Upon learning that the Supreme Court was going to give its verdict in the Ayodhya matter today, the first thought that crossed my mind was – “Why today? Why couldn’t the court have kept it on some other day? After all, 9 November deserves to belong solely to the opening of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor. A day for Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims on both sides of the border to rejoice the greatest peace initiative between India and Pakistan since 1947. A day to collectively rediscover the sacred legacy of Guru Nanak Devji in his 550th birth anniversary year.
After all, is there any other saint who more strongly reminds us of the spiritual kinship of our three religions, and also the undeniable bond between India and Pakistan?”
Not many people know that the founder of Sikh religion was a great devotee of Lord Ram.
What Links Kartarpur with Ayodhya?
On further reflection, it seemed to me that it is not a coincidence that the two historic events have happened on the same day. The Kartarpur Sahib Corridor has been formally opened. And the Supreme Court’s judgement has paved the way for construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. What is the common link between the two? In one word, it is “Reconciliation”.
In one case, it is a step towards reconciliation between India and Pakistan. In the other, it is a step towards reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims in India.
But there is also another common link. It is Guru Nanak himself. Not many people know that the founder of Sikh religion was a great devotee of Lord Ram. The name of God which he reverentially mentions most number of times in Sri Guru Granth Sahib is that of Hari – as Ram, Raja Ram, Raghunath, etc. Over 2000 times! At the very least, this goes to validate one truth that seems to have influenced the judges of the Supreme Court in their unanimous judgement – namely, faith in Ram has been deep-rooted and widespread in India for centuries.
When the judges said “this court must accept faith and belief of worshippers”, and gave the disputed land in Ayodhya for construction of the Ram Temple, they only reaffirmed that the religious sentiments of the Ram worshippers needed to be accepted and respected.
In fact, the Supreme Court quotes Guru Nanak visiting Ram Janmabhoomi in Nov 1510 as evidence much before Babar invaded India in 1524.
Asymmetry in the Faith-Based Claims of Hindus and Muslims
Let us be absolutely clear that, in its essence, the Ayodhya dispute was never about legal claim and counter-claim to a piece of land. It was about the faith of one religious community, Hindus, who believed that Ram Janmabhoomi was the place where Ram was born, versus the faith of another community. The Babri Masjid, which stood at the site, simply did not have the same religious significance for the Muslim community.
The demolition of the masjid on 6th December 1992, which the court has rightly condemned as an “unlawful act”, was a blot on the mass movement launched by the BJP and the rest of the Sangh Parivar. But it did not in any way extinguish the higher claim of the Hindu community to the disputed site, on the basis of their religious belief in Ram Janmabhoomi as the birthplace of Ram. The Hindu claim had far higher value because, for Muslims (local or national) a mosque in the name of Babar was just another mosque.
What Has Been Established in the Court
Once this basic truth is accepted, we can better understand the salience of the following observations of the Supreme Court in its verdict:
- Hindus have established “a clear case of a possessory title” to the outside courtyard (of the disputed site) by virtue of “long, continued and unimpeded worship” at the Ram Chabutra and other objects of religious significance.
- “Muslim witnesses have acknowledged the presence of symbols of Hindu religious significance both inside and outside the mosque.”
- On the inner courtyard, “there is evidence on a preponderance of probabilities to establish worship by the Hindus prior to the annexation of Oudh by the British in 1857”.
- “The Muslims have offered no evidence to indicate that they were in exclusive possession of the inner structure prior to 1857 since the date of the construction in the sixteenth century.”
But these observations are, in themselves, of less importance and, if shorn of the larger context of the centuries-old Hindu faith in Ram––and the extended belief that he was born at Ram Janmabhoomi––they would not lend credence to the operative part of the court’s judgement. But taken together with the fundamental asymmetry between Ram worshippers’ deep religious attachment to the disputed site and the weak religious significance of the site (both when the masjid existed there and also after its demolition) for India’s Muslim community, it becomes clear that the court simply used available evidence to end the dispute in favour of the former.
“Faith” over “Facts”? No!
Criticism against the verdict has centred on the argument that “faith” has won over “facts”. This holds no water. Of course, the “faith” of contending parties, as I have pointed out, was the fundamental basis of the case before the court. And the court’s verdict gives no scope for the insinuation that it favoured one faith over the other. Rather, its examination of available evidence led it to conclude that the claim of one faith was backed by a stronger body of facts than the counter-claim of another faith.
We should be grateful that the Supreme Court has thus put an end to the centuries-old mandir-masjid dispute in Ayodhya. Going by the initial remarks of some Muslim leaders, it is evident that the verdict has not satisfied them. But they would do well to accept and respect the highest court’s verdict as it is––in line with the oft-stated stance of most Muslim leaders in recent years and months. The Muslim community would gain nothing by rejecting the verdict. However, by accepting it––while voicing their legitimate criticism of any part of it––it would contribute greatly to the process of Hindu-Muslim reconciliation.
Frankly, there is also a need for some self-criticism. Leaders of the Muslim community, many of whom conducted a shrill anti-temple campaign under the banner of the Babri Masjid Action Committee, erred gravely by opposing the Hindu demand. Had they shown in the 1980s and 1990s the same accommodative and reconciliatory spirit that they did in recent years, India could well have seen an amicable settlement of the dispute through trust-based negotiations between Hindu and Muslim leaders.
Why the Sangh Parivar Must Own Up its Guilt
But are only Muslim leaders to blame for the failure of a negotiated settlement? Not in the least. The aggressive and often violent stance adopted by the pro-temple movement was no less responsible for the fact that the dispute ultimately had to be resolved by the judiciary. The Supreme Court is, indeed, guilty of using mild words––“an egregious violation of the rule of law”––for the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. In truth, it was an act of heinous criminality. Hindu leaders cannot rationalise the crime, or belittle its gravity, by claiming that many Hindu temples were destroyed, and mosques built in their places, by Muslim rulers in the past.
Such acts of bigotry did take place, and their occurrence must not be denied. But how can BJP and RSS leaders deny their own responsibility for the illegal and anti-Constitution act of razing the Babri Masjid to the ground? Worse still, by not sincerely and adequately apologising for their guilt, and indeed by allowing bigots in their ranks to demand handover of the mosques in Mathura and Kashi, they pushed the Muslim community and its leaders into a corner.
Political Exploitation of the Dispute
Also, can the Hindu (rather, Hindutva) leaders deny with a clean conscience that they craftily exploited the Ayodhya issue for their political and electoral gains? Indeed, after the BJP’s thumping victory in the 2014 parliamentary elections, they have deliberately allowed their supporters to make their anti-Muslim campaign so poisonous as to paint almost the entire Indian Muslim community as anti-national. With such complicit conduct, have they not damaged the delicate fabric of social harmony and national integration in India?
Therefore, for real and enduring Hindu-Muslim reconciliation to take place, leaders of the Sangh Parivar must make a lot of amends to their ideology, politics and social practice. In this self-corrective process, Prime Minister Narendra Modi carries the highest responsibility because it is he who has pledged to the nation to follow the mantra of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas”.
Today India is at a crossroads. We can either move in the direction of reconciliation – both Hindu-Muslim reconciliation and India-Pakistan normalisation – or we can slide back into the morass of perpetual conflict both at home and with our neighbour. Pakistan is facing the same dilemma in a different, and more debilitating, way. If our choice is the former, then we have to follow the path illumined by the teachings of saints like Guru Nanak, who harmonised the best of Hinduism and Islam in his message to humanity.
In short, recognising the essential Oneness of God and Humanity, we have to build many more corridors of mutual understanding, trust, cooperation and co-living––both within and between India and Pakistan.
(The author served as a close aide to India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He is the author of Music of the Spinning Wheel: Mahatma Gandhi’s Manifesto for the Internet Age. He is the founder of ‘FORUM FOR A NEW SOUTH ASIA – Powered by India-Pakistan-China Cooperation’. He tweets @SudheenKulkarni and welcomes comments at sudheenkulkarni.gmail.com. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)