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

Open letter to Shri LK Advani

LK AdvaniRe. Your Call To Muslims To Settle Ayodhya Issue

Dear Shri Advani,
1. We hold that durable communal peace in the country can be secured through a two-fold process of impartial, effective and humane law enforcement by the State and dialogue for inter-community conciliation over contentious ethno-religious issues like cow, conversion, Ayodhya, Bande Matram and uniform civil code, some of which have been exploited during the last more than 150 years for communal divide and political mobilization.

1.1 Such a conflict-situation got aggravated during the last two decades by the rise of religious fundamentalism and exploitative politics of identity. 

2. In this background your viewing “temple versus mosque issue” (at Ayodhya) in the broader perspective of its “potential for correction of wrong trends in the relations between the two communities” appears to present some glimmer of hope. In this regard you have extended invitation to the Muslim community “to cooperate with the Hindus in fulfilling their aspiration of building a Ram Temple at Ram Janamasthan” and asked the Hindus “to step forward to remove the concerns from the minds of Muslims”. You have “pledged the support of the government and the BJP to use their persuasive power on the Sangh-Parivar-affiliated units like the VHP.”

3. May I remind you that you extended a similar invitation to the Muslims in August 1990 to amicably settle the dispute over Ayodhya with the assurance that you would persuade the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to withdraw its claim over Mathura and Kashi. In response to your offer a letter signed by Mr. Badr-Uddin Tyabji, Mr. Saiyid Hamid and Col. B.H. Zaidi, all former Vice-Chancellors of the Aligarh Muslim University, was sent to you on 23rd August 1990, in which the widely respected signatories welcomed your suggestion as one that “holds the promise of an amicable settlement” and unambiguously stated that “in the larger interest, it is essential that a settlement satisfactory to both the communities is arrived at amicably”. Reposing faith in you they expressed the hope that “in view of your personal initiative the chances of a settlement appear to have brightened.” The signatories offered “to call and have an exploratory discussion at your convenience.”
3.1 Not only you did not respond to this offer of exploratory meeting, but the letter was not even acknowledged, the obvious reason for which lay in strong denunciation by the V.H.P. of your stand on ‘one Temple instead of three’.
4. You may also keep in mind strong disapproval by the V.H.P. and the RSS of the revered Shankaracharya of Kanchi Swami Jayendra Saraswaty’s move in June-July 2003 towards amicable provisional settlement of the Ayodhya issue. So much pressure was brought to bear upon him that in his clarificatory letter of 1st July 2003 the Shankaracharya inserted the following paragraph: 
“A point was made that Kashi, Mathura and Ayodhya-all the three belong to the Hindus and keeping in mind the larger interest of the country and communal harmony, if not today but at some time or other, these places have to be given to the Hindus. The Muslims have to mentally prepare themselves for this”.

It made the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) reject the proposal in its meeting of 6th July 2003.

5. This should convince all those well-intentioned people and groups eager to promote amicable resolution of the Ayodhya dispute, that gifting of the land by Muslims for construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya alone will not automatically pave the way for the historic Hindu-Muslim accord. It is again not only the additional two sites of Mathura and Kashi which are the source of conflict, it is rather the issues of discrepant readings and perceived wrongs of history and more importantly the idea of nationhood, dividing people on the basis of followers of indigenous and non- indigenous religions and the demonisation of Islam and Muslims and pursuing an agenda of hate and revenge against them, that need to be addressed.

6. All these issues require intra-community and inter-community dialogue, as there is no unanimity or consensus on any of the contentious issues among Hindus or Muslims. It also needs to be noted that no individual or organisation of the two communities enjoys the status of sole representative capable of entering into any enforceable agreement.

7. Given this situation there is a need to constitute the statutory permanent Community Relations Commission (CRC) that the Report of the National Commission For Minorities on Prevention And Control of Riots (1999) has recommended, entrusting it with the responsibility of studying historical, religious, constitutional-legal and political aspects of the following issues and evolving a consensus over them through dialogue.:

I) a) Temples-Mosques at Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura; b) Cow protection; c) Religious conversions; d) Religious processions and other religious activities having a bearing on inter-community relations; e) Compulsory singing of Bande Matram; f) Uniform Civil Code and Legal Pluralism in Family Laws.

8. There is also a need to explore the desirability and acceptability of the formation of an empowered independent Commission to give its verdict on Temple-Mosque issue, which may be binding on all parties. 

9. As you have expressed your desire to address concerns of Muslims and shown inclination to remove their grievances and hardships, the following categories of issues need urgent attention of your Government. 
I) a) ensuring right of religious minorities to equality and non-discrimination under law and in reality and extending to them the benefits of the affirmative action of the State’s policies and programmes; b) Fulfilling State’s obligation to promote conditions favourable for preservation of distinct religious, cultural and linguistic identity of minorities.
II) a) Ending impunity to those guilty of communal violence and provision of restitutive-rehabilitative justice to sufferers of violence during the last four decades in the country; b) Implementation of reform measures for prevention and control of communal riots suggested by the National Police Commission NCP (1978-81), the NCM (1999), the NHRC (1994-2002), and the Concerned Citizens Tribunal on Gujrat 2002. 

9.1 Issues related to reform of the law enforcement and justice delivery system, which are major concerns of Muslims, deserve priority. It is time that your Government took immediate measures in the light of the recommendations of the NHRC, the NCM and the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NC RWC) 2002 and of Justice Malimath Committee on Criminal Justice System Reforms, appointed by your Government. Some of these measures are given below:

1. Enactment of a law on the rights of the victims of violence, as recommended by Justice Malimath Committee. A special Tribunal to be set up under this law to settle claims of adequate compensation to all sufferers of riots.

2. Special recruitment of underrepresented minorities in armed forces and the State security forces and the police and the personnel of all wings of law-enforcement system, to make their composition socially diverse, as recommend by all bodies, including NCRWC.

2.1. Making the composition of the Judiciary and Justice Administration System socially diverse.

9.2 The following measures are also required to make minorities really enjoy right to non-discrimination.

a. Extending benefits available to members of scheduled castes to all persons and communities of Dalit origin irrespective of their faith affiliation; b. Extending the benefits under Article 16(4) to minorities underrepresented in public services, as recommended by the NCRWC.

9.3 Over some of these issues, measures required to be taken by the Union Government already enjoy national political consensus; on others consensus needs to be evolved. Since in the past your party had a negative ideological orientation towards minorities, especially Muslims, special responsibility rests on the BJP and on you as its ideologue to bring about a national consensus for a fair deal to minorities.

10. Apart from these actions by the State you may persuade the BJP and fraternal organisations of the Sangh Parivar to stop hate-speech and writing against Muslims and Christians. In the event of persistence of such hate speech, the law should take its course against those who openly declare defiance of law and scandalize the judiciary. You may also persuade the VHP etc. not to persist in periodically taking the issue of Mandir-Masjid to the streets, posing threat to social peace.

Let the coming months be dedicated to creation of conditions of mutual trust and respect. Let no political party or cultural organisation use ethno-religious issues for electoral support and communal mobilization.

Conciliation and amicable solution of disputes requires genuine change of heart in the larger interest of India and its people, along with provision of institutional mechanism of rule of law and protection of rights.
With regards, Yours sincerely

Prof. Iqbal A. Ansari,
Minorities Council,
20, Jaswant Apartments, Okhla, New Delhi-110025.

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