Thursday, September 23, 2010

AYODHYA: A MATTER OF FAITH

A matter of faith is going to be decided by a court tomorrow. There is tension in the air. There is fear that a polarisation of the sort that took place before and after the Babri Masjid structure was brought down may take place again and lead to communal violence. There are some who believe India -- read Hindus -- has moved on and the idea of a Ram Temple will not catch the imagination of Hindus again. Others, on both sides of the divide, continue to stick to their known positions.

Ram is faith, as is Allah. In matters of faith there never can be historical evidence or proof of the sort that courts of mortals require to adjudicate. Allah and Ram are real and living for those who believe and mythical for those who don't. Allah revealed Himself to the Prophet through an angel no one else saw or heard. Ram similarly revealed Himself to Valmiki, a dacoit who became a saint after much penance. That is the belief of their followers. They do not need any 'proof' of their existence.

Talking of Ayodhya, the town of today, it is worth repeating that it is the place where Hindus have believed since before history that Ram was born and where the capital of His kingdom was. That is why it is a town of temples old and new. Anyone who has been there would have noticed that the Babri Masjid stood in the middle of virtually an ocean of temples. It was, to say the least, incongruous. Almost ever since it was raised in 1528, Hindus have been saying that it was built over a temple at the spot that is most revered by most of them as the birthplace of Ram, and demanding that the place be given back to them. The BJP/RSS/VHP had nothing to do with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement till a few decades back.

In my view, whatever be the verdict of the court, there is little fear of any outbreak of violence or re-polarisation at this point of time. It is not because Hindus have 'moved on' or because the Muslims have softened their stance in any manner. I don't remember who it was who said that the destruction of the Babri Masjid destroyed Advani's movement but I believe he got it spot on. The galvanisation that took place then was to have the masjid moved so that a temple could be built. Effectively that has happened though not in the manner it could and should have. Lest we forget, the movement was not anti-Muslim or anti-mosques. It acquired some anti-Muslim overtones because Hindus believed that Muslim leaders were being unreasonably intransigent and insensitive to their faith.

Have Muslims moved on, or even an inch? No one is asking that question because everyone knows the answer. And as always 'secular' Hindus are not contesting or questioning their position; they are manifestly more worried about appearing to be on the same side as the BJP than anything else. For inexplicable reasons, for them Hindus and the Sangh parivar have become synonymous. Perhaps this has something to do with the Congress strategy of 'turning Muslim' only because that gets the electoral arithmetic right, perhaps it is because they have convinced the party to put its eggs in that basket. Be that as it may, this winning strategy that has effectively bludgeoned the Hindu voice is not going to be the dousing path that some believe it will be. It is only going to widen the gulf over the long run and could lead to unexpected, unprecedented communal violence.

It requires two to move on, you can't have one moving in as the other moves on and not get a serious blow back at some point of time. May be I am missing something but while many Hindus, including those who I like to call non-Hindus and anti-Hindu Hindus, are calling for Hindus to yield, with reasoning that stretches from the sensible to the scandalous, I have not heard one Muslim of any standing asking Muslims to show magnanimity and respect Hindu sentiments. No one is telling them to not pitch for a mosque constructed by conquerors who destroyed many structures of other faiths, including the famous Nalanda University nearby and, as many believe, built mosques over many of them not as symbols of faith but of conquest, of subjugation.

I wish Muslims liberals and intellectuals who want the rest the world to allow a mosque to come up at the site of a building wasted by the 9/11 attack could show the same sensitivity and respect towards the faith and feelings of Hindus. But they won't because, exceptions apart, it appears that they are fine with Islam's distortion into a supremist, political religion that is designed to grab space, not cede any gracefully to others, even in a multi-religious setting. That is why an increasing number of people have come to conclude, wrongly or rightly, that there is a underlying unity of belief between them and the Taliban who, only a few years -- not five hundred -- back, blasted the Bamian Buddhas out of existence even though they all converted from Buddhism centuries ago and even though there are no Buddhists left in Afghanistan.

As of now, the reality is that the masjid structure has gone and a functional temple is in place at the Janmasthan. Construction of a bigger temple there in a hurry is not an issue that is going to energise a people who have enormous tolerance and patience, qualities that have enabled them to survive and outlast all other civilisations of the world.

What is it, then, that can reignite the electric energy that the BJP once exploited politically at the expense of a Congress that then clumsily tried to play both sides and that is now foolishly playing one alone?

It is only when law steps into and over the domain of faith that the unpredictable that everyone is wishing away will happen. And that will be when and if the Supreme Court passes a final order giving right of the disputed property to Muslims, clearing the way for the building of a new masjid. It is at that point of time that the demands for removing the idols of Ram Lalla will acquire the teeth they lack now. That is the time when many home truths will come tumbling out to haunt dishonest coots who are making light of faith today and are mouthing preposterous suggestions that are politically convenient at this point of time.

The sooner we get it into our heads that neither can the idols be removed nor can another mosque be constructed at the Janmasthan the better. Rajiv Gandhi, I believe, understood the dynamics better than his family does now, if it has even tried to. That is why he allowed the gates of the masjid to be opened and the shilanyas of the temple to be done. Had he been around, I have little doubt that an amicable solution would have been found and the Congress would not have lost the ground it did. The BJP would have still been struggling to get more than a handful of seats in Parliament and communal passions that led to so many deaths subsequently would have been avoided. That chance was lost. One more is coming up.

One can only hope that after the verdict of the High Court is received, India's politicians and Hindu and Muslim religious leaders will sit together and hammer out a solution that reflects due respect to the faith of Hindus as well as the dignity of Muslims. That can happen only if no one tries to squeeze political milk out of it. That milk, as Guru Nanak once demonstrated in another but related context, will be only be red in colour.