No one wants hysteria or violence in Ayodhya. The Hindutva game is up. But the uncanny unease is deceptive
Pradeep Kapoor Lucknow
After the Ayodhya judgement, people are waiting and watching. The mood has changed. There is no desire to whip up hysteria or violence. People have seen through the Hindutva game. People want calm and harmony. They know, the opportunists have flogged the Ayodhya horse to its death. There is subdued restlessness on the ground in the Hindi heartland, opinion is divided but often held back, especially in UP.
While the catchwords are peace and harmony, and there is tangible relief that no violence followed the judgement, there is an uncanny sense of unease which stalks the Muslims in the highly politicised grassroots terrain of the Hindi heartland. On the face of it, there seems acceptance and ambivalence, but people are holding their views (also, aspirations and angst) close to their chests.
Many Muslims, mostly from the lower rungs, are resigned to their fate, partially even content that at least their life has not been violently and suddenly disrupted. They hate riots and killings, looting and burning of homes and religious places, they want peace and normalcy. Even if it means that they drink their humiliation with a strong pinch of bitterness.
Others, educated and articulate, argue that their faith in the judiciary has been shaken. They ask: if everything is driven by belief systems and faith, then what is the value of truth, evidence, logic, rationality, justice? If India wants to become a modern, egalitarian, secular, successful democracy - how can they pander to only faith and fundamentalism so brazenly? How can the verdict favour those who criminally destroyed the Babri Masjid, and unleashed killings and violence all over the country?
In Lucknow, the opinion is fragmented. Prominent businessman Fareed Rizvi belongs to a highly respected family of Lucknow. He is categorical that the Muslim community feels cheated. "Muslims would have been happy without the verdict; when it came everybody expected that justice will be given."
Rizvi says that Muslims are unhappy and would vote against those who are tacitly and openly supporting the verdict. This will be reflected in the elections in Bihar and West Bengal. "I wonder why there was no mention about the demolition of the mosque. Now, people are apprehensive that the culprits would go scot free in that case too," he says. There are others who agree with him. They are certain about two things Rizvi asserts: there was a mosque standing at the spot since Babar's time. And that mosque was demolished on December 6, 1992.
In contrast, 90-year-old Hashim Ansari, the oldest surviving litigant in the suit, announced that he was satisfied with the judgement and would not appeal against it in the apex court. Instead, he took the initiative and got in touch with Mahant Gyan Das, President, Akhil Bharat Akhara Parishad, and Mahant Bhaskar Das, chief of Nirmohi Akhara, which is involved in the title suit.
Several rounds of discussions followed, and it was announced on October 9 that in 60 days there would be a 'formula' that would accommodate both a temple and a mosque on the site. The initiative did not find favour either with leaders of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) or those of the RSS and VHP and hardliners associated with these Hindutva organisations, who were behind the demolition of the mosque in the first place.
In fact, VHP leader Mahant Ram Vilas Vedanti tried to become part of the discussions but was kept out because of his insistence that any formula should be approved by the Ram Janambhoomi Sant Uchchadhikar Samiti (RJSUS), which is backed by the RSS and VHP, and is vehemently opposed to the construction of a mosque at the site.
Significantly, Gyan Das was opposed to the manner in which former Bajrang Dal chief Vinay Katiyar, who had earlier represented Faizabad in the Lok Sabha, tried to influence the peace negotiations. Currently, there is a tense tussle going on between the RJSUS and Nirmohi Akhara, whose followers have always been opposed to the rabid posturings of VHP-RSS-BJP leaders. Gyan Das chose not to attend the RJSUS meeting in Ayodhya where it was decided that Ram Lalla Virajman, also a party in the title suit as a deity, would move the Supreme Court against the judgement.
A Large number of ordinary people, however, made it a point to visit Ayodhya and express their solidarity with Ansari, who is not only "working for peace" but wants to see a temple and mosque at the disputed site. Prominent sufi saints from Kheda district in Gujarat visited Ayodhya-Faizabad and felicitated Ansari and Gyan Das for their efforts to reach a negotiated settlement. Justice Palok Basu, former judge of Allahabad High Court, met Ansari and expressed solidarity.
Former director-general of police, Naseem Ansari, told Hardnews that he welcomes the talks. "Hardliners of both the communities should be kept away from the negotiations. Issues like faith and sharia should not be allowed to enter the negotiations," he says, insisting that the spirit of give-and-take as well as sacrifice for the greater good should prevail.
Waheed Siddiqui, prominent businessman and builder in Lucknow, says, "Muslims should honour the sentiments of the Hindus who have been offering puja for their deity at Ayodhya," he says, adding that Hindus and Muslims have been living in peace for several hundreds years and both are part of the 'Ganga-Jamuni culture'.
However, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, prominent Sunni leader and imam of Tilewali Masjid, supports the AIMPLB's decision to move the Supreme Court against the verdict. He says he wants to compliment ordinary Hindus and Muslims, who, in their collective wisdom, refused to be manipulated by any political party, and maintained calm throughout the country.
Others, many of whom chose to remain anonymous, disagreed with the "let us move on" thesis being dished out by the media. "What move on?" said a student in Faizabad. "Move on from where, to where? From one demolition to another? From Ayodhya to Kashi and Mathura?"
Many Muslims and Hindus said that they do not agree with the aggressive and sectarian hate politics of the Sangh Parivar. Locals argue categorically: "Our cultural affinity in this region has been pluralist. Ayodhya also stands for cultural harmony and tolerance. These fanatic outsiders whip up emotions to grab power and destroy the social fabric here. If they wanted the temple, why did they destroy the mosque, unleash riots and killings all over the country, create fear and violence all over?"
Razai is a scrap dealer in Lucknow who hails from Gonda district and owns rickshaws that he lets out on hire to rickshaw-pullers. He has no problem if a temple is constructed at the site. He adds that a mosque can be constructed somewhere else in Ayodhya. He says that the absence of violence before and after the verdict, despite apprehensions, testifies that Hindus and Muslims have learnt to live together in peace. However, several rickshaw-pullers returned to their native villages a week before the verdict. "Only a few of them have returned," he says.
Rehman in Lucknow says that the need of the hour is for Hindus and Muslims to have faith in each other. He blames the Congress for everything that has gone wrong, from allowing the idols to be smuggled inside the mosque, to the opening of the locks and shilanyas. He senses the "Congress hand" behind the high court verdict. "It is quite evident," he says. Rehman argues there could have been an out-of-court settlement long time ago if only Hindu and Muslim religious leaders had insisted on negotiations by warding off the influence of political parties who want to capitalise on the issue for electoral gains.
Meena, a maid servant from a'backward' community, feels a temple and mosque can easily coexist in Ayodhya, following the division of the "disputed land". The fear of communal violence stalks Meena. Remembering the 1992 riots with horror, she says: "Only the poor get killed; they are the worst affected in every way."
Pandit Ashok Sharma, who had been performing havan for former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee during Lok Sabha polls in Lucknow, appreciates the efforts of Ansari for an out-of-court settlement. "People should rise above petty political interests, cross caste and communal lines, to join hands for the construction of a big temple at Ayodhya," he says. Sharma says the government should negotiate with the Nirmohi Akhara, representatives of 'Ram Lalla Virajman' and Hashim Ansari, and keep the BJP, RSS and VHP out of all efforts in Ayodhya.
This reporter has been covering the Ayodhya movement, the conflict and crisis, and the multiple tragedies around it since 1984. I have witnessed the changing moods of the people in Faizabad-Ayodhya and other parts of UP. I was present in Ayodhya when the RSS-VHP organised the programme in October 1984 in which kar sevaks took the pledge with the holy waters of river Saryu, promising to build the temple at Ayodhya.
I wrote in October, 1984, in Blitz, before the first VHP programme was enacted in Ayodhya: "In the name of Ramjanambhumi Mukti Yagna, there is going to be a bloodbath in the country."
After their mobilisation programme, VHP-RSS-BJP leaders targeted me, accusing me of sensationalising the issue. But later, they all remembered my reports, and the dark prophecy, after the series of ghastly killings in 1990 and again in 1992.
I clearly remember how fence-sitter Hindus turned into 'communal Hindus', even while the irresponsible and provocative statements by the then chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav contributed in building the polarisation. Hate politics was heightened by the hysterical speeches and sinister back-room posturings of Sangh Parivar leaders like Uma Bharti, Sadhvi Rithambara and Vinay Katiyar.
I was a witness to the tragedy when Mulayam's government ordered the police to open fire to protect the Babri Masjid from kar sewaks in October-November 1990. The VHP-RSS-BJP propaganda machinery created havoc and panic all over by manufacturing lies about the exact number of deaths. It is a fact that pro-Hindutva regional newspapers communalised the issue, citing hundreds killed, dumping every basic norm of objective reporting (like what they did in Gujarat 2002). Indeed, when BJP came to power in Lucknow, the government, in a reply to a question in the UP assembly, admitted that the number of those killed did not exceed 30.
Incidentally, I was also present at the chief minister's residence in 1989 when ND Tewari hosted meetings for shilanyas at Ayodhya. Among leaders present were the then Union home minister Buta Singh, VHP leaders Ashok Singhal and Mahant Awaidhnath. I was shocked to see an angry ND Tewari declaring that Buta Singh had come with a prepared agenda expecting him to follow that without realising the consequences which could damage the Congress party's interests. Tewari walked out of the meeting.
The truth is Congress lost its Muslim support base due to the shilanyas programme it unleashed, as also, when Rajiv Gandhi launched his election campaign from Ayodhya claiming he would work for Ramrajya.
I remember how kar sewaks met Swami Vamdeo Maharaj in Ayodhya in December 1992 and informed him that the mosque would be demolished. Veteran 'sants' like Vamdeo Maharaj was shocked. He tried to persuade them not to go ahead with the demolition plan because as per the announced plans on the fated day - only symbolic kar sewa would be performed. But the kar sewaks were insistent and motivated, backed and instigated by eminent Sangh Parivar and BJP leaders. Their plan was in place.