The country’s most famous real estate dispute has taken a new turn. Or has it? The Allahabad High Court has directed the Archaeological Survey of India to carry out excavations at the contentious site in Ayodhya.
The ASI’s brief is to determine whether a temple existed or not at the place where the demolished Babri masjid once stood. It’s not yet clear, though, how this pertains to solving the imbroglio that has held the nation’s attention for the last decade and much more. Finding an earlier structure under the area adjoining the demolished mosque — something that a geological survey company using radar technology reportedly attested to in its findings to the ASI last month — will prove exactly that: the existence of an earlier structure, nothing less, nothing more. Even if evidence suggests that Mughal governor Mir Baqi did build a commemorative mosque to honour Babar after razing a Ram temple, does an event that took place in 1528 merit the ‘corrective measures’ taken on December 6, 1992, or those being insisted upon by the Sangh parivar today?
Being fixated on ‘fixing past mistakes’ and thereby creating communal ruptures today is a dangerous trend if allowed to continue. Even as an attempt to get to the bottom of archaeological truth, the high court order to dig up the past is a dangerous precedent. What happens if the Taj Mahal or the Khajuraho Temple is found to be standing atop once-demolished structures? And does the digging stop only after Hindu relics are found? Apart from the handle provided to dig up every mosque to ascertain whether a temple lurks under it — not to mention digging up every temple to check whether it stands under a destroyed Buddhist stupa — the business of knowing which community holds proprietorship of a piece of land using a ‘first-come first-served’ logic is insane and impractical. For those baying for the 67-acre undisputed land in Ayodhya — and by extension the 2.77 acres of disputed land — to be ‘returned’ to its ‘rightful owners’, however, sanity and practicality are matters for the birds and the bees.
The ASI has been told to start excavations within a week and present its findings in a month’s time. The ruling, coming a day before the Supreme Court reserved its verdict on the Centre’s plea to vacate the status quo order on the undisputed site, is bound to make the Sangh parivar play up a link between the buried past and the future of the dispute. But the court must make it clear to both opposing parties in the wrangle that regardless of whether a Ram temple is found in subterranean Ayodhya or not, it’s the law that will decide on the contentious issue on the ground.