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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019

Ayodhya: Look back, move forward

The issue has haunted the nation. Citizens must now respect the court order, and live in harmony

columns Updated: Oct 21, 2019 19:40 IST
Shashi Shekhar
Shashi Shekhar
The Babri Masjid demolition was a social and political earthquake. The Supreme Court verdict offers an opportunity to heal past wounds
The Babri Masjid demolition was a social and political earthquake. The Supreme Court verdict offers an opportunity to heal past wounds(Sanjay Sharma/ HT Archive)

This was perhaps in 2011-12. When I entered the Prayagraj Express from Allahabad to Delhi, an old gentleman was sitting in front of me. I was settling down and arranging my luggage, when he asked if he had seen me somewhere. I looked at him closely, and felt that I had met him before as well. But the question was where.

Then, it struck me. The old gentleman extended his hand and introduced himself as Palok Basu. “Oh dada!”, I exclaimed spontaneously. Palokda was a justice in the Allahabad High Court, but he never gave up the bond of brotherhood with the people of the city. When I first met him, he was among the eminent jurists and theatre artistes in the city.

Justice Basu was so warm-hearted that he bridged the long gap between that meeting with him and our train encounter. I asked him why was he going to Delhi. He said he was trying to solve the Ayodhya issue, and travelled to Delhi often in this regard. Hearing this, the journalist in me became alert. I asked him several questions and he replied to all of them in detail. He was convinced that this long-pending matter would be resolved soon. Today, he is no longer with us, but his optimism comes to mind every now and again.

After a week of this chance meeting with him, I mentioned this conversation at a gathering in Lutyens Delhi. Many members of Parliament from various parties were present there. Almost everyone agreed on one thing — this was not possible. The reason? They all said the matter had become “political”. We all know that the Ayodhya issue may have started as a result of faith, but since the time of the British, the shadow of politics has not been far from it.

Instead of opening the creaking doors of history, the roots of the present situation can be tracked to events three decades ago. In 1986, a district court judge in Faizabad allowed Hindus to worship there by instructing the administration to unlock the doors of the temple. The foundation of this judgment was laid in 1949 when on the night of December 22-23, the statues of Lord Ram, Lakshman and Sita “appeared” on the site. The next week, a receiver was deputed there after the confiscation of the property. You may recall that, in 1949, Jawaharlal Nehru was the prime minister and in 1986, Rajiv Gandhi’s government was in power.

This matter took another significant turn in 1990 when Lal Krishna Advani took out his famous rathyatra. On October 23, he was arrested in Samastipur, Bihar. This date will always be considered important in the history of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). After that, the response to it across the country made it clear that the matter had now gone beyond just an issue of the mandir and masjid, and gained enough significance to make or break a government. It is not just the Congress and the BJP which are involved in this game. The regional satraps have also benefited from this. The orders for arresting Advani were issued by Lalu Prasad. Mulayam Singh Yadav was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh at that time. During his rule, the police had opened fire on people in Faizabad, killing 10. It has been many years since then. Lalu in Bihar and Mulayam in Uttar Pradesh subsequently enjoyed tremendous influence among minority community voters, and continue to do so today.

After October 1990, the social structure of north India was upturned much in the manner that the earth trembles beneath the surface before a full-fledged earthquake. But the people did not seem to feel it. The earthquake surfaced on December 6, 1992 in the form of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. After that, almost 2,000 people died in the riots which gripped the country. Property worth crores was destroyed or damaged. Needless to say, the blood of ordinary citizens is often the price for the fortunes of political leaders.

That phase has now passed. Today, the apex court has to pronounce judgment on the issue. The wait for this makes one restless, but it is nevertheless an excellent opportunity for India. To pronounce judgments on disputes is the duty of the courts. But the responsibility of following those judgments falls on the citizens. The decision of the apex court may please one side and make the other unhappy. This is an opportunity for Indians living in the 21st century to send out the message that feelings of coexistence come naturally to us. During the long saga of this dispute, there were many phases when we stumbled. But after the judgment, if a positive effort is made by the leaders and the public, we can set an example for a world which often is plagued by many disputes.

I will introduce you to a unique incident which is lost in the anonymous pages of history. Guru Hargobind Singh, after defeating the Mughals in 1634, built a mosque for the local Muslims. After Independence, the Nihang Sikhs took control of the mosque. For decades, the Sikhs worshipped the Guru Granth Sahib there, but in 2001, they formally signed an agreement and handed over the mosque to the Muslims again. Now, in this “Guru Ki Maseet” namaz is offered.

If this sentiment of coexistence could so clearly be expressed in Sri Hargobindpur, then why not in Ayodhya?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal