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Published in the 1-15 Feb 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Should ‘Guest’ Dalai Lama interfere on Babari?
By PM Damodaran

Lucknow: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to revive the Ayodhya issue in the wake of the Lok Sabha elections, scheduled to be held in the next three months or so, by seeking a resolution of the dispute through negotiations. The appeal made by the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, on January 8 has come in handy for the BJP in this context. 

As soon as the venerable Buddhist leader made an appeal to both the Hindus and the Muslims to adopt a ‘mature, far-sighted and open-minded approach’ to resolve the dispute amicably through talks, the BJP leaders, including the Deputy Prime Minister, LK Advani, immediately supported the efforts of the Dalai Lama. Mr Advani again mentioned the Ayodhya issue at a meeting of the BJP leaders and state party chiefs in Delhi a few days later and maintained that if re-elected in the next Lok Sabha polls, his party would stress for a negotiated settlement of the issue. He also said that his party would support any fresh efforts in this respect.

Comrades-in-arm: Ayodhya makes 
them ‘common’ friends 

Of course for Mr Advani, it was embarrassing to take an initiative for a negotiated settlement because he was an accused in the case of the demolition of the Babri Masjid structure in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992. He was absolved of his involvement in the crime by a Rae Bareli court a few months ago only by default. Later the investigating agency, the CBI conveniently forgot to file a revision petition against the lower court order. But it is a pertinent question as to why his party or government did not earnestly try to resolve the issue, which incidentally the Deputy Prime Minister himself had admitted had benefited his party’s growth, during its five-tenure if it was serious about a solution to the dispute. 

The Deputy Prime Minister even said that a breakthrough in the Ayodhya issue was possible in the same way as India and Pakistan had reached an agreement to resume talks. He had continued at the meeting “if not today, at least in the near future, a Ram Temple at Ayodhya is possible through a mutually agreeable settlement”. Apparently what he and other Sangh Parivar leaders meant by a negotiated settlement was a Ram Temple at the disputed site at Ayodhya and nothing else! 

Though the BJP and its leaders are talking of a fresh proposal, no one is willing to say what the new formula is. However, the indications are that under the formula, the Muslim community will get a ‘bonanza’ in return for its readiness to give up its claim on the disputed land at Ayodhya to construct the temple there. The ‘bonanza’ included a grand mosque at Ayodhya or at its neighbourhood and educational or other benefits.

In fact the Tibetan spiritual leader’s initiative is believed to have been made at the behest of some sources in the National Democratic Alliance government. The Sangh Parivar leaders are keen on some breakthrough in the Ayodhya issue which they hope might help the BJP in the coming parliamentary elections. The BJP apparently wants the issue to be highlighted in the elections to reassure its core constituency among the Hindu fundamentalists. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has already made it clear that it will support only those parties that favoured a temple in Ayodhya.

The sources close to the Dalai Lama, however, have ruled out the possibility of the spiritual leader personally mediating between the two communities. His was only an earnest appeal to resolve the dispute through talks. Another spiritual leader SN Goenka, who released the statement of the Dalai Lama, wanted the dispute to be resolved through talks since if the case was decided through a court verdict, it “will give an impression that one side lost and the other won”.

But the Muslim community is not very enthusiastic about the developments and holds the view that the dispute shall be decided through a court verdict only. The Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid and some other Muslim leaders have responded to the appeal favourably. On the other hand, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board is not very keen on talks with the Sangh Parivar because it feels that they will not yield any results. But the Board does not want to be portrayed as unreasonable so it has not yet rejected any proposal for negotiations to resolve the issue.

The Dalai Lama’s appeal has come almost a year after the Shankaracharya of Kanchi, Jayendra Saraswati, tried to bring the two sides to a negotiating table to reach an amicable settlement to the dispute. But the negotiations then failed when the VHP brought the issue of the contentious shrines of Varanasi and Mathura along with the Ayodhya dispute for talks. In fact the VHP had already declared that it wanted to liberate thousands of mosques that they claim were constructed on the premises of the temples after demolishing them by the earlier Muslim rulers. Besides the VHP had not so far given any guarantee that it would not raise any other temple issues in future if the Muslims agreed to the construction of a temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya.

The Board then rejected the mediation by Kanchi Shankaracharya when the VHP made its intentions clear to raise the Varanasi and Mathura temple issues. In fact, from the very beginning, the VHP was not very enthusiastic about the efforts of the Shankaracharya on the ground that the latter had not taken it into confidence before initiating the mediation efforts. Some VHP leaders even went to the extent of challenging the right of the Shankaracharya to mediate in the Ayodhya temple issue because while Ram was the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the seer was a disciple of Lord Shiva!

Moreover, there is the question of the locus standi of the Dalai Lama. It is true that he is a third party because he neither belonged to the Hindu or Muslim communities. But he is a guest in India and as such he has his own limitations to successfully mediate on the dispute. Besides, the moot question is whether the VHP and the BJP will be ready to accept the Dalai Lama’s proposal if it is not entirely in favour of the temple?

Related stories in this issue:
Babri mediator is mosque usurper
Open letter to Dalai Lama

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