December 6 has arrived once again! 22 years have passed since the disputed Babri Masjid was razed to the ground; a lot more since the dispute began. There is no doubt that the issue will be discussed once again in various forums and on social media. The young India of whom we are proud of and who dominates the usage on social media was either not born or was too young when politics changed the land of Ram Lalla in ’92. For them, it is an event in history of Independent India and nothing more.
All through independent India’s history, Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi dispute has continued to simmer in one form or the other. The only thing different this year is that for the first time we have in Centre a full-fledged majority rule of BJP – the party that is seen as championing the cause of Hindus. While VHP has asked Hindus in Ayodhya to put up saffron flags atop their houses, the local BJP MP – Lallu Singh – has distanced himself from all this saying that Ram wants houses of the poor to be built before his own house. Time will tell whether BJP has really become serious about the houses of the poor (as lot many poor were houseless even in 1992) or this issue is being put to rest for raising it again at an opportune time.
One thing which matters is that we have Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister. Modi is seen as a no-nonsense man who goes by his mind which means that in his rule we should expect the issue to be resolved this way or the other. It is but natural that the issue, owing to it being in centre-stage for so many years, has got entangled with emotions, passions and religious fervor of majority of Indians – be they Hindus or Muslims. For a ruler however it is mandatory not only that justice is done but seem to be done. Unfortunately, with mistrust prevailing between both communities, it is not easy to find a solution. No solution can be reached as long as there is a sincere will to find a solution.
Looking back in history, we found one particular incident very similar to the Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi issue, the only difference being that there was a weak monarchy ruling over Ayodhya and British were the instigators while we have a democracy now where votes matter more than anything else. Let’s go back in history to look at the issue, how it was flared up and how a solution was reached. It is said, if there is a will, there is a way!
Year is 1855! The last of the Awadh Nawabs, Wajid Ali Shah is at helm of affairs. Perhaps only for namesake as there is a British Resident staying at a stone’s throw distance from his seat of power. He is not in total command as several thousands of British forces are stationed nearby, being paid salaries by the Nawabs exchequer. Alleged British sponsored intrigues and political murders are common and the infamous policy of divide and rule has shown rich dividends. Now the Resident Commissioner is looking for excuses to annex this most prosperous territory in India – the Awadh. Politically sidelined, Wajid Ali Shah has taken to patronizing art and culture in a big way. New markets are being developed, fresh incentives to traders being given and artisans encouraged at par with artists. Administration is still largely in the Nawab’s hand, being closely watched by the British for their nefarious plans. This is also the time when the famous Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (culture) is at its peak. Muslims are celebrating Diwali and Holi with élan while Hindus are keeping tazias on Moharram, as a symbol of respect for the martyred at Karbala. At this juncture, Hanumangarhi episode takes place, which could have marred all the good work done by this Nawab during the past 9 years of his rule. Mismanaged, and it threatened to take away his entire kingdom. But what Wajid Ali Shah eventually revealed was that he was a man who had risen above the narrow domestic walls of sectarian beliefs.
Hanumangarhi, not to be confused with the Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid site, is a cluster of temples in Ayodhya. The temples, it is said, were built by the money of Nawab Safdarjung, great grandfather of Wajid Ali Shah. A Muslim living with Hindus in this area (most likely instigated by the British or by those who do not like co-existence between the two communities) came out proclaiming that Hindus have demolished a mosque that was situated in between the temple complex. The matter took a serious turn as about a dozen Hindus and more than 70 Muslims got killed in the communal clash that followed. The Muslims presented a petition to the Nawab and beseeched him to intervene as a Muslim on this plaint. Not to go by what they wanted, Wajid Ali Shah instituted a commission, setting a 3-member committee consisting of a Muslim, a Hindu and a British officer. These three men were Raja Man Singh, Agha Ali Khan- the nazim at Faizabad and Captain Orr of the East India Company.
The Commission reported that there was no mosque within the precincts of Hanumangarhi. These three men went to Ayodhya and succeeded in bringing Hindus and Muslims together. Agreement was arrived and a deed of compromise executed.
The matter would have been settled but some Muslims started an agitation claiming it to be an act of appeasement. A Muslim Maulvi Ameer Ali threatening Jehad vowed to go to Ayodhya and rebuild the mosque. As he with his followers marched to Ayodhya, the Nawab sought the fatwa of the chief cleric Mujtahid Sayyad Muhammad Nasirabadi, a scholar of the famous Khandan-e-Ijtihaad family. The chief cleric in consultation with the senior most Ulema from Firangi Mahal (another Muslim institution of repute) ruled that since it was established there was no mosque, constructing the mosque was not permissible by Islam as it would hurt the sensibilities of the Hindus. Armed with the fatwa, the Nawabs forces confronted Maulvi Ameer Ali and his followers at Rudauli, a little distance away from Faizabad, as he proceeded towards Ayodhya to do a kar seva of sort and build a mosque.
In the battle that ensued, Ameer Ali was killed and his followers either killed or made to flee. And the Hanumangarhi episode was resolved once and for all.
The great justice that the erstwhile Nawab of Lucknow may have delivered also left several detractors. It is nearly impossible that each and everybody gets pleased. But a sincere willingness to find a compromise is the need of the hour without which it will not be possible to do away with widespread discontent.
Acts like those of last Nawab of Awadh laid the foundations of that great Hindu-Muslim unity, which historians never fail to mention. It was due to this that when the Nawab was dethroned by the British about a year later, a general atmosphere of restlessness prevailed all over Awadh, which resulted in several skirmishes even prior to the great fight for independence in 1857. Nearly the entire population of Awadh fought against the British forces in 1857; some of the fiercest battles took place on the banks of Gomti in Lucknow and Ganga in Cawnpore (Kanpur), where Hindus and Muslims fought shoulder to shoulder with their common enemy. And it was not mere co-incidence that Mangal Pandey, who actually started it all at a remote cantonment in Meerut, belonged to a small village near Faizabad, in the very vicinity of Ayodhya itself.
More than a century and a half later, a similar story has been enacted. Hindus and Muslims came to loggerheads at the same venue Ayodhya. We have seen that even the intervention of Shankaracharya of Kanchi in the past failed to resolve the problem. Innumerable Jehadis and Kar Sewaks were born out of this conflict, which still threaten to tear the social fabric apart. Still there are some who are talking of building a monument by force, this time a temple over the ruins of a structure revered by the other community as mosque till some time back.
There is one major difference though. Politics of the vote bank has replaced the monarchy, adding new dimensions to the erstwhile divide and rule policy followed by the British. Unity between Hindus and Muslims has been made a martyr at many a sacrificial pyre, by the near fatal blows of fundamentalists and politicians.
And instead of a quick and impartial resolution to the conflict, the matter is simmering since decades, whose most brutal eruptions have lately been seen, time and again.
Is there a silver lining then? Can the politicians be trusted that they won’t dip their loaf of bread in a little more of human blood before eating? Are we to know for sure whether the religious heads of either community are not nursing their own personal ambitions, political or otherwise? And are Indian Hindus and Muslims again going to act as naïve siblings unable to comprehend the ferocious propaganda aimed at them? The truth remains hidden and will be out in future!
It is time for every right (not rightist) thinking citizen of India to speak now, without reconciling themselves to the decree of the politicians. Perhaps answer lies in Wajid Ali Shah’s words itself as he described the infamous Hanumangarhi episode in poetry:
Hum ishque ke bande hain mazhab se nahin vaqif
Gar Kaaba hua to kya butkhana hua to kya.
(We are the votaries of love and unacquainted with religion;
To us it does not matter, whether it is Kaaba or a temple.)
S. Aziz Haider
(The author is Associate Editor, RNI News Agency)