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Why the Muslims Rejected the Kanchi Shankaracharya’s Formula?
By Syed Shahabuddin

On 5 March 2002, a Delegation of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board led by its General Secretary met the Kanchi Shankaracharya at the request of the PMO. The Shankaracharya informed the Delegation that the Ram Janambhoomi Nyas (RJN) has confirmed its commitment to abide by the Court’s verdict in the case of the disputed site and in return he appealed to the Board to ‘accord their consent for the start of the construction of the Ram Mandir by Ram Janambhoomi Nyas on the undisputed acquired land of which the Nyas is the original owner and a permanent lease’.

This is the famous compromise formula or peace formula proposed by the Shankaracharya.

The Delegation took note of his proposal and informed him that they would consult their colleagues and place it before the Working Committee for consideration. However, later the same day the Shankaracharya informed the media that the Board has ‘nearly accepted’ his proposal. Subsequently he sent a letter dated 8 March containing his basic proposal in writing which was received by the Board on 9 March, 2002 afternoon. The Working Committee met on 10 March, 2002 and adopted a Resolution expressing ‘its inability to accept his proposal’. The rejection has been widely welcomed by the Muslim community. The Resolution gives detailed reasons for non-acceptance. Apart from mentioning these, this article highlights other relevant aspects, which have been left unsaid in the Resolution but which came up during the discussion.

The ‘peace’ or ‘compromise formula’ proposed by the Kanchi Shankaracharya was essentially no different from the line peddled by the VHP since the Shilanyas in 1989, sometimes to cajole and disarm the Muslims, sometimes to threaten and demoralize them! ‘Let the construction of the proposed Ram Mandir begin from the Shilanyas site, 120’ east of the Babari Masjid site, and proceed westward till it reaches the Babari Masjid site. By then the title suit would have been decided. If the Muslims win the suit, the RJN/VHP would abide by the Court order, stop further construction and revise the Mandir site plan, and its architectural plan, to relocate the Grabha Griha, the sanctum sanctorum of the Mandir in obedience to the law’. The objective all along was to persuade the Muslims to agree in principle to shift the Masjid against the unanimous ruling of the Ulema.

Anyone conversant with the developments since 1983 would laugh at the very idea of the VHP having a change of heart and respecting the law. But the Shankaracharya, this was the difference, placed the dignity of his high status on the line. He urged the Muslim side to accept his formula on his personal guarantee.

To make his proposal meaningful he was requested for the alternative site plan which would place the entire Mandir outside the Babari Masjid site. He did not send it. He did not even send the existing site plan though it has been widely circulated by the VHP/RJN and has been in the public domain at least since 1985. As to his spiritual and religious authority one would have liked to know why the Shankaracharya did not use it when the VHP violated the law, first in 1989 and performed the Shila Nyas in the disputed plot 586, then in July, 1992 when it built the 20’ thick concrete platform to serve as the base of the Mandir, with the official support of the Kalyan Singh Government, between the Shilanyas site and the gate of the Babari Masjid in the Wakf land and finally in December, 1992 when it demolished the Babari Masjid. Incidentally the Shankaracharya had participated in the Dharma Sansad at Kumbh Mela in December, 2000 which had set the deadline of March, 2002 for beginning the construction of the Mandir at its chosen site, without waiting for the judicial verdict and allocation of land under the Act of 1993.

The site plan was illegal because it admittedly included the Babari Masjid site, the subject of the title suit under hearing. The Mandir base had been constructed illegally on disputed land. The Babari Masjid itself had been illegally demolished. How could even a symbolic act to start the construction of the Mandir be legal, when its site fell within 5-6 acres of land, largely graveyards in the vicinity of the Babari Masjid, claimed by the Muslims and when the Supreme Court had imposed the status quo ante as of 7 January, 1993 on the entire acquired area? Of course, though the Shankaracharya had spoken of the symbolic Puja and token start. It is notable that the Formula made no mention of a symbolic Karseva or Puja or a few bricks or one stone pillar!

It was clear that the purpose of the Formula was nothing but to seek Muslim support on removing the legal hurdle in the construction of the Mandir in defiance of the status quo Order, in other words, to use the Muslims to get the RJN/VHP off the legal hook, without giving them anything in return.

Yes, the proposal offered Muslims maintenance of status quo on the ‘disputed’ site until the court pronounces its final verdict and the written commitment of the RJN to abide by the final verdict. In other words, it promised them the Babari Masjid site, if they won the case. In other words, the Muslims were offered a post-dated cheque which, as explained above, was more likely to bounce than to be honoured!

It was explained to the Shankaracharya that either the judicial course should be followed in toto or there should be an out-of-court settlement. It could not be a mix. The settlement should give something to both side by mutual agreement. If the judicial course was to be followed, both sides should commit themselves to abide by the final verdict and the judicial process should be expedited. If an out-of-court settlement was to be negotiated, the Muslim right to the Babari Masjid site should not be left hanging in the air and await judicial verdict. His formula gave nothing to the Muslim and everything to the VHP. In this sense, it was unbalanced, unfair and unjust.

Incidentally, the status quo on the Babari Masjid site, it must be clarified, only helps the VHP/RJN to keep its make-shift temple, illegally constructed on the debris of the Babari Masjid by the grace of the former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, because the status quo was related to 7 January 1993, the day of issue of acquisition ordinance, and not to 6 December, 1992, the day of the Demolition. Thus the Formula ensured that while the Ram Mandir was being constructed the make-shift temple on the Babari Masjid site will not be disturbed. And the Formula was silent on what will happen if the Muslims won the title suit. Will the make shift temple be dismantled and the site handed over to the Muslims? The leading lights of the Sangh Parivar, the RSS, BJP and VHP leaders, the sants and sadhus of the Dharma Sansad and the RJN, it may be recalled, had time and again stressed their determination to maintain the illegal occupation of the Babari Masjid site which began in 1949. ‘No power on earth can move the Ram Lalla from this site’!

There is an inbuilt contradiction in the Formula. It wants status quo to be maintained on the Babari Masjid site but allows it to be violated en masse in the rest of the acquired area which any construction or transfer now would imply.

Apart from his own prestige, the Shankaracharya proposed a wall to separate the Babari Masjid site and some adjacent land from the rest of the acquired land. It was pointed out to him that the VHP had taken just a few hours to demolish the Masjid on 6 December, 1992 and it will take them a few minutes to demolish the wall! It was also pointed out to him that once nearly half of the Mandir was constructed, psychological, political, social and even physical pressure would be applied on the Muslims to ‘donate’ the Babari Masjid site for the sake of communal harmony and for gaining the goodwill of the Hindu community. And if they did not sign away their right, the VHP would simply break in and complete the Mandir.

The Formula, interestingly, commits the RJN but not the VHP. So the rogue elephant is left free to roam in the jungle. The VHP will be free to carry on with its programme of agitation and mobilization, inciting religious passions, all over the country. When one looks closely, any distinction between the VHP and the RJN is meaningless. It is a distinction without a difference, because the same set of people dominate both bodies and they act in tandem. Ashok Singhal is the International President of the VHP and the Managing Trustee of the RJN at the same time. Most of its trustees are closely associated with the VHP. The RJN, in fact, was established by the VHP.

The Formula states that the ‘undisputed’ land outside the Babari Masjid was acquired, from the RJN, the original owner and the permanent lease, for building the Mandir. This is a misrepresentation. In fact the State cannot acquire land for building a Mandir or Masjid. That is why the Act of Acquisition, in its Preamble, speaks of ‘maintenance of public order’ and ‘promotion of communal harmony’ as the basic objectives of the legislation and concretizes it by proposing the construction of both a Mandir and a Masjid as well as a Library and a Museum to clothes the proposed acquisition in the garb of secularism and public interest. It is this which permitted the Supreme Court in its majority judgement to uphold the acquisition of 67 acres of land, adjacent to the Babari Masjid site, on the ground that both the winner and the loser will have to be accommodated. That is to say, if the Hindus win, a Mandir will be constructed on the original site, with a Masjid at a reasonable distance within the acquired area. It is another matter that Muslims have never asked for or agreed to a substitute Masjid. But legally speaking, Muslims have a potential interest equal to that of the Hindus in the entire acquired area, although their primary interest lies in the Babari Masjid site. It follows that if the Muslim win the suit, the existing Mandir site plan becomes inoperative, because the Mandir has to be located at a reasonable distance to the east. Thus the Formula, by ignoring this aspect, was meant to safeguard the existing Mandir site plan. Even the proposed symbolic puja or the Shiladan at the Shila Nyas site in the acquired are would have only underlined the VHP’s commitment to this site plan which locates the Grabha Griha, the sanctum sanctorum of the Mandir on the Babari Masjid site and its claim to the self-chosen site for the Mandir.

One wonders whether the Formula was not manufactured by the VHP itself and whether the PMO had taken the initiative with the approval of the VHP or perhaps at its instance.

The Formula makes a false distinction between the Babari Masjid site and the rest of the acquired land - calling them disputed and undisputed respectively. The legal status of all the acquired land is the same - property of the Central Government. Because the crux of the problem is the VHP’s inclusion of the Babari Masjid site in the Mandir site plan as its Grabha Griha and since the consolidated title suit under hearing in the Allahabad High Court, which was abated by the Act of 1993, the Supreme Court declared the abatement unconstitutional, revived the title suit and made the Court verdict thereon the starting point of the scheme for settlement of the Ayodhya dispute.

The Formula has another flaw: the acquired land belonged to many owners, including the RJN but pre-acquisition ownership is the basis for claiming compensation not for restoration of land, except the left over land, on the margin, which may become ‘surplus’ or ‘superfluous’, after implementing the object and purpose of the Act.

The Formula has been rejected unanimously by the AIMPLB, by the Babari Masjid Movement Coordination Committee and by the All India Babari Masjid Action Committee and practically all Muslim organizations in the country. In fact, the Board leadership stands embarrassed by the indulgence it has shown to the PMO. Under the January, 2001 Resolution of its Working Committee, it had committed itself to a positive response to any initiatively by the Central Government for negotiations, provided the latter had a precise proposal for cutting the Gordian knot and took steps to curb the vicious campaign of the VHP. The Board had not envisaged negotiations through intermediaries, howsoever exalted they be. But for 14 months, the Government has not taken any such initiative.

The Board has reaffirmed its decision not to negotiate with the Sangh Parivar but only with the Central Government – an offer which the Prime Minister has studiously avoided for 14 months. All the while PM made every efforts to divide the Muslim community and to prop an ersatz Muslim ‘leadership’ which could be persuaded to sign on the dotted line. These efforts have failed. In the process the Government has exposed its intellectual bankruptcy, its conspiratorial style of functioning and its collusion with the VHP/RJN. Its objective has all along been to promote the Mandir cause - to fulfill the original agenda of the BJP. With the exposure of the real interest of the Government in its plea before the Supreme Court on 13 March, 2002, all fair minded persons will refuse to recognise the bonafides of the Government and even the Board may be reluctant to enter into a dialogue for an out-of-court settlement with the Government and may accept only the judicial process. For an out-of-court settlement, the initiative should be taken by a Group of Eminent Citizens who command the confidence of both communities and not by the masked supporters of the VHP.

But the crisis is deeper. PM Vajpayee had to choose between saving the life of his government and the face of the VHP, though the VHP has been challenging the Indian State, the Constitution and the Judiciary, creating a law and order problem, disturbing public order, destroying communal harmony and continuously breaking the law of the land. And the PM has not only been receiving its leaders but fraternizing with them, while he has been avoiding the Muslim leadership like a plague. Vajpayee never had the courage to admonish the VHP, ask it not to toy with the Constitution or press demands which are simply violative of the Supreme Court Judgement of October, 1994. No, he even abdicates his executive responsibility and throws the ball in the lap of the Judiciary and refuses to use the immense power the people of India have bestowed up on him to curb lawlessness, punish an affront to the rule of law, and allows the situation to deteriorate for more than a year. He makes his own contribution by his off-the-cuff remarks - like sprinkling a little petrol over a raging fire.

The PM has to learn to act as the Prime Minister of all Indians. To keep his oath of loyalty to the Constitution. He should not act as the First Hindu Prime Minister of India.

It must also be understood that while the Act, inter alia, promises to build a Mandir, the Act leaves it to the Government to allocate the sites for the Mandir, and for the Masjid, as well as a Library, a Museum and facilities for the worshippers and the visitors. This master plan for the acquired area can be drawn up by the Government only after the title suit is decided, one way or the other, because that would be starting point for the exercise. How can the VHP be certain that its much-publicized site plan (as well as the architectural plan) will be endorsed by the Government in the Master Plan, even if the title suit is decided in favour of the Hindu community. How is the VHP certain that the RJN shall not face any competition from other Hindu Trusts for the honour of building the Mandir?

Ashok Singhal has publicly expressed his hope that with day-to-day hearing of the title suit by the Special Bench, as agreed to by all concerned, the judgement may be available in a year’s time. Since the VHP has already postponed the start of construction by 3 months; why can’t it wait for another 9 months? What is the hurry? Why the pressure? Why doesn’t the Shankaracharya persuade the VHP/RJN to exercise a little patience?

Moreover, it is totally wrong to say that the case has been going on for the last 50 years. In fact, the cases were consolidated and a Special Bench was constituted only in 1989. All it could do before the Demolition was to clear the preliminaries, identify the issues and obtain the list of witnesses and the deal with the unlawful acquisition of land by the Government of UP for tourism promotion. Only after the decision of the Supreme Court in October, 1994, the proceeding has been revived. Witnesses for the Muslim side have been examined since 1996. It has nearly closed its case. To expedite matter it may cut down the list of witnesses. So now it is the turn of the Hindu side to present its witnesses. So far in all the Special Bench has heard the case for about 200 working days, mostly consumed in irrelevant and unnecessary cross-examination of Muslim witnesses. However, if it works on a day-to-day basis, it can finish the hearing in the next 30-40 weeks.

The VHP is time and again pressing for legislation to hand over the site of its choice (including Babari Masjid site) to the VHP/RJN. It never forgets the legislation to nullify the Supreme Court Judgement in the Shah Bano Case and does not appreciate that the Parliament is competent to make laws and change laws, even the Constitution, but not to ‘make’ or change facts. The Parliament cannot by legislation convert a Masjid into a Mandir. That is why the Supreme Court revived the title suit. The VHP is not even a party to the title suit. Nirmohi Akhara is. The VHP is being clever; if the verdict is in favour of the Hindus, it will rush to claim the credit and the benefit; it is not, it will carry on with its militant campaign to secure possession of the Babari Masjid site any how. And it has always challenged the rule of law and the authority of the Supreme Court. It thinks this anti-constitutional stance gives it the freedom to keep its options open.

Now can the Dharam Sansad or the Marg Darshak Mandal of the VHP substitute or reduce the constitutional authority of the Legislature, the Executive or the Judiciary. Since there is no place for Dharmacharyas, Sants and Sadhus in governance, since India is not a theocracy, nor a Hindu State, the resolutions or declarations of the VHP and its various organs are no more than resolutions passed by any NGO. Indeed the pressure by the VHP on the constitutional order is a blatant violation of the Fundamental Duties as detailed in Article 51, Chapter IVA of the Constitution.

Time has come for the country and the government to press the VHP/RJN to accept the rule of law, become a party to the title suit and commit itself to accept the final judicial verdict, even if it goes against them, just as the Muslims have done.

The Muslim community, any Muslim organization or any Muslim citizen should not get into the boxing rink while the shadow boxing between Vajpayee and Singhal goes on. At the end of the day the Government has to deal with the demands of the VHP/RJN in the light of the Court orders. The path of judicial redress against any illegal and unconstitutional appeasement of the Sangh Parivar by the Government is always open.

19 March, 2002

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