Continuing politicking around the Babri Mosque controversy

The historical Babri Mosque in India was built by Babur, the Mughal emperor, in 1528. The first recorded conflict about whether the site in Ayodhya where this mosque stood was the birthplace of the mythological Hindu god, Ram, took place in 1853. In 1949 a statue of ‘Lord Ram’ mysteriously found its way into the Babri mosque, soon after which the courts shut down the mosque, declaring it ‘disputed property’. And in 1989 the BJP-VHP combine laid the foundation stone for a temple at the ‘disputed site’. The Muslims, meanwhile, had constituted the Babri Mosque Coordination Committee to reclaim the ‘disputed’ place of worship. But even as the case came before the Supreme Court, the BJP-

VHP-RSS combine called for Kar Seva [Voluntary Labour]. Thousands of these Karsevaks (voluntary labourers) swarmed over the Babri mosque and razed it in broad daylight on December 6, 1992. Thus was the 464-year old Babri mosque martyred by the Brahminist usurpers in India.

For 10 years the Muslim leadership in India has been virtually begging for the reconstruction of their pride and their mosque. Neither the judiciary nor the government has been able to settle the issue by democratic or judicial norms. Apart from crushing the Muslims’ hopes, the usurpers have used the Babri mosque issue to its full potential for electoral gains. No doubt the Babri mosque/Ram temple dispute, has been the basis of BJP’s and its allies’ electoral successes in recent years.

On 6 March this year the five-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court heard the “Contending Parties” on the central government’s plea to vacate its interim order of March 2002, banning religious activity of any kind on the government-acquired ‘disputed’ land in Ayodhya. Clearly the BJP-led government at the centre intended to boost its electoral prospects for forthcoming elections. Babri Mosque has thus arguably been the reason for its electoral success.

In another dramatic development, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court on March 5 directed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to undertake excavation at the ‘disputed’ site in Ayodhya to ascertain whether a temple had existed where the Babri Mosque was built. The Court also made it clear that the excavation should be carried out without disturbing the “makeshift” Ram temple or affecting the rights of the devotees visiting the ‘disputed’ site. The Court, however, did not justify the existence of a make-shift Ram temple on the ‘disputed’ site, nor clarify the ‘rights’ of Muslims on the ‘disputed’ land. The Court also directed the ASI to employ experts for the excavation and asked Tojo India Vikas International (TIVI), a New Delhi-based Canadian company, which had carried out a detailed study of the ‘disputed’ site using ground-penetrating radar, to assist the ASI.

Another ‘controversy’ involved in the excavation drama was the award of the labour-contract for the digging to Bajrang Dal-VHP activist K.K. Pandey. No wonder the VHP and the RSS are using the excavation activity to provoke the local public’s interest in the Ram temple issue.

According to the document issued on March 26 by eminent scholars, including medieval historians K.M. Shrimali and Irfan Habib, and archaeologist Suraj Bhan, the ASI lacked competence to conduct rigorous, scientific and impartial excavations. For about 10 years the ASI did not have a professional archaeologist heading it. The ASI reports to the Central government, leading and controlling which are important BJP ministers charged with instigating the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992, including deputy prime minister L.K. Advani and human resource-development minister Murali Manohar Joshi. On April 1 a special court set up to hear the Babri mosque demolition case issued summons to Advani and Joshi, VHP chief Ashok Singhal and five others to appear before the Court on 16 April. Eminent scholars and historians, such as K.M. Shrimali and Irfan Habib, thus argue that, when such ministers “themselves stand accused of having participated directly in the Babri Mosque demolition, no agency [ASI] under their complete control can be held to be above suspicion”.

In a significant ‘discovery’ on April 1, the ASI team undertaking excavation at the acquired land in Ayodhya recovered a piece of green tile with the inscription ‘ALLAH’ in trench number J-6, in which more than two feet of digging had been done. However, Muslim organizations were of the view that they would give up their claim to the ‘disputed’ land and allow a Ram temple to be built, if irrefutable evidences were found during the excavation that a temple had existed at the site before 1528.

The VHP, really the BJP’s cat’s-paw even as it once in a while shows off its ‘independence’, has always admitted the possibility of the Court verdict not being acceptable, and this line of thinking becomes shriller when elections are impending. However, since the excavations began, they have changed moods. On March 27, the VHP launched a week-long “Satyagraha” (strike) in New Delhi, demanding that the government immediately hand over the “undisputed land” in Ayodhya for the construction of a Ram temple. “The temple movement is a matter of faith and identity of millions of Hindus. Therefore, the government should immediately pass a law in Parliament to pave the way for the temple construction”, senior VHP leaders assert. VHP chief Ashok Singhal also emphasised that Hindus could not wait for the Court’s verdict, which might take several years.

Singhal also said that there was no need for any excavation to prove that a Ram temple had existed in Ayodhya. Singhal also mentioned that the lands on which mosques in Kashi and Mathura stand also belong to the Hindus and that the issue needs immediate attention. On March 28, VHP vice president Giriraj Kishore hinted that the temple issue would become the main plank in the forthcoming general elections, and that the VHP would “ensure victory” for any party that supported the temple cause. ” A nationwide campaign would be launched within the next two months, where the VHP activists would approach all MPs, including Muslim Parliamentarians, seeking their support for the temple construction.”

The ‘Babri Mosque-Ram temple’ controversy seems to be boiling up again as the focal point of Indian politics. When did the issue begin to occupy centre stage? When did an unknown political party, BJP, come to occupy central power? Who heard of the BJP before the 1980s? No-one! Heard of the BJP today? Yes, it is the “single largest party” ruling the “world’s largest democracy”. Well, how did BJP, an insignificant political outfit in the early 80s, become the single largest party in the late 90s? From two seats in 1984 to about 200 in 1998? Representation at national level multiplied by 100-fold in less than two decades? Amazing! The secret of its success?

The galloping ‘success’ of BJP in electoral politics is marked by animosity, avarice and brutal misuse of religious sentiments. The leap from minnow to giant in 14 years was a Herculean task indeed. The BJP had to ‘discover’ an electoral catalyst, and it did. The ‘Ram temple’ is the BJP’s trump card. The BJP provoked the illiterate and poverty-stricken masses with ‘religious fervour’. They mesmerised the people with a mythological Lord Ram, and fantasised the tale that Lord Ram was born in the “disputed” land in Ayodhya where the fifteenth-century Babri mosque stood. “Demolish the mosque and build the temple” was the BJP’s electoral cry.

A wave of “cultural nationalism” spread across the country. In effect it was an anti-Muslim wave as well, since the call for “resurrecting” the Ram temple demanded the destruction of the Babri mosque. Marginalizing the Islamic movement in India, demoralising the Muslims, brought about BJP’s thriving electoral success; all took shape on December 6, 1992, when the Babri mosque was martyred. The demolition was no single matter of vandalism. Behind it lies a long history of Hindutva politics that celebrates aggression and violence, declares war against other communities, and scorns legal and democratic norms. The BJP and its allies developed a brutal plan to proclaim its anti-Muslim priorities. The Babri mosque was chosen as a token victim. The ‘Ram temple’ campaign and agitations that followed were designed to demoralise the Muslims and crush the Islamic movement in India.

After 10 years, neither the judiciary nor the government has been able to settle the issue on democratic or judicial norms. There is no sign of trial for those charged in connection with the demolition, and the deputy prime minister, L.K. Advani, is by no means the only instigator to be serving in government. Meanwhile, thousands of Muslims are in jails under the banner of TADA and POTA: India’s draconian and discriminatory “anti-terrorism” laws é since the martyrdom of the Babri mosque.

The BJP has recently been encouraged by the Gujarat election results of December 2002. Ths is not the first time that the Ram temple has been raked up after Narendra Modi (the notorious chief minister of Gujarat) showed what aggressive Hindutva could do to conventional electoral calculations. Modi has demonstrated that there is absolutely no need to be apologetic about brutal Hindutva strategies, and this is the line that will be heard more often during the forthcoming elections in India. Thanks to Modi, from now until the next general elections the Ram temple issue will be kept alive in one form or another by a series of actions by the BJP and co. But again the point remains: the Ayodhya issue remains potent only while it is kept alive, not if it is solved.

What if the temple issue is settled? What will happen to the BJP’s electoral prospects? Well, the Kashi and Mathura sites are always there to fall back upon. And, given the vastness of the country and the vicissitudes of its history, there can be no dearth of disputed places of worship in ‘secular’ India.

Whatever happens, the hibernating Muslim leadership in India hardly dares do anything but beg. The demand for anti-conversion laws, uniform civil code and ban on cow-slaughter; deportation of “infiltrators”, special economic package for Kashmiri pundits, while Kashmiri Muslims continue to suffer the ongoing brutality imposed by the Indian occupation; genocide in Gujarat; are all issues that have meant little to the Muslim leadership in India. Nothing can stop the Narendra Modis and the martyrdom of Muslim pride and security in India, unless the Muslim leadership is reformed and the people enlightened.