The Supreme Court bench made a series of interesting observations before it delivered its verdict. It held the installation of idols in 1949 inside the former Babri Masjid was illegal. It held the 1992 demolition unlawful. Yet it granted the disputed site to the Hindu community to build a temple on the disputed 2.77 acres of debris-strewn land. Now factor this with the 67 acres acquired by the Uttar Pradesh government around the hitherto disputed site. Clearly, the path has been cleared for the building of a grand temple and a theme park dedicated to further deifying Lord Ram.
The unanimous judgment of the Supreme Court bench has been generally applauded by most otherwise argumentative Indians as an act of reconciliation and even an instance of Solomonic wisdom. But several top Muslim leaders expressed unhappiness with the court’s experiment with Solomonism. They say they defer to it, but aren’t happy. Asaduddin Owaisi pithily said: “The Supreme Court is supreme, but is not infallible.”
Although King Solomon used the share-the-baby test to determine the identity of the biological mother, Solomonic judgments are generally understood as compromise judgments that reject the winner-take-all approach that characterises most modern common law adjudications. But sometimes Solomonic judgments may prioritise pleasing and displeasing the litigating parties in varying degrees over deciding disputes in strict accordance with the relevant law. Clearly, the Supreme Court preferred Solomonism over law. It may have sewn up the wound, but the scar will remain. It will be in our history books.
All through the 164 years of torturous transit through our courts, Muslims didn’t agree to share even the chabutara with Hindus as part of a grand compromise. They wanted all, and all they got was five acres of land at some other place in Ayodhya. Even if a mosque is built there, I don’t think it will be called the Babri Masjid. There can be little denying that like Shahi Idgah at Mathura or Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi, the Babri Masjid was a symbol of Muslim rule. That moment in history is long gone. But does destruction of age-old buildings and monuments reverse history? Realising this, L.K. Advani, who led the last charge on the Babri Masjid, called it an “ocular distortion”. Even the allegedly more liberal Atal Behari Vajpayee called it a “kalank”. That is now gone. But our history has been writ and imprinted on our minds. But that is not the history we must be worried about. A new history is being written. Lord Ram has now legally metamorphosed from an article of faith to a legal entity. The judgment allots the site to the infant Ram Lalla Virajman. It must be clarified that Ram Lalla Virajman is not a living person, but a notion.
Mr Advani is still the popular villain of the liberal set because he set off on his Rath Yatra wanting a Ram Mandir built in Ayodhya. But that demand was a much older one. The British first allowed Hindus to offer worship at the mosque in 1857, soon after the events that year to restore Bahadur Shah Zafar as truly the emperor. One Abhirama Das first placed the idols inside the mosque premises in December 1949. It is also pertinent to mention that Faizabad’s then DM, K.K.K. Nayar, ICS, did not have the idols removed despite being explicitly ordered by the chief secretary, Bhagwan Sahay, ICS, and IGP B.N. Lahiri. Mr Nayar was rewarded for his exertions by getting elected as the Jan Sangh MP from nearby Bahraich. Let’s also not forget that it was in Rajiv Gandhi’s time that the court-ordered lock on the purported “Janmabhoomi” was broken, at Arun Nehru’s behest, with the Congress even performing “shilanyas”. There is no dispute that the claim has been a historical one, and even in 1947 an attempt was made to seize the property. The problem was allowed to fester because it suited all parties. It was inflamed by intemperate language by both sides to the dispute.
I recall Syed Shahabuddin once demanding proof that Ram ever existed. Shahabuddin a former IFS officer who served as India’s ambassador to Algeria, was Prime Minister Vajpayee’s handpicked choice for an educated Muslim face in politics. But he just became the English-speaking face of Muslim bigotry. It was against this backdrop that the BJP upped the ante and conceived of the Rath Yatra. It was the brainchild of Pramod Mahajan, Narendra Modi and M. Venkaiah Naidu, all blue-eyed boys of Mr Advani then. The “rath” itself was a garish and stupid-looking contraption slung over a DCM Toyota truck. I rode with Mr Advani on the “rath” from Indore to Ratlam. It was a horribly uncomfortable journey. A truck chassis is not optimised for comfort but to take a load, besides the road was pockmarked. Mr Advani showing me the Western-style toilet provided by his chelas and commented that he defied anyone to sit on it when the rath was moving. But the rath was carrying the burden of history, and all along people thronged to greet Mr Advani astride it. It took the BJP from two Lok Sabha seats in 1984 to 85 in 1989. There was no looking back for the RSS from then. But when Lalu Prasad Yadav, then Bihar’s chief minister, stopped the tamasha in Samastipur and arrested Mr Advani, he rightly said: “DCM Toyota tha, koi uran khatola nahi!”
But the rath has not stopped rolling. The avatar from Mathura now beckons for recognition. Why should the Shiva worshippers settle for less? Rulers such as Aurangazeb, the last great Mughal, and even democratically-elected Indira Gandhi who tried to impose their beliefs and will by being authoritarian were felled by regional uprisings and popular rejection. This then is the great lesson of history. India can only be governed and kept together by the persuasive use of authority and not by the imposition of will. The elected government can govern not just with the support of a majority in Parliament but by also catering to the aspirations and demands of the many groups of the colorful mosaic that India is. We also have a tradition where some nationalities enslaved others. Just as India is a nation of diverse people, it is a nation of diverse victimisations. What the founding fathers sought to enshrine in our Constitution is to ensure that the march of victimisation is halted once and for all. Solomonic judgments don’t help in that.