What if the Ram temple is built?
[Book extract] Until a solution is found or forced, the Ram Janmabhoomi–Babri Masjid dispute will remain unresolved.
Ayodhya remains a pilgrim centre that draws the renunciates, seekers, escapists, destitute runaways, criminals as well as sinners trying to start anew. Runaway children still end up in Ayodhya and like soldiers of fortune, wage their struggles for survival and supremacy in the ashrams and temples of Ram’s city.
In 2008, Arun Das was nine years old when he ran away from his home near Gonda and came to Ayodhya. A kind woman took him to work in her small shop that sold religious items and fruit juice. One day, he met Mahant Bajrang Das, an ageing Ramanandi ascetic, who offered to take him on as a disciple. Arun agreed and started living in his ashram in Laxman Ghat.
Over the years, Arun Das learnt the scriptures and practised rituals for conducting religious ceremonies. Bajrang Das was pleased with him and declared Arun Das his heir in 2013. But before the ashram’s property could be transferred in Arun’s name, Bajrang Das died at the age of 95.
Like so many others, this ashram and its lodging house too remain stuck in a legal dispute between Arun Das and an older tenant. Mukedmebaazi, or litigation, is a fact of life in Ayodhya, and it doesn’t deter Arun Das from dreaming about a better future for himself.
“I would like to go to a big city like Mumbai or Delhi and serve the religious needs of the people,” he says, while fiddling with his rip-off Apple earphones. Like many locals he believes that Ayodhya will be developed only when the Ram temple is built. “Because, the world over, Hindus know about the issue, they are waiting for the temple to be built. Once it is built then they will visit Ayodhya and everybody will benefit from that,” he says.
I proffer the counter-theory that floats under the surface in Ayodhya: what about those who believe otherwise, who say that once the temple is built, pilgrims will come but won’t visit other temples; some even hold the opinion that if the temple is built, Hindus will visit for a couple of years but will forget about it once the euphoria fades away?
“I don’t believe that. These are the views of selfish and petty-minded people. When Hindus will come from the US, Canada, UK, they will see not just the Ram temple, they will go to other temples too, they will buy from the shopkeepers here, they will stay here, so there is everything to gain,” he reasons.
His argument though compelling, is contestable. Most pilgrims from abroad or even the well-heeled ones from other states in India, don’t spend more than a day here. They come in taxis from Lucknow or Banaras, where there are good airports, and return the same day. Hardly any foreign tourists ever come here besides the annual government delegation from South Korea.
As the 2019 national elections draw near, the RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat has repeatedly made statements claiming that only a Ram temple will be built in Ayodhya, and that even Opposition parties cannot openly oppose its construction. Indifference to the ongoing judicial process in the case is nothing new for the RSS as it knows well that the issue’s sentimental appeal needs to be kept alive among devout Hindus. The Congress called the RSS chief’s statement a “frog’s cry during rains” and accused the RSS-BJP of sending Lord Ram to ‘“exile” after every election”.
The VHP too has revived its community of sants.
On October 5, 2018, it held a meeting of fifty sadhus at its headquarters in Delhi, where the seers and sadhus passed a resolution detailing a month-wise plan to create favourable public opinion for the construction of the Ram temple before 2019. Mahant Nritya Gopal Das later led the panel of seers to present their demands to the president of India.
Characteristic of the VHP’s diminished ability to unite Ayodhya’s sadhus behind it, only five of the 50 seers who attended the meeting were from Ayodhya. These seers castigated the BJP for not fulfilling its promise to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya and demanded that the government bring in a special legislation that would allow the construction of the temple.
In Ayodhya, a VHP-supporting mahant started his fast unto death. He demanded that Prime Minister Modi announce the construction of a Ram temple by bringing in a special Act of Parliament.
While too much cannot be read into the VHP’s periodic moves ahead of elections, their threat of a nationwide agitation cannot be ignored either.
It is not inconceivable that the hordes of young men who are often seen gyrating to the beats of techno-bhajans cannot be diverted to Ayodhya, to finish the task that began on December 6, 1992 — construction of a temple at Ram’s Janmabhoomi.
Hindus in Ayodhya–Faizabad definitely want a Ram temple and have been waiting for the last four years to see some tangible movement towards its construction. As Ramesh Chaurasia, a Hanuman devotee said, “If Hindu governments at the centre and the state cannot build it, then who will?”
The government is also active and its intelligence department is busy conducting “feasibility studies” and “impact assessment surveys” to ascertain the reaction of people if the temple were to be built through an Act of Parliament.
Now that the VHP-backed sants have once again given a call for karseva to build a temple, it remains to be seen if the mobilisation of Hindus will be easier than before. BJP governments or BJP-supported governments are in power in 19 states in India, including in all but one neighbouring state of UP (Delhi has an Aam Aadmi Party government). Mahant Satyendra Das, though, believes otherwise. He believes that ‘neither the BJP government at the centre nor in the state have the “icchashakti” or will to build the temple.
We have been waiting for Modiji to at least visit Ayodhya to see how Ram Lalla lives in a tent, but he hasn’t. We have given the BJP everything, they have a full majority now, power in 19 states, and still they don’t keep their promise of a Ram temple. It is Ram Lalla who gave them everything, and it is He who will teach them a lesson,” an agitated Das, told me over the phone. Muslims are used to the headlines and the VHP’s posturing before every election and are keeping a cautious watch on these developments.
However, the only democratic and constitutional possibility to clear the way for the temple is if the Supreme Court upholds the Allahabad High Court verdict of 2010 or decides the title suit in favour of Hindu parties. In that case the temple will have to be built and the Muslims will comply, as the Sunni Central Waqf Board has stated many times. But if the Supreme Court decides that the land where the Babri Masjid stood belongs to Muslims, will the VHP and the Sangh Parivar comply?
They have maintained since the beginning that the courts cannot decide this matter; what’s the guarantee that they won’t mobilise Hindus against the Supreme Court verdict?
In July 2017, the Uttar Pradesh Shia Central Waqf Board revived their claim on the Babri Masjid. As mentioned earlier, the Shia claim over the mosque had been dismissed by the Faizabad Civil Court in 1946. If the Shia Waqf Board’s appeal to join the case is admitted by the court, it will add a new dimension and additional delay to the nearly 60-year-old legal dispute.
It is not yet clear what motive lies behind the move to become a party after more than 70 years. The desire of the board members to ingratiate themselves to the Yogi and Modi governments cannot be ruled out. The chairman of the board, Wasim Rizvi, denied that this is the case.
Mutual settlements through talks
This suggestion is premised on the assumption that everything can be solved through dialogue and “give and take”. But when neither the VHP nor the Nirmohi Akhara nor other Hindu parties (eight in all who appealed against the 2010 verdict of the Allahabad High Court) nor the Muslim parties led by the Sunni Central Waqf Board are ready to “give” or give up, dialogues of mutual settlement are meaningless.
“It is an ego clash, a conflict between Hindus’ inferiority complex and Muslims’ superiority complex,” a seasoned observer (who wishes to remain anonymous) of Ayodhya had commented. Where ego rules and rationality has failed it is naïve to expect that talks will solve the problem.
If the Hindu parties agree to vacate the land presently occupied by the makeshift shrine of Ram Lalla, the Sunni Central Waqf Board may agree to have the temple constructed at the spot where the Ram Chabutra stood inside the outer courtyard of the mosque. Another way to solve the dispute would be for the Muslim parties to give up their claim and agree to build the mosque outside Ayodhya.
“But how can we let that happen; it means tomorrow a mob can destroy another mosque or any other Waqf land. It would legitimise the forcible occupation in 1949 and the demolition in 1992,” is the response of Zafaryab Gilani, the Sunni Waqf Board’s lawyer.
In any case, he says, Waqf land is a grant made in perpetuity and its nature cannot be changed. The disputed land cannot be cordoned off nor can a public amenity be built on it. This “compromise” solution of building a hospital or a museum has been floating about since the dispute’s early days in the 1990s. But it is not acceptable to the VHP or to the Sunni Central Waqf Board.
Will the courts decide one way or another by 2019? Will the temple be built by 2019? From RSS functionaries to BJP ministers to the common Hindu on Ayodhya’s streets, the answer is a resounding “yes”.
The BJP proved that it didn’t need the support of Muslims by winning a landslide majority without fielding a single Muslim candidate in the 2017 Assembly elections in UP. The political emasculation of Muslims as a “vote bank” is also all but complete at the national level. However, on the shifting sands of Indian politics, itself shaped both by economic issues like inflation and unemployment, and religion, the BJP of winter 2018 doesn’t appear as strong as it did when it took power four years ago in May 2014.
The legislative route itself of enacting an Act to allow the construction of a temple is fraught with both political and constitutional risks. As has been pointed out earlier, even Parliament cannot pass a law while the dispute is pending in the Supreme Court.
Therefore, until the Supreme Court of India passes a verdict, it will be unconstitutional to pass such a law. The BJP has officially and repeatedly emphasized that the temple will be built through the court’s verdict and constitutional processes. Certain experts also hold the view that the BJP can change the Constitution.
Until a solution is found or forced, the Ram Janmabhoomi–Babri Masjid dispute will remain unresolved. Perhaps, the resolution of this bloody dispute lies not in the hands of our present generation of leaders, seers and people, but in the hands of future generations who would think of it differently and not as a Hindu versus Muslim issue.
Ayodhya has come a long way in its journey over millennia, and while today it is called the graveyard of India’s composite culture and rule of law, I am hopeful that this label, too, will not stick forever. Ayodhya will keep changing its course with the river Sarayu as its eternal witness.
(Excerpted with permission from the publisher, Aleph Book Company.)