On a day so historic that it is guaranteed to significantly remain in the nation’s collective memory, impacting not only the people of today but all Indians to come ahead, perhaps changing the psyche of its two significant communities —Hindus and Muslims —forever, and establishing new contours and balance between the two, one voice that stood out as distinct, separate, sui generis, and perhaps the only one that sounded in discord, even a trace of dissent was the stand backed by a lifetime’s conviction, the chief of All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), Asaduddin Owaisi. Mr Owaisi, himself a lawyer trained in Britain, intrepidly called out the judgment, saying it seems to be a “victory of faith over facts”, and tweeting minutes after highlights of the judgment were reported widely on the media, a cover of a book, titled, “Supreme, Not Infallible” — echoing what was left unsaid by many in the community he represents and leads. This judgment, besides its impact on the case that was a source of strife, mistrust and conflict between people, communities, and a legal challenge before India, the AIMIM chief argued, will become a precedent for other disputes of mandir and masjid. On such a day, Mr Owaisi spoke with Ather Moin of this newspaper and gave out his views strongly on a slew of contentious issues:
The case brings to a closure a contentious issue of the past several decades, in fact, since the nation became independent. What is your response to it? Do you have any apprehensions?
There are many cases in front of our courts, including the site disputes in Kasi and Mathura, which are pending. Though the Supreme Court had mentioned the Places of Worship Act 1991, other parties will refer to this judgment as a precedent.
A masjid caught up in legal contention exists in Varanasi, the Lok Sabha constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Sangh people will now argue that we accept the 1991 Act, but we have a right on the undercroft of the masjid.
In Lucknow, there is dispute on Teele Wali Masjid. Some day, they (Sangh) might tell you that they do not a have dispute on the masjid itself, but we have claims on cortile area. I have apprehension that the Sangh Parivar will drag many mosques to court now, claiming that temples existed in those places centuries ago. We will all realise only in future, when other courts start reacting to those cases, in the light of this judgment, of its fullest consequence.
Will either the AIMPLB or you as a leader of a political party or as an individual seek a further review of this judgment?
As the national president of the AIMIM, I will respect any and all decisions that the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) might take in response to the Supreme Court verdict on the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute. As far as the future course is concerned, the Muslim Personal Law Board and its counsels had presented their stand with sincerity. Our counsels presented their contentions in full length, backed with strong research and facts. The AIMPLB may choose to file a review petition, but I can’t say whether the court would reconsider the judgments and its findings in response to a review petition.
In the past you had categorically stated you would accept any judgment of the Supreme Court. What has changed now?
I have to accept the SC judgment. But I have a right to also respond to it, critique it, give my opinions about it. Don’t I have a right to comment on the judgment and express my dissatisfaction with it? Is it or is it not permissible any more, in keeping with the rights bestowed by the Constitution, to express my views? Is it a contempt of court? I have a right to freedom of expression in India.
Should not the Muslim community accept the verdict in the larger interest of the community and creating harmony?
The question of accepting the verdict for the sake of amity does not arise, because I would like to ask you first — was this judgment delivered for the sake of brotherhood? The judgment must deliver and uphold justice, based on evidence, on the title dispute. Who told you we are against harmony? Though the judgment of the Supreme Court is final, according to the Sharia, there was a mosque there, and it will always remain a mosque.
What do you have to say about the Sangh Parivar today?
I want to inform all people of the Sangh Parivar that we, Muslims of India, are respectable citizens of India and we will always remain. We will tell our generations to come that there was a masjid for 500 years, which the Sangh demolished in front of the eyes of the world, with conspiratorial collusion of the Congress Party on December 6, 1992. We were ditched by the Supreme Court judgment. Describing the demolition of Babri Masjid as vandalism is an understatement. Why should we forget the killing of Mahatma Gandhi and the demolition of the Babri Masjid?
How do you feel about the Congress Party?
It is very unfortunate, and late, but finally the true colours of the Congress have been exposed. If not for the hypocrisy of the Congress, then those idols would not be placed inside a mosque in 1949. Had the idols not been placed, the masjid would have still existed. It was Congress PM Rajiv Gandhi who unlocked the Babri Masjid. It was Congress PM P.V. Narasimha Rao who failed to save the masjid from demolition. Muslims were deceived by all these so-called secular political parties. Now, Muslims have to emerge as politically strong, without depending on these parties.
Why are you asking for rejection of five-acre land for building a new mosque?
I do not know whether the Muslim Personal Law Board would proceed to file a review petition or not. I don’t know whether it would accept the five acres for the mosque or not. But in my personal opinion, we should reject the stand of giving us five acres of land for a new mosque. Muslims of India have full faith in the Constitution. We were contesting the case for our legal rights, not some land given to us as alms. Though Muslims are very poor and weak, even though we have been discriminated against, no one can deny this simple truth — Muslims are not so miserable that they could not buy a piece of five acres of land for a masjid. If I ask the people of Hyderabad, they will donate so much that we can build a mosque in Uttar Pradesh. We need no alms from anyone. We do not need patronage from any corner.