December 26, 2000


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Arvind Lavakare

Ayodhya's Original Sinners: Their cowardly retreat from truth

PART I: Ayodhya's Original Sinners

Chandra Shekhar, the Baba of Bhondsi, the forever angry Old Turk of 73 years, the forever sermoniser and the one who dared to mortgage the nation's gold abroad --- he was also the one who took the Ayodhya bull by its horns as soon as he assumed office as prime minister in November 1990.

Instead of letting the prevailing communal atmosphere over the Ram temple at Ayodhya go on simmering, he decided that an out-of-court settlement between the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and All India Babri Masjid Action Committee was the best way to resolve the issue. He therefore called for evidence from both the sides.

According to the Government of India's White Paper of February 1993 on the subject, the issue brought in focus then was a. whether a Hindu temple had existed on the site occupied by the Babri structure and b. whether it was demolished on Babar's orders for the construction of the masjid.

The White Paper says that during the negotiations "It was also stated by certain Muslim leaders that if these (above two) two assertions were proved, the Muslims would voluntarily hand over the disputed shrine to the Hindus." This commitment as a refinement of the boast earlier attributed to Syed Shahabuddin, convener of the Babri Masjid Co-ordination Committee, that he would demolish the Babri Masjid with own hands if his opponents could come up with one original non-British source confirming that a temple was demolished to make way for the Babri Masjid.

As it transpired, the VHP came up with a lot of such evidence, hard evidence.

As laid down by the Government of India schedule for the parley between the two sides, VHP was ready with its evidence on December 23, 1990, but since AIBAMC was not, the exchange of evidence took place the next day. Photocopies of the same were supplied by the Union minister of state for home on December 26 with a request that that rejoinder from the two sides were to be submitted by January 6, 1991 so that the meeting of January 10 could save time and take up points that remained unresolved.

The evidence supplied by VHP was precise and within the parameters set by the government. In all, the VHP submitted 28 documents that included, inter alia ---

1. Written testimony of 12 Muslim authors (including Aurangzeb's grand-daughter) spread over the period 1598 to 1923.
2. Recorded accounts of Ayodhya by European travellers, archaeologists and scholars.
3. Summary of several revenue records from the first settlement report (1861) to the regular revenue settlement reports of 1936-37 and 1989-90.
4. Findings of excavations by Archaeological Survey of India at the disputed site and just outside it.

All of VHP's documents were summarised in a covering note setting out clearly the only conclusions that could be drawn.

What was the evidence submitted by AIBMAC on that 23rd December of a decade ago? A pile of papers! Most of them were newspaper articles written by sundry scribes. There was no covering note, no summary.

Included in that AIBMAC pile of "evidence" was one concrete proof -- proof of how utterly vacuous and vicious VHP's opponents were. Included as pro-Masjid and anti-Mandir evidence were pages of the book History of Moghul Architecture by R Nath. When the author learnt of it from a report in The Indian Express, Nath sent in a reply in which he stated he was completely sure that the Masjid had been built on a temple and, possibly, the Masjid had been renovated "under Babar's reign" rather than "at his command."

The VHP scholars who examined the AIBMAC pile discovered that, apart from raising numerous irrelevant issues, the documents therein took contradictory stands even on the non-issues they raised. All sorts of theories had been thrown together -- like in a gallimaufry.

Even so, the VHP's rejoinder sent to the minister on January 6, 1991 commented on every "document" submitted by the AIBMAC. The AIBMAC's rejoinder was a repeat performance -- another pile of papers. It was clear that AIBMAC "scholars" was, for some reason, not prepared to get down to brass tacks.

The meeting on January 10, 1991 decided that the evidence would be divided under four heads -- history, archaeology, revenue records, and law -- and discussed by experts to be appointed by both sides. The lists of experts were to be submitted by January 17 and the experts themselves were to meet on January 24, for a preliminary discussion. Their findings on that date and thereafter were to be placed before a joint meeting to be held on February 6, 1991.

After the meeting on January 10, the VHP, wanting to inform the public, released to the press a summary of the evidence given by the two sides. The press ignored it.

The VHP submitted its list of nine experts on January 17 --- as required. The AIBMAC's list of experts did not come till January 23 when it named ten persons as its experts. On the same day, the VHP added another expert to its own list so that the two sides had an equal number.

But when the next meeting took place on January 24, four of the AIBMAC experts -- R S Sharma, Athar Ali, D N Jha and Suraj Bhan -- advanced the claim that they were independent scholars and should be heard as such. The minister rejected the claim. The next demand made by them was that they needed not less than six weeks for studying and evaluating the evidence. The VHP turned down the demand and the meeting was adjourned to the next day.

On January 25, the VHP's experts reached the venue of the meeting at the appointed time. The AIBMAC's experts failed to turn up.

It was the end of the first serious effort made by the Government of India to get the two sides together for finding an amicable settlement of the Ayodhya dispute.

Thereafter, the political scenario began heating up for Chandra Shekhar; he was compelled to announce his government's resignation on March 6, 1991.

The Ram temple entered P V Narasimha Rao's regime in June that year.

What Rao did as soon as he had initiated several fire-fighting measures against the nation's precarious foreign exchange and general economic situation was to set up an Ayodhya Cell around September 1992.

And what conclusions had the Ayodhya Cell arrived at soon enough? According to an article of Aditi Phadnis in Sunday magazine of October 10, 1992, the cell had the following views:

  • "Progressive historians (like Romila Thapar, S Gopal and others) are more keen to their modern secular credentials." (This in disgust)
  • "We would be rejecting history if we were to do that for the last 400 years (since Mir Baqi, a Shia from Iran, built a mosque at the disputed site) Hindus and Muslims have been living happily and sharing the same building. There has obviously been a temple there. Whether it belonged to Ram or someone else, we don't know because there isn't enough data. But the fact is that there have been bitter conflicts over this place, and we cannot brush this aside, as the JNU professors have done."
  • "The Muslim case is one of self-created weaknesses. First there is no documentation of their claim; second, the mutwalli (mosque priest) has left the place at the mercy of the keertanwallas and has never been keen to reclaim it; third, it is the Hindus who are now in possession."

All of it was therefore going hunky dory for VHP though Narasimha Rao seemed inclined towards somehow balancing the scales between the masjid and the Ram temple.

Even as he vacillated on the precise formula, there occurred the event of December 6, 1992. Perhaps Lord Ram wasn't happy in merely forcing a cowardly retreat on the obstinate obscurants.

Today, with even the Muslim League veteran in the Lok Sabha not daring to ask for the mosque's reconstruction, that retreat could well herald a trouncing notwithstanding of all the breast-beating of sham secularists of vote bank politics.

Arvind Lavakare

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