Will Mediation Help in Delivering Justice in Babri Masjid Case?

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The Muslim Board’s firm position against shifting of the Babri Masjid elsewhere has to do with its strong position in the court. It seems confident that the history and empirical evidence are standing in its favour

Abhay Kumar | Caravan Daily

Serious apprehensions have been cast over the prospect of the Supreme Court-appointed mediation panel that is going to hold parleys with the contending parities to resolve the Babri Masjid dispute. Are the Hindu nationalists, who continue milking the issue, really interested to resolve it? Given the historic implications involved, will the mediation be called a success if it fails to approach the issue in its political entirety? For, the Babri Masjid issue is not a dispute merely over the ownership of a small piece of land.  Moreover, it is not just a case of failure of law and order either.

Those who are optimistic about the outcome of the mediation point to its wider appreciation in the media. It is pointed out that the Supreme Court’s move has been welcomed by the contending parties, including the Muslim bodies. But can it be denied that the Muslim bodies are under huge pressure not to appear “reluctant” to any such a dialogue?

“We accept Ayodhya mediation honouring the Supreme Court proposal. We have always believed in dialogue and peaceful solution of the matter”, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, one of the prominent bodies of the Indian Muslims, reacted soon after the setting up of the panel. Nonetheless, it doesn’t restrain itself without saying in the following sentence of the same statement that “our participation in the mediation process should not be viewed as a change in our original stance on Babri Masjid”.

For years, the Board has maintained a position against shifting of the location of the Babri Masjid elsewhere. Last year, when Salman Nadvi, a member of the Board and a scholar of Hadis at Nadwatul Ulema, Lucknow, spoke in favour of handing over the land of the Babri Masjid to the Hindus and building the mosque outside the disputed land, the Board immediately expelled him from the organisation. By such action, it unambiguously disowned Nadvi’s position, stating that “once a masjid is built, till eternity that will be a masjid”.

The Board’s apparently firm position against shifting of the Babri Masjid elsewhere has to do with its strong position in the court. It seems confident that the history and empirical evidence are standing in its favour. It is hopeful that the court’s ruling is unlikely to buy the Hindutva forces’ claims based on faith and myth.

In spite of this, it did not reject the offer of mediation outside court in the matter. It has to do with the political vulnerability of the Muslim community. It is also aware of the fact that the resolution of the Babri Masjid would serve one of the most significant interests of the community; for, it has witnessed as to how the Hindutva forces have used the plank of the mandir-masjid to polarise the society.

Thus, the Board does not want to give the latter any more such chance. Moreover, it has also realised the fact that the more the Hindutva forces have racked up the issue, the more the substantive issues of the Muslim community have been pushed back.

On the contrary, it is doubtful if the Hindu nationalist forces are really sincere about finding an amicable solution to the dispute. In the wake of mounting pressure from its hardcore supporters to build the Ram Temple, they can no longer keep the issue on the back-burner. Meanwhile, they know it very well that solving the issue would deprive them of one of their key agendas. They are afraid of the prospect of going to electoral campaigns without having the Ram temple issue.

That is why, the Hindutva forces find themselves in dilemma. They can neither ignore the temple issue, nor can they go to solve it. Moreover, they are also aware of the fact that their position, unsubstantiated by history, is very weak in the court. That is why negotiation has come up to the fore as a better option for paving the way for the construction of the temple.

At this juncture, the questions regarding the credibility of the judiciary as such are likely to be raised. If the negotiation were the only viable and practical way to sort out the dispute, what has the judiciary been sitting upon for so many decades? More so, the criteria adopted, for the selection of the members to the panel and the timing of its constitution are also not beyond the purview of suspicion.

How coercion underpins the whole affair is quite evident from the fact that the Hindutva forces have maintained that the issue of the temple in question is a matter of faith (aastha).  See the irony. A member of the panel, constituted by the apex court of the country, is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the spiritual guru, who has also reiterated the faith-line of the Hindu nationalists. Given this, his credibility is increasingly being questioned. This, in turn, casts shadow over the whole mediation process itself.

Look at the track record of the person in question, that is, this spiritual guru. Last year, he made several controversial and equally condemnable statements against Muslims. He gave a threatening call to Muslims, saying that if Ram temple issue was not solved [read built], India would turn into Syria. Worse still, he equated Muslims with Duryodhana, the “villainous” character of the epic Mahabharata.

As reported by the Hindi daily Dainik Jagaran, about his hateful statement, Ravi Shankar said in Varanasi that the faith of hundreds of crores of people is associated with the Ram temple. And, it must be respected. There could be no piece of land as precious as the one in dispute. Most of the people among both the parties agree with it. But there are always some Duryodhanas, who keep insisting that they wouldn’t give up even one inch of the land. Mind this coercive language of a mediator!

It needs not to be further stressed that the demolition of the Babri Masjid, on December 6, 1992, in broad daylight in the presence of the national and international media, was not merely an accident. Rather, it was a well-planned act. Who will deny that the demolition was not an act of frenzied mobs? Nor was it a spontaneous eruption of the “resurgent” Hindus, who were being “hurt” by the policies of the post-Independent “secular” governments.

On the contrary, the demolition was a part of a calculated plan. The plan was to polarise the voters along the religious lines. Particularly, at a time, when the anti-caste Mandal agitation was shaking up the roots of the Brahminical society, the demolition was carried out as a counter-revolutionary act. The hatred against the Muslims was deliberately spread and an image of the “enemy”- outside the Hindu society- was systematically constructed in order to consolidate the illusory Hindu unity. The demolition was also thought to be necessary to divert the attention of the public from massive privatisation and liberalisation. Above all, the agenda was to bring the far-right political parties, led by the BJP, to the centre of power.

Given the fatal blow, perpetrated by the merchants of hate, its resolution cannot be done without taking the questions raised above. Undoubtedly, the dispute is related to the ownership of a piece of land.

However, the question of hate and violence cannot be ignored from the centrality of the issue. While negotiating the issue, the members of the panel should not forget that thousands of innocent people were injured and killed in the name of Lord Rama and giving justice to them cannot be outside of the frame of the ongoing mediation process.

At last, one should also keep in mind that the issue of temple has yielded rich political dividends to the politicians. Every time, during elections, Lord Rama is invoked to unite the Hindus voters, which, in fact, serves several Parliamentary political parties, irrespective of their religious credentials. We all have seen that the politicians mount their election campaigns, often using the plank of the temple issue. In the light of above mentioned questions, doubts persist about possibility of the deliverance of justice.

Abhay Kumar has recently submitted his PhD on the history of All India Muslim Personal Law Board at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. A regular contributor to various newspapers and the portals, Kumar has been working on the broad theme of Indian Muslims and Social Justice. His writings are available at abhaykumar.org. He can be reached at debatingissues@gmail.com)

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