A Muslim group has put up huge billboards in Uttar Pradesh’s Faizabad and Lucknow backing the construction of a Ram Temple at a centuries-old disputed site in Ayodhya that has remained at the centre of Indian politics for 25 years.
The hoardings have cropped up roughly a week after Hindu leader Yogi Adityanath took over as the state’s chief minister. The 44-year-old has publicly argued for a Ram Temple to be built at the disputed site that many Hindus say is the birthplace of Ram, a claim bitterly opposed by Muslim groups.
“Desh ke Musalmaanon ka yahi hai maan, Shri Ram Mandir ka ho wahin Nirman (Muslims of India want Ram Temple constructed at the site),” proclaims one such hoarding on Lucknow’s busy Ashok Marg.
Mohd Azam Khan, president of the fledgling Muslim Karsevak Sangh (MKS) that has paid for the billboards, says he was inspired by the Supreme Court calling for an amicable out-of-court settlement to the dispute last week.
“We have put up a dozen big and around 200 small hoardings in Lucknow and Faizabad to galvanise opinion for construction of Ram Mandir without waiting for a court verdict,” says Khan. A former member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-backed Muslim Rashtrya Manch (MRM), Khan parted ways with the organisation because of a difference of opinion over a solution to the dispute.
Khan says he has also launched a campaign among local Muslims and collected 150 signatures so far but says he has received a torrent of abuse and threat calls. “I know the number is small, but people are calling me from other states and extending their support,” he says.
Azam’s outfit is not the only one trying to mobilise Muslims to forego their claim on the disputed site in Ayodhya. The Muslim Mahila Foundation in Varanasi has also pitched in favour of a Ram temple.
“There can be no two opinions on the fact that Ayodhya is the land and birthplace of Ram. He was born there and hence a Ram Mandir should be built in Ayodhya without any further controversy,” says the organisation’s national president Nazneen Ansari, who translated the Hanuman Chalisa and Ramcharitmanas to Urdu.
But many other Muslim leaders and intellectuals see these attempts as a gimmick and as craven cosying up to the ruling BJP that swept to victory in India’s largest state on the back of, among others, a promise to build the Ram Temple
“Some Muslims with little or no standing in the community are in a hurry to cash in on the issue and reap the benefits by aligning with the government,” says Athar Hussein, director, Centre for Objective Research and Development (CORD), a Lucknow-based NGO.
“After all, where were these so-called Muslim leaders till now? They have been propped up by the ruling party and some RSS-backed organisations.”
Others say such moves are meaningless in the absence of a dialogue and may end up vitiating the communal amity.
“I am all for finding a solution to the dispute through the mutual agreement route. But then we have to first start the process of dialogue. Come to the negotiating table with a give-and-take approach,” says senior Congress leader Ammar Rizvi.
For centuries, Hindus and Muslims have quarrelled over the ownership of the small parcel of land in Ayodhya. To many Hindus, 16th century founder of the Mughal empire, Babar, built a mosque there after destroying a temple.
In 1992, Hindu zealots tore down the Babri mosque, sparking nationwide riots in which about 3,000 people were killed. The BJP expanded rapidly across north India in the 90s riding on the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.
A decades-long court battle has failed to resolve the dispute. At least nine attempt to settle the dispute out of court – dating as far back as 1859 – have also met a similar fate.