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