Thursday, Oct 06, 2022

Will Ayodhya Verdict Really Bring An End To Dispute Or Is Closure Just A Pipe Dream?

The demolition of the Babri Masjid was a criminal act. Yet, possession of the land, on which it was situated, has been awarded to a to-be-formed Hindu trust.

People belonging to Hindu and Muslim faiths celebrate the Ayodhya verdict outside the Supreme Court in New Delhi. PTI Photo

The Supreme Court judgment on Ayodhya elated tens of millions of people. It also left Indians, certainly fewer in number, disappointed at the honourable judges weighing religious belief of Hindus, over rule of law. The verdict is a classic example of giving prominence to faith in Gods, over faith and trust in law and constitutional process. Once the words of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi sunk in, even those distressed with it, realised that pain notwithstanding, they had to move on, if for nothing else, at least for the sake of their loved ones. After all, there is still a life to live, on as equal terms as possible.

With this realisation, these people have clutched on to one word: closure. This word, one of whose meanings is given in dictionaries as 'a rule for limiting or ending debate in a deliberative body' has come to embody hope. In responses to the judgement, people are beginning to balance anxiety with a new dream, one of an India which shall leave behind decades, if not centuries, of discord and religious strife. Their prayer for closure is to the gods who failed a feverish urging for them to regain strength. These citizens hope that the 1045-page ruling will put the turbulent and polity-altering chapter in the past and open a new page of history.

I have come across hope for closure innumerable times since reporting on the 1982 communal riots in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. But, in these years, as one went to back to old arenas of communal conflict, one realised little had moved on for the people directly in the firing line during the hours, days or weeks of mayhem. Many dear ones died in battles that were not theirs. 

Closure is a word which has been most commonly used in India in the context of the anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984. In 2015, while researching a book on this gory slice of India's not-so-distant past, I asked Nirpeet Kaur, who lost her father and much more, what kind of closure she desired. She fell silent and then sought something that even Gods would not be able to give her: restitution. Because nothing would come back, either life or material possessions which were destroyed, she looked into the future and wished for justice. And of course, not an encore to what had happened.

Although the apex court accepted that Babri Masjid had been desecrated, not once but twice in 1934 and 1949, before eventually being demolished in December 1992, it did not follow the principle of rightful restoration. The demolition of the Babri Masjid was a criminal act. Yet, possession of the land, on which it was situated, has been awarded to a to-be-formed Hindu trust. For many, the mosque's existence and its possible restoration was evidence of India following the rule of law and fairness of constitutional jurisprudence. These people, unlike Kaur, can never aspire for justice.

Since justice regarding restitution of the Babri Masjid is a closed affair, the only hope for people is that there shall not be a repeat performance, another agitation to seek revenge for 'humiliation' in history. After the Babri Masjid's demolition, the common refrain among Sangh Parivar activists was that it was just a preview, the story remained to be unspooled in Mathura and Varanasi (Yeh to bas jhanki hai, Mathura Kashi baki hai). When asked about future plans on these shrines, leaders ranging from Mohan Bhagwat to those in Vishwa Hindu Parishad did not say a firm ‘no, never’. Given this, can closure at best be a pipedream?

Lal Krishna Advani had declared after the demolition that the final objective of the Ram temple agitation was not limited to constructing a Ram temple at Ayodhya in place of the 16th-century mosque. He stated it was part of a wider campaign to foster the ideology of cultural nationalism and give shape to a 'different' kind of India. The BJP and its affiliates in the saffron brotherhood would not have acquired its present political dominance, had it not been for the relentless pursuit of the temple-mosque dispute. The Hindu nationalistic fraternity's goal is not to acquire political power for one term or two. The slogan of Congress-Mukt Bharat is not limited to marginalising the GOP in the political theatre.

The acquisition of the disputed site in the temple-town through a judicial order is a major watershed in the growth of Hindu nationalistic organisations. On January 20, 1948, Madan Lal Pahwa made a failed attempt to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi by throwing a crude bomb. When interrogated after being detained, he used three ominous words: Woh phir aayega (he will come again). Investigators missed the enormity of his words. Unlike adversaries, BJP has ideological consistency in its political genes. So, how hopeful for a closure should we be?

(The writer is an author and journalist. His first book was The Demolition: India at the Crossroad and his most recent one is The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right. Views expressed are personal.)