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18 years on, have we learnt the lessons of Ayodhya?


The Times of India: Najeeb Jung, Sep 19, 2010

The Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992. The act triggered weeks of communal riots and a decade of distrust between Hindus and Muslims, culminating in carnage in Gujarat in 2002. Now, the ghost of the Babri Masjid has been stirring again.

It has taken 60 years for the case to reach a conclusion. That has meant 60 years of Hindu and Muslim unease. The anxiety stems from lack of confidence in the government’s ability to ensure rule of law will prevail. To most right-thinking people the conclusion should be clear. The process of law has been followed and the doors of further legal recourse remain open to the losing party. The bogey of faith or politics have no relevance. But, too often have people got away with breaking the law. Too often have governments been cowed into inaction by powerful groups. This is why it is important that after such a long wait, India is able to accept this judgment with impartiality and equanimity minus the clichés of faith, bullying by numbers and political calculations. The message from the Union government must be unequivocal — the law will be upheld at any cost.

Nineteen years ago, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao fell into the classic trap of doing little else but initiating a backroom dialogue with various parties. Corrupt and inefficient interlocutors often misled him. Rao later said he was misled by the UP government, which claimed it was prepared for every eventuality even as the VHP and others mobilized large numbers of people. The government ignored the cardinal principle of law and order maintenance. Security forces cannot act against thousands of their own people. The numbers allowed to gather in Ayodhya were so large that the police became passive onlookers, and in the midst of passionate speeches and slogan-shouting, frenzied mobs brought down the 16th century structure. Rao’s belief that “no action is also an action” blew up in his face and the nation gasped as large parts of India were sucked into communal riots.

Once again, the governments of India and UP are on the alert. The chief minster has deployed a significant number of forces and asked for more from the Centre. The Union cabinet has met to discuss the possible reaction and the steps to be taken. As for the protagonists, mercifully the Babri Masjid Action Committee, the Muslim Personal Law Board and sundry other Muslim outfits have said they will abide by the verdict. The RSS has also changed its earlier position that this was a matter of faith and bhakti and therefore beyond the jurisdiction of man made courts. It now says that it will allow the sants to lead from the front, irrespective of the verdict, and with the help of legislation if necessary. The VHP’s threatened national agitation has failed to take off to date. By and large there is restraint on all sides.

Clearly, the Union government has to take the initiative to ensure that no one takes the law into their hands. This will require measures that either Rao did not have the courage to choose or chose not to take. One, the UP government must be supported with the maximum possible police and paramilitary power that the Centre can manage. Two, the Union Government must immediately initiate dialogue with everyone involved, making it clear that the doors of legal recourse remain open and no one, simply no one, will be allowed to take the law in their hands. Three, it must be ensured that known undesirable elements in UP and trouble-prone districts in other states are rounded up under preventive sections of the Criminal Procedure Code well before the judgement. Four, it should be made clear to district magistrates and police superintendents that they will be directly responsible for communal incidents in their districts.

The message must be clear — we have suffered enough at the hands of irrational radicals of different faiths. The message to seminaries and temples, to religious leaders of all hues and shades, and to the public at large must be straightforward — we will not allow India to go the way of Pakistan and Iran where religion is scorching the entrails of civil society.

The writer, a former civil servant, is vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2010 in Religion/Indo Pak

 

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Is Babri still relevant? The jury’s out


Vinod Sharma, Hindustan Times

On the cold wintry evening of December 6, 1992, I was working on a routine story at Islamabad’s international telex office. The computer age hadn’t fully arrived in the sub-continent. Punched telex tapes were the best way resident foreign journalists could reach messages back home.

A telephone on the adjoining table came alive with an incoming call. On the line was The Hindu’s Kesava Menon, sounding outraged, unable to say his piece in one go: “Pandit, they’ve done it, they have done the worst.” I couldn’t immediately fathom the alarm. “What’s it?” I stammered. “They’ve brought down the mosque. They’ve razed it to the ground,” he said.

Beads of sweat dripped down my forehead as Kesava hastily hung up. No, I wasn’t scared. I was shattered. My faith shaken in the system, the secular ethos I’d tout to silence Pakistanis prophesying the Babri’s fall at the hands of Hindu zealots.

What was it, I self-questioned, a Hindu-Muslim conflagration or a secular, non-secular divide? The latter argument served better to keep one’s head up in a grossly indefensible scenario. I propounded the theory a day later to the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Liaquat Baloch outside the Indian High Commission, where he stood with a clutch of supporters to submit a protest memorandum.

“Yeh kya karva diya, Sharma,” accosted Baloch on seeing me get off a cab. “I’ve no moral defence for what has happened,” I said. “But it isn’t a Hindu-Muslim issue. It’s a fight for secular and non-secular India in which secularists will emerge triumphant.”

Secularism is a four-letter word for the rabidly right-wing Jamaat. “What rubbish – kya bakwas baat kar rahe ho,” intoned Baloch. “Look at my country and you’d know that leaders who enjoy the trust of Muslims are all Hindus,” I countered, reeling off names ranging from V.P. Singh to Chandrashekhar and Lalu and Mulayam Yadav.

As an Indian journalist, I was part of a minuscule Hindu minority in Pakistan. That helped me understand the value of these leaders, some of whom I’d criticise for their OBC politics that exposed my upper caste moorings to the ire of Mandal-ites and my secular beliefs to the Brahminical BJP’s disdain. I’d often joke that the sangh parivar treated a non-supportive Brahmin the way the Muslim League treated Maulana Azad!

The Ayodhya outrage also brought home the tyranny of numbers that’s minority-ism; the moral high ground our non-denominational secular state could’ve lost to an Islamic Republic with territorial claim on the Muslim-majority Kashmir. But for the retaliatory destruction of scores of functioning and dormant temples in a government-sponsored strike across Pakistan, our country’s name would have been in the mud internationally. The dubious parity kept Islamabad from mobilising the Muslim world to isolate or ex-communicate India.

Replay of 1990s
In 2002, former foreign secretary J.N. Dixit categorised incidents such as the Babri demolition and Gujarat riots as “significant internal threats” to India’s security and territorial integrity. Who could have known it better than him? He led India’s foreign policy while Ayodhya happened and Kashmir was in flames in the early 1990s.

I witnessed Dixit’s discomfiture on being buttonholed by a Pakistani journalist in Islamabad in January 1994 on his earlier comment that India wouldn’t survive if anything were to happen to the mosque. The veteran diplomat took time lighting his pipe before responding. He said the eventuality he apprehended was averted by the “resilience of our people”.

The wheel has since come a full circle. Kashmir’s again in ferment and the Allahabad High Court’s Lucknow Bench ready with its judgment on Ayodhya title suits. “No matter which way the verdict goes, some people will be upset. We’ve seen mobilisation already by various groups,” said a top security official.

He wondered whether it would help talking to parties inclined to use the verdict’s residuum to expand their electoral base. The answer came from Brajesh Mishra, national security advisor to the BJP-led NDA regime. He placed the onus on all sections – the Government, the Opposition, the RSS and the Muslim leadership – to ensure there was no violence, regardless of the verdict against which anybody could appeal in the apex court. “We have a very serious situation in Kashmir and Maoist-affected areas. Vitiating the atmosphere further on another volatile issue will gravely compromise India’s security,” he cautioned

Identity versus aspiration
Is the dispute over a medieval mosque relevant to today’s India that’s sizably youthful and driven more by aspiration than mere identity? Several BJP insiders admit 2010 isn’t 1992. The party retained power in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and to some extent Gujarat, on the development plank, not the slogan of destroying a mosque or building a temple.

Manmohan Singh’s sweat equity in the UPA’s 2009 victory stemmed from his image as the economy’s best available saviour. Rahul’s youthful promise and the mother’s kitchen Sonia Gandhi promoted through the NREGS fetched the Congress-led alliance its winning formula. In comparison, the BJP looked a dowdy minstrel blaring beaten, old bhajans.

Having slipped in popular esteem with the turn of the century, the saffron family evidently considers Kashmir more potent than its other core issues: Ayodhya and the Common Civil Code. L.K. Advani has talked of restraint and Mohan Bhagwat of “the law and the Constitution” in the event of the verdict going against their expectations.

Difficult to say whether the leopard has changed spots. The answer perhaps is in the compulsions of coalition politics. If Bihar’s out of bounds for Narendra Modi, kar sewaks can’t be breaking barricades elsewhere.

The poll records of the past two decades have set the limits of sectarian politics. Even Lord Rama couldn’t help the BJP ever touch the 200 mark. Its best score: 182/339 when the Congress toppled Vajpayee but failed to give an alternative in 1999.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2010 in Religion/Indo Pak

 

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