As the 2019 national elections draw near, the RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat has repeatedly made statements claiming that only a Ram temple will be built in Ayodhya and that even opposition parties cannot openly oppose its construction. Indifference to the ongoing judicial process in the case is nothing new for the RSS as it knows well that the issue’s sentimental appeal needs to be kept alive among devout Hindus. The Congress called the RSS chief’s statement a ‘frog’s cry during rains’ and accused the RSS-BJP of sending Lord Ram to ‘“exile” after every election’.
The VHP too has revived its community of sants. On October 5, 2018, it held a meeting of fifty sadhus at its headquarters in Delhi, where the seers and sadhus passed a resolution detailing a month-wise plan to create favourable public opinion for the construction of the Ram temple before 2019. Mahant Nritya Gopal Das later led the panel of seers to present their demands to the President of India. Characteristic of the VHP’s diminished
ability to unite Ayodhya’s sadhus behind it, only five of the fifty seers, who attended the meeting, were from Ayodhya. These seers castigated the BJP for not fulfilling its promise to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya and demanded that the government bring in special legislation that would allow the construction of the temple.
In Ayodhya, a VHP-supporting mahant started his fast unto death. He demanded that Prime Minister Modi announce the construction of a Ram temple by bringing in a special Act of Parliament. While too much cannot be read into the VHP’s periodic moves ahead of elections, their threat of a nationwide agitation cannot be ignored either. It is not inconceivable that the hordes of young men who are often seen gyrating to the beats of techno-bhajans cannot be diverted to Ayodhya, to finish the task that began on 6 December 1992—construction of a temple at Ram’s Janmabhoomi.
Hindus in Ayodhya–Faizabad definitely want a Ram temple and have been waiting for the last four years to see some tangible movement towards its construction. As Ramesh Chaurasia, a Hanuman devotee said, ‘If Hindu governments at the centre and the state cannot build it, then who will?’ The government is also active, and its intelligence department is busy conducting ‘feasibility studies’ and ‘impact assessment surveys’ to ascertain the reaction of people if the temple were to be built through an Act of Parliament. Now that the VHP-backed sants have once again given a call for karseva to build a temple, it remains to be seen if the mobilisation of Hindus will be easier than before. BJP governments or BJP-supported governments are in power in nineteen states in India, including in all but one neighbouring state of UP (Delhi has an Aam Aadmi Party government). Mahant Satyendra Das, though, believes otherwise. He believes that ‘neither the BJP government at the centre nor in the state have the “iccha-shakti” or will to build the temple.
We have been waiting for Modiji to at least visit Ayodhya to see how Ram Lalla lives in a tent, but he hasn’t. We have given the BJP everything, they have a full majority now, power in 19 states, and still, they don’t keep their promise of a Ram temple. It is Ram Lalla who gave them everything, and it is He who will teach them a lesson,’ an agitated Das, told me over the phone. Muslims are used to the headlines and the VHP’s posturing before every election and are keeping a cautious watch on these developments.
However, the only democratic and constitutional possibility to clear the way for the temple is if the Supreme Court upholds the Allahabad High Court verdict of 2010 or decides the title suit in favour of Hindu parties. In that case, the temple will have to be built, and the Muslims will comply, as the Sunni Central Waqf Board has stated many times. But if the Supreme Court decides that the land where the Babri Masjid stood belongs to Muslims, will the VHP and the Sangh Parivar comply?
They have maintained since the beginning that the courts cannot decide this matter; what’s the guarantee that they won’t mobilise Hindus against the Supreme Court verdict? In July 2017, the Uttar Pradesh Shia Central Waqf Board revived their claim on the Babri Masjid. As mentioned earlier, the Shia claim over the mosque had been dismissed by the Faizabad Civil Court in 1946. If the Shia Waqf Board’s appeal to join the case is admitted by the court, it will add a new dimension and additional delay to the nearly sixty-year-old legal dispute. It is not yet clear what motive lies behind the move to become a party after more than seventy years. The desire of the board members to ingratiate themselves to the Yogi and Modi governments cannot be ruled out. The chairman of the board, Wasim Rizvi, denied that this is the case.
This suggestion is premised on the assumption that everything can be solved through dialogue and ‘give and take’. But when neither the VHP nor the Nirmohi Akhara nor other Hindu parties (eight in all who appealed against the 2010 verdict of the Allahabad High Court) nor the Muslim parties led by the Sunni Central Waqf Board are ready to ‘give’ or give up, dialogues of the mutual settlement are meaningless.
‘It is an ego clash, a conflict between Hindus’ inferiority complex and Muslims’ superiority complex,’ a seasoned observer (who wishes to remain anonymous) of Ayodhya had commented. Where ego rules and rationality has failed, it is naïve to expect that talks will solve the problem.
If the Hindu parties agree to vacate the land presently occupied by the makeshift shrine of Ram Lalla, the Sunni Central Waqf Board may agree to have the temple constructed at the spot where the Ram Chabutra stood inside the outer courtyard of the mosque. Another way to solve the dispute would be for the Muslim parties to give up their claim and agree to build the mosque outside Ayodhya. “But how can we let that happen; it means tomorrow a mob can destroy another mosque or any other Waqf land. It would legitimise the forcible occupation in 1949 and the demolition in 1992,” argued Sunni Waqf Board’s lawyer Zafaryab Gilani.
In any case, he says, Waqf land is a grant made in perpetuity, and its nature cannot be changed. The disputed land cannot be cordoned off nor can a public amenity be built on it. This ‘compromise’ solution of building a hospital or a museum has been floating about since the dispute’s early days in the 1990s. But it is not acceptable to the VHP or the Sunni Central Waqf Board.
Will the courts decide one way or another by 2019? Will the temple be built by 2019? From RSS functionaries to BJP ministers to the common Hindu on Ayodhya’s streets, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. The BJP proved that it didn’t need the support of Muslims by winning a landslide majority without fielding a single Muslim candidate in the 2017 assembly elections in UP. The political emasculation of Muslims as a ‘vote bank’ is also all but complete at the national level. However, on the shifting sands of Indian politics, itself shaped both by economic issues like inflation and unemployment, and religion, the BJP of winter 2018 doesn’t appear as strong as it did when it took power four years ago in May 2014. The legislative route itself of enacting an Act to allow the construction of a temple is fraught with both political and constitutional risks. As has been pointed out earlier, even Parliament cannot pass a law while the dispute is pending in the Supreme Court. Therefore, until the Supreme Court of India passes a verdict, it will be unconstitutional to pass such a law. The BJP has officially and repeatedly emphasised that the temple will be built through the court’s verdict and constitutional processes. Certain experts also hold the view that the BJP can change the Constitution. Until a solution is found or forced, the Ram Janmabhoomi–Babri Masjid dispute will remain unresolved.
Perhaps, the resolution of this bloody dispute lies not in the hands of our present generation of leaders, seers and people, but in the hands of future generations who would think of it differently and not as a Hindu versus Muslim issue. Ayodhya has come a long way in its journey over millennia, and while today it is called the graveyard of India’s composite culture and the rule of law, I am hopeful that this label, too, will not stick forever. Ayodhya will keep changing its course with the river Sarayu as its eternal witness.
About Author: Valay Singh is an independent journalist based in Delhi. He began his career with NDTV 24×7 as a researcher and editor. He has been widely published in newspapers and magazines like the Economic Times, Himal Southasian, The Wire, DailyO, and Outlook. Ayodhya is his first book.