Ayodhya dispute: SC sends it for in camera mediation
A five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, on March 8 sent the Ayodhya dispute for mediation in a bid to heal minds and hearts “if possible”.
The Bench appointed a panel of mediators, including former judge of the court Justice F.M.I. Kalifulla, as Chairman; spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar; and senior advocate Sriram Panchu, a veteran lawyer with years of experience in alternative dispute resolution.
The mediation would start in a week’s time in Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh, of which the disputed area in Ayodhya is a part of. It would be held with “utmost confidentiality”. There would be no reporting in print or electronic media on the mediation process. The time given is eight weeks, but the court urged the mediators to “conclude at the earliest”. They would have to file a status report in the court in four weeks. They could co-opt more on the panel if necessary and take whatever legal assistance is required. The State government would provide them with all the necessary facilities. The mediation would be held in camera.
“No legal impediment”
The court had held that there is no “legal impediment” to sending the dispute for mediation. It cited Order 23 Rule 3 of the Civil Procedure Code for attempting to arrive at a ‘compromise decree’ in the long-pending civil dispute for the title of the disputed area where the Babri Masjid stood before its demolition by ‘kar sevaks’ in 1992.
According to the provision, if the parties reach an agreement, the Supreme Court can order such a settlement to be recorded and pass a decree accepting the resolution among the parties.
The Bench had pushed “negotiated compromise” as a means to heal hearts and minds. The dispute was a festering wound that had touched the religious sentiments of Hindus and Muslims for decades.
Justice S.A. Bobde, on the Bench, had put matters in perspective by observing that the court was only concerned about the present state of the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case and not the past history of “Mughal invasion and conquests of Babur”.
“Primarily this is not about the 1500 sq ft of disputed land, but about religious sentiments. We know its impact on public sentiment, on body politic. We are looking at minds, hearts and healing if possible,” he had observed.
The Muslim parties had agreed to give mediation a try, while there is a dissonance of opinion among the Hindu appellants, who have said their faith that Lord Ram was born in the disputed land was non-negotiable.They had even suggested that the court should issue a public notice on whether or not to send the dispute for mediation.
“The faith that Lord Ram was born there is not negotiable. But we are willing to crowdfund a mosque somewhere else,” senior advocate C.S. Vaidyanathan, for Ram Lalla, the deity, had submitted.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Uttar Pradesh government, had also submitted that the path of mediation was both “imprudent and inadvisable”.
The eight-week deadline is the time given to the Muslim parties to examine the accuracy and relevance of the State government’s official translation of thousands of pages of oral depositions and exhibits in the Ayodhya title suit appeals that have been pending since 2010.
In a February 26 hearing, Chief Justice Gogoi invoked Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code to propose mediation as an “effective utilisation of time” in the eight weeks.
The CJI had expressed the hope that mediation may spell a peaceful end to the volatile dispute between the members of the two religious faiths.
Ramjanmabhoomi Case: Appropriate SC bench will fix hearing on January 10
A two-judge Bench of Supreme Court led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Friday posted the volatile Ramjanmabhoomi dispute appeals before the “appropriate bench” for “further orders” on January 10.
In brief moments of a rapid-fire hearing, Chief Justice Gogoi and Justice S.K. Kaul did not delve into the issue. The appeals were previously heard by benches in the combination of the judges. “This is the Ramjanmabhoomi case? Yes? Listen to the order now… ‘Further orders will be passed by the appropriate Bench on the 10th of January’. Please come on the 10th of January,” Chief Justice Gogoi told the advocates present in the case.
The whole of this week is devoted to hearing miscellaneous matters after the court re-opened post the winter vacations. All the Benches in the court are sitting in combinations of two judges this week. The court would continue to sit in two-judge combinations on miscellaneous days – Mondays and Fridays – every week henceforth. This is one of the reforms introduced by Chief Justice Gogoi to deal with pendency of cases. Hence, Ramjanmabhoomi is posted for January 10, a Thursday, when there would be a three-judge combination bench available.
On October 29 this year, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Gogoi had ordered the appeals to be listed on January 4, 2019 before an appropriate Bench to fix a date for hearing.
The October order had come when the parties had sought an early hearing. At the time, Chief Justice Gogoi had orally told them that the decision when to start hearing the appeals would be in the realm of discretion of the “appropriate bench” before which the matter would come up in January. “We have our own priorities… whether hearing would take place in January, March or April would be decided by an appropriate Bench,” Chief Justice Gogoi had remarked.
Senior advocates Harish Salve and Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for different parties, did not even get the opportunity to make any submission
On September 27, the apex court, in a majority opinion, had declined the plea made by Islamic bodies and individuals to refer the question as to whether prayer in a mosque is an essential part of Islam to a seven-judge Constitution Bench. The majority verdict, in its last paragraph, had further directed the Supreme Court to start hearing the pending from October 29. This direction had triggered questions whether the court intended to deliver a judgment in the appeals before the May 2019 elections.
The High Court had concluded that Lord Ram, son of King Dashrath, was born within the 1,482.5 square yards of the disputed Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid premises over 900,000 years ago during the Treta Yuga. One of the judges added that the “world knows” where Ram’s birthplace is while another said his finding was an “informed guess” based on “oral evidences of several Hindus and some Muslims” that the precise birthplace of Ram is under the central dome. The High Court had relied on Hindu faith, belief and folklore to reach this conclusion.
The Ayodhya appeals were previously heard by another three-judge Bench of then Chief Justice Dipak Misra (CJI Gogoi’s immediate predecessor), Justices Ashok Bhushan and S. Abdul Nazeer.
The majority opinion of September 27, authored by Justice Bhushan and supported by Justice Misra, had ordered the Ayodhya appeals “which are awaiting consideration by this Court for quite a long period, to be now listed in week commencing 29th October, 2018 for hearing”.
Usually, this would entail the appeals returning to the Bench comprising Justices Bhushan, Nazeer and a new third judge, replacing Justice Misra, who retired on October 2.
It was also found rather unusual for Justice Bhushan, a puisne judge on the Bench, to fix the date of hearing of the appeals as October 29. They say it should have been ideally left to Chief Justice Gogoi, as the master of roster, to decide the next course of hearing.
September 27 had also witnessed the stinging dissent penned by Justice Nazeer, who observed in a separate opinion that the question of what is essential or not in a religion cannot be hastily decided.
Justice Nazeer had held that the question raised on the essentiality of offering prayers in mosques should indeed be examined by a seven-judge Bench before the Ayodhya suit appeals are heard further. Justice Nazeer had concluded that questions raised during the Ayodhya appeals’ hearing about the comment made in the Ismail Faruqui judgment of 1994 require a “comprehensive examination” by a seven-judge Bench.
Speaking for himself and the Chief Justice, Justice Bhushan had objected that references cannot be made to a larger Bench merely because of “questionable observations” made in an earlier judgment.
Mr. Modi’s comments came amidst heightened demands by Hindutava organisations, including the RSS, for an ordinance for an early construction of the temple. “Let the judicial process take its own course. Don’t weigh it in political terms. Let the judicial process be over. After the judicial process is over, whatever be our responsibility as government, we are ready to make all efforts,” the Prime Minister said during an interview, broadcast by several TV channels.
Timeline:Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute
The first suit regarding the structure was filed in 1885, when the Faizabad Deputy Commissioner refused to let Mahant Raghubar Das build a temple on land adjoining the mosque. Das then filed a title suit in a Faizabad court against the Secretary of State for India, seeking permission to build a temple on the Chabutra on the outer courtyard of the Babri Masjid. The legal battle over the title has gone on for over a century.
The case timeline
1949: Idols of Ram Lalla are placed surreptitiously under the central dome.
1950: Gopal Simla Visharad files first suit in Faizabad civil court for rights to perform pooja to Ram Lalla.
1950: Paramahansa Ramachandra Das files a suit for continuation of pooja and keeping idols in the structure.
1959: Nirmohi Akhara files third suit, seeking direction to hand over charge of the disputed site. U.P. Sunni Central Wakf Board files fourth suit in 1961 for declaration and possession and fifth in 1989 in the name of Ram Lalla Virajman for declaration and possession.
1986: District judge orderes locks be removed. Site opened for Hindu worshippers.
1989: The four suits pending were transferred to the High Court.
1991: U.P. govt. acquires land around the structure for convenience of devotees who attend Ram Lalla darshan.
December 1992: Babri Masjid demolished by a frenzied mob of karsevaks. Two FIRs filed in the Babri Masjid demolition case. Crime no. 197 deals with actual “demolition of the mosque by karsevaks.” Crime no. 198 named L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and others for ‘communal’ speeches before the demolition.
1993: Govt. takes over 67 acres of land around the area, seeks SC’s opinion on whether there existed a Hindu place of worship before the structure was built.
October, 1993: CBI files a composite charge sheet and accuses Advani and other leaders of ‘conspiracy’
1994: Case goes back to Lucknow Bench of HC, suits heard again from 1996.
May 4, 2001: Special Judge S.K. Shukla drops conspiracy charge against 13 accused, including Mr. Advani and Kalyan Singh. Bifurcates Crimes 197 and 198.
Allahabad HC upholds May 4, 2001 special court order, dismisses the CBI’s revision petition for a direction to proceed with the conspiracy charge against Mr. Advani and others.
September 30, 2010: Allahabad HC awards two-thirds of Ayodhya site to Hindu parties, one-third to Waqf Board.
February, 2011: CBI moves Supreme Court. Argues that “the actual demolition of the Babri Masjid and the continuous assault on media persons form a single connected transaction and can well be a concerted conspiracy”.
May 9, 2011: Supreme Court stays Allahabad High Court verdict on Ayodhya dispute.
Mohammad Farooq, a resident of Ayodhya, was one of the seven main litigants from Muslim side in the 1949 Babri Masjid case.
March 6, 2017: SC indicates it may revive conspiracy charge and order a joint trial of crimes 197 and 198.
March 21, 2017: Suggesting an out-of-court rapprochement among rival parties in the 68-year-old Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute, Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar advised peace negotiations instead of a pitched court battle, even offering help to settle the fight amicably.
March 23, 2017: A Supreme Court Bench of Justices P.C. Ghose and Rohinton Nariman posted for detailed hearing the CBI appeal against the dropping of the criminal conspiracy charge against veteran BJP leader L.K. Advani and other top party leaders after two weeks.
April 6, 2017: The Supreme Court indicated that it will use its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to transfer the Babri Masjid demolition related trial in Rae Bareilly against top BJP leaders L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshito Lucknow, where a CBI court is hearing conspiracy and other serious criminal charges against “lakhs of unknown kar sevaks” for the actual act of razing down the 15th century mosque.
August 8, 2017: Uttar Pradesh Shia Central Waqf Board tells Supreme Court that they would settle for a masjid located in a “Muslim-dominated area at a reasonable distance from the most revered place of birth of Maryada Purushottam Sri Ram.” They tell the Court that the Babri Masjid was a Shia waqf (endowment) and their Sunni counterpart, who have been at the frontline of the 70-year-old title dispute, were mere interlopers led by “hardliners, fanatics and non-believers” who do not want an amicable settlement with the Hindu sects involved.
August 11, 2017: Supreme Court schedules hearing of 13 appeals in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute on December 5, 2017, the eve of the 25th anniversary of the demolition of the 15th century mosque.
February 8, 2018: The Supreme Court conveys its clinical approach to the 70-year-old dispute, exhorting the parties on either side of the fence to treat it merely as a “land issue”.
March 23, 2018: Almost 24 years after the Supreme Court said a mosque has no “unique or special status” and is not an essential part of the practice of Islam and namaz, Muslim parties involved in the Ramjanmabhoomi title dispute wants the apex court to first re-consider its stand before going ahead with the hearing in the Babri Masjid case. In 1994, the Supreme Court observed that “Muslims can offer prayer anywhere, even in open”.
September 27, 2018: A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court, in a majority opinion of 2:1, declines to refer the question if a “mosque as a place of prayer is an essential part of Islam” in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid appeals to a seven-judge Bench.
October 29, 2018: A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, orders the Ayodhya dispute appeals to be listed in January 2019 before an appropriate Bench to fix a date for hearing. When parties sought an early hearing, the court says the decision when to start hearing the appeals would be in the realm of discretion of the “appropriate Bench” before which the matter would come up in January.
Similarly, it is difficult to think of a masjid without a minaret or several of them. As it is well-known, the function of a minaret is to enable a muezzin to stand as high as possible before he issues the azaan or the call for worship. The higher he can stand, the greater the distance his voice or baang would carry and more would be the worshippers, who would attend the prayer. In the days where there were no loudspeakers, the height of the minaret was most crucial. An outstanding example of height is the masjid built by Aurangzeb on the banks of Ganga at Varanasi, which has two extremely tall minarets.
Taking a foreign example, the big mosque at Istanbul was earlier a church of Hagia Sophia. There, the church was converted into a masjid by raising four minarets as tall as the pinnacle of the dome. In rural Anatolia and its wheat lands, most masjids have a single minaret. But a minaret was there nevertheless. Or else, the baang would not carry.
Was the edifice Babri maqbara rather than a masjid? If so, why is the Sunni Personal Law Board making so much hue and cry about the structure and the land on which it stood?
When this writer visited Ayodhya, he had heard a great deal about the Babri Masjid, as if it was some historic piece of architecture. This was early in 1991. The writer was surprised at the uncomely sight of this enormous rough-looking trinity of domes. More surprising was the total absence of anything like a minaret. This made him suspicious enough to enquire one by one, from three passing Muslim gentlemen, as to whether there was a mehrab or a mimbar inside, or a wuzooh for a wash before the prayer. A few minutes earlier, the writer was categorically informed by a skull cap-wearing gentleman that he could not go inside, hence the queries.
Whoever the writer talked to, including two shopkeepers, referred to it as the ‘Babri’ Masjid. The writer had not earlier, or even later, come across a mosque named after any individual. His suspicion continued about the nature of the edifice in the absence of a minaret and the presence of the name Babri. On subsequent contemplation, the writer felt that perhaps, the edifice was a maqbara of Mir Baqi, one of the military commanders of Babar in the latter’s invasion of India. The date of the building has been consistently given as 1528 AD.
Babar won the First Battle of Panipat in April 1526. He and his immediate men were new to India and were generally busy establishing their rule at Agra. How could Mir Baqi get the opportunity to visit Ayodhya; have the Ram temple demolished and have the huge Babri structure constructed — all in a matter of two years? In those days, five centuries ago, everything had to be done manually — breaking, building and all. It must have taken longer than two years. Babar died in 1530 while beseeching Allah, the merciful, to save the life of his ailing son Humayun.
Taking all these circumstances, — the lack of minaret and the presence of the name Babri among others — could it be possible that Mir Baqi did not forget the King he was beholden to, and admiring of? He took his time to build this maqbarah, probably larger than any in India, as a compact building in the loving memory of Zaheeruddin Mohammad Babar. In short, was the edifice Babri maqbarah rather than a masjid? If so, why is the Sunni Personal Law Board making so much song and dance about the edifice and the land on which it stood? Up to a dozen of maqbarahs were demolished under the British rule in order to lay out Delhi’s Golf Course.
Incidentally, Sir Arnold Toynbee had visited Delhi and Bombay in the 1950s to deliver the Azad Memorial Lectures. This was at the personal invitation of Jawaharlal Nehru. During the course of his lectures, Arnold expressed surprise at having seen the masjid with tall minarets, as we mentioned above, on the banks of the Ganga, still standing. This despite India’s independence, at the holiest of holy places of the Hindus. He went on to say that on his recent visit to Warsaw in Poland, he saw the cathedral in that city as a Roman Catholic edifice. When the Russians had conquered Warsaw a century or more ago, they had converted the earlier Catholic cathedral into a Russian orthodox church. The poles could not tolerate this but were helpless. When they regained independence towards the end of World War I, they demolished the Russian church and rebuilt their own.
This pattern of behaviour was in evidence elsewhere too. Several wars were fought during the 1990s after the collapse of the Socialist Federated Republic of Yugoslavia, particularly the 1991-1995 war in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. This was the biggest conflict in Europe since the World War II, causing massive terror and brutality with approximately 150,000 deaths and several million people forcibly resettled. Although the Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims, who fought this war, were Europeans of Slavonic ancestry, they had significant and irreconcilable differences in religion. The Serbs are eastern-orthodox Christians, the Croats were Roman Catholics, and the Bosnian Muslims are Slavs Islamised after the Turkish conquest. The Serbs have always defended Christian Europe from invaders, most notably the Ottoman Turks. The heroic Serbian defence in the Battle of Kosovo against the Ottoman invaders in 1389 AD stands out as a landmark.
Conquering militias or armies in this 1992 inter-Yugoslav conflict destroyed the enemy’s religious symbols and built their own to symbolically mark the territory. For example, the capital city of what is today called the ‘Serb Republic’ of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was ethnically cleansed of all its numerous historic and newer mosques, with the Serbs also expelling the local Muslims, ostensibly in retribution for centuries of Ottoman humiliation.
Not only that, the Orthodox Serbs destroyed about 200 Catholic churches in Krajina in Croatia during their four year occupation of the town. This was Serb revenge on atrocities against the orthodox Church by the Croat Nazi puppet state during World War II. The Catholic Croats had then murdered over a 100 orthodox priests and three bishops, massacred about 1,000 Serbs in a town Glina and also razed its orthodox Church of the nativity.
Similar is the tale of Córdoba in Spain. It was originally a cathedral (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption) but was conquered by the invading Moors and turned into a mosque in 784 AD by Abd al-Rahman. It was reconquered by 1236 AD by King Ferdinand III of Castile during the Reconquista. The centre of the mosque was converted into a Catholic cathedral. The kings who followed added further Christian features.
(The writer is a well-known columnist and an author)
Hindu temple remnants were found at Babri Masjid site, Left historians distorted facts: KK Muhammad
In a revelation that has put the role of historians in shaping the fact-based history under scanner, former Regional Director(North) of Archaeological Survey of India KK Muhammad has alleged that an excavation done by a team headed by Professor BB Lal, then director general of the ASI during 1976-77, found the remnants of a Hindu temple at the Babri Masjid site.
According to Firstpost, in his recent memoirs Njan Enna Bharatiyan (I an Indian) in Malayalam, Muhammad has accused Left historians like Irfan Habib and Romila Thapar of thwarting an amicable settlement to the Babri Masjid issue.
“The Babri issue would have been settled long ago if the Muslim intelligentsia had not fallen prey to the brain washing by the Leftist historians. A set of historians including Romila Thapar, Bipin Chandra and S Gopal argued that there was no mention of the dismantling of the temple before 19th century and Ayodhya is Bhudhist-Jain centre. They were supported by historians Irfan Habib, RS Sharma, DN Jha, Suraj Ben and Akthar Ali,” Muhammad told Firstpost.
Muhammad further claimed that a Hindu temple existed at the site of the Babri Masjid based on the unearthing of temple pillars during the excavation.
“We found not one but 14 pillars of a temple at the Babri Masjid site. All these pillars had domes carved on them. The domes resembled those found in temples belonging to 11th and 12th century. In the temple architecture domes are one of the nine symbols of prosperity. It was quite evident that the Masjid was erected on the debris of a temple. I went on writing to several English dailies in those days about the finding. Only one news paper published my view and that too in the letters to Editor column,” He wrote in the book.
He further accused the Left historians of misleading the Allahabad High Court and alleged that even Qutab Minar and Taj Mahal were also built on Hindu temples.
Muhammad has been working as the director of Aga Khan Trust project in Hyderabad after retiring from ASI in 2012.
While some noted historians have backed Muhammad’s claims, a few left historians have snubbed the arguments as baseless.
The controversy on Rama’s birthplace in Ayodhya, where a Hindu temple was forcibly replaced with a mosque known as the Babri Masjid, was very consequential.
It raged at its fiercest around 1990, when it led to the fall of two national governments, the dismissal of four state governments, two electoral victories of the BJP ultimately leading to its present power position, riots claiming a few thousands of lives, dozens of temple demolitions from England to Bangladesh, and terrorist attacks pioneering a now-popular new tactic, viz. many synchronous attacks at different locations within one city, first tried in Mumbai on 12 March 1993. While that seemed to be the closing date of Ayodhya-related violence, the controversy again played a minor role in the next major communal conflagration, the Gujarat riots of 2002. These started with the arson of a train coach carrying Hindu pilgrims from Ayodhya, and helping to make CM Narendra Modi the undisputed Hindu leader and today the PM.
So many books are published about religion and politics in India, that one would expect such a consequential affair to generate a whole library. Very partly, this has indeed been the case. In the 1990s, every Indian political “scientist” and every foreign India-watcher hurried to publish an account of or comment on the Ayodhya controversy. On that occasion, almost all of them followed in the footsteps of the “Eminent Historians”, who had decreed in 1989 that there had never been a Hindu temple at the site. This way, they overruled the consensus existing till then (even among the Muslims and Britons), viz. that the mosque had of course been built in forcible replacement of a temple. These “experts” all took it as a given that any pro-temple voice was that of a history-falsifier or Hindu fanatic.
In 1991 already, an officially organized scholars’ debate highlighted plenty of evidence for the demolished-temple scenario, but it effectively got drowned out by all the loud anti-temple shouting that bullied most public figures into conformity. In the Court-ordered excavations of 2003, however, archaeologists dug up the foundations of the temple and provided the definitive proof: the Eminent Historians had taken the nation for a ride. All the “experts” who had parroted their mendacious account were left with egg on their faces. This explains why all of them have firmly looked the other way and discouraged anyone from further writing about the affair.
So we are happy to report that at last, the Ayodhya library is starting to grow. After the 2010 Court ruling essentially leaving the site to the Hindu litigants, we had as yet only one new Ayodhya book: history professor Meenakshi Jain’s Rama and Ayodhya (2013), meticulously detailing the evidence and revealing the complete loss of face by the Eminent Historians when questioned in Court. Three years later, we can welcome Anuradha Dutt’s book Sri Ram Mandir, published by Shubhi Publications (Gurgaon 2016). As a veteran journalist, she has followed the whole controversy from day to day since the 1980s. Naturally, the format here is looser, more journalistic, but covering far more ground than just the historical data.
In his foreword, retired historian Prof. Saradindu Mukherji already surveys the evidence and the misbehaviour by the Eminent Historians. He highlights the contribution to the debate by outsiders, especially by Arun Shourie and by the late AK Chatterjee, two people with a reputation for uprightness and incorruptibility. His opening line sums it all up: “The sacred spot in Ayodhya, worshipped by Hindus since time immemorial, (…) has unfortunately been made the subject of a contrived and unnecessary controversy in the last three decades.” (p.7)
Mrs. Dutt chronicles the history before Independence very briefly, the more recent history in detail. The evidence (p.29-116) is interwoven with the polemic between real and would-be professionals and the mediacrats. Then she relates the politics of the affair, including background facts (Shah Bano divorce rights, Mandal reservations), successive governments, the internal faction struggle among Dharmacharyas, and the hostile spin which the Dravidianists and their Marxist supporters put on any story involving Rama. On the way, she does of course present the episodes in the narrative of the “temple liberation” movement itself. Since I don’t want to spoil the reader’s pleasure, I will give no further details here.
She also gives the theological background, with the Puranic lore about the divine incarnations and the pilgrimages, and the Islamic theology of iconoclasm. This does not base itself on Hindu precedent, as the secularists nowadays claim, but on the Prophet’s precedent: “The first polytheistic shrine that was taken over by Mohammed and his followers was the Kaaba in Mecca, an old pilgrimage centre, on December 11, 629 AD.” (p.119)
While this book is packed with data, for the more recent period even many hitherto unknown data, a reviewer may be forgiven for nitpicking about a few shortcomings. One is a fine point that most readers won’t even notice: she posits in passing that at the time of “militant Islamic intrusion, (…) Adi Shankara and other theistic crusaders succeeded in worsting heterodox preachers in debate”. (p.144) This suggests a relation between Islam and these polemics. But in fact, there isn’t any connection between the Islamic invasions and Sankara’s polemic against intra-Hindu “heterodoxy”. Not that he was entirely unaware of them. For most of India, these invasions had not started yet, but Sindh was already under Muslim occupation. That is where Shankara had planned to establish the westernmost of his four abbeys: in Hinglaj on the western side of the Indus. But because of the Islamic occupation, he had to settle for Dwarka in Gujarat.
Yet, his writings, as well as those of numerous later Dharmacharyas, show no awareness at all of the Islamic challenge. More than a thousand years after confronting the Islamic presence did Hindu society first spawn a critique of the Quran, viz. by Arya Samaj founder Swami Dayananda Saraswati. It is one of the worst failings of Hindu society that it has responded to the Islamic challenge only with lying low or with being heroic and dying, and never with informed arguments against the ideology that motivated them.
The second point pertains to the Ayodhya narrative itself, particularly the demolition of the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992. “Analysts debated, as they still do, whether the demolition was a spontaneous act (…) or a planned move.” (p.26) And she leaves it at that non-committal observation. But shouldn’t a journalist be curious about the responsibility? And not just the present author, but the hundreds of reporters on the Ayodhya events?
The vast majority of commentators refrained from wondering about the mechanics of the demolition. Out of a desire for maximum damage to the hated BJP, they declared LK Advani responsible, the BJP leader who presided over the gathering, though the demolition took place against his will. Most of the activists who achieved the demolition, assure us that it was all spontaneous. But from some voices inside the RSS, I have heard the name of an engineer who prepared a few technical aspects of the demolition. After he and his assistents had given a lead, the mass of unprepared volunteers joined in. All these years I have kept this name to myself, and I will continue to do so. I want to leave the honour of revealing this name to an inquisitive Indian journalist. Very belatedly, he can make headlines with a photograph captioned: “This man demolished the Babri Masjid”, or: “Meet the Demolition mastermind”. This is what any of the hundreds of journalists could have done in 1992, but they were so partisan that they spurned this moment of glory for a predictable and untrue accusation against Advani.
The last point is a partisan attitude that shines through. I do not mean: partisan in favour of the temple thesis, for that would cast aspersions on a stand for the truth. After the tons of filth thrown at the truth about the Ayodhya history, it is only right for an author to set the record straight. I mean the choice for one political party over another, as if more naturally favouring the Hindu ownership. She writes that after the BJP was put on the defensive by the Demolition, as a “clever strategist, [PM Narasimha] Rao formulated a plan for the Congress to hijack the temple cause”. (p.182) How so, “hijack”? This is not the property of a political party. And if it were, then more of the Congress than of the BJP.
The first major politician to call for the liberation of the Rama Janmabhumi was Gulzarilal Nanda, the former Congress interim-PM. Congress PM Rajiv Gandhi was working on a peaceful arrangement for a Hindu temple at the site, a move thwarted by the shrill and mendacious claims made from the Eminent Historians’ pulpit. And the “clever strategist” Narasimha Rao (the best PM independent India ever had) allowed the Demolition to take its course because that way, not only would the BJP be embarrassed, but at least the mosque would be out of the way and a solution that much closer. Meanwhile, the BJP used the Ayodhya enthusiasm to make gains in the 1989 and 1991 elections, then dropped it like a hot potato.
In spite of these minor remarks, this book contains such a wealth of material on the facts and backgrounds of the Ayodhya controversy that I can unreservedly recommend it. And if you don’t care for the text, then at least enjoy the many pictures of the Hindu implements dug up at the contentious site.
– APRIL 10, 2016