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

Ayodhya for a face-lift?
By Rizvi Syed Haider Abbas

Lucknow: Ayodhya evokes attention. Any movement, even the slightest of it, generates interest, simply because it envelopes the earliest and the biggest controversy of independent India. The proceedings of Babri Masjid title-suit, the excavation of the site by Archeological Survey of India (ASI), the Liberhan Commission probing Babri Masjid demolition, the exoneration of ex-DPM LK Advani from the charge of demolishing Babri Masjid on September 19, 2003, the Kanchi Shankracharya proposal and the Dalai Lama initiative to solve the issue out of court, the making of Ayodhya Jama Masjid Trust, the October 17, 2003 flop-show at Ayodhya by VHP, ex-PM Vajpayee’s flip-flop (half a dozen) on Ayodhya tangle, the inclusion of Mandir in the BJP vision document are some recent developments of this ongoing saga.

Apart from all this, a quiet step was taken on April 28, 2004 when two former PMs, V P Singh and Chandrashekhar, received an invitation by Sri Raj Rajeshwari Trust pleading to construct a temple and a mosque in Ayodhya. The trust envisages a mosque with a medical college and a temple with an engineering college, (both of international standards) along with a centre for religious harmony (Sarvadharma Sadhbhavna Kendra). The land which is chosen for this proposal belongs to the Trust.

The proposal is the brainchild of Raja Shivendra Pratap Shahi alias Raja Deara of Sultanpur, UP. He also has a past which command interest for his role in Babri Masjid campaign. He, in fact, made an application in the Lucknow High Court to assist it in order to frame charges against LK Advani, after the special judicial magistrate V K Singh dropped the same against him on September 19, 2003. His application was, however, rejected. 

According to a statement from Ayodhya, the Trust puts it in clear terms that the proposed construction plan is about 300 meters away from the 67.4 acres of land surrounding Babri Masjid / Ramjanambhumi site, and that it is in no way inclined to disturb the status-quo of the entire acquired land. 

Both former PMs have conveyed their stand on Babri Masjid issue maintaining the issue be solved either through court or by mutual consent of the two parties. They have supported the Raja Deara plan. Reportedly both the communities want to participate in this temple-mosque project.

Both the PMs accepted the offer to participate in the planning and advised Raja Deara to actively engage with the UP government. They also volunteered their good offices to get the consent of the UP chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav so that the much desired peace, harmony and tranquility be restored to Ayodhya.

Zafaryaab Jilani, convenor of Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC), is associated with the Babri Masjid movement since February 6, 1986 when its locks were opened. He is evasive and cautious about this project. According to him, the proposal to construct a mosque complex with medical college and a temple with engineering college and a complex for the study of all religions at a place away from the site of the Babri Masjid is a welcome step, provided it has no overtones regarding the disputed site. 

Do you approve of an out-of-court solution through mutual talks or consent? "We maintain our stand that the judicial mode be the only way for solving the issue. Moreover, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board chairman Maulana Rabey Hasani Nadwi has said in Hyderabad that the Board will not take part in any talks on the issue and the court’s verdict is the only solution,” Jilani answered.

How do you perceive this latest proposal? "We welcome all such moves which aim to encourage the progress and development of Ayodhya town and the present move is one such move," said Jilani. But, the two former PMs also endorse the idea of a settlement outside the court? "I am sorry to say that these people have no personal knowledge about the rigidity and unreasonableness of the stand of VHP and its allies and they innocently give such suggestions," Jilani clarified.

Commenting on the VHP stand to reject any court verdict unfavourable to its plans, Jilani said, "It is absolutely absurd and meaningless for the VHP to say such things because as long as India is governed by the rule of law, VHP is bound to abide by the court verdict and our Supreme Court has proved time and again that it can get its orders enforced by all those persons who have tried to avoid or ignore the same," said Jilani.

Before their press conference in New Delhi on May 9, with VP Singh, chairman of BMAC Faizabad, Yunus Siddiqui, Abdul Khaliq Khan and members of Faizabad Hilal Committee cleared their stand on the issue on May 7 in Faizabad. They said that Muslims already have about two-dozen mosques in Ayodhya and there is no urgent requirement for a new mosque, but still, they do not oppose the construction of any new mosque if it has no connection with the VHP claim on Babri Masjid.

Hashim Ansari, the main plaintiff and Mehboob Ahmad, the witness in the Babri Masjid title suit, did not accompany the rest into joining the press conference in New Delhi. A team of about fifteen persons from Ayodhya and Faizabad represented in New Delhi.

Meanwhile, the argument against the ASI report would now be slightly delayed as an application has been moved by Ved Prakash, plaintiff of suit No.5 (filed on behalf of Bhagwan Shri Ram Lalla Virajman) on May 7 for a change of date fixed for the arguments of their senior counsel in reply to the arguments of SS Ray. For the purpose, the court had fixed May 17 onwards for arguments but the applicant has said that their counsel will not be available during May and has requested for July 12 instead.
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