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Beyond real estate

I don't think the Ram Janmabhoomi or the Babri masjid in Ayodhya is a problem. It is a manifestation of a problem, writes Javed Akhtar.
PTI | By Javed Akhtar
UPDATED ON JUL 15, 2003 02:43 AM IST

I don’t think the Ram Janmabhoomi or the Babri masjid in Ayodhya is a problem. It is a manifestation of a problem. You can solve problems. You cannot solve manifestations.

Nobody can deny that Ayodhya is historically and mythologically Ram’s abode. Nobody in his or her right mind can say that a Ram temple should not be built there. The bone of contention is not Ayodhya, but a particular plot. Not even a particular plot but an area of a mere 80/40 square feet. Not even that. If the 80/40 square feet ‘sanctum sanctorum’ of the proposed Ram temple could be located a mere 30 feet away, the dispute could be resolved. The problem is that while no one is sure of the exact millennium of Ram’s birth, the Sangh parivar is absolutely certain about the precise spot of his birth. Yet, leave alone 30 feet, they will not agree to move even by three inches to solve the problem plaguing all of Indian society.

On the other hand, the ‘once a mosque, always a mosque’ claim of maulvis and mullahs is nothing but a lie. They cannot deny that in many Muslim countries, mosques have often been shifted even to broaden highways. So the insistence that a mosque must be rebuilt at the exact spot is anything but religious.

That a solution is the last thing on the mind of the contestants on either side is obvious. The moment newspapers reported that the Shankaracharya of Kanchi is in touch with the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) for a mutually acceptable solution, some Urdu papers published unsubstantiated news that some AIMPLB members had been paid Rs 20 crore by the government. On the other hand, VHP leader Giriraj Kishore wasted no time in declaring that being a Shaivite, the Shankaracharya had no locus standi on the Ayodhya issue. (The VHP regained its reverence for the Shankaracharya the moment it became known that his proposed formula was no different from what the Sangh parivar wants). So much for these leaders’ desire for a solution and their claims of religious unity!

Since nothing in the world is done on such scale and with such consistency without a grand plan, the question that arises is: why are the fundamentalists from both sides doing this?

This controversy cannot be understood in isolation, for it is just a bit act of a marathon drama that is being played in the subcontinent for around 150 years. It all began in the 1850s, when on the one hand the nationalist forces were awakening to the growing power of the British colonialists and had started coming together to resist it. On the other hand, the British realised that they would not be able to control the ‘natives’ without creating a schism between them along communal lines. (I wonder if it is a coincidence that the Ayodhya controversy, too, surfaced for the first time in 1853). For the British, the mutiny of 1857 was their worst fears come true.

From the record of correspondence at the India Office, London, it is clear that the British conjured up, preached and propagated the two-nation theory in a deliberate and consistent manner. In 1859, the colonial administration erected a fence to separate the Babri masjid and Ram chabutra in Ayodhya, allowing the inner court to be used by Muslims and the outer court by Hindus. Perhaps another coincidence!

All those who helped the British in promoting and propagating the notion that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations and cannot live together, cannot be called anything but collaborators. And there is no doubt that the Muslim League, the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS belong to this category. Some people may be shocked and outraged at the RSS being called collaborators of the colonial power. But I would like to ask why from its birth in 1925 till the country’s Independence in 1947, the RSS did not issue a single statement, did not organise a single rally and did not court a single arrest protesting colonial rule. The same is true of the Muslim League. Not a single member of these organisations that succeeded in dividing this nation and creating Pakistan, went to jail even for a day at the peak of the freedom movement.

There is an unbelievable similarity in the political stands of the Muslim League and the RSS. The Muslim League asked its followers to boycott the Quit India movement. The RSS did the same. M.S. Golwalkar said such movements create chaos and law and order problems, so they should be avoided and ignored. The Muslim League was rewarded with Pakistan. But the Hindu proponents of the two-nation theory were deprived of their dream because of genuine nationalists who fought for independence.

So who is a fundamentalist? The fundamentalist has his own version of history, his own definition of culture, his own interpretation of religion and his own brand of nationalism. Behind all the impassioned sloganeering and pretensions of defending culture, religion and nation, the real agenda is to legitimise an unjust and an exploitative system.

Gujarat is called a laboratory of Hindutva, but in my view its biggest laboratory is Pakistan, which was founded on those very principles on which the Sangh parivar wants to rebuild this country. In Pakistan, Islamic fundamentalism is but a convenient cover for an exploitative economic system. And the parivar’s ultimate fantasy is a Hindu Pakistan.

In Pakistan, to make a feudal system viable, it is necessary that all civil liberties be denied to the people. To deny civil liberties, you need an undemocratic system. And to justify and legitimise an undemocratic system, you need religious fundamentalism and majoritarianism pretending to be nationalism. This use of fundamentalism is also evident in those Muslim countries where a few control all national wealth. Though the elite dole out crumbs to the ordinary citizen in these countries, no civil rights exist.

Fascism and fundamentalism (theocracy) have one thing in common: both believe in the total usurpation of the basic rights and civil liberties of citizens. Nazi Germany and Taliban Afghanistan are eloquent testimonies of this. Interestingly, the Sangh parivar has from the very beginning been enamoured by Nazi ideology. Given half a chance, like the Taliban, the Sangh parivar will start putting women in their place.

It is not that every fundamentalist sees his world view as a political instrument. On the contrary, the large majority of those who subscribe to such views are sincerely committed to them. But these are mere pawns and minions who have been brainwashed. And among them, those from the economically weaker sections are often used as canon fodder. But for those who are pulling the invisible strings, fundamentalism remains but a political strategy.

To think it was reverence for Ram that made L.K. Advani launch his rath yatra is like believing that actually Jinnah wanted to save Islam in the subcontinent. The fact is that Jinnah was a cold-blooded, manipulative, power-hungry politician who hardly had any religious beliefs. The same can be said of Advani.

What should not be forgotten is that when Advani and his party picked up the Ayodhya gauntlet, Muslim fundamentalists provided a perfect foil to him. We also need to understand the Muslim fundamentalist agenda. In post-Partition India, the Muslim fundamentalist can no longer aspire to gain control of the State. But his political ambitions intact, he does seek to be a State within a State. He is interested in democracy and secularism only to the extent that in the name of these principles his fundamentalism is

tolerated. He wants tolerance and democracy because that serves his interest. But he is not prepared to tolerate any freedom or democracy within his own community. He wants total control over the country’s largest minority the same way as the Sangh parivar wants total control over the entire country.

To be able to exert pressure on the State, the Muslim fundamentalist would like to be seen as the sole representative of his community. He wants to use Muslims as bargaining chips. I hang my head in shame every time I recall how at the time of Shah Bano, Muslim fundamentalists were allowed to force secular India to bend to their diktats.

He who speaks out against the Muslim fundamentalist is anti-Islam, he who speaks against the Sangh parivar is anti-national. Both of them have no tolerance for any opinion other than their own.

So, the choice is not between fundamentalists of two communities, for they are the mirror-images of each other. The choice is not even between a temple and a mosque. The choice is between democracy and a totalitarian regime. Let us make all fundamentalist organisations irrelevant by telling them in no uncertain terms that it is not Ayodhya — they are the problem.

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