For two months, we thought Article 370 was the new Ayodhya. Now we find that Ayodhya itself is the new Ayodhya, what with an atmosphere of inevitability around a decision or settlement favourable to the Hindu claimants to the disputed 2.77 acres at the heart of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute. Wednesday saw the 40-day hearing end on the appeal against the July 2010 Allahabad high court decision which divided the 2.77 acres into three parts — two parts, which included the demolished mosque's dome area, went to the Ram Lalla idol (supported by the VHP) and the Nirmohi Akhara sect, while the third went to the UP Sunni Waqf Board. Several other parties joined the appeal, entertained by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who set a deadline of November 17, his retirement date, to a dispute that began, if not with the mosque’s construction in 1529, then with the December 1949 installation of Lord Ram’s and Sita’s idols.
Impetus for a resolution came after the mosque’s demolition on December 6, 1992 by an Hindutva army, witnessed by L.K. Advani. In the following election, the BJP emerged the single largest party and Atal Behari Vajpayee led the party’s first government. Two years later, another election, and he was Prime Minister for a six-year-stretch, a stretch that also saw the rise of Narendra Modi, propelled by the 2002 riots, a consequence of the murder of 59 Ayodhya kar sevaks.
With the case dragging on, one could have been forgiven for thinking that Hindutva’s main aim was not so much temple construction as to make a historical point: its own rise after a millennium of “foreign invasions”. Now, it appears the temple construction will happen: an unfettered BJP Central government; a Supreme Court that seems a pale shadow of what it once was; and a UP government that is rumoured to have strong-armed the Sunni Waqf Board into withdrawing its claim in return for a new masjid in Ayodhya as well as the opening of some mosques controlled by the ASI for prayer.
The celebrations have begun. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath will spend Diwali in Ayodhya. Muslims, feeling anxious after the revocation of Kashmir's autonomy and the threats to extend the National Register of Citizens to outside Assam, are bitterly silent. This was manifest when the waqf board’s counsel, Rajeev Dhavan, tore up a map submitted by the Hindu Mahasabha. Perhaps a just solution could emulate the status of Istanbul’s magnificent Hagia Sophia. Built in 537, it was the world’s largest cathedral for 900 years, after which it became an Ottoman mosque for 500 years. In 1931, it was secularised; in 1935, opened as a museum. It was a model for societal harmony — except that the votaries of muscular Hindutva are uninterested in harmony. The verdict or settlement takes place in a world that has degenerated into identity wars.
Incidentally, Hagia Sophia will become a mosque again. At this historical juncture, a new temple seems inevitable....