Making Sense of Gen Shah’s Solution to Ayodhya Tangle

Lieutenant General Zameeruddin Shah. — File photo

Ather Farouqui | Caravan News

FORMER Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) vice-chancellor Gen. Zameeruddin Shah has taken an initiative to convince Muslims to voluntarily withdraw their claim to Babri Masjid (the site of the demolished mosque is under litigation in the Supreme Court of India). He articulated his mind on a sensitive issue crucial for the future of the community in a quite statesmanlike manner following into the footsteps of his enlightened predecessors like Saiyid Hamid, Col. Basheer Husain Zaidi and Badruddin Tyabji.

Gen. Zameeruddin Shah, former deputy chief of army staff, a well-respected and decorated soldier, whose statement advising Muslims to withdraw their claim to the Babri Masjid has been given wide publicity to his family, especially his daughter, Saira Shah Halim. The crux of his message is that Muslims should be generous enough to withdraw their claim to the disputed site which has great sanctity for the Hindus.

Gen. Shah is the fourth vice-chancellor of the AMU to enjoin this course upon his fellow Muslims. As a straightforward soldier that he is, Gen. Shah made the sweeping statement at a time when the deadline for the Supreme Court verdict in the case is approaching. If all goes according to schedule and Indian political will doesn’t undergo a radical change, it will be delivered in approximately a month’s time. I only hope my saying that the Muslim chances of winning the case are almost nil will not attract contempt of court simply because it is the opinion of a common man who has been following the politics and court proceedings on the matter – including poor advocacy by third rate lawyers when the case was pending at the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad bench – since the day when the gate of the mosque had opened under mysterious circumstances.

Besides, even if Muslims win the case, given the nature of Indian polity and the general atmosphere, they will never be able to build a mosque in Ayodhya. If Hindus win the case, it is the end of the story like many other stories of Muslim struggle which have exhausted them but made no sense in the first place, in post partition India.

Cynics may say what they like, but the General’s statement is apparently not at the behest of the government of the day or concerned Hindu parties. The only logic behind it is to get some publicity or, in all likelihood, garner some post from the government of the day for a retired general. The irony is that the general does not really know how to grab public attention so this ploy is also bound to fail like his earlier one in which he had tried to sell the story of the Gujarat riots for selling the book which too did not work particularly well.

Irrespective of Gen. Shah’s motives, the important thing is the continuity in the views or at least declared public views of the former vice-chancellors. All of them predating the general were shrewder than him and their initiative was clearly at the political behest of the Congress as they were all staunch and open loyalists of Congress and got maximum benefits from Nehru family. Gen. Shah has been unlucky on this count. Though appointed vice-chancellor by the Congress, a major part of his tenure was under BJP regime when he made a number of faux pas to the extent of becoming a laughingstock and his Gujarat story could not bear fruit as Modi did not lose in 2019.

During the hearing into the Babri Masjid case in the Supreme Court, the relevant bench on 26 February 2019 decided to explore the possibility of a negotiated settlement and pronounced that it would pass orders on a court-appointed mediation process on 6 March, the next date of hearing. According to media reports, the court has inherent powers to do so in accordance with provisions under Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code. Moreover, as the reports suggested, parties claiming to be fighting the case for the Mandir on behalf of the Hindus were not willing to do so in the beginning. Ultimately, the mediation failed and the case is now in the last leg of hearing.

It is also relevant to note that most of the parties fighting for the cause of Babri Masjid are self-appointed guardians of Islam and, as a result, Indian Muslims are,  in no way, being properly represented in this case.

The collective public memory of Indians is short. Sooner or later this case too will be a part of history. It is appropriate to mention that at one point in time, a section of Muslim elite was willing to go in for reconciliation; however, it was not reciprocated by the then leader of the Ram Mandir Movement, Mr L.K. Advani. The initiator, late Saiyid Hamid, former vice-chancellor of the AMU (1980-85), who was well regarded among Indian Muslims – after relinquishing the charge of the vice-chancellorship when he was considered as ‘Yazid’ by an emotionally charged community whose perplexity cannot be diagnosed by a psychiatrist – and a blue-eyed boy of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, was of the opinion: ‘The fact that the Babri Masjid should be made to stand in its original place is not based on consideration of ground realities. What purpose does it serve in any case?’

Mr. Saiyid Hamid argued that even a strong prime minister would neither be able to remove the idols nor reconstruct the mosque. Knowing Muslims to be a very sentimental and fragile natured community, I will not quote what Hamid sahab has written in favour of the proposal. It can be found, by those who are interested, in his book, Azmayish ki Ghari (Test of Time), published by Maktaba Jamia Limited, New Delhi in April 1993.

Thus, let me put on record the facts of the initiative under the leadership of Saiyid Hamid to withdraw the Muslim claim to the Mosque. According to Mr. Hamid, three former vice-chancellors (all now deceased), Col. Bashirul Husain Zaid, Badruddin Tyyabji and Saiyid Hamid himself, had written to Mr. L K Advani on 23 August 1990, seeking time in regard to the latter’s offer in August 1990. The offer mentioned that if Muslims were willing to shift the Basbri Masjid with dignity, Hindus could be persuaded to withdraw their claims to other mosques. According to Saiyid Hamid, Advani was asked by his advisors not to go ahead with this offer. Hence, he chose not to even acknowledge the letter.

That a section of Muslims (not representing all Muslims and without being able to say how many) could have supported the move and the initiative of the former vice-chancellors of the AMU which was not entertained by Mr. Advani, today may seem surprising. This is just for posterity’s sake as I have, by chance, laid my hands on Saiyid Hamid’s book at the time of General Zameeruddin Shah’s statement and thought of putting the record straight. The Urdu translation of the letter written to Mr. Advani in English is included in the book. Hamid was such a rare master of languages that neither could his English be translated into Urdu nor his Urdu into English; hence, I am unable to put the English translations on record. To understand his Urdu was quite a task.

What I have written with regard to Gen. Zameeruddin Shah’s proposal for Muslims to withdraw their claim from the disputed site of Babri Masjid/Ram Janmabhoomi may give currency to a number of misunderstandings. Yet, I have tried to be honest in stating the facts without any dramatic additions. After his statement on Babri Masjid, I think people outside the AMU fraternity, for whom he had already become completely worthless, including the alumni abroad, will be much interested in his persona.


(Ather Farouqui is an eminent writer and Sahitya Akademi awardee whose book, Islamic Banking in India at the service of Pan-Islamists, forced the UPA-II Government to allow Islamic banking in the country. Views expressed here are his personal. 


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