by KA Antony
Twenty four years after the demolition of Babri Masjid, a former archaeologist has come out with the allegation that Left historians like Irfan Habib and Romila Thapar had thwarted an amicable settlement to the Babri Masjid issue. The allegation made by Dr KK Muhammed, former Regional Director(North) of Archaeological Survey of India, in his autobiography titled Njan Enna Bharatiyan (I an Indian) in Malayalam also claim that remains of a Hindu temple were found during the excavation made by a team of archaeologists headed by Professor BB Lal, then director general of the Archaeological Survey of India during 1976-77, in which he was also a member.
The autobiography released on Sunday has become a debating point among historians in Kerala. While renowned historian MGS Narayanan fully agree with Muhammed, Left centric historians like Dr KN Panikkar dubbed the arguments raised by the author as baseless and aimed at giving leverage to the BJP which is making all out efforts to open an account in Kerala assembly in the upcoming election.
Besides blaming the Left wing historians for failing to reach an amicable settlement in the Babri Masjid issue, the book also brings to focus the longstanding rift between historians supporting the Marxist view and others opposed to it.
Talking to Firstpost on his claims made in the book, Muhammed said the the action committee held several meetings under the leadership of Irfan Habib, the then chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research. "The Babri issue would have been settled long ago if the Muslim intelligentsia had not fallen prey to the brain washing by the Leftist historians. A set of historians including Romila Thapar, Bipin Chandra and S Gopal argued that there was no mention of the dismantling of the temple before 19th century and Ayodhya is Bhudhist-Jain centre. They were supported by historians Irfan Habib,RS Sharma, DN Jha, Suraj Ben and Akthar Ali," he said.
"It was they who connived with the extremist Muslim groups to derail all attempts to find an amicable solution to the Masjid issue. Some of them even took part in several government-level meetings and supported the Babri Masjid Action Committee," he said.
Muhammed endorses in his book that a temple existed at the site of the Babri Masjid based on the unearthing of temple pillars during the excavation under Professor Lal in 1978. In the chapter "Whatever I learned and said are nothing but historical truth", Muhammed says that he got a chance to be part of an excavation team led by Lal in 1978. He was a student at the School of Archaeology in New Delhi at that time.
"We found not one but 14 pillars of a temple at the Babri Masjid site. All these pillars had domes carved on them. The domes resembled those found in temples belonging to 11th and 12th century. In the temple architecture domes are one of the nine symbols of prosperity. It was quite evident that the Masjid was erected on the debris of a temple. I went on writing to several English dailies in those days about the finding. Only one news paper published my view and that too in the letters to Editor column," says the book.
According to Muhammed that the Left historians even tried to mislead the Allahabad High Court on the issue. Even after the court had pronounced its verdict Irfan and his team were not ready to accept the truth. They simply questioned the logicality of the verdict. He said he knew Proffesor Irfan Habib from his Aligarh University days. "He always went to the extent of stifling the voices of those who disagreed with him. After all historians are mere historians, it is we the archaeologists who provide them the data," he said adding that even Qutub Minar and Taj Mahal were built on the debris of Hindu temples.
After his retirement from the ASI in 2012 , Muhammed is working as the director of Aga Khan Trust project in Hyderabad.
Asked if his book would not fan up communal hatred, Muhammed sounded negative. "I do not think so. Besides, communalism in Hindu religion is not fundamental in nature but a spontaneous reaction. Godhra was such an instance of such a reaction," he said.
Professor MGS Narayanan, former chairman of Indian Council of Historical Research(ICHR), said Muhammed is perhaps right about his claim on the existence of a Hindu temple at the disputed site. " Many mosques and monuments were erected on sites where temples existed earlier. I also agree with what Muhammed has said about Prof. Irfan. It was during his tenure as chairman of ICHR the democratic functioning of the institution was destroyed. It very difficult to work with him. I have my own bitter experiences. It was he and his team that had branded me an RSS man. It was he and his team that turned Jawaharlal Nehru University and the ICHR in to a den of Marxist historians," MGS said.
Dr KN Panikkar, who belongs to the Marxist school of historiography, said he was yet to see the book."But I very much doubt the intention and timing of the book. The book comes at a time when the Sangh Parivar is getting ready for another 'silanyas'. His (Muhammed's ) claims are new. He had made this claim even earlier. But his claims are not based on any scientific findings. As for his criticism against Irfan Habib and others, some people like him have been doing this for quite some time. I need not defend Habib. Everybody knows how great a scholar the man is," he said.
KP Sethunath, a student of history and journalist said, "I have not read the book fully. But whatever information available from the extracts that appeared in various news papers appears to me more of an allegation than a scholarly repudiation of the position adopted by a group of eminent historians of India. Muhammed's attempt to reduce a complex issue such as the Babri Masjid dispute into a mere conspiracy of few individuals appears quite silly and shallow. Babri Masjid assumed a sinister character in the background of the opportunist politics played by the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the Shah Bano case. To circumvent the court verdict he tried to appease the Muslim fundamentalists by a constitutional amendment to nullify the court verdict. The VHP used the same to spread the theory of minority appeasement and the Sangh Parivar looking for a new opening for the BJP reduced to a 2-member party in the parliament in the 1984 elections. Everybody knows that the Gandhi government played into the hands of the Parivar by opening the gates of the closed mosque for poojas," he said.
Sethunath is of the opinion that Muhammed's charges against historians such as Romila Thapar, Bipin Chandra, RS Sharma and Irfan Habib will not stand the scrutiny of serious scholarship. "It is also a known fact that the places now referred as Ayodhya had vestiges of Jaina- Budha influences. Many of the mosques and monuments on the debris of makeshift places of worship used by the Indian community. Muhammed is an eminent archaeologist but his outlook is totally against the concept of history and archaeology pursued by Dr Thapar and Habib. Instead raising allegations he can better go for a healthy discourse on the issue," he said.