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Did Modi give Hindus closure? A PIL against the Places of Worship Act will decide the answer

The SC has asked the Modi govt to submit its response to a PIL challenging the Places of Worship Act. That answer can change the landscape of India.

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How would Prime Minister Narendra Modi like his reign to be remembered by posterity: A golden, cathartic era for Hindus when they finally got over their sense of victimhood; or, just another era of mixed successes and failures in their long struggle to correct the perceived historical wrongs?

We may get a clue to the answer when the Modi government submits its response in the Supreme Court to a PIL filed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesman and lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay challenging the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991.

The Place of Worship plug

Brought in by the P.V. Narasimha Rao government, the law prohibits conversion of the “religious character” of any place of worship—as it existed on 15 August 1947—except the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, which was sub-judice then.

All pending suits and proceedings in courts about such conversions stood abated or terminated. The legislation also barred courts from entertaining pleas about changes in the religious character of places of worship pre-dating India’s Independence.

When a five-member Constitution bench of the Supreme Court settled the Ayodhya dispute, allotting the land for the construction of the Ram temple in 2019, it seemed to have precluded all future disputes of a similar nature by endorsing the Places of Worship Act, 1991. “The law is…a legislative instrument designed to protect the secular features of the Indian polity, which is one of the basic features of the Constitution…is a legislative intervention which preserves non-retrogression as an essential feature of our secular values,” the SC had said in its verdict.

Last Friday, a Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde—who was part of the Constitution bench that delivered the Ayodhya verdict—agreed to examine the validity of the Places of Worship Act and sought the Centre’s response. It may have far-reaching implications.

Also read: Let Ayodhya Ram Mandir be a reminder: Indian ancestors died for it, up to us to rebuild

If the Supreme Court reaffirms the 1991 law, courts can’t entertain pleas about alleged pre-Independence conversions of places of worship—say, for instance, civil suits for removal of Varanasi’s Gyanvapi mosque that shares a boundary wall with the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, and of Shahi Idgah mosque adjacent to Krishna Janmasthan temple in Mathura. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which had spearheaded the Ayodhya movement, claims these mosques in Kashi and Mathura were built after demolishing temples during the Mughal period. There are also civil suits in Varanasi and Mathura courts for removal of these mosques.

If the Supreme Court invalidates the 1991 law fully or partially—to allow court proceedings in matters concerning pre-1947 conversions—it’ll have a bearing on the country’s politics, governance and landscape for decades to come.

Also read: Why Babri masjid demolition verdict is unlikely to end all temple-mosque disputes

Time for closure?

Legal hurdles posed by the 1991 legislation are, however, the least of the Modi government’s concerns. Regardless of the SC’s views on the law, the government can get Parliament to invalidate it any time it wants. After all, who will oppose if it brings an amendment bill in Parliament, saying that the Hindus want justice for historical wrongs: ‘Brahmin Hindu’ and Chandi Path-chanter Mamata Banerjee, or Arvind Kejriwal who has been reciting Hanuman Chalisa and promising Ram Rajya, or Akhilesh Yadav who is visiting temples, or Rahul Gandhi who has become a ‘janeudhari Dattatreya Brahmin’, or Naveen Patnaik who is busy renovating and beautifying temples in Odisha?

Therefore, as the government prepares its view on the validity of this law for submission in the apex court, the real issue is whether the Hindus need closure on the decades-old narrative of victimhood during the Modi era or they must keep fighting, legally and politically, until every single historical wrong is corrected. The second option may take decades and it would mean that what was started during the Modi era with the Ayodhya verdict will then have to be completed by Yogi Adityanath, Amit Shah or somebody else.

After the bhoomi pujan ceremony of the Ayodhya temple, PM Modi had said that it marked “the culmination of centuries-old penance, sacrifices and resolve”. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat had called it “the beginning of a new India”, adding that it “brought back the sense of self-confidence, which was lacking, to make India self-reliant”. Their speeches gave the impression that they were looking at the Ram temple construction as a kind of closure on the perceived historical wrongs to the Hindus. Bhagwat had hinted as much after the SC verdict on Ayodhya: “The Sangh does not get involved in any movement. We work towards character building. In the past, the circumstances were different, resulting in the Sangh getting involved in the (Ayodhya) movement. We will once again work for character building.” The impression was further buttressed by the BJP’s silence on the Mathura and Kashi disputes, except for some solitary voices like Subramanian Swamy and Vinay Katiyar.

Also read: Babri ruling is BJP’s golden goose. Mathura, Kashi signal to erase India’s Islamic history

Legacy vs politics

It’s difficult to predict the answer to the question posed in the beginning of this article on the Modi era. There are two factors that may determine this answer: What legacy PM Modi wants to leave behind and how it figures in the promotion of the Sangh Parivar’s political and ideological agenda.

To deal with the second factor first, as I reported last September, the Sangh is already making a nuanced shift in its stand, saying that it would go by “what the samaaj (society) thinks” about Mathura and Kashi disputes.

As for political reasons, the BJP-led government may not feel obliged to defend the 1991 law in court. In 1991, the BJP had staged a walkout when the bill was taken up for consideration and passage in Parliament. Uma Bharti had then thundered in the Lok Sabha: “By maintaining the status-quo of 1947, it seems you are following a policy of appeasement. Owners of bullock carts in villages create a wound on the back of the ox and when they want their bullock-carts to move faster, they strike at the wound. Similarly, these disputes are wounds and marks of slavery on our Bharat Mata. So long as Gyanvapi continues in its present condition at Banaras and a grave remains in a temple at Pavagarh, it will remind us of the atrocities perpetrated by Aurangzeb.”

One may argue that BJP veterans like L.K. Advani and Uma Bharti have no voice in today’s BJP. But the fact is the party is still banking on Hindus’ victimhood narrative as it seeks to expand its footprint in new territories—say, in West Bengal and south India. ‘Threats to Hinduism’ is its war cry in Andhra Pradesh as it seeks to mobilise the majority community in a Christian CM-led state.

On the one side, there are political and ideological imperatives, which make it incumbent on the Modi government to disown the 1991 law in the court. But, on the other side, there is the option of ensuring PM Modi’s place in history as someone who addressed Hindus’ “pain from the past” and found them reconciliation by bringing India’s “civilisational moment” in the form of Ram Mandir bhoomi pujan, as diplomat and Shiva trilogy author Amish Tripathi told ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on Off the Cuff.

PM Modi has enough time to ponder over the legacy-versus-politics question. The SC hasn’t set a timeframe for the government’s view on the 1991 law. Justice Bobde will retire next month, which would mean reconstitution of the bench to hear this matter. Going by the pace of hearings on crucial matters in the Supreme Court, the government may have adequate time to formulate its response. Ideally, there will be more clarity closer to 2024.

Views are personal.

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  1. Did Modi give Hindus closure? A PIL against the Places of Worship Act will decide the answer. The SC has asked the Modi govt to submit its response to a PIL challenging the Places of Worship Act. That answer can change the landscape of India. D.K. SINGH .

    With this decision, will the word “religion” and “Places of Worship” vanish from the Constitution? Will it affect only one religion or will other religions be covered?

    To me, religion exists only within the four corners of my house. One I step out of my house and I believe in the Indian Constitution, religion does not exist for me. All are equal for me.

  2. The term ‘Hindu Victimhood’ jars. It is as if Hindus are at fault for desecration of these two places. That is the mindset of those schooled in Macaulayian education system and no use trying to change them. The closure of this painful chapter of our history can be brought about in two steps. Gyanvyapi Mosque in Varanasi and the Idgah in Mathura should be undone because they are too close to the heart of a Hindu and both were built over earlier temples by Aurangzeb to hurt Hindus. Next step is that Muslims should apologise for all the horrors heaped on the Hindus during Islamic rule in India. The Germans and the Pope have done it for the injustice to the Jews. Thereafter no other temple to Mosque to Temple issue should be raised. Once this happens, it would signal an end to historical enmity between Islam and all Indic faiths. India will then truly come into her own on the world stage. Till then we will continue this internecine fight, where Muslims will continue being the bigger losers. It s not going to be easy, but is there any other way out?

    • Be very very careful, you extremist Hindus are playing with a deadly fire, Muslim patience will come to an abrupt halt soon. We have many reasons to destroy hindu terrorism against Kashmiris, for E Pak, for Gujarat, for Ayodhya etc…. I keep warning you people.

      • See situation in Syria Afghan, middle East, you Muslins kill yourself for anything and everything and your threatening looks absurd and bleak. Look outfit Oakland it’s situation

      • Hindus have suffered for far too long don’t threaten us. Why there is not a single temple built by destroying a mosque or church in india

  3. Saving temples from Islamic History. But, considering that thousands of temples have been confiscated, pillaged and ruined by the Government all over India, particularly in Naiker’s Draavidanaadu, who will defend temples from the British made Secular Indian Rapeublic?

  4. Although, I do not expect anything else from you, but do some research and tell Mr Gupta a single case wherein a culture has forgotten the wrong committed on them based on Laws. Classic is your choice of words “Hindu victimhood” . you are the product of Inferior mentality propagated by west..

  5. Modi will never give closure. This is what brought him electoral success in 2002. He is not worried about legacy, he only wants to continue to enjoy power as long as he can. That will come to an end one day, the next person will be even more maniacal and see to erase him, like Modi erased Advani.

    The perceived victimhood is a state of mind as it is an alibi for the present economic mess, which the BJP has no ideas of how to solve. Hence, they will continue with self pity and historical revanchism, as a permanent feature. We could not come up because others prevented us. China does not have this handicap. They are not working to restore the Ming dynasty.

    • Agree strongly, this perceived Muslim wrongs against Hindus is historically inaccurate, Muslim invaders settled in India for over a thousand years and became part of the land, there was peace and mutual prosperity, there are no known records of any atrocities against Hindus, any wrong would be even handed against hindu or Muslim rulers vying for power, it was never religious, this lie has been given life by recent dishonest scholars wanting strife and mischief by spreading falsehoods.

  6. The words ” historical wrong” are loaded.These themselves carry the genie of communalism and mean different things to different people& sections . Babari has done enough harm. Why did the SC admit the PIL?

  7. High time government gives away the power to control all the temples to the devotees not to the government officers or corrupted ministers. Why when masjids and churches are under the respective religious bodies why only Hindu temples are under the corrupted officials and ministers. They must be freed from the clutches of these vultures.

  8. India is only country where Hinduism emerged.

    It has given to the world highest standards of wisdom.

    Deterioration of Hinduism (Vedas, Puranas, culture, Sanskrit language etc shall bring doom to the world.

    Being the only country where Hinduism is professed by majority.

    It’s everybody’s responsibility to propagate Hinduism and make it a state religion.

  9. Can the nation afford to go through another long drawn out battle? Wastage of judiciary time, national resources, alienation of people ……… for what?

  10. “by endorsing the Places of Worship Act, 1991. “The law is…a legislative instrument designed to protect the secular features of the Indian polity, which is one of the basic features of the Constitution…is a legislative intervention which preserves non-retrogression as an essential feature of our secular values,”

    Secular feature of Indian polity was illegally introduced by Indira Gandhi in 1975. this act stems from this illegal tempering of constitution. So by definition it is illegal. It was upheld by court mainly due to influence of a single judge named Sawant, originally from Mumbai high court.

    this is India, not ancient Israel. In ancient Israel judge appointed by god and behaved as if people have nothing to say and threatening scourge of god. So let us scrap this law and let Sawant & his SECULAR GOD bring their wrath on India.

  11. Imagine if the largest minority community were to offer the mosques for archeological testing to ensure that the tenets of Islam in which you can’t build a mosque on another site of worship are followed.
    If there is evidence of a temple below the Gyanvapi and Mathura, then muslims would themselves say ‘That is no place for a mosque. After all, we can pray on the streets and block traffic. Why do we need a mosque anyways? Please take over the mosques and build your temples’.

    [I have now been rudely woken up and realised the above was a dream!]

  12. i hope govt. does not want to repoen the other temple cases. it will defintely create new wounds. let bygones be bygones.

  13. DK Singh and Print true to their visceral hatred of Hindus slying use the term “victimhood” for the holocaust suffered by Hindus at the hands of the Islamist invaders — the terrible price Hindus had to pay for stopping Islam in its tracks.

    Why Hindus keep funding these gutter level, self-loathing imbeciles like DK and SG is a psychological mystery.

  14. I would assume since nobody lived a 1000 years the 40000 is an alleged number, and the wrongs of the past are just allegations since nobody has witnessed them, that said Modi BJP will continue to let this perceived wound to fester far into the future, spreading hate a d fear to distracted from their incompetence in governance.
    It is under to the Hindu people what is in their best interest, Hindu Muslim politics or good and stable governance.
    A temple, mosque or church is just a pile of stones,
    The real place of worship in that space between people that make us reach out a hand to each other with respect and acceptance.

  15. It seems like the writer is a man with corrupted mind in the name of secularism, well this is nothing new from writers in “The Print” completely biased.

  16. Supreme Court should not adventure by changing the nature of this law as it would affect millions of Hindus as well as Muslims. It seems that the case was filed with some ulterior motives.
    Moreover it seems that this is nothing but diversionary tactics of RSS.
    Modi government has miserably failed in most of the economic fronts. Instead of focussing on development BJP people is unnecessarily wanted to create communal riots among the society.

  17. It is a rolling domino game. Once the Ram temple was okayed, the Mathura and Kashi spectres have arisen. Fanatic Hindus say that it does not mean all 40000 destroyed temples are a target, but who can guarantee the behaviour of a predator once it has tasted blood ?

    • PERCEIVED VICTIMHOOD !!! Iguess when you read history written by the likes Rome leela Thapar and Irfan Habib you tend to write rubbish like this.

    • Doesn’t it bother you that those 40000 temples were destroyed? Does one need to be a fanatic to be pained by that?

    • Sudarshan Nityananda: What’s ganatic about reclaining your places of worship & civilzation??

      Indian gave away land to Muslims for Pakistand!! Those who still stayed back are Hindus & shouldn’t have any problem!!

  18. If a BJP member has brought about the suit, it’s obvious what the government’s response will be.

    Modi-Shah have run out of distractions to ensure people forget about their misgovernance as well as their turning a blind eye to the people’s problems.

    The government’s and judiciary’s response is a foregone conclusion really!!

  19. Extremely derogatory words used by DK Singh clearly showing his bias since he has never used “victimhood” or “perceived victimhood” for Muslims ever before even though they use it the most in every situation. Another Hindu-Hater at the Print.

    • #Jash Parekh: Absolutely correct!! These Islamo-leftist fascists never raise a voice against the wrongs done to Hindus including genocide of millions & destruction of their temples!!

      Victim hood is of-course the sole proprietorship of Muslims who helped by evil congress commies voted & created Islamic terrorist-an!! Most of those traitors even stayed in India to drink gaumutra & continue with their abuse of poor Hindus!!

  20. Generally DK Singh’s analyses are good. But, Why does he use the phrase “Hindu victimhood”? Hindus are no longer victims in their only home land. They are assertive. Hindus just want at least some major historical wrongs to be set right. None is looking for restoration to Hindus of 40,000 temples destroyed between 1200 AD to 1947.

    I would rather that the Government takes steps to repeal laws which give control over Hindu temples. This is both central and State matter. I hope that in near future, the Government will repeal the obnoxious Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act in the center and in all the States. Restore Hindu temples to Hindus.

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