THE Hindu struggle to recover Sri Ramjanmabhoomi is still some battles and skirmishes away, as all parties plan to approach the Supreme Court to rectify-to the satisfaction of each contending litigant-the fractured verdict delivered by the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court on September 30, 2010. Hence it is dicey to engage in political forecast over whether we are near a solution to this vexed issue. Nor is it advisable to stir the waters at a time when the nation is besieged with complex and volatile problems and nothing will be gained by provoking ill will and unrest.
What is gratifying, however, is that for the first time in the decades since the idol of Ram Lalla appeared beneath the central dome of so-called Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, and particularly since the climactic moment of December 6, 1992, voices have risen within the Muslim community in favour of closure of the dispute. Some of the parties have held meetings to attempt a settlement, and important Muslim religious leaders, notably Maulana Wahiduddin Khan and Maulana Mahmood Madani, MP (Rajya Sabha) have urged Muslims to accept the High Court verdict.
Regardless of the milestones ahead, we may now be able to present some of the issues involved in the Ayodhya dispute dispassionately. Previous attempts by Prime Ministers VP Singh, Chandra Shekhar, and PV Narasimha Rao, to resolve the issue by across-the-table sharing of evidence by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Babri Masjid Action Committee ended in abrupt Muslim withdrawal; now the community seems prepared to face the issue in totality.
Hindu tradition lists the Ramayana and the Mahabharata epics as Itihasa (History); thus, Sri Ram and Sri Krishna are divine historical personages, and not the subject of legend or faith (read imagination)-the argument being used by opponents of the verdict to undermine its legality.
Coming to the material evidence, archaeological investigations in the 1970s showed evidence of a temple; this was validated by a Ground Penetration Radar Survey which showed several pillars below the spot where the so-called Masjid once stood. In 2003, the Court ordered archaeological excavation of the site, which yielded convincing evidence of two temples – one a grand structure build by the Gahadvala dynasty, and an earlier smaller structure that probably made way for the grander temple. The Babri Masjid was built atop the Gahadvala temple and incorporated the pillars of the old temple into its structure – a feature typical of early Muslim architecture in India.
The historical experience of northern India is that since 1000 AD, every Hindu temple has been desecrated, razed, or appropriated; not one stands intact, save those built after the Mughal Empire went into terminal decline and could not be accessed. Hindus then became pro-active about regaining the lost sacred spaces; Akharas were formed and armed sadhus waged pitched battles at several temple sites to reclaim the sacred heritage. Hence the samadhis (graves) of thousands of sadhus at temple sites in northern India.
Ayodhya was one such contested site, contrary to the fatuous claims of Leftist intellectuals that no one had heard of it until the VHP launched a movement for it in the last decades of the twentieth century. Sadhu-devotees clawed their way back into the sacred precincts, established and maintained control of spaces known as Sita ki Rasoi and Ram Chabutara, even as Muslim political power held sway in Awadh-Faizabad.
Ayodhya entered the annals of modern India when, on December 22-23, 1949, the idol of Ram Lalla appeared under the central dome of the disputed mosque. Local intelligence believes this to be the handiwork of Seth Bishan Chand and Mahant Digvijay Nath Maharaj of Gorakhnath Mandir (both Hindu Mahasabha MPs); Shri Ramchandra Paramhansa; and Gopal Singh Visharad, Faizabad district president of Hindu Mahasabha.
Shri Visharad took the matter to court on January 16, 1950, and won the right to worship the deity. Thereafter, the ‘Ram durbar’ (idols of Sita, Lakshman, Hanuman were incorporated into the makeshift temple). This victory set the foundation for establishing the Hindu title to the site as it validated Hindu law that ‘once a temple, always a temple,’ which was upheld by the British Privy Council in the case of the Natraj statue stolen from the premises of a derelict temple. This must be the starting point for overturning any Muslim claim to the site. The High Court judges unanimously gave the central dome where Ram Lalla Virajman is housed to the Hindu Mahasabha.
The Nirmohi Akhara became party to the court case in 1959, claiming it alone had the right to perform puja, and that it had won cases to this effect under the Raj, notably in 1853 and again in 1885. In 2010, the Akhara won the Sita Rasoi and Ram Chabutra.
The Sunni Central Waqf Board impleaded itself as a party only in 1961; one judge declared it time-barred. But the more pertinent question about the Board is its legality and locus standi. There is an All India Waqf Board established by the Government of India, which is a registered body. The Sunni Waqf Board is neither registered nor a recognised body, nor is it known when it was established.
In contrast, the Nirmohi Akhara has been present in Ayodhya since the 18th century. The Hindu Mahasabha was set up in 1882 by Lala Lajpat Rai, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Maharaja Manindra Chandra Nandi of Bengal, and Kurtikoti Adi Guru Shankaracharya of Sringeri (which is why Shri PV Narasimha Rao brought the current Sringeri Shankaracharya to set up a parallel Ramalaya Trust, though the Matham had ceased to have contact with the Mahasabha). The Hindu Mahasabha was registered as a society in 1915 in Lucknow.
A more ticklish issue is the Islamic denomination of the Babri mosque-structure. Babur and the Mughal dynasty were Sunni; his general, Mir Baqi, deputed to have built the mosque by demolishing an extent temple or over the ruins of a temple, was a Shia. So was the mosque a Shia or Sunni mosque? Or was it just a structure covering a Hindu sacred site?
The question is pertinent because the Shia Nawabs of Awadh did not perform namaz at Ayodhya, and most likely prayed at the Imambara. There are doubts if the Babri structure was ever a functional mosque as there is no wazu for washing before prayers, which is mandatory in Islam. Hence there was never a regular namaz there, and hence the obscurity over its denominational status.
Interestingly, the Shia community was never excited over the mosque and is now even more disinterested in fighting for it. It is the Sunni-dominated All India Muslim Personal Law Board that is pushing for confrontation. And as in 1992 when some leading Muslims toyed with the idea of giving the site to the Hindus, the secular Stalinists and Leftists in the media and academia are egging them on, opposing all voices of reasonableness and sanity.
All told, Justices Dharam Veer Sharma, Sudhir Aggarwal, and SU Khan performed yeoman’s service in giving some form and coherence to this centuries-old dispute. It is for the apex court to remove the anomalies in their judgement and give the land to Ram Lalla Virajman.
(The writer is a senior columnist)