Not the last waltz

With the Ayodhya 'pop judgement' revival of extremism and fundamentalism seems to be on the cards
Pradeep Kapoor Lucknow 

Nearly 18 years after Babri Masjid was demolished by rampaging Hindutva mobs in Ayodhya, a three member bench of the Allahabad High Court passed a judgement that is fraught with disturbing possibilities. The first take on the approximately 6,000 page judgement, which unanimously upholds the 'disputed site' as the birthplace of Lord Ram where his idols were sneakily placed in 1949, is that it vindicates the Ram janmbhoomi movement led by LK Advani. Although the judgement is long and detailed, its critics claim that it has not taken into cognisance some of the compelling evidence provided by the Sunni Waqf Board about its claim on ownership of the contentious land. 

The three member bench comprising Justice SU Khan, Sudhir Agarwal and DV Sharma rejected Sunni Waqf Board's petition asserting that it is "time barred" - it was filed 12 years after the idols were placed in the mosque. "If the Sunni Waqf Board's petition has been rejected, then why were they given a piece of land at the site," claimed a Muslim lawyer. Said Ramesh Dixit, a political observer in Lucknow, "The minorities are feeling cheated. The judgement is incomprehensible."

Another member of the Babri Masjid Action Committee claimed that the petition was filed within the stipulated time period and there was no way that the court could declare it time barred. 

Judicial experts may have problems about the judgment, but it is custom made for our conflict-ridden times. In a split verdict, the bench suggested dividing up the land into three parts with the site where the idols of Ram Lalla are placed going to Hindus, one portion to Nirmohi Akhara, and one-third to the Sunni Waqf Board to offer their prayers or build a mosque. In a way it is a 'pop judgement' that satisfies the great demand of high-pitched TV anchors who have been claiming that there are no takers for Ayodhya anymore in the country. These noble thoughts in a way give legitimacy to a judgement that would not satisfy most purists. 

The runup to the Ayodhya judgement saw hysteric news channels babbling endlessly, often without an iota of factual information, building mass hysteria. So scared were the Muslims in the wake of the judgement that they shut themselves in the houses, many localities remaining awake all night, gripped by the phobia of violence, including in UP and Delhi. Shops were closed in Muslim- dominated areas and peace marches were taken out to ensure that the bloody violence and killings of 1992 (post-demolition) were not unleashed yet again. In UP alone, 1,90,000 security personnel were deployed. Chief Minister Mayawati was fearing a Hindu upper caste backlash if the judgement did not go their way. The Center, too, expected riots and turbulence in Bihar, UP, Karnataka, even in Kashmir. 

Initially, there was an attempt to defer the judgement to a later date - after the Commonwealth Games. Efforts were also made to look for a mutual settlement between the petitioners. Such enterprise met with cynicism and finger-pointing. Allegations of the central government using dubious litigants to stall the judicial process were made. The Congress government in Delhi drew flak for this delay. Finally, the Supreme Court stepped in and paved the way for the announcement of the high court verdict. 

What are the implications of this judgement? There is near unanimity that the Sunni Waqf Board would petition the Supreme Court against this verdict. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has reportedly been working overtime to contain the fallout of this judgement, has promised status quo till the Supreme Court disposes off this case. Zafaryab Jilani, lawyer from the Muslim side, claimed that it was a "step forward... though we are disappointed". 

Hindu leaders were generally ecstatic. Advani claimed it was the beginning of a new politics. RSS leaders displayed magnanimity. They also showed willingness to work towards building amity. Even Congress leaders made conciliatory noises. Most political parties displayed "great relief". 

By their declamations, it was apparent that there was convergence among most political parties about containing the 'Ayodhya fallout'. Although no one seemed to know how the judgement is going to pan out, there was a desire in a section of the government that the verdict should not lead to a variant of 'Islamic fundamentalism'. Their fear was that in supposedly 'Islamised neighbourhoods', hot heads could destabilise the civil society. The demolition of the mosque is seen by some experts as the trigger for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the country post 1992. From this standpoint, this could be a bad omen.

There are apprehensions that the lunatic fringe among the Hindutva forces might now try to up the ante and stake their claim on the disputed property in Kashi and Mathura, following the verdict. In other words, the masked or covert sign of another extremist and violent Hindutva revival could be on the cards.

With inputs from Sadiq Naqvi  in New Delhi.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: OCTOBER 2010