Here We Go Ram Again
By Pratap Bhanu Mehta
Posted: Feb 09, 2009 at 1545 hrs IST
It is election season. And so Ayodhya has to return as a subject of discussion. The crisis continues to signify a breakdown of our legal and constitutional arrangements. The demolition of the Babri Masjid was an act of constitutional usurpation for which there have been no real apologies. Now the alliance between Kalyan Singh and Mulyam Singh is a reminder of just how meaningless the so called secular-non secular divide has become in Indian politics. Most members of any single political party could easily belong to any other; the Congress may have gone after Narendra Modi in Gujarat, but had no compunction in giving tickets to so many former members of the BJP. And it is still something of a travesty that while we worry about other forms of communal consolidation, we do not worry about open consolidation and flexing of caste power, especially amongst already-powerful groups like the OBCs. What does this say about our democracy?
If Ayodhya is about religion, it is about religion in its most sordid sense. The Indian legal system has, for four decades, been unable to decisively lay the dispute to rest. In the process of adjudication and procrastination it has relied on so many legal non-sequitors that no one is sure what the grounds of any verdict are going to be. A political movement spearheaded by the BJP took the Ayodhya movement to new emotive heights, and often left its mark of violence on hundreds of innocent citizens. The Congress first opened up the issue to compensate for its own myopic interpretations of secularism and is still not sure where it stands. There is an assortment of groups, from the VHP to the Babri Masjid Action Committee, whose claims to represent their respective communities are, at best, dubious. Finally, there is the democratic voter at large. It is difficult to gauge the real depth of feeling on this issue, but one thing is clear: while a significant minority is passionate about building a Mandir, and a tiny minority passionate about stopping it, most are too fed up to care. "Let's get on with it," is probably the dominant political sentiment. With these protagonists can there be any real solution?
In some ways it is understandable why the Ayodhya issue has political uses. It gave most political parties their symbolic identity. Take away the issue and one of the central faultlines in Indian politics simply falls away. Which is why everybody will ensure that there is never a political settlement; which is why everyone has an interest in keeping the issue alive. Given the realities of Indian politics, a dogmatic insistence on a legal solution is simply moral laziness, the privileged preserve of those who do not have to face violent rampages. As much as some of us loath the idea that on the Ayodhya issue, even an inch should be conceded to the BJP, we should recognize the fact that our institutions and our high-minded legalism does not protect those Muslims on behalf of whose interests we pretend to speak. The law often does not protect innocent citizens, the law is not a political answer to Hindutva, and the law is not a substitute for an enduring political settlement.
That any temple built at Ayodhya will have been built on the blood of so many innocent lives, and by imperilling so many moral and constitutional principles, ought to be a matter of shame for most Hindus who care about Ram. This is an issue on which there is unlikely to be any settlement that appears just, and there are no guarantees that even a settlement will lay many of the murderous edges of Indian politics to rest. But it will take a divisive issue off the agenda and potentially transform our politics. There is no option other than to try. As a society we long gave up on justice. At the present conjuncture, we can only hope that we will at least opt for prudence.
A-decade-and-half after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Saurabh Pandey’s short documentary, ‘Bone of Contention’, exposes how ‘outsiders’ instigated frenzy
Once trapped in one of history’s worst frenzies, Ayodhya is indeed a victim of a time warp. So a-decade-and-half after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, a group of young film makers led by Saurabh Pandey try to take a look beneath this warp that has generally been missed amid high decibel battle cries that emanated from the newsmen’s dateline called Ayodhya.
Now removed from the media glare, it bemoans today the fact that once it did let history give way to histrionics. Through the 20-minute documentary – Bone of Contention — by Pandey, not just this but also Ayodhya’s inhabitants desire to come out of the viciousness of past stands out remarkably.
A political activist, Raju Shastri admits before the camera how he walked out of the BJP with no regrets when he saw relentless assaults being made at what used to be the citadel of a faith, no matter whose faith it was. “It weighed upon me till I quit the party,” he remarks.
This is reiterated by several local voices cutting across all distinctions and divides and including bald, bare-chested and thread-wearing, spartan parishioners as also those donning skull and boat caps and sporting long bushy beards. The common refrain is that “outsiders instigated frenzy, created divide, instilled fright and went on to pawn faith for the sake of power and position, trampling the very ethos that Ayodhya stood for since yore.”
Yet the pallbearers of rival positions are very much holding old battle posts in Ayodhya as steadfastly as the decades gone by signifying strife and struggle for power. Ram Vilas Vedanti and Mohammad Hashim Ansari may be the lone voices on behalf of the large communities they claim to represent, yet they try to make up against the reconciliatory spirit now sweeping Ayodhya through their high-pitched, strident assertions.
Ayodhya's people are dismissive when asked about what turned neighbours and fellow-dwellers of the city into virtual strangers, how things went out of hand and how the mosque got razed. Most of them try to look the other way, their faces fall and their voices get hushed when posed with such uncomfortable questions. It seems that the citizens of Ayodhya have fallen in their own eyes because of the sordid misdeeds of others.
Pandey couches his work in the revelry of the last Holi where Hindus and Muslims revel together unmindful of the bitterness that emanated from what was called a disputed site and what has now been turned into a fortress. The Holi conviviality is so strong as if it is tying to leave behind the bitterness of the past.
The question that arises is whether this could lead to a better future for the people of Ayodhya as also the rest of the country. Given the unstated, silent and yet yearned for, a similar desire comes through unmistakably by the bonhomie shown in the film during Holi. It is where the film ends without adding much on its own except a postscript put by Pandey and his team that longs for the return of the good old times of Ayodhya when it used to be calm and tranquil in keeping with the rows of temples that line the banks of the gurgling Sarju.
One message that comes out loud from the film is that an amicable solution to the mandir-masjid problem can be found by the people of Ayodhya, given the fact that there is no 'outside' interference.