Ayodhya row: Govt will look like Sangh Parivar's plaything if it passes legislation which overtakes judicial process

The Ayodhya issue has been on the political table for more than a couple of decades. We would do well to remember a few facts. Both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are responsible for the communalisation of the issue.

Congress allowed a mosque to be opened for worship by Hindus on entirely specious pleas. The BJP went one better: it demolished the mosque and now, the Sangh Parivar, including vocal sections of the party, wants the immediate construction of a temple on the disputed site.

The matter is under litigation. In a wholly egregious judgment, a third of the disputed property has been assigned to a non-existent character in the dramatis personae: Rama, a mythological character at best. The matter now rests with the Supreme Court, which has made it clear that it will deal with the matter in due course.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

That may not suit the BJP, which may have been looking for quick electoral rewards, following the judgment by an earlier bench dismissing the review petition seeking relief from an earlier verdict that had held that a mosque was not necessary for Muslims to offer prayer. A temple is not necessary for Hindus to offer prayer either. Whether it is at all necessary to offer prayer is, of course, an entirely different issue. We shall forebear from entering into disputatious territory.

One thing is absolutely clear, however. Now that the Supreme Court has made clear its intentions, if the government allows itself to be stampeded into legislative deus ex machina, it will show up as a plaything of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and a willing tool of the Sangh parivar.

It is a different matter that many people in the country already know that the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi relies on the Hindutva push rather than the avowed development agenda to remain in power. That is singularly why Modi allows members of his council of ministers to issue statements urging action independent of the Supreme Court’s final verdict. The more extreme elements, outside the Union council but well within the Sangh parivar, are advocating ‘direct action’.

Others are urging the government to pass legislation which will overtake the judicial process and make it possible to construct a temple on the disputed Babri Masjid site. No one has publicly advocated the construction of a residential school for the underprivileged or a hospital. These are demands, presumably, that no community would be averse to signing up to.

The problem, of course, is that the Ayodhya, or Ram Janambhoomi, issue was not mainly a matter of faith. It was converted into an emotive issue by then BJP president LK Advani’s rath yatra and the subsequent demolition of a structure that had archaeological significance, if nothing else. The majority of Hindus populating the territory we call India did not know about the specifics of the Ayodhya dispute because, strictly speaking, it did not exist, and the people did not care. The BJP weaponised the issue as an electoral ploy and succeeded to an extent in that it reaped rich electoral rewards by mobilising the majority. The Ayodhya issue, lest we forget, is a classic example of the self-same ‘vote-bank’ politics the BJP so routinely decries.

We do not know how far the Ayodhya issue can run politically. The BJP obviously thinks it still has legs. One reason is that it has used the plank of majoritarian mobilisation successfully since, and leading up to, Modi’s ascent to power. Think of the Muzaffarabad riots and the BJP’s 71 seats in the Lok Sabha. Think also of the beef with beef and the vigilantism, covertly sponsored by the Union government and state governments run by the BJP.

But there is a good reason why the party in power at the Centre should not allow itself to be herded into executing legislative force majeure. Parliament’s actions, in other words, legislation, create precedents. They have always done so. But to legislate in a matter so divisive and partisan would expose the government for what it is: not the agent of development but one of majoritarian fantasies.

Legislation in this matter would announce unambiguously that India is a denominational, or communal, state. It does not distance itself from religion, as it ought to under its constitutional remit, and it does not even take on the role of an impartial umpire, as it has usually done. It actively intervenes on the behalf of a vocal section of the majority community only for electoral gains.

How will that play out? One would like to think that the gain from majoritarian mobilisation in north India will be wiped out by other forms of mobilisation – in north India, amongst the Dalits, for instance, and in other places, the east and south, where Ayodhya is not exactly top-of-the-mind.

For the moment, however, it is fervently to be wished that a judicial outcome be awaited, even if it is argued that the Ayodhya issue is not primarily a property dispute: it is fundamentally about how the nation-state will live out its destiny. We hope it will not be benighted.

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Updated Date: Oct 31, 2018 16:48:53 IST

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