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Back to the courtroom yet again

July 01, 2003

The Hindus are yet again at the old game they're best at -- quarreling among themselves. And never mind if it's over what has been so dear so long to millions of Hindus all over the world -- a Ram temple at Ayodhya.

It's all because Sri Jayendra Saraswati, the Kanchi acharya, has hijacked the temple agenda from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and plunged into making secret proposals to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. The original sinner is, of course, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee -- a Hindu, don't forget, even if he has. It was he who roped in the seer for the secret mission because, all of a sudden, he wanted politicians to be kept away from what has been a simmering Hindu-Muslim issue for decades now.

The immediate situation is of the cat-among-the-pigeons kind. The VHP, enraged at being bypassed by Vajpayee, has let its Pravin Togadia dub him as Mahatma Gandhi II. The RSS too is very annoyed. Sri Vishwesha Tirtha Swami of Pejawar disagrees with the Kanchi acharya that the latter, along with the Muslim organisations and the Union government alone are parties to the Ayodhya issue. In fact, all the other Hindu religious leaders associated with the VHP's Dharam Sansad are dismayed at the Kanchi acharya's audacity in ignoring them. So are millions of Hindus as well as the BJP -- Vajpayee's party, don't forget, even if he himself has. All these entities are overtly confused and covertly alarmed. They silently nod at the Communist parties attack on the prime minister's 'effrontery' in engaging the swami they've labeled as 'ambitious and scheming' (of whom more anon).

All this quarreling and confusion and consternation among the Hindus is to lie in a state of animated suspension (or suspended animation, if you like) till July 6 when, the Kanchi seer says, he will reveal all -- verily like the magician 'cutting' a human body into two on stage and then, after a suitable pause of suspense, pronouncing 'abracadabra' to produce the whole again. The seer in question will probably do that after weaving the wooden staff he always carries.

Meanwhile, the Muslims too are disunited -- for a change. The Shah Imam of Jamma Masjid has challenged the AIMPLB's authority to negotiate on behalf of the entire Muslim community. Some other Muslim organisations are disgruntled that the Kanchi acharya's proposals have been kept confidential. However, writing on the edit page of The Indian Express, Mumbai, of June 27, Saeed Naqvi -- a seasoned journalist -- believes the community gains by keeping the proposals confidential and that the AIMPLB along with the Kanchi negotiator could well hit upon 'The solution that shall be such as to bring the two communities closer, to re-establish the warmth between them which the politics of the recent decades has destroyed.'

Now, now, Mr Naqvi, when was the last time that that 'warmth' existed between the two communities? When did the Muslims last condescend to that affinity? Subject to correction, the last occasion when the two communities came really close to each other was during that struggle of 1857 which Veer Savarkar dubbed as India's first war of independence. The Hindus joining the Muslims of the Ali brothers in the Khilafat Movement of 1919 was not 'warmth' but blackmail by Mahatma Gandhi who thought that Hindus supporting the Muslim demand for restoration of the Turkish empire's dismissed Caliph would work wonders for Hindu-Muslim unity in ousting our British masters. What we got instead was the Moplah Rebellion of 1920 when the Muslims, routed by the colonial rulers, dug into the soft targets -- countless Hindus converted and/or killed, their women raped and outraged.

Since then till now, 'warmth' between the two communities has largely remained a mental fancy.

With regard to the Ayodhya issue, the Muslim community showed, not 'warmth,' but the cold shoulder to the generous offer that the VHP made 17 years ago. Though the Babri structure was not being used for namaaz since December 1949 definitely (and probably since 1934), the sants and the VHP proposed that the Hindus would reverentially shift and relocate the Babri structure as the site was important to the Hindus and the structure was important to the Muslims. Since the Muttawali of the Babri mosque was a direct descendant of its builder, Mir Baqi, a Shia, Shri Anjum Qader, the All-India Shia Conference leader, proposed sometime in 1987 that the Muslims should accept the solution of shifting of the Babri structure. Syed Shahabudin insisted that not merely the structure, but also the site was sacred to the Muslims. Shahabudin wrote back to him on 4.7.1987, referring to Shri Qader's letter of 1st June, and stating that 'Even if shifting is permissible under some school of Fiqh, there is no reason at all to opt for shift. In fact, one shift would open a Pandora's box. Please do not pursue this line... I remain absolutely and totally opposed to the mischievous idea of shift proposed by the RSS, which you appear inclined to accept. Please reconsider.' (The words in italics are quotes from the 'BJP White Paper on Ayodhya and The Rama Temple, April 1993,' page 91.)

Even in the negotiations during the period December 1990-January conducted between the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee and the VHP under the specific advice of the Chandra Shekhar government, the representatives of the Muslims showed neither warmth nor seriousness.

According to History Versus Casuistry (Voice of India publication, 1991, no author), Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar wanted (as advised by his predecessor, Rajiv Gandhi) those discussions to narrow down to the specific point whether the Babri structure had replaced a pre-existing Hindu temple. Further, those negotiations were under the agenda set by the Union minister of state for home affairs assisted by the chief ministers of Maharashtra, Rajasthan and UP. The following is a nutshell account of those negotiations:

  • Since the VHP was ready with its evidence on the scheduled date of December 22, 1990 but the AIBMAC was not, the meeting was held on December 23, and photo copies of the evidence of both the parties were furnished to the Union minister on December 26. The VHP's evidence was specifically centred on the parameters laid down by the government. A covering note set out clearly that the only conclusion that could be drawn from its submitted documents was that the Babri structure had replaced a pre-existing temple.
  • AIBMAC's evidence was but a pile of papers, prolific in polemics, short on hard facts and self-contradictory as well. No covering summary was provided.
  • Rejoinders to the evidence of either party were required to be sent to the Union minister. The VHP did so, point by point, on January 6, 1991. The AIBMAC's rejoinder was... another pile of papers.
  • In the meeting held on January 10, 1991, it was decided that the evidence would be divided under the heads of history, archaeology, revenue records and law, and that the list of experts to be appointed by each side would be submitted on January 17 for a preliminary discussion on January 24 and for a joint meeting on February 6, 1991.
  • The VHP's list of experts was ready on the stipulated date while the AIBMAC's was submitted six days late.
  • When the meeting of experts took place on January 24, four nominees of the AIBMAC wanted to be heard as independent scholars. When the minister rejected that demand, they wanted a minimum of six weeks for studying and evaluating the evidence. The meeting was adjourned to the next day.
  • On January 25, 1991, the VHP experts reached the meeting venue at the appointed time. The AIBMAC experts failed to turn up. That was the end of the first serious effort made by the Government of India for an amicable settlement of the Ayodhya dispute.

Now has come the second major government effort, albeit clandestine. This effort is based on 'deals,' not 'documents.' The sole rep from the temple side is one whose mysterious disappearance from his matha in August 1987 for days together required the engagement of the police, the CID and other agencies to search for him, resulting in an exposition of his credentials by the national media in general and The Times of India group's The Illustrated Weekly of India specifically in its issue of September 13, 1987. (

What that once-prestigious weekly pinpointed nearly 16 years ago was

  • 'Sri Jayendra Saraswati cannot be regarded as a Sankaracharya at all, because the Kanchi math is not one of the four peethas constituted by Adi Sankaracharya .It is only a shakha (branch) of the Sringeri peetham.' -- Sankaracharya of Dwarka, Swaroopananda Saraswati.
  • 'Several years earlier, Sir C P Ramaswamy Iyer, who headed the central commission on Hindu religious and charitable endowments, had announced that "there is no such thing as the Kanchi Kamakoti peetham."'

That Adi Shankaracharya established only four mathas across India -- at Jagannath Puri in the east, at Sringeri in the south, at Dwarka in the west and at Jyothirdham in the north, about 30 kms south of Badrinath -- is borne out in the authoritative book titled Sankara, the Missionary brought out in June 1998 by Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, and carrying a foreword by the much and widely revered Swami Chinmayanand, now departed.

What solution then should we expect from this Shankaracharya and an AIMPLB chief who locks away the secret proposals in his cupboard at home instead of straight away discussing them with his Board colleagues?

What solution should one expect when there is a sharp divide in the Muslim opinion on Ayodhya? On the one hand, there is a sprinkling of liberals which supports the view expressed by Firoz Bakshi Ahmed that 'It would be best for Muslims gracefully to offer the disputed patch of land in Ayodhya to their Hindu brethren...' (The Times of India, Mumbai, June 16, 2003, edit page article).

In utter contrast, a very recent poll of 1,432 Muslims in eight cities showed that 85 per cent of them don't want their community to gift the disputed site to the Hindus. (Outlook weekly magazine, June 30, 2003).

On the Hindu side, the VHP is on the warpath -- period.

What solution then shall we expect on July 6 and soon thereafter? Will it suggest another Muslim appeasement or will there be a Ram miracle or will it be back to the courtroom? The last option seems the best bet just now. Nothing like our judicial system to wear everyone out!

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