Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid Row: Guess What? Nobody Wants a Consensus
Talks on Ayodhya dispute have failed to create a consensus as an unresolved conflict has more political dividends.
The remark made by the Chief Justice of India encouraging the conflicting parties to reach an out-of-court settlement to resolve the contentious Babri Masjid-Ram Temple issue is an interesting development.
The idea of resolving this dispute, after due process of negotiation, is not entirely new. Several rounds of talks between the competing parties have already been organised by the government in the past. Precisely for this reason, there is a need to pay attention to the ‘politics’ of negotiated settlement for a historical perspective on the offer made by the CJI.
Groups Representing Hindus and Muslims
Although the first round of dialogue between Muslim leaders associated with the Babri Masjid issue and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) began in 1988, the possibility of a negotiated settlement found a concrete form after the 1989 general elections. A three-member committee was set up under the leadership of Madhu Dandvate on 15 February 1990 for facilitating talks between Hindu and Muslim leaders.
Quite intriguingly, the government ignored all the three organisations which claimed to represent the Hindus and Muslims: the Babri Masjid Movement Coordination Committee (BMMCC) led by Syed Shahabuddin and supported by the Chandra Shekhar faction of the Janata Dal; the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee (AIBMAC), a breakaway group led by the then Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid Syed Abdullah Bukhari and patronised by VP Singh; and the VHP, which eventually became a party in the title suit only in 1989.
No Consensus After Talks
The government approached two religious leaders of the two communities, the Shankaracharaya of Kanchi and Maulana Ali Mian Nadwi, to find a solution to the Babri Masjid dispute. The first round of talks did not produce any substantial result. In fact, the candidature of the Shankaracharya and Nadwi, as representatives of the Hindus and Muslims, sparked a controversy.
In July 1990, the government invited the BMMCC for talks with the VHP. This time, the talks were opposed by the AIBMAC. It argued that the Dandvate committee had not taken their claim seriously, therefore, these talks could not produce acceptable outcomes. As expected, no formal meeting took place. In the meantime, the VHP continued with its radical mobilisation efforts for a grand Ram temple.
The final round of negotiations on the Babri Masjid issue began in December 1990, when the AIBMAC was invited for talks with the VHP. Interestingly, the BMMCC opposed the initiative. It was asserted that the talks were useless as the VHP as a Hindu outfit could not be trusted.
Despite this opposition, several rounds of meetings took place and documents in support of competing claims were exchanged. Both the parties, however, did not deviate from their stated positions.
Mandir Politics Gathers Pace
Around this time, LK Advani started his Rath Yatra from the Somnath temple in Gujarat to Ayodhya on 25 September 1990. In the backdrop of these changed circumstances, the negotiations no longer had any political significance.
The Rath Yatra changed the direction of politics over the Babri Masjid. Advani was arrested on 23 October 1990 and this led to the collapse of the BJP-backed coalition government led by the Janata Dal. The VHP, on the other hand, continued its radical politics. It sponsored the kar sewa at Ayodhya on 30 October 1990. However, the UP government led by Mulayam Singh Yadav adopted a very strict approach and did not allow the kar sewaks to enter the disputed site.
When kar sewaks tried breaking the barriers, the police had to resort to indiscriminate firing. Around 30 people were killed in this incident. This marked the culmination of the idea of a negotiated settlement.
Nobody Wants a Solution
This brief history is instructive. Negotiations are often understood as processes by which two or more parties try to resolve a conflict. A successful negotiation, in this sense, is one which allows the opposing parties to arrive at a compromise. However, in the Babri Masjid case, the nature of negotiations was very different.
Both the groups were not participating to reduce or resolve the conflict; rather, they were keen to ‘use’ the platform provided by the state for consolidating their respective political positions. In fact, a ‘successful failure’ of these negotiations was more advantageous than a successful resolution of the dispute.
(The writer is assistant professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, and Rajya Sabha Fellow 2015-2016. He can be reached @Ahmed1Hilal. 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.)
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