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Babri imbroglio: Muslims taken for a ride
By Zafarul-Islam Khan

Singhal shows the spot where they want to built the mandir

New Delhi, March 9: It is clear now that the Indian Muslim leadership has been taken for a ride. A charade of negotiations was enacted during the last few days in order to deflect attention from the Gujarat pogroms while the central government had made its mind all along to allow ‘symbolic' puja (prayers) on the sub judice disputed land of and around the Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya where the government is duty-bound to maintain status quo until a final judgment is issued by the court. All restrictions on the convergence of the so-called ‘Rasmsewaks’ (temple volunteers) have been withdrawn now. A 'symbolic' puja will be held as planned by the World Hindu Council (Vishwa Hindu Parishad - VHP) all along and the actual construction will commence on 2 June according to the VHP mandir (temple) plan which includes the Babri site and pinpoints the martyred mosque's mihrab as the garba griha (sanctum sanctorum) of the temple. If Indian Muslim leaders think otherwise they are living in a fools paradise.

The current BJP government, which has already trampled upon all norms of democratic and civilised behaviour, could not be trusted. But naivity and vested interests played havoc with the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) whose leaders hurried to meet the Kanchi Shankaracharya, one of the four Hindu pontiffs, who was government’s emissary to facilitate the VHP’s task. Naive AIMPLB leaders thought that the government was indeed serious and readily agreed to talk, while the VHP had no intention to respect a court order and its vice president, Archarya Giriraj Kishore, was clear about this the very next day. Thus the AIMPLB’s uncalled for trust was quickly punctured while unauthorised persons speaking in the name of Indian Muslims played the government’s game and made its task easy.

Ever since the legislative assembly elections were announced two months ago Hindu extremist outfits, led by the VHP, had fixed March 15 as the date to commence the building of the proposed temple at the site of the demolished mosque. Now that date has suddenly been declared as ‘inauspicious’ and the auspicious date has been advanced to June 2. A make-shift temple already exists at the site ever since the mosque was demolished on December 6, 1992. The issue is raked up every time elections are announced in order to polarise Hindu voters. 

This time this trick failed to benefit the BJP which has been trounced in all the four states where polls were held. But the Temple deadline remained although the extremists are barred from effecting any change to the status quo by the order of the Supreme Court of India until the court case about the dispute is settled. And this order covers all the land around the mosque site which was taken into custody by the government at the request of the Supreme Court in 1993 and this includes land owned by a Hindu trust (Nyas) which was registered to build the temple. Extremists now say that they want to start construction only on the 'undisputed land' which includes not only the Hindu trust lands but also Muslim Awqaf land including Muslim graveyards. 

The current flare-up in Gujarat is also a spill-over of this crisis. The so-called volunteers who were killed in the train incident, which triggered the riots, were returning from Ayodhya, after taking part in some on-going rites prior to the construction. Such volunteers were coming to the town from all over the country in a bid to mobilise the Hindu society everywhere. 

There is a feeling that the sudden build-up is a well-rehearsed drama in which the central government and the extremists are hand-in-glove, faking a stand-off in order to force the government to transfer the so-called 'undisputed' land to the Hindu extremists. This show became serious in the backdrop of the Gujarat events where close to one thousand people, mostly Muslims, have been killed usually by burning them alive. And the underlying message was that same will be repeated all over the country if the government did not acquiesce to the demands of the extremists. 

In this psychological build-up the government used the services of a top Hindu religious leader, Shankaracharya of Kanchi, who came to Delhi all the way from south India and held meetings with both Hindu extremists and representatives of the AIMPLB, a Muslim organisation which has been entrusted the issue of the Babri Mosque since the two Babri Action committees were discredited in the wake of the mosque's demolition in December 1992.

A proposal was made by the Shankaracharya, during a meeting he had on March 5 with an 11-member AIMPLB delegation led by its General Secretary Syed Nizamuddin. Speaking to MG, Board convenor, Dr Qasim Rasool Ilays, said that the Board will take a decision in its meeting on March 10, after taking into consideration all the issues. He said that both the Babri Action committees are represented on AIMPLB committee on the Babri. He added that we do not see any problem with the temple if we get our land back on which we will build the Mosque. If a settlement is arrived at now it will include the erection of a wall between the mosque site and the rest of the land. If the court decides in favour of Muslims that wall will remain intact and if the court verdict goes against Muslims that land will be handed over to the Hindu side, he said. But Dr Ilyas told MG that the Board's decision most probably will be in the negative.

The Shankaracharya said the Nyas (temple trust) chief Ramchandra Paramhans had given a written undertaking on the compromise reached between the two sides. This letter would be handed over to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who would consult his NDA allies before coming to a decision on the issue. Shankaracharya said that the letter written by Paramhans to the Prime Minister also mentioned that the Temple trust had agreed to maintain status quo at the disputed site. But VHP Vice President Giriraj Kishore said the very next day that no such proposal had been made yet. "We have not taken any decision. If the proposal comes, the dharmacharyas (religious leaders) will decide on it, " he said. Kishore ruled out any compromise on the three demands made by the VHP on March 4 that all restrictions enforced in Ayodhya be lifted, shifting of carved stones to the undisputed site be allowed and the undisputed land be handed over to it before June 2 for the construction to begin. Regardless of the government's stand, Kishore said, material for the construction would begin to be moved to the so-called 'undisputed' land at 2.15 pm on March 15, and the construction would begin at the site before June 2, when the 108-day yagna (rites) ended. 

The cat was out of the bag on March 8 when State Minster for Home Swamy visited Ayodhya amid indications came from Delhi that the government will do exactly as the VHP demands. Only semantics have changed: now it is the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas (trust) which will perform the puja.. (not the VHP)! Needless to the say, the Nyas is another name and platform for the same people. Nyas president, Ramchandra Pramhans, is a senior VHP leader. Now the Nyas will get the so-called ‘undisputed’ land. By a sleight of hand, Ashok Singhal, VHP president, will attend the puja in his ‘personal’ capacity! All this was decided in a family meeting of BJP, RSS (the principal Hindu extremist outfit) and VHP leaders with Prime Minister Vajpayee and Shankaracharya present.

Shankaracharya later announced that all parties have agreed to maintain status quo and will wait for the court verdict! Now the extremists will get free access to the so-called 'undisputed' part of the land where they will start building their disputed temple while the Muslim side will wait for the court verdict which may never come as the experience of the last fifty years shows since the Babri Mosque was usurped in the night of December 22-23, 1949.

The Muslim side has filed a petition in the Supreme Court yesterday to stop the convergence of the karsewaks (temple volunteers) in Ayodhya. This case will be heard on 13 March. Another petition has been filed in the Supreme Court to take notice of contempt of court by the VHP president, Ashok Singhal. This petition will come up for hearing on 15 March.

In another significant move, the Indian government on March 6 requested the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court to expedite the Babri-Temple case. Hitherto the case has been moving at a snail's pace. The Mosque-Temple case itself has been dragging in various courts for the last fifty years since idols were surreptitiously installed in the Babri Mosque in 1949. The Indian government petition impressed upon the Court that under the Acquisition Act of 1993, the Union of India was statutory receiver with the obligation to maintain status quo till the disposal of the suits. It was spending about Rs 300 million (US$ 6.5 million) annually in this regard. 

VHP vice president, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, was clear on March 6, on how far his rabble-rousing outfit is ready to respect the court verdict: "at no cost the Babri mosque will be allowed to be rebuilt at the disputed site. For all practical purposes, it was a temple of Ram. It is and it will remain so." Asked what would be the VHP's response if the court ruled in favour of Muslims, he said: "the court verdict cannot be against history. It was on the court's orders that the temple's locks were opened and there are court orders that uninterrupted' 'puja' (Hindu prayers) be allowed at the disputed site".

Delhi Jama Masjid Imam Ahmad Bukhari had understood the game when he said four days ago: the entire exercise is a move to "trap" the minority community.

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