Has Allah told them to fight all the time?' read the headline of the Kanchi Shankaracharya's interview on rediff.com
Thanks to the likes of Osama bin Laden, in present times, this sort of headline would always be a hit in every corner of the world.
However, in the context of the Ayodhya issue, are Muslims the ones who are really fighting? Let us get the basics right.
The Ayodhya dispute was never a significant political issue till Rajiv Gandhi, ill-advised by his advisors, re-opened the issue to garner Hindu votes after the disaster of the Shah Bano case.
L K Advani, leading the Hindu rightist BJP, was too shrewd a politician not to take advantage of both the issues to consolidate Hindu votes. He brought the Ayodhya issue to the streets, which ultimately led to the demolition of the mosque by an unruly crowd in his presence.
The demolition not only made a mockery of law and order but was a big blow to Indian secularism. The most emotional and touching speech condemning the demolition was made, not by a 'pseudo-secularist' but by a member of the RSS, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Advani described the day of demolition as 'the darkest day in his life.'
The day after the demolition, P V Narasimha Rao, then prime minister of India promised the nation that the mosque would be rebuilt at the very spot on which it stood.
More than ten years later, have we seen any mass moblisation of Muslims to reclaim the land?
Have we seen any mass agitation on part of the Muslims asking the government to fulfil the promise made by a prime minister? So who is fighting?
Yes, there are a handful of so-called Muslim leaders, the likes of Syed Shahabuddin, who are fighting but they have never been able to, in a full decade, mobilise mass Muslim support.
On the other hand, it is the VHP which is fighting all the time, threatening the prime minister, the political parties and the Muslims.
Has Ram asked them to fight all the time?
I had a series of e-mail exchanges on this topic with a journalist friend. He was generous enough to give me an insight into the ground realities.
According to him, the headline 'may upset a Muslim, but the reality is that, it is not a lone view; the views the Shankaracharya has articulated has wide currency among the Hindus.'
On Ayodhya, my friend says he has 'no argument with the case.' According to him for most Hindu-Indians (his term) like him 'the temple does not matter. Ayodhya does not matter. The issue does not matter as a religious one, but it matters as a socio-political one.'
According to him a vast number of Hindus -- whether one likes it or not -- 'feel that there was time when the Muslims could get away with anything. They could divide the country. They could get the Government of India to overturn a Supreme Court verdict.'
'Today', he adds, 'they can only hark back to those kind of days. Today the Muslims are powerless and part of the blame, if not a large part, should be laid to the doors of people like Shahabuddin.'
'The reality,' he feels, 'is that politics the world over has taken a right turn. It is this Muslims must come to terms with. They will have to engage this change, not resist it. They will have to engage the Hindu Right.' He admitted that 'a Muslim can turn this around and ask him if the same does not apply to Hindus, and he won't be wrong.'
But the difference, he says, is that 'it is the Muslim who is on the backfoot today, and it is he who has to make the moves. Would his 'leaders' allow him to?'
With the Hindus, he feels, 'one knows that despite their rantings, the [Pravin] Togadia and [Ashok] Singhal are still in the fringes, not mainstream, whereas, Shahabuddin is the leading light of the Muslim issue.'
This then is the socio-political ground reality. Muslims, whether they like it or not, are on the backfoot.
My friend is right he says that Muslims are politically powerless and it is also true that a large part of the blame must be put on 'leaders' like Shahabuddin. I have no argument with this.
'Lack of imagination,' said Allama Iqbal, 'is a virtue rather than a fault in a modern politician.' Though this is true for all politicians, in the case of Indian Muslim leaders their lack of imagination has done more damage to the community than the Hindutva forces.
However, the ground reality my friend has described, though true, is not the only one. There is another ground reality. Most Indian-Muslims also have no argument on Ayodhya. For them the issue does not really matter as a religious one. But it matters as a political one.
He wonders why he is the only one blamed for allowing the fundamentalists to hijack the case while the Hindus have done the same and allowed the VHP to hijack it.
He wonders why the 'Togadias and Singhals' are considered forces on the fringes while the Shahabuddins are considered representatives of the Muslims, though, like the Togadias and Singhals, they have no mandate whatsoever from the Muslim masses.
This one is interesting; in recent years the Togadias and Singhals seem to be dictating the political agenda of the nation, occasionally forcing the prime minister to toe their line and forcing parties like the Congress to follow their agenda. But still the widely held view is that they are on the fringes, not the mainstream.
Who comprises the mainstream? Politicians, journalists, businessmen, professionals and ordinary citizens. How different then is mainstream Muslim society from the Hindu one?
Take politicians. Are Ghulam Nabi Azad, Salman Khursheed, Najma Heptullah, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Shahnawaz Hussain any different from mainstream politicians? Have they taken a 'Muslim fundamentalist' line?
Or take journalists M J Akbar, Saeed Naqvi, Seema Mustafa etc. Are their views any different from mainstream Hindu journalists? Even the Urdu press was supportive or rather enthusiastic about the Shankaracharya's initiative on the Ayodhya issue.
What about businessmen, professionals, common men and women among the Muslims? Have you heard them toeing Shahabuddin's line? Have you heard them say, 'We can face more Gujarats.' How many of them have you heard shouting slogans like 'sab kuch de denge masjid ki zameen nahin denge?' ['We will give up everything, but not the land where the masjid stood']
Certainly there are Muslims who will toe Shahabuddin's line, but my point is, in percentage terms, their number may not be more than the Hindus toeing the VHP line. So where is the difference?
Saeed Naqvi, a respected senior columnist, aptly articulates another ground reality. Describing the present socio-political scenario in India as basically 'an intra-Hindu conflict,' Naqvi says, 'An anti-Muslim plank became an automatic response to keep the Hindu House in order and affect something resembling Hindu consolidation.'
According to Naqvi, 'A Kurukshetra is one in which the Muslim is on the margins. He has been on the margins these ten years of Congress and BJP rule at the Centre.'
But how long can 150 million Muslims be marginalised? Pushed to the edge without destroying the national order?
The Ayodhya problem has become a political one and can be solved, amicably, only and only when the political class takes the initiative. Religious figures, well intentioned they may be, or communal leaders can't solve this problem for us. They simply do not have the mandate. They don't represent the people.
The central issue is not really a difficult one to address. The common line taken by many Hindus is that for Hindus the birthplace of Ram is sacred. For Muslims this is a matter of only one masjid. Why can't they give up the spot as a goodwill gesture?
Fair enough. So is a Muslim response, well articulated, ironically, by Syed Shahabuddin, 'Let us together build a temple, but bechari Masjid ko bhi choti si jageh do'. [Give a little space for the mosque too.]
Let the prime minister take the initiative on that line and start a process of dialogue between various political parties, religious leaders, communal organisations and intellectuals. The solution will come without disturbing national unity.
God -- Ram or Allah -- will of course help. As God told Iqbal in Jawab-a-Shikwa,
'...Dhhondne wale ko duniya bhi nayee dete hain.' [I offer a new world to an earnest seeker.]
Sajid Bhombal can be contacted at