September 3, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/Syed Shahabuddin

The Rediff Interview/Syed Shahabuddin
Vajpayee is playing with fire

Convener of the Babri Masjid Coordination Committee, former diplomat and ex-MP Syed Shahabuddin is angry with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's August 26 announcement in Lucknow that a solution to the Babri Masjid dispute would be reached soon.

Shahabuddin told Ramesh Menon that Vajpayee was making such statements to improve the Bharatiya Janata Party's fortunes in Uttar Pradesh where an assembly election is to be held shortly.

Prime Minister Vajpayee said recently that a solution to the Babri Masjid tangle is round the corner.

(Laughs) I wish him luck, but he is talking through his hat. This is a problem which has defied a solution for the last 50 years. Many prime ministers have tried their hand at it before. Till now, Vajpayee has been, at least in public, absolutely passive and inactive on the issue.

Suddenly, if he can find a solution acceptable to both Hindus and Muslims, it is a miracle.

Who is the prime minister talking to?

The PM has not contacted any of us for any negotiations. He has not even held any preliminary conversation through his interlocutors with any known Muslim organisation or Muslim personality.

The Muslim Personal Law Board is one forum which includes all of us. In January 1993, under the shadow of demolition, we decided that only the Muslim Personal Law Board should conduct further negotiation.

I am certain if the prime minister addresses me or anyone else, we shall give him the address of the president of the Muslim Personal Law Board. But I am equally certain that if the Board was to engage in negotiations with the government, I would be included in the delegation.

How then is the prime minister saying he is talking to some people?

The entire programme has a political design. It is designed to support the BJP in the coming election campaign in Uttar Pradesh.

It is sinking now in BJP circles that Uttar Pradesh is a lost case. The ship is going to sink. Like a drowning man prepared to clutch even a straw, they are prepared to do anything. They are ready to even raise an emotive issue so as to divert attention and stop people from asking questions. It will also serve to polarise Hindus and Muslims. It may even lead to violence which may help them in the election.

If the prime minister is not talking to Muslim leaders, will any solution be accepted?

Is it fair that on a sensitive national question -- which has international implications -- the PM should try and find a solution in a dark room talking to unknown strangers? Is it fair that they should come out with a piece of paper signed by Tom, Dick and Harry and say that Muslims have conceded the site to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad? Can it be acceptable to any fair-minded person? Will it not lead to a reaction whose dimensions I cannot estimate now? Vajpayee is playing with fire.

Are you hopeful?

I see no hope.

For settlement of this dispute, there are three solutions. The first is legislation. But that door is barred for Vajpayee as he does not have the requisite majority in Parliament. Also, his allies may differ. The second is a court judgment.

The Muslim community is committed to accept a judicial verdict even if it goes against them. We cannot be fairer. Unfortunately, the other side says they do not recognize the authority of the judiciary. They also do not accept the responsibility of the State. They also do not believe in democracy, rule of law or secularism. So, they are hell-bent on doing what they want.

There is a new VHP deadline now.

That is why they are proclaiming from the rooftops that construction of the mandir will be done as suddenly as the demolition was achieved. And that after March 12, they will not wait for anybody.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has given this deadline to Vajpayee to find a solution. The RSS has endorsed the VHP stand. So the entire Sangh Parivar stands united on this issue. As a lifelong swayamsevak, Vajpayee is bound to follow.

Do you think the deadline will be kept?

The matter is before the court. But I do not see any possibility that the special bench of the Allahabad high court, which is now dealing with the question of title for the disputed land including the disputed site, will be able to deliver a judgment by that deadline.

After it delivers the judgment, it has to go to the Supreme Court not because of an appeal, but because the Supreme Court itself has laid down that in the light of the finding of the special bench of the Allababad high court and the question of title, it is the Supreme Court which will decide where to allocate land for construction of the mandir and where to allocate land for the construction of the masjid. I am quite sure this process cannot be completed in the next six months.

What is the third option you were suggesting?

The third is negotiation. It has been tried in the past. The problem relates to the disputed site on which the Babri Masjid stood and on which today a temporary temple stands.

They say their site plan of the Mandir must include the Babri Masjid site. Mandir wahi banayenge is the oft-repeated proclamation. We say we have six to seven acres of land in dispute with them around the masjid. We are prepared to give whatever land they need to build another glorious temple for Lord Rama, but they should please leave our 3,000 square feet alone.

On this, the entire Muslim community, its ulema, its theologians, its politicians, its social workers are all committed that the masjid site cannot be given away or traded. This is the point of reconciliation. One party says we shall build it and there and there alone. The other party says we will give you all the land you need, but not this land.

The site plan of the mandir as proposed by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad is 36,000 square yards. Compared to that, the masjid is very small, but the VHP is not ready to allow that. So I do not see how the prime minister can reconcile the two irreconcilables.

The Muslims do not want another masjid. They want their masjid. And that was promised to them by then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao when he said, 'I shall reconstruct the masjid. Reconstruction does not mean construction of another masjid elsewhere. The masjid means the masjid, which was demolished.'

Not only in theology, but also in law and in politics, the Muslims are sticking to that. What the prime minister has done is something totally irresponsible. He should not have done it being the PM.

You have said the PM has done something unimaginable.

Vajpayee has put himself on the side of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. He has endorsed their view by accepting that a mandir must be built according to their site plan by their deadline. If he is going to be a mediator, he cannot put himself on the side of one of the two parties. A statement of the Sangh Parivar challenging the State was like waging war against the State. The PM has to defend the Constitution and the State's authority. But instead, he surrenders. This is unimaginable.

Did Vajpayee's statement come as a surprise?

It did. In the national agenda of governance, the Ayodhya issue was deliberately kept out in 1998 and 1999. A number of partners in the National Democratic Alliance just do not accept the VHP thesis that the proposed Ram Mandir must be built on the site of the Babri Masjid. Therefore, they had decided not to bring this controversial item. But now they are bringing it, I do not know how they will react. In Parliament, some NDA members may not vote the way he wants them.

What is the solution?

As convener of the Babri Masjid Movement Coordination Committee and president of the All-India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, I will say the ulema have only one rule: The site is not negotiable. Beyond that, they have not said anything. Therefore, a solution acceptable to the Muslim community will be one in which a Ram Mandir may be built even next door to the Babri Masjid and the land restored to the Muslim community to establish whatever we want.

What do you personally feel?

In 1986, I told Rajiv Gandhi since there was a Ram chabutara (raised platform) just outside the Babri Masjid but within the Babri Masjid compound; let the access to the new mandir be the Ram chabutara. This was to the east of the Babri Masjid. From there onwards as far as you want to go, you can build a temple. But leave the masjid alone. And raise a wall between them. That is still a possible solution.

Even if you accept the argument that they want to build a mandir on the site as it marks the birth place of Lord Rama notwithstanding the fact that there is a Ramjanmasthan mandir next door and there are 12 other mandirs in Ayodhya which claim the same honour. One could argue that a few feet this way or that did not matter. The Ram chabutara had been for over 150 years been regarded as a marker of the birth site. That could be the garbagraha (sanctum sanctoram) of the proposed temple. If that were accepted, all this trouble would not have taken place. That is still a possibility.

What does it imply for the Muslim community?

Around the masjid, you have six to seven acres of waqf (Islamic trust) land in dispute. There was a graveyard. But the graveyards have been demolished. What we are saying is you can build a mandir and we will give you all the land you want. In theology, the waqf land can be exchanged. But the mosque land cannot be exchanged.

I do not think that any responsible member of the Muslim community would accept anything less.

Tomorrow: 'The Ram Mandir site cannot include the site of the Babri Masjid'

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