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

Not the right way to tackle Babri

Efforts are on again these days to find an out-of-court solution to the Babri issue that is acceptable to the Hindutva brigade. Having tried and failed with the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), the renewed effort is aimed at arriving at an understanding with Jamiat Ulama-e Hind (JUH) which, no doubt, has a standing and status among Muslim Indians as a result of its past services and its great founders although the current leadership is not held in great esteem. 

...the Muslim position remains flexible. It is ready even for an out-of-court settlement and for this it is ready to negotiate with the government which is free to talk to any other party. AIMPLB has been authorised by all the major Muslim organisations and even by the Babri outfits to negotiate on behalf of the Muslim community. 

Both sides are secretive about their positions and details of the parleys so far but, at least, the joint statement issued by the two sides after their two-day meeting last December is most welcome. While it reiterates JUH and Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani's well-known position that geography, not religion, makes a "nation". Acceptance of this position by the Sangh people is an achievement of sorts, especially since Mr Advani has tried of late to stoke the Indian and non-Indian religions debate which casts aspersions on the loyalty of those following “non-Indian” religions like Muslims and Christians. The Sangh at last has come to accept that Muslims too are an integral part of the Indian nation as much as others. 

RSS chief Mr Sudarshan further defined this on 23 January when he said that "Muslims and Christians in India should not be labelled as minorities as they have their genetic roots here." The RSS leader argued that Muslims and Christians who are rooted to the country's heritage and culture should be considered Hindus because the term Hindu refers to a "way of life, view of life" and not any religion… It believes that God is one and there are different ways to reach Him (Times of India, 25 January 2004). We will have no problem with Sudarshanji only if he conceded to call us all as "Hindis", instead of "Hindus", because the latter has come to denote a certain religion although it is not an Indian word. Even Iqbal has called Indians as 'Hindis" (Hindi hain hum, watan hai Hindustan hamara).

But this basic breakthrough should not blur the issue at hand. It is beyond our comprehension how JUH can decide the Muslim position on Babri and how it can negotiate with the demolishers and their political backers. And why this haste? The Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court has almost completed its proceedings and may soon come up with its verdict. The Muslim side is committed to abiding by the verdict even if it goes against the community. Hindutva brigade on the other hand is not ready to accept the court verdict if it goes against its wishes. The Liberhan Commission too is expected to present its report within the next few months if not weeks. 

Despite all this the Muslim position remains flexible. It is ready even for an out-of-court settlement and for this it is ready to negotiate with the government which is free to talk to any other party. AIMPLB has been authorised by all the major Muslim organisations and even by the Babri outfits to negotiate on behalf of the Muslim community. AIMPLB is flexible enough but it will not negotiate with the demolishers of the mosque who are not trustworthy and keep changing their positions. They even briefly expressed readiness to accept the court verdict last year but soon reneged on their written consent given to the Kanchi Shankaracharya. A Hindu trust headed by VHP president Mr Dalmiya entered into a solemn agreement with Mathura Muslims to end the Krishnjanamabhoomi issue and in turn gained a large chunk of the Mathura Eidgah lands way back in October 1968 but the issue is still raked up and the Hindutvites now want to expropriate the mosque itself. Gyanwapi mandir in Varanasi was pulled down by Hindu rajas during the reign of Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707) when the Maharani of Kutch was raped inside its cellars and they built the mosque there because it had been defiled and was no longer fit to be a mandir (B.N. Pande, Islam and Indian Culture, Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna 1987, pp. 44f; Pattabhi Sitaramayya, Feathers and Stones, Bombay 1946, pp. 177f). But Hindutvites today disregard facts of history and want to grab the mosque anyway.

Another effort is being made in Ayodhya these days to rope in some “Muslims” who would be ready to give away the “disputed” site in lieu of some concessions and a piece of land for a mosque outside the town-limits. An Ayodhya Jama Masjid Trust has been registered by some local nonentities with the help of some Delhi-based elements in collaboration with the Ayodhya Cell in the prime minister’s office. This trust is reportedly ready to start building its “jama masjid” later next month. National Minorities Commission is also playing a discreet role in bringing Muslims close to this position.

Muslims will be ready to enter into talks with the government, even if headed by BJP stalwarts, but they will not talk to RSS-VHP leaders whose words cannot be trusted or enforced judicially. Mr Advani has said that in the post-9-11 era Muslims are feeling cornered and they could be bullied to accept the Hindutva position. Muslims have seen worse days like the Hulagu invasion, post-1857 dark era and Partition days but they did not wilt or surrender. 

So there is no scope for bullying us into submission. Yet we are ever-ready to listen to voices of reason, sanity and justice and we remain committed to an honourable solution with the government of India or through the good offices of the apex court.

— Zafarul-Islam Khan

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