A reasonable reconciliation is necessary
The Ayodhya verdict unanimously pronounced by the five-judge bench of India’s honourable Supreme Court on the Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid disputed site’s title suit on 9 November 2019 has been considered historic, though one is not certain whether this will help wind up various political movements associated with it or nudge them towards the spirit and letter of India’s Constitution. It will perhaps bring some closure, but given the resurgence of various political movements associated with Hindu majoritarianism, temple-restoration impulses in other cases—such as Kashi and Mathura—may possibly get an impetus.
There are a few points in the judgement that are of enduring significance for India’s secular polity. The Honorable Court’s observations that all faiths and all forms of worship are equal; that the act of placing idols at the disputed site in 1949 was illegal; and that the demolition of the Babri-Masjid on 6 December 1992 was a violation of the law. These rulings of illegality enunciated in this verdict need to be seen by various political movements as red lines in our democracy. Though these wise words appear not to have had any bearing on the title suit, if they are accorded due respect, it will strengthen India’s secular polity.
At the height of Ayodhya movement in the late 1980s, there was an offer by some sections of the country’s Muslim leadership to yield ground on Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura in order to buy long-term peace between Hindus and Muslims. Unfortunately, that was not accepted by dominant voices of the temple movement’s leadership then; and if that had occurred, then the state of communal harmony and the broad nature of the relationship between Hindus and Muslims may well have been qualitatively different over the last three decades or so.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), at a press conference, declared that it has accepted the verdict. Hints of a review petition had briefly surfaced, but the AIMPLB’s acceptance of the judiciary’s decision has been reiterated since. It is clear that the disputed site is where the Ayodhya trust will construct a Ram Temple.
The history of this conflict is both complex and convoluted. Various movements associated with it—mainly the ones that came up during the 20th century—have run contrary to India’s secular structure. An erosion of the country’s substratum of faith neutrality, visible in political processes, has left Muslims vulnerable to humiliation and harm.
It is difficult to see this verdict in isolation of that broad socio-political context, and its true value lies in how it impacts the larger political environment as it shapes up from here on.
It is not entirely surprising that some Muslims would feel aggrieved by the outcome of the judicial process. Some triumphalism among sections of the Hindu community is also apparent. But in the light of larger considerations of brotherhood and a secular political culture, a majority of Muslims in my assessment are willing to accept it as an alternative to prolonged social unrest.
It would behoove both the honourable Court and the political leadership to ensure that this verdict gives no impetus to political entrepreneurs to launch further movements of this kind. A diverse society like India can progress only through mutual respect and secular politics. History has had its wrongs, but the passion for correcting these can encourage people to engage in endless conflict. Therefore, a reasonable reconciliation is necessary, which secular understandings could help advance. The rule of law must prevail, and the verdict underlines this point.
Shaikh Mujibur Rehman is the editor of Rise of Saffron Power: Reflections on Indian Politics(Routledge 2018), and teaches at Jamia Millia Central University, New Delhi