The demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, was a blot on our Republic. The time has come to move on, and put communal tensions with regard to the building of a Ram temple in Ayodhya at the disputed spot, to an end. The Supreme Court (SC) has concluded its hearings to decide the title suit, and its judgment is expected on November 17. Meanwhile, some new initiatives, outside the judicial process, have come to the fore, which need to be given due attention by all parties.
A well-respected member of the Muslim community, lieutenant general (retired) and former vice-chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University, Zameer Uddin Shah, has proposed that Muslims must hand over the disputed land in Ayodhya to Hindus. This would be not only a seminal goodwill gesture but will go a long way in ensuring future communal harmony. He was speaking at a function organised by the “Indian Muslims for Peace”, which consists of several eminent Muslim citizens.
In parallel, an important statement was reportedly issued by the Lucknow-based Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board. The Board said that it was ready to give up its claim on the land on which the Babri Masjid once stood. This proposal was made as part of the SC-appointed mediation process. There are three parties to this process - the Nirmohi Akhara, Ram Lalla and Ram Janmasthan represented by activists associated with the Sangh Parivar, and the Sunni Waqf Board.
Under the proposed settlement, the Sunni Waqf Board will give up its claim to the land in favour of a Ram temple in Ayodhya at the spot where the Babri Masjid stood. In return, the Waqf Board has sought the following conditions to be met: rebuilding the Babri Masjid at another place; strengthening the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, which stipulates that the religious character of a place of worship shall continue to be maintained as the status it enjoyed on August 15, 1947; allowing namaz in historical mosques under the Archaeological Survey of India; rebuilding mosques in Ayodhya town by the Union government; and, establishing an institution for social harmony based in Ayodhya.
Both Gen Zameer Uddin’s statement and the reported proposal of the Sunni Waqf Board are exceptionally significant initiatives. The reason for this is simple. The judicial process, in which the SC is to pronounce its judgment on the title suit, is important, but it has its inherent limitations. Even if the court were to pronounce a decision in favour of the Hindu groups, hardcore Muslim opinion will find reasons not to put a closure to the dispute. And, if the court rules in favour of the Muslim groups, hardcore Hindu groups will do their best to prevent a mosque from being constructed there. In such a situation, the best solution would be a mutually accepted modus vivendi under the SC-appointed mediation process.
There are still major hurdles. None of the other Muslim parties, save the Sunni Waqf Board, are a part of this initiative. Nor is the hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad-controlled Ram Janmbhoomi Nyas. The challenge is to make them accept the logic of a mutually acceptable solution, and become a part of this reconciliation process.
The greatest fear among Muslims is that a goodwill gesture on their part in the case of the Ram temple in Ayodhya will not put a closure to other disputes of a similar nature elsewhere. Public memory will still recall that after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, bigots had come with this slogan: “Ayodhya tau bas jhanki hai, Kashi Mathura baki hai: Ayodhya is just the trailer, Kashi and Mathura are still left.” What if, even after a generous gesture by the Muslims, ultra-right Hindus say that the Jama Masjid in Delhi was built over the ruins of a temple and hence should be demolished? Sakshi Maharaj, the BJP MP, has already publicly made such a claim. That is why the specific proposal in the Sunni Waqf Board's settlement plan, that the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act of 1991 should be strengthened, acquires pivotal salience. The law seeks to prevent the Ramjanmabhoomi movement from acting as a precedent for other mosques in India. Section 3 of the Act puts a bar on conversion of places of worship. “No person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination or any section thereof into a place of worship of a different section of the same religious denomination or a different religious denomination or any section thereof.”
The law exists, and can be further strengthened, but what needs to change is sentiment. If the Muslims are willing to make a grand gesture of voluntarily allowing for the building of a Ram temple in Ayodhya at the disputed spot, Hindus must reciprocate, and put a closure on all similar disputes in the future relating to other existing mosques. It is only in such an atmosphere of enlightened give-and-take can genuine reconciliation take place. In my opinion, a mediated settlement on this basis would be a far better outcome than a judicial verdict, however important, pertaining only to title. But, for this to happen, hardlines on both sides of the Hindu-Muslim divide would have to be kept in check. A great opportunity is before us to open a new era of communal harmony that puts behind decades of sterile acrimony and hostility. The citizens of India — Hindu and Muslim -—should seize it.
The writer, an author and former diplomat, is a member of JD(U). The views expressed here are personal....