhya. Their view was strengthened on November 9, 1989 when a three-judge bench of the Allahabad high court -- called to clarify which plots precisely were under dispute -- observed "it is doubtful that some of the questions involved in the suit are soluble by judicial process."

To the Babri structure campaigners all compromise proposals were anathema. Their stand was "How could a Muslim see his mosque defiled by the presence of idols and idol worshippers?" The biggest concession that they were willing to make is that a Ram temple could be constructed next to the masjid.

That was not acceptable to the Hindu activists who held that that there was a Ram temple on that very site before it was destroyed by the Muslims in 1528, that there is a genuine tradition which considers the site as Ram's birthplace where precisely Hindu worship has been going on for countless long years since before the Muslims came and even after. Whether Ram was born there or not, it was the people's belief that had to be accepted just as it was accepted that the Kaaba was built by Abraham as claimed by Mohammed without historical evidence. After all, has anybody ever asked for proof of the Muslim claim that the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem was built over the Prophet's footprint in the rock? Has, again, anybody asked for an attested certificate of Christ's birth in Bethlehem?

On the other hand, court rulings have held that the Babri building was definitely not used as a mosque since December 1949 and, according to inferences, possibly since 1936. And there was that haunting reminder to the Hindus of the 18th March 1886 verdict of the British Judge, Colonel F E A Chamier. In Civil Appeal number 27 of 1885 in district court, Faizabad, that judicial commissioner's assessment was "It is most unfortunate that a Masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus, but as that occurred 356 years ago, it is too late (sic) to remedy that grievance."

The Chandra Shekhar government in fact, attempted that remedy soon after it assumed office in November 1990. Rajiv Gandhi advised it to narrow down the dispute to the specific point whether the Babri structure had replaced a pre-existing Hindu temple -- not necessarily a Ram temple, be it noted. The government decided to hold joint talks between the VHP and All India Babri Masjid Action Committee, AIBMAC. The latter, interestingly, had been formed after the split of the Babri Masjid Co-ordination Committee, BMCC following an ego clash in which Syed Abdul Bukhari, Imam of Jama Masjid, found BMCC convener, Syed Shahabuddin, a difficult man to work with though he had emerged as the leading spokesman for Muslim causes.

The first preliminary meeting between the VHP and AIBMAC took place on December 1, 1990 in the presence of Subodh Kant Sahay, Union minister of state for home affairs, Sharad Pawar, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and Mulayam Singh Yadav, chief ministers of Maharashtra, Rajasthan and UP respectively.

At the second meeting on December 4, 1990, it was agreed that a. both sides should furnish evidence to the minister of state for home by December 22, 1990; b. the minister would make photocopies of the evidence available to the two sides by December 25, 1990 and c. the two parties would meet again on January 10, 1991 for reviewing the evidence.

It was not as though the VHP had till then concealed its evidence. It had, in fact, been put before the public on the basis of findings by archaeologists and scholars. But the JNU historians and Shahabuddin himself had been making points favouring the hard-core Muslim stand but tangential to the central point now pinpointed by the Union government.

The Chandra Shekhar government's announcement of focussed parleys stunned all the pinkos -- the Stalinists and their innumerable supporters in the "secular" English press. Time for intellectual masturbation by "eminent" historians was now over. Time had come for the real thing.

Part II: Cowardly Retreat From the Truth

Arvind Lavakare

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