The Ayodhya conflict is likely to be resolved very soon.
In other words, the construction of a grand Ram Mandir in Ayodhya is certainly possible in near future without any legal complication or political opposition.
No one can ignore the significance of this positive development. Yet, the overtly communal framework that is being employed to address this ‘land dispute’ as a civilisational conflict between Hindus and Muslims is certainly questionable.
Despite the fact that Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir conflict produced unprecedented communal violence in the last three decades, there are three reasons why it should not be resolved as a foundational clash between the Hindus and the Muslims of India.
It wasn’t a national issue before 1986
We must remember that the Ayodhya dispute did not become a national issue for almost 35 years.
The legal story of the conflict began in 1949 when a local mob occupied a functional mosque to put the idols of Hindu god Rama forcibly inside it. The district administration locked the mosque without removing the idols on the same day. The deputy magistrate did not allow anyone to offer prayers inside it, although he later permitted a local priest to offer bhog to the idols.
No Hindu or Muslim leader or organisation showed any interest in this extremely localised dispute before 1984. In fact, we do not find any document published on the Ayodhya dispute around that time by the leading Hindu or Muslim pressure groups, such as the RSS, the Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind.
The resolution passed by the RSS on the desecration of Hindu temples by Muslim rulers in 1959 is very relevant here. It argues that ‘Kashi Vishwanatha temple occupies a special place of honour’ and urges the government to ‘take steps to return this temple to the Hindus’ (http://www.archivesofrss.org/Resolutions.aspx accessed on 6 November 2017; the link has now been removed).
Similarly, V.D. Savarkar’s famous book, Six Glorious Epoch of Indian History, which re-conceptualises India’s history from the Hindutva point of view, did not find any destruction of Ram Mandir by Babar in the 16th century.
The Muslim organisations, including the Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (established in 1964), also remained completely unconcerned about the occupation of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Despite the fact that the UP Sunni Waqf Board became a party in this case in 1961, Muslim organisations did not find any political potential in this dispute.
It simply means that Ayodhya conflict was a local issue in the 1949-1984 period between two parties – a few local Hindu and Muslim individuals, and two institutional entities – the UP Sunni Waqf Board and the Hanuman Garhi.
Strategic communalisation of the dispute
The VHP discovered the Ayodhya dispute in 1984 and tried to make it a national issue. It organised a rath yatra in Uttar Pradesh and called upon Hindus for the first time since 1949 to liberate the birthplace of Lord Rama.
In reaction to it, a local organisation – the Babri Masjid Action Committee Faizabad – was also formed in Faizabad.
However, the actual politicisation of this issue began in February 1986. In a span of two weeks’ time, a local court decided to reopen the Babri Masjid for Hindu worshippers to offer unrestricted prayers inside it.
This localised legal move transformed the nature of the conflict. The Hindu and Muslim organisations, as well as political parties, found the Ayodhya case politically influential. Consequently, the structure the Babri Masjid and the site where it stood became the symbols of an intrinsic conflict between Islam and Hinduism.
Interestingly, this aggressive politicisation died down immediately after the demolition of the mosque. All Muslim parties and groups recognised the All India Muslim Personal Law Board’s high power committee as the core body and unanimously decided to accept Babri Masjid purely as a legal issue.
The BJP, which successfully led the Ram Mandir movement since 1988, also took a similar decision after the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992. In order to win over the confidence of other coalition partners of the NDA, it decided to postpone the agitational politics of the Ram Mandir issue.
It shows that Hindu and Muslim politicians associated with the Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir dispute did not remain committed to their stated positions and arguments through the years. This political opportunism produced a strategic communalisation of the Ayodhya conflict, which was played out in the name of common Hindus and Muslims of India.
No, they do not represent religious communities
Finally, the so-called Hindu and Muslim parties involved in this legal battle, we must note, do not represent Hindu and Muslim communities.
Hindus and Muslims of this country have not given any mandate to these organisations/individuals to speak on their behalf. Nor do they represent the authoritative versions of Islam and Hinduism.
The proposed ‘out of court settlement’, thus, is going to resolve the conflicting claims these groups make. The opinions, views and arguments of common Hindus and Muslims do not have any influence on the outcome of the ongoing proceedings in the case.
Yes, the Ayodhya dispute needs to be solved; but the framework of solution must respond to the anxieties of those Hindus and Muslims, who live together peacefully as citizens.
The author is associate professor at CSDS, and author of the new book titled Siyasi Muslims: A Story of Political Islams in India. Views are personal.