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Saturday, Dec 07, 2019

Ayodhya case: Muslims should accept the five acres

A mosque in Ayodhya will reflect how our plural national existence calls for accommodation

analysis Updated: Nov 13, 2019 19:20 IST
Salman Khurshid
Salman Khurshid
Rejecting the land for the mosque will be myopic and detract from the moral capital the Muslim side has
Rejecting the land for the mosque will be myopic and detract from the moral capital the Muslim side has (Burhaan Kinu/HT)
         

The sobriety and restraint shown nationwide in the wake of the Ayodhya judgment is commendable. We are all advised not to see the outcome in terms of winning or losing. However, despite the universal acceptance of the judgment, as had been announced repeatedly by social groups and political parties, there are some people who have expressed their disappointment. Furthermore, we hear voices, some reputed to be sane and sensible, exhorting the Sunni Waqf Board to refrain from accepting five acres of land directed to be given to them as part of complete justice in the circumstances. This might be myopic and may detract from the moral capital that the Muslim side has gained in the course of the judgment.

There are several reasons that might be cited for not accepting the offer of five acres. During the aborted or unsuccessful negotiations for an out-of-court settlement, some Muslims felt that this would create a precedent of willingness to exchange an existing mosque for another place, and could lead to complication for other sites, including in Mathura and Varanasi.

There was a more fundamental theological reason about the character of a mosque being permanent and not susceptible to alteration by an act of man. Be that as it may, now that the decision has been given, it may be advisable to consider the matter in its entirety, and not forego an opportunity for greater reconciliation between the communities.

It is important to note that the court was very candid in holding that 1934 (when the first attempt was made to intrude), 1949 (when the mosque was desecrated and idols placed), and 1992 (when the mosque was demolished) were acts in violation of the rule of law. At least, to that extent, the contested narrative that has beguiled politics for decades has firmly been put to rest in favour of the truth.

The court also did not endorse the claim that the Babri Masjid was constructed on the site of a temple (leave alone Ram temple) after demolishing it. Nor did the court accept the proposition that the mosque had been abandoned. The Places of Worship Act was upheld without the qualification sought to be added by the Allahabad High Court. The concept of juristic personality was restricted to a deity and not expanded, as was sought by the Hindu side, to include the birthplace of Ram. The Muslim side came within a whisker of complete success. Then, how did the court end up giving the 2.77 acres of disputed land to the Hindus, having made it clear that a title suit was being adjudicated, and is not a matter of faith?

In deciding the title suit as a matter of law, the court noted that the outer courtyard along with the Ram Chabutra was admittedly and uninterruptedly in the possession of Hindus, and Muslims conceded that Ram was born in Ayodhya (but not at any particular spot). On the other hand, the inner courtyard and the three-domed structure had repeatedly been subjected to adverse claims. It is another matter that much of that was irrelevant to establish title. It is at this point that the court seems to have considered faith in the context of finding a sustainable solution. Giving the Muslims the inner courtyard, and the rest of the land to Hindus, would have left scope for confrontation and clash with the Muslims squeezed into a small mosque. Instead, the court granted five acres elsewhere.

Accepting the five-acre plot for a mosque should not be seen as surrender, but acceptance of the decision we had all vowed to respect and honour. A mosque built there will remain a permanent symbol of our collaborative endeavour to build our secular fabric despite the cracks that threatened it, and sacrifice and cooperation of Muslims to help the court find closure to what was described as a conflict between faith and the Constitution.

As it turns out, faith and honour have survived; it remains for us to make them prosper together. A mosque in Ayodhya will be a reassurance to succeeding generations that our plural national existence periodically calls for accommodation and compromise, through direct dialogue or through our cherished constitutional institutions.

The absence of that mosque may mislead future generations to believe that complete justice might not have been done. One right step today will go down in history as the moment Indian Muslims chose to participate in the nation building project as equal and respected citizens of the country.

The mosque of reconciliation will be a living tribute to our Indian humanism. History has witnessed such great moments as in Toledo, Spain, where the cathedral houses an effigy of the Muslim Imam Abu Walid who saved the life of the Queen Constance when King Alfonso VI returned from travel and asked who destroyed the mosque. We might learn to rewrite history from medieval Spain.

Salman Khurdhid is former Union Cabinet minister

The views expressed are personal