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A possible solution to the Ayodhya dispute
By Syed Shahabuddin

Since mid–October 2001, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has intensified its campaign of mass mobilization in support of its oft-repeated resolve of commencing the construction of the proposed Ram Janmabhoommi Mandir in the disputed area around 12 March 2002, law or no law. Several BJP leaders including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee himself have endorsed the deadline and assured the BJP that the solution will be found before 12 March Today the RSS and the entire Sangh Parivar have totally identified themselves with the VHP project.

The BJP- led Union Government has in effect granted the freedom of the land to the VHP to carry on its provocative and inflammatory campaign because it synchronizes with the electoral campaign for the forthcoming Assembly election in UP. Obviously the issue has been revived to serve the political interest of the BJP without a thought for the larger implications for the country, for democracy and the rule of law and for the secular order. One finds it amazingly irresponsible that instead of warning and even prosecuting the VHP for waging a virtual war against the State, the PM and other ministers are showing all indulgence to the VHP because the fate of his government and the future of the BJP hang on the results of the UP election. It is a sad day for democracy when in pursuit o power a seditious group, which challenges the Constitution, is feted and treated on terms of equality by the powers that be. 

In our considered view a responsible government would administer a stern warning to such trouble makers, on pain of prosecution under the law of the land, to desist from openly threatening to break the law, violate the status quo, imposed by the Supreme Court, and start construction on a site of its choice without allocation by the government or the court. A responsible government would also ban the Bajrang Dal, which is the militant arm of the VHP, and which is today arming its cadres to gather in Ayodhya in coming February. A responsible government would block the access of the Karsevaks to Ayodhya, except genuine yatris, direct the state government to impose section 144 in Ayodhya and tighten the security. Above all, a responsible government would use all the means at its disposal to advise the people not to proceed the Ayodhya to join the unlawful undertaking of the VHP.

A responsible government can do even more. It can place the acquired area, whose security is its exclusive and undivided responsibility, under the Armed Forces as the CRPF has been found to be unreliable. A responsible government would take into custody all the carved pillars and other architectural elements, stored at a stone’s throw from the disputed area, to be released for construction when a site is lawfully allocated for the Mandir. A responsible government may go further and request the Supreme Court to order the demolition of the concrete base for a large part of the Mandir, which was unlawful by constructed in July 1992, in contempt of court, for which the then Chief Minster Kalyan Singh received a token punishment. It is this base on which the VHP hopes, to place a few pillars in March 2002 and thus fulfill its vow.

Yes, the Union Government, if it has the political will can easily deal with the menace. But the Vajpayee government will not. Politically his party always stands to gain by inciting the Hindu community, by polarizing the Indian society and by communalizing the environment.

Then, what can the secular parties do to defend democracy and the secular order, to protect the dignity of the judiciary and to safeguard the legitimate rights of the Muslim community? Will they merely raise the question in the parliament and stage a walkout if the government does not give a satisfactory reply? Will the other secular forces, as usual, issue tearful statements of regret, after the event?

We are all convinced that the country faces another watershed and that the nation is on the brink of another disaster. In such a situation only counter-mobilization and collective action by the secular parties can compel the government to be true to the Constitution and follow the right path. Then it is essential that they sit down together and evolve an effective Plan of Action and advise the people, including the Muslim community, of where they come in and what role they can play in the struggle to save the country and to halt the creeping fascism.

In Nov-Dec 1992, the secular parties failed to anticipate the Demolition sense, the understanding between the Parivar and the then Prime Minster and look behind his promises and assurances. This time the Vajpayee government, we must grant, is more open, less secretive. The secular parties will have no excuse, no alibi, for not doing anything.

Yet, what if they sit with folded hands and fail to provide effective resistance or take concrete action to stop the VHP? The Babri Masjid Movement should therefore prepare a contingency plan based on the Gandhian method of non-violent peaceful resistance and invite all secular forces to join.

But before the Movement plunges into action, it must place a feasible solution before the people and the parties.

No solution can come out of a legislation, as the Sangh Parivar desires, to declare the disputed area as Ram Janambhoomi and hand it over to the Mandir, Nyas, Such legislation would mean usurpation of a Masjid site for the construction of a Mandir and would therefore be totally unconstitutional. The Masjid stood there from 1528 to 1992, while the Ram Mandir which it is supposed to have replaced is nothing more than a myth. There is no judicially acceptable evidence that the Masjid site is the birth site of Ram Chandraji or that a commemorative Mandir stood on the site in 1428 Archaeologically even Ayodhya itself can not be identified as Ram Nagri. In any case such legislation will give rise to yet another round of litigation and will not provide a final solution.

That leaves the two other methods, of Adjudication, which is going on, and of Negotiation which did not show any result in 1991 and for which in any case the Vajpayee government has taken no initiative during the last three years. 

The wisest course is for both parties to await the result of the judicial proceeding and to commit themselves to accept the final judicial verdict. Muslim have already done so, even if the verdict goes against them. The Sangh Parviar on the other hand questions the very idea on ground of ‘faith’, though its leaders often quote the law and judicial orders, when it suits them. They also create doubt about adjudication on the ground that it may take many years. But even if it does, why can’t they wait? They have waited for 500 years! The Muslim community whose standing Masjid was broken into, then occupied, then converted into a de facto mandir and then demolished, could have demanded immediate reconstruction as promised, but they did not. But they are anxious to have the Masjid site restored and therefore to expedite the judicial proceeding, as their eyewitnesses are dying one by one. Since 1986, they have been consistently demanding day-to-day hearing of the case by the Special Bench which consists of three judges of the Allahabad High Court. The Union Government can appoint three more judges in the High court, so that without any detriment to the normal work of the High Court, the Special Bench may deal exclusively with the case. The Government should also ask the VHP to be a party and place all the evidence it has before the Bench and cooperate in expediting the process. Indian courts have decided many religious questions even the status of Shankaracharyas and the size of prashad laddoos. Why shouldn't the Bench be allowed to decide whether the disputed site is the birth-site of Shri Ram Chandraji and whether a temple stood there in 1528? Or is the VHP afraid of losing the case?

As for negotiation in honest search of a mutually satisfactory settlement, the core of the problem is the inclusion of the Babri Masjid site by the VHP in its Site Plan for the Mandir and the Muslim refusal to surrender it. The Mandir site plan covers more than 36,000 square feet and the Masjid site is less than 3,600. Secondly even if one associates, on ground of faith, the locality with Ram Janamasthan, it is not possible to pin point the exact birth site. Thirdly, for a long time the Ram Chabootra, just outside the Masjid, was accepted as the birth-site, Fourthly, a huge Ram Janamasthan Mandir recognized as such by all mahants of Ayodhya stands just to the north of Babri Masjid. Fifthly, when the Masjid was broken into in the night of 22-23 December, 1949, the idols were "manifested" first in the open courtyard of the Masjid and then moved later to the Mehrab, a distance longer than that between the place of "manifestation" and the Ram Chabootra. This means that the ‘garbha griha’ [sanctum sanctorum] can be moved by a few feet to outside the Masjid.

Muslims are interested essentially in the Masjid site. They have no objection to the construction of the Mandir on an adjacent site, They are even prepared to give some portion of the disputed land around the Masjid, as needed, for the construction of the Mandir.

Thus a solution stares us in the eye: Restore Masjid site to the Muslims, Construct the Mandir on an adjacent site; Revise its Site Plan accordingly.

But the VHP will not accept this solution as its object is political, not religious. It simply cannot tolerate a Masjid on the heights of Ayodhya. But it forgets that Ayodhya has been a center of Islamic learning since the 11th century and it has acres, of Qabristan and scores of Masjids and Maqbaras. So instead of engaging in an honest quest for a solution, the VHP is pressing the government to hand over the acquired area, other than the disputed area, to it. For one thing, the status quo order of the Supreme Court covers the entire area. Secondly, if the Site Plan includes any disputed area, as it does, it can not be approved until the dispute is settled and any construction on the basis of an unapproved Site Plan is unlawful, no matter where the construction begins. Thirdly, why should the VHP anticipate that the final judicial verdict on the disputed area will be in its favour? Suppose it is not, will the VHP then redesign the Mandir? No it will simply violate the verdict, occupy the Masjid site and construct. This clever but malafide gambit is not new. This was played by L.K Advani in November 1992. Even Narasimha Rao found it difficult to accept it. The Babari Masjid Movement rejected it then; shall reject it again.

Yes, an early solution is necessary in the interest of the country and the people. But the signatures of some unknown non-entities on the dotted line did not solve the dispute. It will not constitute a binding agreement between the communities. No court will recognize such an agreement. An out of-court solution is only possible if the VHP agrees to revise the Mandir Site Plan and leave out the Babri Masjid site. All secular forces and all men of good will in all communities must work actively for this solution.
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