The shape of things to come

  • Hindu fundamentalism triumphs


The Indian Supreme Court may have tried to satisfy both Hindus and Muslims in the Babri Masjid case, but the decision has opened the way for a Hindu fundamentalist government to resume taking over all the mosques in India on the plea of some association of the site with some deity. The Court might think that it was Solomonic judgement by giving the Hindus what they wanted, while ordering that the Muslims be given alternative land. How the Sunni Wakf Board will find so much land nearby, in a land associated with Ram as well as his family, is not known.

The decision is also the second leg of the triad the BJP wants to achieve: ending then ban on non-Kahmiris buying land in Kashmir, and ending the Muslim personal law, bringing them under a uniform civil code.

This decision has brought an end to litigation between Hindus and Muslims of Ayodhya that started in 1885 when Raghubir Das filed a suit before the Sub-Judge of Faizabad, to be allowed to offer puja at the Ram Janmabhoomi. The dispute started with a communal riot in 1856, and this may well have been the first sign of a claim by Hindus. It is almost as if someone was trying to kill two birds with one stone: find a birthplace for Ram, and do down the Muslims. Faizabad district had formed part of the Kingdom of Oudh, of which the King had just been deposed, and the Kingdom brought under direct British rule.

It is worth noting that Hindus seem to raise the Ram Janmabhoomi issue whenever there is a major change. The first riot occurred when the British had taken over Oudh. The next major development, in 1949, took place when the British had left. This decision has come after the BJP was re-elected.

The Babri Masjid decision illustrates how the judiciary of a constitutional state follows the popular mood. Though the Indian judiciary preens itself on how it upholds India’s secularism and constitutionalism, it is now proving a willing collaborator in the ethnic cleansing of India

The verdict has not yet caused the sort of riots that were set off in India by the 1992 Mosque demolition, which led to riots in which about 2000 were killed. However, it was feared that it would. The attempt of the Indian Supreme Court seems to have been to give a panchayati decision, one in which all parties would get something. However, it does not seem all feel they have won, except Hindu groups. The Muslim Personal Law Board has even hinted at moving a review application, which would mean that even this decision is not necessarily definitive.

One of the aggrieved Hindu groups is the Nirmohi Akhara, which had claimed the right to manage the Ram Janmabhoomi, resting on the claim that it already managed the Hindu religious sites in the Babri Mosque compound. Its pretences were excluded by the Supreme Court, and the site has been given to first the receiver, but ultimately to a trust created by the Government of India (which the BJP will be only be too willing to, packing it with its men). The Akhara, a sect of Hindus worshipping Vishnu (of whom Ram was supposed to have been an avatar), had long been in the forefront of litigation, right from the suit filed by its Mahant, back in 1886.

The Babri Mosque controversy showed that multireligious solutions had been tried before by the British. A Ram Chabutra was constructed for Hindus, and a railing was placed between it and the mosque, so that Hindu ceremonies could be carried out.

The Hindu claim is that the Babri Mosque was built on the site of a Hindu temple. Another claim is that it is a temple converted to a mosque. That is a claim of which one extant example would be the many temples throughout the Roman Empire to churches. Some of those churches were converted to mosques by Ottoman conquerors. Perhaps the best-known example of such a conversion would be that of the Hagia Sophia, which was the principal cathedral of Constantinople, but which was converted into a mosque when the city was captured. If one is to examine examples, the Holy Kaaba was converted from an idolatrous temple into what it is today, a mosque (indeed, the principal mosque of the Muslims), at the time of the Conquest of Makkah by the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him).

An important aspect of the Babri Mosque issue is that it is a touch-button issue for Pakistanis. In 1992, when it was demolished, there were demonstrations, in the process of which about 30 temples were destroyed. The decision has not provoked any spontaneous reaction, but it adds to the unease felt by the public over the Indian government’s August 5 shutdown of Kashmir, which is now 100 days old, and where it seems clear that Pakistan has limited its outrage to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech at the UN General Assembly. With the anger about Kashmir being offered no more outlet than the Kartarpur Corridor opening, the Pakistan government really do not need this decision. Since the judiciary is the supposed saviour in general, and in particular in the case of Kashmir, the court decision, particularly after it decided a long process of litigation, cannot be challenged.

An indication can be taken from the original decision by the Allahabad High Court. After all, the Indian Supreme Court did not decide the case in an original jurisdiction, but merely upheld the Allahabad High Court decision. A further point to be noted is that Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi is no Hindu extremist, not belonging to the Cow Belt, but an Assamese, who was elevated to the Gwuhati High Court. As the son of a onetime Chief Minister of Assam, he could be accused of being pro-Congress rather than pro-BJP. If anything, it shows that a secular India is not being hijacked by a Hindu extremist minority, but that the Indian majority consists of Hindu extremists. As the details of the Babri Mosque tale tell, Indian secularism existed only in the minds of some dreamers in New Delhi. After Independence, caste Hindus, rid of the British, worked on ridding India, or rather South Asia, of the effects of Muslim presence. And that is a work in progress.

Perhaps there is insufficient recognition of the fact that Congress has never given up on the Hindu extremist voter. Congress under Jawaharlal Nehru’s father, Motilal, was taken away from secularism, and towards Hindu fundamentalism, by its dickering with the Hindu Mahasabha. The Mahasabha elements left the Congress after Independence and went into the Jan Sangh and Swatantra parties before ending up in the BJP. However, the Congress has always maintained a streak of Hindu fundamentalism, not because that was its base ideology, but because it wanted to retain its mass appeal in an electorate which has elected the BJP four times now.

The Babri Masjid decision illustrates how the judiciary of a constitutional state follows the popular mood. Though the Indian judiciary preens itself on how it upholds India’s secularism and constitutionalism, it is now proving a willing collaborator in the ethnic cleansing of India. The lockdown in Kashmir and the Babri Mosque decisions are merely trailers before the main feature, which will unfold in India no matter which party comes to power. The will of the people must be obeyed, and that will is Hindu fundamentalist.