Reflections on Ayodhya and the Supreme Court verdict

The British first allowed Hindus to offer worship at the mosque in 1857, possibly as retribution for the uprising by Sepoys to restore Bahadur Shah Zafar as emperor

Supreme Court of India (File photo)
Supreme Court of India (File photo)

Mohan Guruswamy

I recall Syed Shahabuddin once demanding proof that Rama ever existed.

Shahabuddin, a former IFS officer who served as India’s ambassador to Algeria, was Vajpayee’s handpicked selection for an educated Muslim face in politics. It was against this backdrop that the BJP upped the ante and conceived of the Rath Yatra. It was the brainchild of Pramod Mahajan, Narendra Modi and Venkaiah Naidu, all Advani’s blue-eyed boys.

The “Rath” itself was a garish and stupid looking contraption slung over a DCM Toyota truck. I rode with Advani on the “Rath” from Indore to Ratlam. It was a horribly uncomfortable journey.

A truck chassis is not optimised for comfort but to take a load, besides the road was pockmarked. Advani, while showing me the western style toilet provided by his chelas commented that he defied anyone to sit on it when the Rath was moving.

But the Rath was carrying the burden of history, and all along people thronged to greet Advani astride it. It took the BJP from two Lok Sabha seats in 1984 to 85 in 1989. There was no looking back for the RSS from then. But when Lalu Yadav, then the CM of Bihar, stopped the tamasha in Samasthipur and arrested Advani, he rightly said: “DCM Toyota tha, koi uran khatola nahi!

Advani is still the popular villain of the liberal set because he set off on his Rath Yatra wanting a Ram Mandir built in Ayodhya.

But that demand was a much older one. The British were the first to allow Hindus to offer worship at the mosque in 1857, soon after the uprising that year to restore Bahadur Shah as the emperor of Hindustan .

One Abhirama Das first placed the idols inside the mosque premises in December 1949. It is also pertinent to mention that the DM of Faizabad, KKK Nayar, ICS did not have the idols removed despite being explicitly ordered by the Chief Secretary, Bhagwan Sahay, ICS and the IGP BN Lahiri IP.

KKK Nayar was rewarded for his exertions by getting elected as the Jana Sangh MP from nearby Bahraich.

There is no dispute that the claim has been a historical one and even in 1947, an attempt was made to seize the property. The problem was allowed to fester because it suited all parties. It was inflamed by intemperate language by both sides to the dispute.

The Supreme Court bench made a series of interesting observations before it delivered its verdict.

It held the installation of idols in 1949 inside the former Babri Masjid was illegal. It held the demolition of the former Babri Masjid in 1992 as unlawful. Yet it granted the disputed site to the Hindu community to build a temple on the disputed 2.77 acres of debris strewn land.

Now factor this with the 67 acres acquired by the UP government around the hitherto disputed site. Clearly the path has been cleared for the building of a grand temple and a theme park dedicated to further deifying King Rama of Ayodhya.

The unanimous judgment of the Supreme Court bench has been generally applauded by most argumentative Indians as an act of reconciliation and even an instance of Solomonic wisdom.

However, many have expressed unhappiness with the Supreme Court’s experiment with Solomonism. They say they defer to it, but are not happy with it. Asaduddin Owaisi pithily said in reaction,"the Supreme Court is supreme, but the Supreme Court is not infallible".

Although King Solomon used the share-the-baby test to determine the identity of the biological mother, Solomonic judgments are generally understood as compromise judgments that reject the winner-take-all approach that characterises most modern common law adjudications.

But sometimes Solomonic judgments may prioritise pleasing and displeasing the litigating parties in varying degrees over deciding disputes in strict accordance with the relevant law. Clearly the Supreme Court has preferred Solomonism over law. It may have sewn up the wound, but the scar will remain.

All through the 164 years of torturous transit through our courts, Muslims did not agree to share even the chabutara with the Hindus as part of a grand compromise. They wanted it all and all they have got is five acres of land at some other place in Ayodhya.

Even if a mosque is built there, I don’t think it will be called the Babri Masjid. There can be little denying that like the Shahi Idgah at Mathura or the Gyanvapi Masjid in Banaras, the Babri Masjid was a symbol of Muslim rule. That moment in history is long gone.

But does destruction of age-old buildings and monuments reverse history?

For all the latest India News, Follow India Section.