At one level, it indeed appears to be a surrender. After all, the courts had directed the Government to maintain the status quo on the acquired land in Ayodhya. That included the 67 acres which had belonged to the Ramjanambhoomi Nyas before the demolition of the disputed structure on 6th December 1992. The VHP claimed that it was undisputed land and, therefore, not only should it be returned to it but, in the meantime, it should be allowed to perform puja on it on March 15. The leaders of the Muslim community and the Prime Minister himself were opposed to the VHP move since that would have meant, at least technically, tempering with the status quo.
The VHP dug in its heels. The Prime Minister too flexed his muscles and imposed severe curbs on the movement of Ram Bhaktas to Ayodhya for the grand show it had scheduled for March 15. Trains to Ayodhya were cancelled. Even movement by road to the temple town was restricted. For days on end, it appeared as if the VHP and the Prime Minister were set on a collision course. Then came the terrible tragedy of Godhra and Gujarat.
The Hindu sentiment was on the boil. Muslims, in turn, were incensed over the revenge killings of their co-religionists. For a while it appeared that the entire country would turn into a huge communal cauldron which threatened to consume both Hindus and Muslims and leave the social fabric of the country in tatters.
The Prime Minister's backroom boys now sought the services of the Kanchi Shankaracharya, Jayendra Saraswati. Representatives of various Muslim organisations were involved in the multi-level negotiations. Soon a temporary truce was hammered out. Now, the VHP would perform but only 'symbolic' pooja at the disputed site on March 15. Curbs on the movement of 'kar sevaks' were off.
Rails and road traffic to and from Ayodhya would resume immediately. And the VHP and the Government were once again in talking mode. In short, the Vajpayee Government had climbed down. It may be a tactical retreat but retreat all the same. The Prime Minister had winked first. The sants and seers of the VHP had managed to cow him down. Elements in the Prime Minister's own party were rooting for the VHP.
That various Muslim organisations would interpret the permission for symbolic pooja in adverse light was only to be expected. They have now challenged the permission for pooja on the disputed land in the highest court in the land. The court has scheduled a hearing on the plea against the March 15 pooja on March 13. In other words, the Government surrender can still be undone by the Supreme Court.
But the more relevant point is that after Godhra and Gujarat - yes, they are two separate crimes one having incited the other - shouldn't the entire political class pool its energies to resolve this seemingly intractable problem? Or must there be more Godhras and more Gujarats of the kind we witnessed in the past few days? Sadly enough, leaders of the opposition Congress Party were running scared, afraid to utter a word edgeways on an issue which had very nearly toppled the Vajpayee Government. Typically, they were hunting with the Hindu hounds and running with the Muslim hares.
Keen to keep both the communities in confusion and thus win their electoral support, the Congress leaders refused to comment edgeways on the issue. It was the same old duplicity which the late Rajiv Gandhi had displayed while ordering the opening of the gates of the disputed structure in Ayodhya and allowing the 'shilaynyas' and at the same time undoing the SC judgement in the Shah Bano case. Keep everyone happily confused seemed to be the Congress motto. At least the communists were honest enough to oppose the intervention of the Shankaracharya in the matter, (though they had wheeled in their own version of a Shankarachraya to counter the efforts of the legitimate one).
The Congress Party by staying aloof in the crisis sparked off by the VHP threat revealed its penchant to put its own electoral interests ahead of that of the nation. For, the mandir-masjid dispute poses a threat to the entire civil society and cries for an early resolution. Such a resolution is possible only if all political parties underwrite a mutually acceptable solution to the dispute. It is not for the Government alone to resolve the issue.
The belated plea by the Government before the Allahabad High Court for a day-to-day hearing of the case was most welcome. Admittedly, the courts cannot be expected to pronounce with constitutional authority on matters concerning religious faith. In the present case, at best they can decide the ownership of the land and not the vital question as to whether a Mandir had stood at the same site where Babur had erected a mosque to humiliate the Hindus.
That was an issue in the realm of Hindu mythology, nay, folk lore. And cannot be resolved by judicial edicts. Since in their heart of hearts Muslims too know that the VHP claim is not wholly untenable, the onus to act with grace and dignity is on the minority community. It should make the supreme gesture to the Hindus and surrender its claim to the disputed piece of land in Ayodhya. Surely, a grateful VHP would reciprocate equally magnificently by offering to construct an impressive mosque at a site not far removed from the presumed birth place of Lord Rama.
It is mischievous to argue that the faith of Muslims in the rule of law would be established only if the courts upheld their claim to the disputed site. They had had no use for the disputed mosque until the VHP laid claim to the plot on which it had stood. The disputed mosque was of no religious or historical value to the Muslims while it has become a matter of life and death to the VHP. It is time the saner elements among the Muslims thought about making the grand gesture and thus earned the life-long gratitude of Hindus. The courts cannot resolve this dispute. The magnanimity of Muslims can. Otherwise, the alternative is more Godhras more Gujarats.
Published in Samachar.Com