Ram temple dispute: As right-wing turns up Hindutva heat, Ayodhya's Muslims look to move past issue
Many say the construction of the Ram temple will close one chapter for the BJP and open another.
Editor’s note: Since the BJP assumed power in 2014, calls to build a temple for Ram in Ayodhya have become more strident; they have been amplified following the installation of Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. A large collection of Hindutva groups assembled in Ayodhya on 25 November to further intensify the campaign. Firstpost will run a series of ground reports to document this movement.
While many Hindutva groups have been turning up the heat on the issue of building the Ram temple in Ayodhya — including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — a few individuals have been trying to cool fraying tempers.
Haji Mehboob, one of the individuals party to the Ram Mandir case in the Supreme Court, has been attempting to organise peace talks between all stakeholders, without much success. Mehboob said, “Over the past few years, I have been trying to resolve the matter outside the court, but the VHP's stubbornness is getting in the way. As part of the mediation, I have proposed on several occasions, that they can build a temple on the disputed land and, as per the Allahabad High Court decision, leave the land allocated to the Sunni Waqf Board. But they want it all.”
Things haven't much changed in Ayodhya since the 25 November 'dharma sabha'. Fear is prevalent and locals say the tension will not dissipate until after 6 December, the anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition by kar sevaks in 1992. Many Muslim families left Ayodhya before the 'dharma sabha' and are likely to return after 6 December. Mehboob added, “It's not unusual for Muslims to flee Ayodhya around this time. So many outsiders come in during this period.” Mehboob seems drained by the long court battle. He said he is eagerly awaiting the apex court verdict.
A couple of weeks ago, Iqbal Ansari, one of the parties to the case, said his life was in danger and asked for police protection (which was quickly granted). Ansari is one of the individuals who asked the Centre to bring in legislation for the Ram temple. However, Ansari soon changed tack and stated that the apex court ruling should be followed. Businessman Mohammad Ayyub is unimpressed with Ansari, saying, “He'll say anything for money.” Ansari's request for more security has created a stir in Ayodhya. Many, including Ayyub, believe security in the city should be beefed up until the anniversary of the demolition passes.
Many just want to put this issue behind them, even if the ultimate outcome is the building of the Ram temple. The perception is that even if the apex court rules in favour of the Sunni Waqf board, it will not be able to rebuild the mosque. As 56-year-old tea-seller Abdul Fahim Ansari put it, “If the VHP builds a temple, it will indeed be a defeat for Muslims. However, at least the building of the Ram temple will bring peace. As far as I can see, only the construction of the temple can end this decades-long mess.”
In mid-2017, the Shia Central Waqf Board backed the construction of the Ram temple at the disputed site and appealed to the Supreme Court to be made party to the case. The board also claimed the mosque was built by a Shia Muslim. However, the apex court denied its appeal. Board chairman Waseem Rizvi claimed it donated silver-studded arrows for the Ram statue announced by Yogi Adityanath. Rizvi previously called for the Taj Mahal and Humayun's Tomb to be destroyed and temples and schools to be put up in their place.
Rizvi said, “Babar, the cruel and anti-Hindu emperor turned it into a mosque. But this place always belonged to the Hindus. The court should rule in favour of the Ram temple. Ram Lalla has been waiting for a long time to come home.”
Even as the 'dharma sabha' passed without incident, dark clouds remain on the horizon. Manzar Mehdi, a veteran journalist based in Faizabad, edits and prints Aapki Takat, an Urdu-Hindi weekly newspaper. Mehdi, speaking from his office in a mosque at Faizabad Chowk area, said, “There is no solution other than the Ram temple. Only a temple can be built there. And until that happens, the tension will remain. I have mediated talks on many occasions, but many accuse me of being a VHP-RSS agent. They do not think the temple is the only solution.”
Many say the construction of the Ram temple will close one chapter for the BJP and open another. Mohammad Asif, 34, said, “I want the Ram temple to be constructed because I want to see the BJP's next move. I want to see what it can bring to the table for voters who it thinks can be easily polarised by such issues.”
Leading Islamic organisations across the country have asked Muslims in Ayodhya and Faizabad to “remain patient”. But as Mehboob puts it, “This drama will continue till next year's Lok Sabha elections.”
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The five-acre complex will also house a hospital, a library, and a museum curated by food critic Pushpesh Pant, among other facilities