|Ram over Babar: Is Narasimha Rao preparing to do a deal with militant Hindus?"
Author: Aditi Phadnis
Publication: The Sunday
Date: October 10, 1992
(Note from Hindu Vivek Kendra: This article of October 1992 is still relevant today. The contention of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has been that a temple in honour of Lord Ram was destroyed and the Babri structure built in its place. Hence the structure was a political one, and not a religious one. The VHP also says that it has made an effort for a negotiated settlement, and these were frustrated by its opponents. This article established these two points of the VHP.)
An exercise has begun in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to hand over Ayodhya to the Hindus. At least, this is the impression gathered by senior journalists and political leaders who have met Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and key officials in his secretariat over the last few weeks.
Editors of several national newspapers were called for a meeting with Rao that spread over three days (23, 24 and 25 September). Most of them came out of the conference confused and disturbed. They wondered if the Prime Minister's idea of a solution to the Ayodhya tangle was to hand over the disputed structure to the Hindus.
But there was something else that was equally disquieting. At a meeting with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders recently, Narasimha Rao is believed to have said: "Mandir banega our bhavya mandir banega (the temple will be built and it will be a grand one)." And as an afterthought, the PM had added: "Lekin masjid hatana theek nahin hai (but it may not be proper to move the mosque)."
There was little force in that statement, and this was not missed by the RSS delegation. They had gone to tell the Prime Minster that time was running out, and found him less willing to join issue with them.
The climbdown was stark.
And now, Sunday has found that the newly-established Ayodhya cell has also collected enough evidence to bolster the Hindu case. The body has first set out to create a climate of opinion to butress the Hindu claim on the structure.
For instance, members of the cell are strongly critical of the attempts by a team of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) professors to prove historically that Ram was not born in Ayodhya. "Progressive historians (like Romila Thapar, S. Gopal and others) are more keen to present their modern, secular credentials," said an official in disgust. "They want to sound superior and informed, but we find their writings opinionated and argumentative."
The official continued: "We would be rejecting history if we were to say that for the last 400 years (since Mir Baqi, a Shia from Iran, built a mosque at the disputed site). Hindus and Muslims have been living happily and sharing the same building for puja and namaz. There has obviously been a temple here. Whether it belonged to Ram or someone else, we don't know because there isn't enough data. But the fact is there have been bitter conflicts over this place, and we cannot brush this aside, as the JNU professors have done."
So members of the Ayodhya cell are convinced – at least they give the impression that they are – that there was a temple where a mosque stands today. The second step is to establish whether the temple belongs to the Hindus or the Muslims. "The Muslim case is one of self-created weaknesses," said a member of the Ayodhya cell. "First there is no documentation of their claim: second the mutwalli (mosque priest) has left the place at the mercy of the keertanwallas and has never been keen to reclaim it: third it is the Hindus who are now in possession."
And that's not all. The Muslims are unable to prove that the disputed 2.77-acre plot was originally a graveyard where they buried their dead. Naresh Chandra and other officials camped in Ayodhya for two days to find out the last time a dead body was buried there. They were unable to locate even one Muslim family in Ayodhya which had buried any one there in the last 50 years.
The case of the Muslims has been further weakened because none of its members have petitioned the courts claiming inconvenience on the ground that their graveyard has been taken away from them. And most important of all the UP government has offered alternative land to the Muslims to be used as a graveyard.
Could all of this be done without a nod from New Delhi? Observers think not. Said one of them: "What is important is not the spiritual or religious element in the argument but that the PMO has bought it and is using it to support the proposition that the land is not as sacred for the Muslims as it is for the Hindus."
Of course, Narasimha Rao has been careful not to hurt Muslim sentiments. In a recent meeting with Muslim leaders, he is reported to have said: "I understand that your prestige must not be compromised. I will do nothing to harm it. But whatever the solution, I assure you there will be no confrontation." This means that while laying down the parameters for resolving the problem, the PM has simultaneously indicated that everything else is open.
To be fair to Rao, he has little choice in the matter. If he thinks he can have his way with the Muslims, he also realises that the forces of Hindutva are not in a mood to budge an inch from its position. Moreover while the Prime Minister has taken it upon himself to solve the problem a part of the Ayodhya dispute is also lodged with the courts. And Rao for one is not willing to pre-judge their verdicts.
Consider the various court cases. The Lucknow and Allahabad bench of the Uttar Pradesh High Court have before them several suits filed by the Hindus and the Muslims. And the Supreme Court will hear, on 13 October, the case relating to the status of the disputed land. The overriding impression is that the court cases have yielded nothing except frustration and have been a setback to negotiations.
Worse, the legal suits have only hardened positions on both sides. So no more legality. "The PM believes that the courts must be used as an instrument to resolve matters, not create fresh issues," a political source said.
Admirable sentiments. So how does the government propose to use the judiciary in the Ayodhya issue?
If the High Court should favour the Hindus in its judgement, the Prime Minister can relax. He has a face-saving device ready in the court judgement. There will be appeals surely. But those can be heard at leisure.
If the High Court does not give a verdict in the BJP-VHP's favour, he has a problem. But never at a loss for a contingency plan, the PM has another scheme his sleeve. He has asked the VHP-BJP for two sets of temple plans.
Make one plan as if the mosque is there: make another as if the mosque is not there," he has told VHP leaders. By this, Rao has secured two objectives. Firstly the VHP will have to abide by the court judgement and construct the temple without damaging the mosque if the court so rules. And secondly the organisation cannot renege on its word because the PM will have a copy of the plan.
And now the master stroke. Anticipating an adverse court judgement for the Muslims: Rao has secured their informal consent to hand over the disputed 2.77 acre of land so long as he gives them the assurance that the Babri Masjid will not be touched. Now everyone is happy: the Muslims because their prestige is intact: the Hindus because they are in possession of the temple and the land around it: and Rao, because he has done what no Prime Minster could have done.
Of course a miscalculation could create a problem of serious proportions. If the Hindus lose the disputed land case it could demoralise them and make them lose faith in the judiciary. This could give rise to more militancy.
In that case, the Prime Minster will have no option but to seek the advice of the judiciary under Article 143 of the Constitution in order to bring all the case relating t Ayodhya under one court. The BJP has already indicated that it would not be averse to such an arrangement.
There is the last and the most mischievous scenario.
On the original suit filed for the title of the disputed structure there is a time limit (as there is in all such cases) of 12 years for settlement. The VHP can with the consent of the PM demand that the case be settled out of court.
Once the matter is out of bounds of the court who can prevent the VHP from using muscle? At one level the Muslim leaders are terrified of such a scenario: they will lose all credibility if this happens. But on another level this would resolve all the problems because the Muslim leadership will be spared the humiliation of handing over the mosque to the Hindus.
The only consideration preventing this from happening is that the PM won't come out of it smelling of roses. Negotiations are going on. But the PM knows what he wants. And so far he has got what he has desired.