If the BJP and the Sangh know what is good for the country, they should open negotiations in good faith with the Shia Board, and invite the others to take part.
It should also accept C J I Khehar’s offer to lead the mediation. If it succeeds, Hindu-Muslim relations will be better than ever.
If it is sabotaged, either by Left or Right, more strife lies ahead.
The Shia Central Wakf Board has, for the first time, given India a genuine chance to rebuild Hindu-Muslim trust.
In an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court bench which is hearing an appeal against the Allahabad High Court judgment that gave two-thirds of the disputed land to Hindu parties and the rest to Muslims, the Shia Wakf Board makes a refreshing break from the past. It clearly says that Hindus should be allowed to build a Ram temple where the Babri Masjid stood, and the Muslims can build their mosque some distance away to avoid future conflicts.
Additionally, it has called for a negotiated settlement rather than a court verdict, headed by a former chief justice. The outgoing Chief Justice, J S Khehar, had offered to play a part in this at an April hearing. His term ends on 27 August, when Dipak Misra takes over as the new Chief Justice of India.
In a break from past Muslim stand, the Shia Wakf Board specifically told the Supreme Court in an affidavit that the masjid should be shifted so that the “most revered place of birth of Maryada Purushottam Sri Ram" can house a temple, The Times of India reports.
More significantly, the board claimed that the Sunni Central Waqf Board should be kept out of negotiations since it was run by “hardliners” who don’t believe in compromise and also have “no stakes in the case”.
It should have been obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense that no court verdict can solve the problem. The Allahabad High Court went beyond legalities to get the two sides to compromise by offering a 2:1 land division solution where the temple could be built where Lord Ram was supposed to have been born, and the masjid in the other territory. This would have saved face for both sets of litigants, but the hardliners went in for an appeal.
It is difficult to see how any verdict, whether in favour of Hindus or Muslims, is going to end the enmity between two communities. The key players ensuring this stand-off are the Left historians and hardliners in the Sunni camp.
As I had noted earlier, K K Muhammed, a former regional director of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), clearly said that Left historians were behind sabotaging peace talks before the masjid was brought down in December 1992. In his book Njan, Enna Bharatiyan (I, an Indian), Muhammed says: “The Babri issue would have been settled long ago if the Muslim intelligentsia had not fallen prey to the brain-washing by the Leftist historians. A set of historians, including Romila Thapar, Bipin Chandra and S Gopal argued that there was no mention of the dismantling of the temple before 19th century and Ayodhya is a Buddhist-Jain centre. They were supported by historians Irfan Habib, R S Sharma, D N Jha, Suraj Bhan and Akthar Ali”.
Romila Thapar more or less bore out this attitude of the Left when she wrote in The Hindu after the Allahabad verdict of 2010 that it was a “political judgment” that privileged Hindu faith and belief over historical truth. She said: “The verdict has annulled respect for history and seeks to replace history with religious faith. True reconciliation can only come when there is confidence that the law in this country bases itself not just on faith and belief, but on evidence.”
No problem with this formulation, but Thapar herself dismisses the evidence produced by ASI teams after excavations ordered by the Allahabad High Court showed that a 12th century temple existed under the Babri structure. Thapar dismisses this evidence as disputed by other professionals.
Her faith in historians who disputed the ASI’s findings is touching, given that they repeatedly shifted their opinions based on circumstances. In her book, Rama and Ayodhya, historian Meenakshi Jain notes that “initially, they (the Left historians) asserted that the disputed structure (the Babri Masjid) was constructed on a spot that was neither a place of worship, nor the site of any previous Hindu religious structure, nor was there any evidence to associate it with the birthplace of Rama. However, as the ASI excavations (ordered by the court) progressed, ‘a marked change’ in their approach became evident. Some archaeologists appearing on behalf of the Sunni Wakf Board tried to ‘set up a new case’ that there appeared to be an Islamic structure below the DS (disputed structure).”
And when the ASI’s digging revealed several pillars of a Hindu temple under the Babri ruins, they shifted the argument again and said Ayodhya was a site of Buddhist-Jain influence – a transparent attempt to drive a wedge between Hindus and Buddhists.
Two villains emerge from this background: the Left historians, and the Sunni Wakf Board, which has taken a more extreme position on the masjid than the Shia Wakf Board.
Given the antipathy of India’s Left and “secular” intelligentsia to the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the centre and Uttar Pradesh government under Yogi Adityanath, it is far from certain that the hope generated by the Shia Board’s conciliatory stand will be built on.
If the BJP and the Sangh know what is good for the country, they should open negotiations in good faith with the Shia Board, and invite the others to take part. It should also accept C J I Khehar’s offer to lead the mediation. If it succeeds, Hindu-Muslim relations will be better than ever. If it is sabotaged, either by Left or Right, more strife lies ahead.
No court can end rancour between two communities by just sticking to the law. Good relationships are based on compromise and good sense in addition to the law.