The inauguration of the Divya Ram Mandir in Ayodhya after decades of effort has been celebrated by Hindus all over India and abroad.
However, as voices over Kashi and Mathura get louder, which too are stark reminders of Islamic iconoclasm, Hindus must think strategically and sensibly keeping Indian and global realities in mind.
The attacks on Ram devotees in some parts of the country and the dark statements by some clerics remind us that we have to deal with the sentiments of over 200 million Muslims in India too.
That the Ram Mandir was obtained through a legal process, and the same processes have begun in Mathura and Kashi too, does not seem to matter to large segments of the Muslim intelligentsia.
The real issue is a refusal by mainstream Muslim opinion to even acknowledge that Islamic iconoclasm destroyed many temples. Barring a few notable examples like K K Mohammed, who was part of the Ayodhya excavations, there is no widespread acceptance by the Muslim community that this open sore in Hindu-Muslim relations cannot be healed without an acknowledgement of the truth.
Some well-meaning Muslims had suggested a voluntary gift of the Ayodhya land in order to help the community gain the moral high ground, and some have even suggested similar gifting of the contested spaces in Kashi and Mathura, but the ulema and mainstream 'secular' opinion do not apparently agree.
In fact, the Muslim who suggested this gifting cannot even reveal his identity. The furthest some intellectuals are willing to go is to say that some temple destruction may have happened in 'mediaeval' times, but steer clear of any suggestion that Islam had anything to do with it.
Hilal Ahmed, writing in The Times of India on 22 January, says that the Supreme Court decided the Ram Mandir case on “legal technicalities”. He does not refer to the destruction of temples in the past as being the result of Islamic iconoclasm.
He refers to them as the “conventional Hindutva position on desecration of Hindu temples in mediaeval India". Indirectly, he implies that the desecration was some kind of universal mediaeval phenomenon, and not Islamic in particular. And this when iconoclasm is one of the defining features of Islam.
Clearly, the primary challenge before Hindus, the Bharatiya Janata Party/Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh parivar and the Union government is to engage with many of the leaders of the Muslim community — and not just the clerics — to explain why acknowledgement of the past is important for progress on communal relations.
They need to be assured that today’s Muslims had nothing to do with temple destructions, but if there is no acknowledgement of the harm done in the past, tensions cannot be eased and everyone will suffer. More importantly, the economic upliftment of Muslims will find no broad support among the majority community.
So what should the government really do?
First, it must prepare a panel of credible historians and public intellectuals to engage with both the local Muslim leadership and non-Muslim political influencers abroad to explain what exactly happened in the past, and what is being done now. They must emphasise that this is not about exacting revenge for the past, or making today’s Muslims in India pay for the sins of their ancestors, but to give some closure to the Hindu community too.
Second, the case for a History, Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been suggested by many, including this writer, and one of the Supreme Court judges who authored the article 370 verdict last year, but the issue really is a refusal to acknowledge the truth.
In an article written for The Times of India, Rahul Pandita, a Kashmiri Hindu whose community was driven out of the valley by jihadi groups, came to a dismal conclusion. He said that “in Kashmir’s context, truth and reconciliation won’t go together”. He explains that reconciliation based on truth can happen if the perpetrator at least acknowledges that some harm was done by him or his community.
Even assuming no apology needs to be given, this acknowledgement is key. But if this can’t happen even in Kashmir, where all the incidents happened within living memory, and with many eyewitnesses around, how will it happen with past history, where there can be contested truths?
If the Ram Janmabhoomi issue cannot be decided on the basis of historical evidence even in the courts, how can any Hindu-Muslim tussle over religious sites be settled amicably?
Unlike K K Mohammed, who is willing to personally do penance for past crimes of temple destruction, this is not the case with mainstream Muslim leaders.
Third, and this follows from the above two points. If acknowledgement is not likely, and we still cannot convince Muslims in general of the real issues standing in the way of their progress, what must we do? Is there a third way?
It should be possible to work out compromises without acknowledgement of past iconoclasm, as long as there is willingness to negotiate the handover of Kashi and Mathura in return for a promise of no further claims from the Hindu side.
Only the BJP, RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishad can guarantee this, and not any government. After all, what do Muslims benefit beyond obtaining vicarious pleasure by squatting on religious sites that the Hindus value more?
Should they not seek a better deal in the bargain, as they did in Ayodhya, where the legal compensation decided by the court has been an even bigger piece of land and donations from many non-Muslims to build a great mosque?
The truth is Muslims in India need to introspect on what their endless passive-aggressive victimhood stance is actually doing to their future. Nowhere in the world have Muslims introspected on the past, and never have they acknowledged past oppression of non-Muslims, unlike the Christian church. It would be great if this reform and reconciliation movement begins in India, where over 200 million Muslims live.
Global and Indian Islam are headed towards a dead-end if they do not rethink their ideological premises.
Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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