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'The Congress is no longer defensive on Ayodhya'

By Sheela Bhatt
Last updated on: October 09, 2010 13:49 IST
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Sheela Bhatt analyses the fallout of the Ayodhya verdict in the corridors of power in New Delhi

Congress leader Satyavrat Chaturvedi said that on September 30, the judgement on Ayodhya issue came from the courtroom in Lucknow and it was followed by another judgement, which was delivered by 1.2 billion Indians.

The first judgment confused the political leaders, lawyers and constitutional experts but not so much the common people. Many political leaders in New Delhi believe that, "If compared to similar occasions when the atmosphere got surcharged leading to violence, now people are talking a different language. They really want peace." Politicians say the echo of the 'second judgment' is so loud and clear that it will influence the entire Ayodhya movement, much beyond the court's verdict.

Muslim leaders say that there are three kind of reactions among Muslims. A large part of the community feels that the judgment tilts towards the Hindus and is beyond the logic and the letter and spirit of the law. They are also wary of falling into the trap of debating the verdict. Some Muslims see this as an opportunity to bury the divisive issue and take away the political agenda from the Bhartiya Janata Party forever. These are young Muslims who see an opportunity in the fast-growing cities and towns. Another view is that, "We didn't get what we wanted but let's hear the final verdict from the Supreme Court before we lose faith in the rule of law." One faction is so angry that they just want to sulk and surrender the land to Hindu organisations.

A few Muslim leaders belonging to various top Islamic bodies, who know the case thoroughly, are trying to find the most appropriate response to the judgment. Their assessment is that in spite of losing the title suit they have got a part of the land and that is nothing but a victory. They argue that if they lose the title suit in the apex court, is it worth appealing against the verdict?

The post-verdict scenario is confusing because the details of verdict are still not understood in perspective by Hindu and Muslim leaders, involved in the case.

A senior advocate working with Jamait Ulema-e-Hind told that the Sunni Waqf Board had raised more than 11 points before the court in their title suit. All of these issues have been rejected except one. He said the rejections by the Allahabad High Court were not on basis of a 'faith-based' argument. It was done with help of existing laws. It can be safely said that the Muslim title suit had been rejected by applying the law and the Hindus have won two-thirds of the land due to the acknowledgment of their faith by the court. A senior advocate says it's possible that the Supreme Court may apply the same yardstick.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP are not saying a word on whether they will accept a situation where the Muslims build a mosque on their legally-owned part of the land. The Congress argues that in spite of a judgment that has not gone fully in favour of the Muslims, the Hindu litigants are not accepting judgment as a whole.

This opens up a platform for reconciliation. Second, they say the verdict is a small issue, compared to it's potential to harm the Muslim cause.

A Muslim leader belonging to Jamait-Ulema-e-Hind says that any polarisation of Hindus and Muslims will erode the secular fabric of the country and politically benefit the BJP and Samjawadi Party type outfits. "Is that really in interest of the community?" he asks.

It's an interesting time to be in New Delhi, where veteran politicians of all parties are trying to weigh the options hidden in the Ayodhya judgment as if it's a riddle wrapped in a mystery. All political parties are trying to figure out the common man's mind on the issue.

Judging the Hindus and Muslims acceptance and rejection of the judgment is turning out to be a tough exercise for everyone.

Privately many political leaders say that they believe the judgment does not uphold the spirit of law, some says it tilts in favour of the Hindus but then supporters of the judgment are just too many to take the debate forward. Even Congress leader Digvijay Singh says it's the best possible judgment under the circumstances.

Nobody, even in private calls the judgement 'brainless'. The beauty is that many people who were opposing the judgment are now finding some 'starting point' in resolving the Ayodhya issue after September 30. That's the big achievement of the judgment.

The politics after the Ayodhya verdict is also one of it's kind. The BJP and the Congress are trying to neutralise each other. If one is trying to score then other is cutting the argument midway. Congress leader Janardhan Diwedi welcomed the judgment, but BJP leader L K Advani tried to take credit by saying that the judgment justified his rath yatra.

The Congress corrected its position on Ayodhya by saying that the judgment in no way overlooked the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

The Congress and the BJP are both ensuring that they get a level playing field so that no one side monopolises the political benefits of the Ayodhya issue. Rather, some Congressmen say that for the first time after 1992, the Congress has some political space in the Ramjanmbhoomi-Babri mosque issue. Since their government is in power, they are also in position to ensure that BJP doesn't take away any credit for the verdict. The BJP had inherent disadvantage on the Ram mandir issue because during their rule they didn't do anything about the temple. Now, by ensuring peace in country and by successfully planning internal security before and after the judgment, the Congress feels confident that it is one of the navigators of the solution to the Ayodhya issue.

Countering that argument, a leader who is conducting the back-channel dialogue on the Ayodhya issue says that the Congress party is suppressing the news of Muslim discontent and they will have to answer for it at a later date. May be after, US President Barack Obama's visit, he jokes. A lot is happening on the Ayodhya issue. A high level, serious negotiation for reconciliation is on.

For the first time in recent years, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat entered Muslim homes through a live TV broadcast. After the verdict, the first reaction came from Bhagwat. The RSS thinks that they have captured the nation's mood well. By  claiming that "There are no losers and no victors," they (RSS) have paved the way for Muslims to come forward and seek a solution.

However, the government's extraordinary, back-door coomunication with top editors, politicians and even vested interests of the Ayodhya movement before the judgment, had ensured that in last week, one has not seen the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Pravin Togadia or any hardline Muslim speaker on prime time television.

A senior Congressman from Uttar Pradesh explained that there was a clear attempt by the BJP to underplay the Hindutva sentiment so that they could appeal to the Indian youth, who don't want riots and seek to move on. This change of position, quite different from 1992, is advantageous to the Congress because they can only move on, when there is no communal polarisation in the country.

The Congress needs a level-playing field while debating ultra-sensitive issues like the Ram mandir. A Congress leader declared with smile of victory, "The Congress is no more defensive on issue of Ayodhya."

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
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