New Delhi: Former Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) vice-chancellor Lt General Zameer Uddin Shah (Retd) has defended his stance that Muslims should give up the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi site in Ayodhya for “lasting peace” in India.
Shah is part of a group called ‘Indian Muslims for Peace’, which released a statement Thursday supporting an out-of-court settlement for the decades-old dispute.
His remarks came as he participated in an interactive session organised by the group, and drew much censure on social media.
Babri case has always been symbolic for Muslims. It was not about a mosque, but about equal citizenship. If Muslims ever 'hand over the land', it would not be some 'large hearted gesture' but a craven acceptance of their second class status. https://t.co/WMexeNLiyS
— Asim Ali (@AsimAli6) October 11, 2019
Another Darul Zaffraan.
Pray tell me on whose behalf do they speak? That’s all we want to know.
This is not about the Mandir. Are they blind to the larger political project?
If they feel charitable, pls tell them to donate their properties for community building projects? https://t.co/J7ZLCCS95y
— Sidrah (@SidrahDP) October 11, 2019
Speaking to ThePrint, Shah said he had seen the criticism coming. “I know I will receive flak from my community, but this was something that needed to be said,” Shah added.
According to the decorated general, the Muslim community would be the “loser whether they win the Supreme Court case or not”.
“If the Muslim side loses, there will be unnecessary bitter feelings. If we win, do you think we will be able to build a functional mosque there?” Shah said. “It could lead to riots.”
Shah added that he had always held the same position about the disputed land, which has been a communal flashpoint since 1992, when the demolition of the Babri Masjid, built by the Mughal emperor Babur at a site believed to be the birthplace of Hindu deity Ram, triggered riots across different parts of India.
Shah, who has been a vocal critic of some of the Modi government’s policies, including the way Article 370 was scrapped, said handing over the disputed land in Ayodhya to Hindus will only benefit Muslims. Currently, he added, “the people who created this problem are benefitting and Muslims are losing”.
Shah said his position was backed by religious authority too.
“Imam Mohammed, follower of Imam Abu Huraira (a companion of Prophet Muhammad who is considered to be one of the most reliable and prolific narrators of Hadith — a compilation of sayings, actions and anecdotes from the Prophet’s life), had said that ‘if no namaz is read in a place, the place can be reverted to the owner’ — there has been no namaz in that location for nearly 30 years now,” Shah added.
Shah, the author of a book called The Sarkari Mussalman: Life and Travails of a Soldier Educationist, has often fielded allegations from some sections of the Muslim community that he is a stooge of the administration on account of his service with the Army.
In the 2002 Gujarat riots, he led the Army contingent deployed to quell the violence, and recently criticised the then Narendra Mod-led state administration for their handling of the violence.
Speaking about giving up the Ayodhya site, Shah said the group was only willing to do so on two conditions, that anything like the Babri Masjid demolition isn’t repeated, and that the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 is strengthened.
The Act seeks to prevent the “conversion” of any place of worship and maintain the religious character it held at the time of Independence.
“What happened on 6th of December (Babri demolition) was completely illegal and shouldn’t be repeated,” Shah said.
Asked if the alleged perpetrators of the demolition should be punished, he said, “I wouldn’t like to comment on that. It’s up to the courts.”
Some senior leaders of the BJP, including L.K. Advani and Uma Bharati, are among the accused in the demolition and riots case, which is currently being heard daily by a local Uttar Pradesh court.
The title suit at the heart of the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute, which pertains to the ownership of the 2.77-acre plot in Ayodhya, is in the Supreme Court, with the next hearing scheduled for Monday. A mediation process is underway alongside, after failing to reach an outcome earlier this year.
The court is expected to finish the proceedings in the matter by 18 October.
“I am aware that our statement might not make a difference,” Shah said, “But perhaps someone will pay heed.”