I, Babri Masjid, was built in 1528...
Subjects tend to consider the ruler's will as insurmountable. With the RSS being in power today, nobody had expected Muslims to win the title suit to the Babri Masjid site
On Saturday, I received calls from friends eliciting my opinion on the Supreme Court's judgment awarding the disputed site, where the Babri Masjid had stood in Ayodhya until December 6, 1992, for building a Ram temple. I narrated to each the story about a nawab in Lucknow, who was having a shave when a messenger rushed in to announce the news about the death of India's former Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow. The nawab contemplated for a few minutes before muttering, "Angrez hain, kuchch bhi kar sakte hain (They are English, they can do anything.)"
This apocryphal story provides a glimpse into the psyche of subjects. They think the ruler's will is insurmountable. Death must take his permission. Even the sea can be made to part, as it did for Moses. Who is the hunter, who the hounded?
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh spearheaded the movement to appropriate the Babri Masjid site, which its leaders claimed was precisely the spot where Lord Ram was born. It is they who are in power today. Believing that the ruler's will is insuperable, nobody had expected the title to the disputed site to be awarded to the Muslim litigants. Yet there was a lingering hope of the judiciary pronouncing a judgment that could have enabled both sides to claim victory.
The sea then parted – and how.
There was relief for Mughal emperor Babur and his general, Mir Baqi, who had been accused of demolishing a temple to build the Babri Masjid. This had been the foundation of the Sangh's Ram Janmabhoomi movement, which spawned a new category of citizens called Babur ki aulaad, or Babur's children, who were portrayed as implacably opposed to Hindus. The relief for Babur came because of the court ruling that even though his mosque had been built over a "pre-existing structure" dating to the 12th century and was perhaps of a "Hindu religious origin", the reason for its destruction could not be ascertained. Even its remnants were not used for constructing the Babri Masjid.
From this perspective, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement did involve, to a great degree, the fictionalisation of history, for which the Sangh has a penchant. Yet it has been awarded the disputed site by the Supreme Court, which described the demolition of the Babri Masjid as a "serious violation of the rule of law." The Supreme Court did this because of a "preponderance of probabilities" establishing that Hindus had been worshipping there far longer than Muslims. The phrase preponderance of probabilities, which is the standard of evidence in civil disputes, does not suggest certainty on this score beyond a reasonable doubt. By contrast, the demolition of the Babri Masjid is beyond doubt.
Couldn't the sea have parted for all?
The Supreme Court invoked Art 142, which empowers it to pass orders for "doing complete justice in any cause", to grant five acres of land to Muslims as repatriation for the demolition. Could it have invoked Art 142 to freeze construction of a temple or mosque on the 1,500 square yards on which the Babri Masjid had stood? Could it have declared that neither Muslim nor Hindu litigants had established their title to the disputed site and let the government decide on the fate of the disputed site? Even then, the Modi government would have most likely incorporated the disputed site in its building plan for the temple, but at least the action would not have acquired legitimacy as it has now because of the Supreme Court. Remember, the Sangh's footsoldiers, egged on by their leaders, demolished the mosque.
The plan to build the temple in Ayodhya will soon unfold over the months. Perhaps it will be inaugurated in 2025, which will mark the 100th year of the formation of the RSS. As for the Muslims, the predominant feeling among them is to turn down the five acres granted to them by the Supreme Court. Another school of thought says the community should build a hospital on the five acres to symbolise their opposition to the Sangh's politics of polarisation.
A third school of thought says the mosque should be built on the five acres, in Ayodhya, where a monolith should be erected with an inscription detailing its tortuous history. Perhaps its opening lines could be: "I, Babri Masjid, was built in 1528. It was thought I was built from the rubble of an ancient temple. This was not true. Yet I was demolished on December 6, 1992. I, Babri Masjid, am not what you think." History always generates multiple remembrances.
The rulers have decreed that the Supreme Court's judgment should be harnessed to foster brotherhood. In that endeavour, will the rulers abandon the plan of implementing the National Register of Citizens countrywide or remove the discriminatory provisions of the Citizenship Amendment Bill before enacting it into law? Or will the sea part again?
The writer is a senior journalist
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