Hindu Vivek Kendra
History and Politics of Ram Janmabhoomi
Ashok Chowgule
President, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Maharashtra

The Ram Janmabhoomi issue has revolutionised the politics of the country. A fragmented Hindu samaj has been united to an extent unheard of in recent times. While many intellectuals have reacted to the phenomenon in a negative manner, some like Shri V. S. Naipaul and the late Shri Girilal Jain have seen the depth to which it has permeated in the samaj. The former observed that “what is happening in India is a new historical awakening....... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows that a large response in emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.”

If there has to be an enduring solution to the Ram Janmabhoomi issue, the history of the case must be clearly stated. Only if it can be established, beyond a reasonable doubt, that in 1528 A.D. a temple was destroyed with the express objective of constructing the mosque, a new temple should be constructed. Otherwise, permitting such an event to come to pass will lead to opening a Pandora's box. For any sane society, it is necessary to ensure that unreasonable demands by any sections should not be acceded to.

In December 1990, the Chandrashekhar government had asked the VHP and the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee (AIBMAC) to give proof to justify their respective cases. This was done, and each side was expected to give a rejoinder in early January 1991. The government minutes of the time say, “The VHP submitted the rejoinder in which it tried to refute claims of the AIBMAC point wise. The AIBMAC did not react to the evidences put forward by the VHP. Instead it submitted photo-copies of more evidences in support of its claims. Since the AIBMAC did not give comments on the evidences put forward by the VHP, it is not possible for the government to decide the areas of agreement and disagreement.”

The proof that the VHP has given is based on the archeological investigations, historical records and literary sources. These include pre-British sources as well as writings of Muslim authors. The archeological evidence was part of the Ramayan project which was undertaken by the Archeological Survey of India between 1975 to early 1980's.

Even though the AIBMAC did not give the rejoinder, VHP decided to have a meeting of experts on January 24 and 25, 1991, as part of the exercise initiated by the Chandrashekhar government. During the first meeting, the AIBMAC experts said that they have not studied the evidence given by VHP nor did they visit the site. For the second meeting they chose not to come. The behavior of the AIBMAC experts, four people considered to be respected academicians, is indeed strange since the VHP evidence was submitted about a month before hand. In addition, these experts have been writing for quite a long time that the mosque was built on a vacant site, that is, no temple was destroyed in- 1528 A. D.

If the historical case is established, the natural question to be asked is if it is necessary to build a temple. After all, Ram Rajya will not be automatically achieved by mere construction of a temple. Ram Rajya has many more components to it, which needs to be put in place by additional efforts. The question can be answered only by looking at the whole question of the practice of secularism and the politics of vote bank. In a secular society, a government only recognises an individual, but not his caste or creed. It should institute programmes which will help all the poor people. The politics of vote-bank makes all this unnecessary. And the politics of vote bank can only succeed in a divided Hindu samaj.

For the VHP, the Ram temple was never a narrow religious issue. It is an aspect of a wider national reintegration. It was this vision that enabled it to bring together religious leaders of the larger canvass of Hinduism, consisting of Shaivites, Vishnuites, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, etc. If this is not done, the fissures in the Hindu samaj will once again occur. The loser will be not only Hinduism but also India as we know it today.

The historicity of the case is particularly important in the context of Hindu - Muslim relationship. Muslims should not feel that their religious site irrespective of its importance to them, has been unjustly taken away, for the purpose of converting it to a place of worship of another religion. Considering the mood of the Muslims in India, this is in fact what he feels. He also feels that the Government is succumbing to obscurantist pressure of the Hindu Samaj. This does not augur well for future relationship.

Even while the VHP made a sincere effort at a negotiated solution, it was made clear that the demand for the return of they holy sites is restricted to three. Along with the evidence, the VHP said, “We do not even demand the return of the thousands of places of worship that have been forcibly replaced with mosques..... We merely want three places back, three age-old sacred places. And we would prefer getting them back from the Muslim community, to getting them back by an official decree.…. Muslims should understand what kind of message they are sending by insisting on continuing the occupation of our sacred places, an occupation started by fanatics and mass-murders like Babar and Aurangzeb. We do not like to think of our Muslim compatriots as heirs and followers of such invaders and tyrants. It is up to them to make a gesture that will signify a formal break with this painful past.”

In contrast, the Muslims are being misled, and the psyche that has been created of them has been summerised by Shri Peter van der Veer, in his book, Religious Nationalism: Hindus and Muslims in India (Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1996, pp 9-10) as follows: “For Muslims the issue has also become loaded. First of all, a mosque is sacred space. It cannot simply be demolished or removed. The very idea that a mosque should make room for a temple, in which images are worshipped, sounds like an utter defeat of Islam and is therefore highly repugnant to Muslims. Second, there is the (hi)story according to which Babar was involved in the building of the mosque. This provides even more reason for at least some Muslims to demand its preservation, since their pride and self-esteem is bound up with the glorious past of the Mughal empire. The decline of that empire is often construed as the decline of the Muslim community itself In the Muslim view, the “facts” of this glorious past stand squarely opposite to the “fictions” of Hindu mythology. Babar and his general were historical figures and the mosque obviously a real building, while Rama and his birthplace are myths. The great importance of the Shi’a nawabs for the expansion of Ayodhya as a Hindu centre is as much underplayed by Sunni Muslims as by Hindus. The idea that the period of the Mughal empire's decline was at the same time the golden era of the nawabs of Awadh is too much connected with Shi’a-Sunni strife to be considered in the construction of a Muslim history.

“As far as the demolition of the temple is concerned, two different opinions are heard among Muslim leaders. The more radical version denies that there ever was a temple. In fact, it tries to deny the whole history of Hindu oppression by Muslims, calling it a Hindu fiction. The other version accepts the demolition of the temple as a historical fact but argues that Muslims had the duty to destroy places where icons were worshipped in a country that was under their sovereignty. Once it was built, the mosque became a consecrated place for them, which everyone had to respect. In their argument, a secular state must protect the right of religious minorities and cannot reverse events that happened almost five hundred years ago on the basis of majority sentiments. For Muslim the mosque is a symbol of their glorious past but also of their threatened present.”

It would be worthwhile to look at one or two of the specific aspects of the history of the site. Much is made of the judiciary pronouncements on the site. One firm judgement has been pronounced in 1886. “It is most unfortunate that a masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus...... This is a clear decision establishing the Hindu case to the site.

The judgement then proceeds to say “..... but as the event occurred 356 years ago it is too late now to remedy the grievance. All that can be done is to maintain the status quo.” This that slaves do not have a luxury of getting justice. The reason why the grievance could not be remedied, is because much of this period of 356 years there was an Islamic rule, against which Hindus were continuously fighting. The Poles were able to bring down the Eastern Orthodox Cathedral only after the got their freedom from the Russians.

The judgement also says, “In such a case as the present one any innovation could cause more harm and derangement of order than benefit.” In consideration of the sentiments expressed here, the VHP undertook the exercise of having a negotiated settlement. But they were frustrated in these efforts, by the very people who have labelled them revanchist, fascists, etc.

Two structures of importance that existed were the Ram Chabootra and Sita-ki-Rasoi. The former was a small raised platform with a canopy, where constant prayers for Lord Ram were being conducted. The Chabootra was constructed in the 16th century. Josephy Tiffenthaler, the Austrian Jesuit priest, who stayed in Awadh in 1766-71 reported that the temple marking the birth of Lord Ram was destroyed and a mosque built using its pillars.

The Ram Janmabhoomi issue has been politicised precisely because the history has been kept in the background. This is not the time to look at the issue from the context of who would benefit from it politically. If the truth is known, irrespective of which political party benefits, the nation will gain. If truth is hidden, irrespective of which political party benefits, the nation will lose.


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