You would have thought that the fuss over the Liberhan Report would have died down by now. And in many ways, it has. The newspapers certainly appear to have moved on.
But each day, when I look at the questions that readers send me on my website or when I talk to young people, I recognise how the report has brought the Ayodhya issue back to our consciousness. But many younger readers seem mystified by the fuss and annoyed by the refusal of journos to tell them what it was all about.
So here are my replies to the questions I am frequently asked on this subject.
1. Was there a Hindu temple on this site? And was it destroyed to build a mosque?
Ans. We don’t know. Archaeologists are divided on the issue and sadly, these divisions often reflect ideological biases. What we can say for certain is this: nobody can absolutely rule out the possibility of a temple having existed here at some stage.
2. Did Muslim invaders destroy Hindu temples?
Ans. The sad answer is yes, they did. Some of this was for the purposes of looting (temples were rich) but some of the destruction was religion-driven.
3. Wasn’t this terrible?
Ans. Yes it was. There is no getting around that. Religious tolerance was not always a quality prized by medieval Muslim warriors.
But let’s keep in mind that those were different times. There was an era when Hinduism had been eclipsed in much of India by Buddhism. When Hinduism made a comeback some centuries later, Hindu kings destroyed Buddhist monasteries, more or less throwing Buddhism out of India.
So nobody’s hands are entirely clean in these matters.
4. Shouldn’t we rebuild all the temples that were destroyed?
Ans. Why? What purpose would it serve? Would it make Hinduism a better religion if we did that? Should Hindus also offer to rebuild all the Buddhist monasteries that were destroyed?
Nothing is really achieved by going back in history to set right wrongs that were committed centuries ago. And the costs of such an exercise can be terrible for present day society.
5. Then why create such a fuss over the Babri Masjid?
Ans. Well, because some Hindus claim that it was not just any old site. They claim that a temple that marked the birthplace of Ram had stood there.
Thus, this was a spot of great religious significance to Hindus. After all, a great Hindu God had been born on this piece of land.
6. Was this true?
Ans. Probably not. There are many controversies about the historical Ram, his very existence and the location of his Ayodhya. Some historians and archaeologists dispute that today’s Ayodhya is the same as the Ayodhya of the Ramayana.
Moreover, several other spots have also been claimed as birthplaces of Ram. So it is not clear that this one has any special claim. It is just one of many.
Besides, the overwhelming majority of Hindus had never heard of this spot till the controversy began. So if Ram was born here thousands of years ago, why did most of us only hear of the place in the mid-80s?
7. Didn’t LK Advani know all this?
Ans. Yes, he did. His view was that archaeology and history did not matter. If Hindus believed that this was the birthplace of Ram, then that was all that mattered. It was a question of faith.
But as we have seen, Hindus did not actually believe any of this till Advani told them so.
8. What did Advani want?
Ans. Actually, none of this was Advani’s or the BJP’s idea. Under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP was busy pursuing a moderate agenda. The Ayodhya agitation was the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s movement. It was only when it seemed to be gathering steam in Uttar Pradesh that Advani hijacked the movement and turned it into a BJP campaign (thereby, hijacking the BJP from Vajpayee as well).
Having said that, Advani’s demands were not outlandish or hysterical and that’s despite how shameful his methods were. He wanted the masjid moved, brick by brick, to a nearby location so that a temple could come up on the so-called Ram Janmabhoomi site. He argued that mosques were moved all the time in Pakistan, when roads had to be constructed. So there were precedents.
Besides, he said, this was not a functioning mosque. A dispute had prevented namaaz from being said there for decades. As the spot had no special significance for Muslims, wouldn’t they be better off with a functioning mosque a short distance away? Hindus would be forever grateful to them for being so accommodating.
9. This sounds quite reasonable.
Ans. Well, yes and no. Many Muslims saw this as the beginning of a process whereby many mosques would be shifted around in the name of avenging ancient wrongs. The VHP spoke of Kashi and Mathura being next. More demands were on the way.
Muslim leaders decided to hold firm on this one.
10. Were they right to do so?
Ans. That’s a matter of opinion. My own view is that the Ayodhya movement was a farce designed to win votes for a declining BJP by focusing on a Ram Janmabhoomi which few of us had ever heard of.
On the other hand, a massive Hindu backlash, fed by the intransigence and stupidity of Muslim leaders over such issues as Shah Bano and the Satanic Verses, was building up. Indian secularism was being derided as a way of appeasing Muslims.
Given this background, I think Indian secularism would have gained if Muslim leaders had been more flexible.
11. Why is everybody so critical of Justice Liberhan?
Ans. Because the guy took 17 years and over Rs 8 crore to tell us nothing new. Entire sections of the report seem to have been dictated from beyond the grave by Narasimha Rao.
12. If Ayodhya was such a big deal, why did the issue die down?
Ans. Ayodhya was a symbol of two things: a growing anger among Hindus who felt that Muslims were being pampered by the state and Advani’s vaulting ambition.
When the BJP came to power, both factors vanished. Hindus could no longer claim that Muslims were being favoured. And Advani got the power he so desperately craved.
End of movement. And, goodbye Lord Ram. The BJP did not need him any longer.
The views expressed by the author are personal.