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Islamic Society ( 13 Feb 2018, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Beyond Babri Mosque: Truce Can Only Come Through a Localised Genuine Dialogue


By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

14 February 2018

How should we understand the ongoing parleys between two of the most established religious and mediatised scholars of Muslims and Hindus over resolving the Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi dispute? Before going any further, let me frankly state that the resolution of any dispute between Muslims and Hindus is a welcome step. The Babri dispute is decades long and attempts made at the community level to solve this problem should be welcome.

 This is not to suggest that whatever happened on 6th December 1992 was right. The demolition of the mosque should be condemned and perhaps be the starting point for any debate towards reconciliation between two communities but what also needs to be underscored is that the mosque has already been demolished and Muslims as a community cannot be expected to be yoked to this historical and cultural tragedy. Muslims, like all communities need to move on and therefore these debates of reconciliation become important.

 Such models have been successful elsewhere: in South Africa for example, after the apartheid era, there was a truth and reconciliation commission which soothed the emotions of decades of fractured polity and society. In India, faith based interventions have been attempted in Gujarat after the anti-Muslim riots of 2002. However, because by then Gujarat had become a national issue and professional rescuers of Muslims had come into the picture, any talk of reconciliation was treated as a bad joke on Muslims themselves. Justice has its effects and it is important but healing does not come from justice alone. In this sense the argument that the Supreme Court ruling over the issue is not going to solve the problem holds much merit. For a long term solution to the problem, a genuine dialogue becomes necessary.

Having said this, it also must be said that at the moment the process of dialogue itself is geared towards a definite outcome. Those debating the issue are not looking at any creative interpretation of the situation but rather are putting their heads towards finding a solution to build a Ram temple. This is hardly a genuine dialogue where the outcome is predetermined. A genuine dialogue should have no pre-supposition. More importantly, the parties involved in the dialogue process should assume that all are equals rather than make discussions assuming that one community should always be willing to sacrifice for the other. But then we do not live in an ideal world and therefore should only expect that ideal to be negotiated by existing realities. 

One of those realities is that Muslims must now realise that there is a political consensus in favour of building a Ram temple at Ayodhya. Those opposing the BJP do not mean that they are necessarily opposed to the construction of a Ram temple. It was the Congress party which first opened the locks and made arrangements for a make shift temple there. Then again, who can forget the party’s overt communalism during Rajiv Gandhi’s time when he started his election campaign from Ayodhya? The regional parties who had opposed the construction of a temple like the SP in Uttar Pradesh and RJD in Bihar have been nearly decimated.

The Left has never had a clear cut stand on the temple issue. It made much capital out of demolition of the mosque to gain sympathy from Muslim voters, but has never spelt out what it thinks about the whole issue. No Left party has come up with a call that the demolished mosque must be rebuilt at the same site. Arguing that instead of a temple or a mosque, there should be a prayer hall for all religions is just obfuscating the problem.

I would like to underline, that the Left is a cadre based organization and if they were serious about stopping the demolition, they should have given a call for counter mobilization against those who eventually demolished the mosque. Their silence then and their obfuscation of the problem now, is nothing but a pointer to the fact that somehow they were also complicit in the razing of the mosque. And it is this context where there are hardly any takers for Muslim issues that the Muslims of this country have to decide whether they want to linger this issue or whether they should seriously start thinking in terms of a resolution to this vexed problem.

 It is the Muslims who suffer most in the riots that ensue after any communal tension; it is their life and limb that is lost; it is their property which is vanquished. And that’s the reason why they should be the first responders to this debate. There is no need to be yoked to the kernel of secularism when Muslims themselves are not sure of the secular credentials of the so called secular parties.

The problem is that those who are on the negotiating table do not inspire much confidence and do not have the right credentials to engage in a fruitful dialogue. Let’s take Sri Sri first. After having built an empire through his Art of Living platform, he now wants a larger than life role for himself and wishes to be part of history as someone who gave Ram temple to the Hindus. Intimately connected with the government, he cannot be considered a neutral arbiter. Moreover some of his views will surely offend the Muslims. After a debate with the now infamous Zakir Naik, Sri Sri made a statement to his followers in which he underlined why he went for that debate. But in the same vein, he also said that the Kaaba is actually a Shiva temple and that Zakir Naik should be thankful that he did not raise this issue in the debate. Now, this contention about the Kaaba at Mecca is something which right wing Hindus have been saying for decades now. It tells us that Sri Sri, who claims to be above sectarian affiliations is himself deeply influenced by Hindu right wing ideology when it comes to thinking about Muslims.

On the other hand, we have another interesting character called Salman Husseini Nadvi who was expelled today from the AIMPLB for his pro-temple views. What is happening is just bizarre. The AIMPLB has got nothing to do with the issue; it is not even a party to the case in the Supreme Court. But this so called custodian of Muslims in India does not want to let go of any opportunity from which it can derive some legitimacy from within the community. After failing Muslim men and women since its inception, it now wants to position itself as the champion of their religious rights. But more on this some other time.

For the time being let us return to Salman Nadvi. I believe that there should be a dialogue and in that sense Salman Nadvi was right that just a court settlement is not going to be enough. But is he the right person to initiate such a dialogue with the Hindu stakeholders? If memory serves me right, then Salman Nadvi is the same man who wrote a long letter to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and gave his allegiance to the so called Islamic state. It is mightily interesting that while others have been arrested just on mere suspicion of being influenced by ISIS, here is Salman Nadvi, who despite giving his allegiance to ISIS roams freely and in fact has now emerged as the avatar of Hindu Muslim unity. This can happen only in India. Nadvi is the same man who also wrote to the king of Saudi Arabia that in order to counter the Shias, he was willing to raise an army of 5 lakh South Asian Muslims. Now imagine, a man so sectarian, that he thinks that Shias are kafirsand hence liable to be killed, whose hero at some point was al Baghdadi and the ISIS which committed horrendous barbarity on Muslims and others, is today being marketed as someone who is liberal, tolerant and a believer in Hindu Muslim unity.

What is happening is just a cruel joke on the ordinary Hindus and Muslims of this country. For a long time, the Ayodhya issue was just a local issue until national players entered into the fray and made it a national issue. Perhaps the solution lies in empowering the local communities again. There should be a committee of local Hindus and Muslims of Ayodhya and they should be empowered to solve this problem through an equitable dialogue. The late Hashim Ansari once desired for such an outcome but then national Muslim leaders shot him down. Similar efforts are now been made by the Nirmohi Akhada but then it remains to be seen whether the national players from this side will pay heed to this local wisdom.


Arshad Alam is a columnist


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