On 5 August 2020, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation of the grand Ram temple in Ayodhya, it drew curtains over a long and bitter feud that left India’s soul wounded and scarred, not to mention the seeds of religious polarisation and hate it sowed in our political discourse.
A year ago, the Supreme Court verdict on the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi title dispute had come as a huge relief. It was felt that the dispute was finally relegated to the pages of history, a chapter that future generations would read and learn lessons from. Healing and reconciliation seemed imminent with both sides seeking closure.
However, a Varanasi court’s recent order to carry out a comprehensive survey by the Archaeological Survey of India of the Gyanvapi mosque complex threatens to turn the clock back and inflict fresh wounds.
Besides the ASI survey, the civil court judge also ordered the formation of a committee to determine whether a temple existed at any point of time before the mosque was built. This was in response to a petition that demanded the court to declare that the mosque built by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb stood on land belonging to the Hindus.
Eerie resemblance to Babri Masjid
Those acquainted with the chronology of events at Ayodhya can clearly see where this is headed.
It has an eerie resemblance to the Babri Masjid incident and even the ideological underpinnings and motivations remain the same. The Hindu nationalist worldview sees the Gyanvapi mosque as yet another sign of humiliation and subjugation of the Hindus at the hands of the “barbaric” Muslim invaders.
The dispute has, as civil court judge Ashutosh Tiwari put it a “connection with our deep history”.
Since the RSS and its sister organisations have made no bones about “reclaiming” temples like the Kashi Vishwanath to right the wrongs of history, it does not take a genius to figure out that the petition may have the blessings of the sangh parivaar.
The timing is crucial here because the petition comes at a time when the Modi government’s reply on a legal challenge to the Places of Worship Act, 1991, is eagerly awaited in the Supreme Court.
The latter has surprisingly agreed to re-examine the law’s validity within a year of holding it sacrosanct in the Ayodhya verdict. The 1991 Act debars any tinkering with the nature of a place of worship as it existed on 15 August 1947, but made a sole exception for the Ayodhya dispute as it had already reached the courts by then.
One, therefore, expects that the higher courts, in their wisdom and constitutional propriety, would junk the lower court’s order. But the question is: Would the forces of Hindutva stop at this?
For them Ayodhya was not the end but the beginning of an ideological project. And having laid the foundation of a new Hindu republic on 5 August 2020, the temptation to go full throttle on the Hindutva project has never been higher.
After all, they now command a legislative majority that has reduced Parliament to a rubber stamp. Crushing the Places of Worship Act into pieces of history won’t take much effort. But more significantly, they now have a tried and tested method, and after the apex court’s verdict, even a successful template of righting historical wrongs.
Another generation could be forced to live through bloodshed
But where would this take us and our children?
Another generation of Indians would probably live through riots, bloodbath, bigotry, and see certain Indians and faiths will be relegated as the ‘Other’.
But can an India that aspires to rub shoulders with the world’s superpowers, hold its future hostage to the ghosts of the past? Can it afford to waste another golden decade in petty Hindu-Muslim debates or Mandir-Masjid politics?
The Right-wing’s selective amnesia in recalling historical wrongs is inexplicable. It is fixated on the period of Mughal rule while turning a blind eye to the horrors and wrongs committed by the British. Forget reclaiming temples, it does not even bother to ask the British to tender an apology.
Why does the RSS not pressure the Modi government to seek an apology from the present British PM Boris Johnson? That, of course, isn’t politically tempting because it does not allow you to vilify your arch enemy: Muslims.
Spare a thought for our Gods who must be watching this in absolute horror and bewilderment. That their bhakts would avenge wrongs by committing another wrong and secure a place of worship by destroying someone else’s, would force even them to maybe hold a placard bearing the words: “Please. Not in our name.”
It is now up to the wisdom of the higher judiciary to prevent another blow to India’s soul.
Abhishek Kumar is a student of University of Calcutta, Kolkata
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