Let Ram be our unifier and liberator
by Punarvasu Parekh on 18 Nov 2019 4 Comments

Mahant Avaidyanath was prophetic when he said “Ayodhya mein Ram mandir ka nahi, Hindu rashtra ka shilanyas hua hain,” after Rajiv Gandhi allowed the foundation-laying ceremony to be performed at the Ram Janmabhoomi complex in late 1989. The last millennium opened with wanton destruction of Hindu temples at the hands of fanatic invaders. In a fitting preamble to the Hindu renaissance, the current one has opened with the successful culmination of a centuries-old struggle to restore one of the holiest among them. Happily, the success has been unambiguous, peaceful and legally sanctified.   


The Supreme Court judgment in Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Mosque case is arguably the most important verdict in the history of independent India. No other judgment has had or is likely to have such far reaching influence on our society and polity. It is also among the best judgments delivered by any Indian court. It has settled a dispute that traced its origins to the medieval ages, had been a festering sore in the body politic through centuries and threatened to tear apart the social fabric of the country.


It is to the eternal credit of the Supreme Court that it decided such a complicated case in an unequivocal manner and through a unanimous judgment. If even one judge had dissented, the whole bench would have looked polarized, seriously eroding the credibility of the judgment. While all five judges share the credit, special mention must be made of Chief Justice Ranjan Kumar Gogoi for his initiative, drive and determination to see the case through without compromising the rights of the parties to present their case.   


A mere title suit on the face of it, the Ayodhya dispute at a deeper level raised profound issues related to the legal sanctity of religious faith and belief, cultural content of Indian nationalism, nature of Indian society, interpretation of Indian history and, above all, the role and direction of the Indian State.


For this reason, there was a strong view that the matter should not be left to the courts to decide, but resolved through negotiations or legislative process. In retrospect, however, it is just as well that the solution has a stamp of approval of the highest court of the land. In any negotiated settlement, the parties would have been vulnerable to charges of naivety, intimidation or sellout. A law passed by parliament could have been viewed as a majoritarian act.


The Hindus have won not just a title suit, but vindication of their age-old faith, a 500-hundred-year old struggle to reclaim one of their holiest shrines and a symbolic but significant reversal of the tide of Islamic iconoclasm that led to the destruction and desecration of thousands of temples, small and large, across the sub-continent.


Ram, and not the temple, was the core issue from the beginning. The Ram Janmabhoomi movement was an expression of the collective consciousness of the Hindu ethos, a struggle for their cultural resurgence and national identity. Was Babri mosque a deep wound in India’s bosom, a symbol of humiliation at the hands of a fanatic invader or was it part of “our composite cultural heritage”?


Before one answers this question, one runs into several others: is India the repository of a great ancient civilization or is it a ‘nation in the making’; are Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana and Mahabharata treasures of the spiritual heritage of the Indian nation, or merely old texts highly regarded by ‘a section of the population’; are Ram and Krishna symbols of India’s nationhood, or are they mythological figures revered by some sections of a community; was Babur a fanatic foreign invader who inflicted a deep wound on the nation by destroying the Ram Janmabhoomi Temple at Ayodhya, or just one among the many kings who ruled India in the medieval era; were Rana Pratap and Shivaji heroes fighting alien rule, or rebels against a central authority? Finally, do Hindus constitute the national society, or are they just one of several communities inhabiting India?


The Supreme Court cannot address these issues and has not ventured to do so; but it has created an opportunity for modern India to find answers to these questions. Citizens have shown great maturity in receiving the judgment. No chest thumping, no victory processions, no taunting or abusing by one side; no wailing, self-pitying, breast beating or victim playing by the other. Not a single untoward incident has been reported; only a quiet, dignified acceptance of a verdict by the highest court of the land.


The self-styled “eminent” leftist “historians” stand thoroughly discredited and exposed. They must bear the largest portion of blame for all the violence and bad blood related to this dispute in the last three decades. With their lies and distortions of the history of the place, they misled the Muslim leadership, prompted it to take a hardline and effectively prevented an amicable solution which looked possible in the late 1980s.


There have been some discordant noises by the usual suspects. We respect their democratic right to dissent. Some allege that the Court has placed faith above facts, that it has succumbed to the majoritarian impulse of the ruling elite and has conferred a veneer of legality on the fait accompli presented by rowdy kar sevaks.


This is not true. Yes, the Court said, “once the court has intrinsic material to accept that the faith or belief is genuine and not a pretense, it must defer to the belief of the worshipper. This, we must do well to recognize, applies to across the spectrum of religions and their texts, Hinduism and Islam among them. The value of a secular constitution lies in a tradition of equal deference.” However, it also added that, “the court cannot adopt a position that accords primacy to the faith and belief of a single religion as a basis to confer both judicial insulation as well as primacy over the legal system as a whole.”


Since faith and beliefs of all religions are entitled to equal respect in law, they cancel each other out when they conflict. Then the judgment must rest on factual evidence. This is what the court has done in the present case by applying principles of adverse possession, law of limitation and general rules of evidence to ascertain whose version is more cogent, consistent and probable. In a bid to do complete justice, it used special powers under Article 142 to order grant of five acres of land at a prominent place in Ayodhya for a mosque to compensate Muslims for loss of a religious place.


Some commentators have accused the court of inconsistency and self-contraction. If Muslims were wrongly deprived of a 450-year old mosque through its demolition in December 1992, as the court has said, how can it go ahead and hand over the entire disputed area to the perpetrators of demolition? Some leaders have said, “our fight was for mosque and not for five acres of land in charity.”


What now? There is some loose talk about other sites, but the law of religious places passed by Narasimha Rao government in 1994 froze the status quo at all places except Ayodhya. More importantly, the general mood among Hindus is to build a grand temple in Ayodhya and get along with other pressing problems of life.


However, Hindu organizations should focus on liberating major temples from government control. They should fight for the right of Hindu communities to establish and manage religious and educational institutions of their choice.


Indian Muslims should bury the past by dissociating from the actions of empire builders, and not fall into the trap of becoming accessories and apologists for their crimes. In fact, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was an ideal opportunity in this regard; it was missed because of aggressive posturing by some intellectuals and wanna-be leaders.


No matter. People seem wiser now. Ram united the royalty and laity of his kingdom with tribals in forests and mountains in distant lands; he never felt estranged from the brother for whom he lost his kingdom. Ram will liberate us from the burden of the past and lead us to Ram Rajya.


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