An epitaph for a bygone era

November 17, 2019

By handing over Ayodhya to the Ram Temple agitators, the BJP has fulfilled its promises regardless of what the Constitution says

That mild afternoon early December, I was at a school reunion with my friends in Delhi. While we hadn’t heard of air pollution in those days, the air was toxic even then. An old classmate who had an RSS background came in jumping and taunting; ‘Babri Masjid’s first dome is gone’, he said. Though shocked, I refused to believe him. It was late in the evening at another friend’s home that we saw Narasimha Rao, the Indian prime minister then, announcing that the mosque had been demolished. Demolished by over a hundred thousand people mobilised the BJP agitating for a Ram Temple in its place who had also besieged the city and the mosque. The BJP was ruling Uttar Pradesh then; despite heavy police presence and Chief Minister Kalyan Singh’s assurance to the National Integration Council that the historic (almost 500-year old) mosque wouldn’t be demolished, the unthinkable had happened. The country-wide riots that ensued cost us thousands of lives, especially in Mumbai where the violence continued for over three months.

27 years down the line, the Supreme Court of India has officially handed over that site to the Ram Temple agitators almost putting an end to an agitation which had gotten a renewed life since 1980s with BJP and its multiple outlets including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal and overall the RSS, their parent organisation leading from the front. The key observations of the five-judge bench that was unanimous in its verdict are as follows:

First, from 1885 onwards there had been rulings to maintain the status quo of the site: At the beginning, the outer precinct was given to the Hindus, the inner precinct to the Muslims where the latter continued to offer prayers. Then, in 1949 when a bunch of Temple supporters claiming that Rama’s birth place was exactly inside the inner sanctum of the mosque placed idols of Ram and Sita overnight, due to this the Court was forced to rule in favour of the new status quo. Finally in 1992, when the Mosque was completely destroyed and a makeshift Temple was built in its place where devotees would offer their prayers, the new court ruling was in favour of the third (revised) status quo – until the final resolution came in on the 9th November’s ruling. Each time, the original claimants of the mosque were further pushed to accept an ever-changing status quo, which continued to weaken their position.

Second, the Supreme Court also accepted that both the acts of forced placing of idols inside the mosque in 1949 and the destruction of the same in 1992 were illegal.

Third, the verdict accepted that there was no evidence that the mosque built by Mir Baqi, one of the generals of the Mughal ruler, Babur, in 1526, was built after the destruction of a pre-existing Ram Temple. It, however, accepted an unsigned note as an epilogue of a report submitted by the Archeological Survey of India that there was some evidence of an un-Islamic structure underneath the mosque.

Fourth, while beginning the long 1,054-page verdict, the ruling placed the premium on evidence versus faith but while pronouncing the final verdict, it finally gave precedence to ‘faith’ over evidence, giving the entire piece of disputed 2.77 acres land to the temple agitators, while allocating 5 acres to those demanding the mosque elsewhere in the city as compensation. It is interesting how for a long time organisations like the VHP had already been saying that there was no room for either the court or ‘evidence’ in this entire agitation as it was a matter of ‘faith’ that Lord Ram had indeed been born at that site. This leaves ample scope for now all kinds of usage of ‘faith’ in legal jurisprudence opening a veritable Pandora’s box.

Fifth, going further ahead it asked the government to build a temple through the formation of a Trust including the litigant parties from the side of temple. An unprecedented move, where the state for the first time, has been asked to shift its position from being a neutral arbiter to act as an agent on behalf of one party, the party which has the full backing of the BJP, which as of now, runs the government, this time both national and the state. In other words, a legal sanction to a faith-based ruling has to be operationalised not just through state overseeing it, but actually implementing it. And that is the final marker in this episode where all the fine lines between the Ram Janmabhoomi supporters and various state institutions seem to have become completely blurred. And it is not coming as a surprise now that it was the RSS and the BJP which were appealing for calm and peace much before the ruling was declared.

So, what are the implications now for a self-declared secular democracy that is India, supposedly giving equal rights to all its citizens regardless of their faith? In the immediate run, the three successive moments in the aftermath of the BJP government that came to power in May earlier this year, passing of the Triple Talaq Bill (which banned Triple Talaq among Muslims and made it a criminal offence), removal of Article 370 giving special status to Jammu and Kashmir (India’s only Muslim majority state) and now the ruling in favour of Ram Janmabhoomi, send the signal to BJP’s core vote bank that the party has fulfilled its promises regardless of what the Constitution says. In the long run, it’s just another episode in the life of a country which needs to come out of its ‘trance’ (to use Hanna Arendt’s evocative phrase) sooner or later. In lyrical terms, it reminds me of Naseem, a lovely film made by Saeed Akhtar Mirza in the aftermath of the destruction of Babri Masjid, where a gentle poet departs this world as the news of the destruction of the mosque finally trickles in.

The author has been in the development sector professional based in Delhi. He may be reached at: [email protected]

How India dealt with Babri Masjid and Ram Temple issue