The building up of tension in anticipation of the verdict of the Allahabad High Court on four title suits claiming ownership over the disputed Babri Masjid/Ram Janmabhoomi site at Ayodhya on September 24 is palpable. In this context, one cannot escape recollecting that on this day — September 14, 1857 – the British launched their final assault on Delhi, completely routing “the most magnificent city east of Constantinople”. Thus began the notorious divide-and-rule policy that the British adopted to consolidate their colonial occupation and loot of India.
a contemporary British chronicler in central India, Thomas Lowe, during the first war of independence wrote in 1860: “To live in India now was like standing on the verge of a volcanic crater, the sides of which were fast crumbling away from our feet, while the boiling lava was ready to erupt and consume us”.
Further, he exclaimed: “The infanticide Rajput, the bigoted Brahmin, the fanatic Mussalman, had joined together in the cause; cow-killer and the cow-worshipper, the pig-hater and the pig-eater…” had revolted together.
Clearly, such unity as displayed by Indians during 1857-59 against the British could not be allowed if the British were to continue to rule India. The divide-and-rule policy officially began and was later cemented with the partition of the Hindu and the Muslim electorates in undivided Bengal in 1905. The popular resistance to this — the swadeshi movement — laid the foundations for the emergence of the modern freedom struggle.
In a groundbreaking work, Besieged, Mahmood Farooqui provides a rich translation of the archival ‘Mutiny Papers’ for the first time. One can see here that in every statement/deposition made by every resident of Delhi to the authorities against the entry Qaun, we find descriptions such as Ahir, Gujjar, Rajput, Kori, Khatri, Shaikh, Pathan, Dafali etc. Nowhere has a categorisation been made on the basis of religion. In fact, the widely circulated daily, Dihli Urdu Akhbaar, reported that the 1857 rebellion “had been sent by the Gods to punish the kafirs (read British) for their arrogant plan to wipe out the religions of India”. Note the reference is not any particular religion but to all religions of this land.
The ‘District Gazetteer of Faizabad’ notes that the Babri Masjid had “a miracle well, whose water was revered both by Hindus and Muslims for its cool sweetness and for its disease curing powers”. It further notes, “Up to this time (1855), both Hindus and Muslims used to worship in the same building. But since the Mutiny (1857), an outer enclosure has been put up in front of the Masjid and the Hindus, forbidden access to the inner yard, make the offering on a platform (chabootara), which they have raised in the outer one”.
The building of a Ram temple at this chabootara was soon replaced by calls for the entire territory when idols were installed in the Masjid surreptitiously on December 22-23, 1949. The differences on this score between Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel, on the one hand, and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister G.B. Pant, on the other, are well known. So are the events that led to the tensions that eventually lead to the destruction of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. These, thus, need no repetition.
The judiciary today is seized with the matter regarding the ownership of the land on which the Babri Masjid stood. The Supreme Court had, earlier, rejecting the Presidential reference sent to it by the Narasimha Rao government, said that it can decide a dispute but cannot solve a problem. An adjudication of title suits, by itself, cannot resolve problems based on faith.
Without entering into any dispute on matters of faith, it must be noted that faith, in its final form, is related to the pursuit of acquiring the ability to recognise the truth. Civilisational wisdom, old and ancient as ours, tells us to let a hundred flowers bloom, a thousand thoughts contend, so that finally we can seek truth from the facts. While truth is a fact, all facts are not the whole truth. This is the crucial difference between philosophy and theology, between history and mythology.
Noted Allahabad historian Sushil Srivastava has painstakenly shown that archaeological excavations at the disputed site may reveal the long lost Buddhist Vihara of Saketa that was so highly acclaimed in the accounts of Hueng Tsang. Whether such a course to determine the ‘truth’ of what existed prior to the building of the Babri Masjid on these lands will solve any dispute is, thus, doubtful. This only brings to mind a reported conversation between Firaq Gorakhpuri (a professor of English; born a high caste Hindu), known as much for his wit as his Urdu poetry, and his neighbour. The latter told Firaqsaab that while digging in his court yard, he encountered wires and concluded that ancient Indian civilisation was so advanced that it had already invented telecommunications. Firaq retorted that he had also the occasion to dig his court yard, but having found no wires, he concluded that ancient Indian civilisation was more advanced with wireless communication!
Modern India needs to take forward our traditions of syncretic evolution of the Indian civilisation. Seeking to settle scores of history, real or perceived, must not be allowed to fritter away the country’s energies in fratricidal conflicts. These energies must be galvanised to realise our true potential based on the foundations of a secular democratic republic. The strength of ‘We, the people’ lies in the secular unity that marshals all our energies in realising our full potential for building a better India.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal