Now religious nationalism?

Review of Ayodhya Verdict

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

Notwithstanding the Ayodhya verdict, the debate and controversy refuses to ebb. Though major sections of the Muslim fraternity have accepted the judgment, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and Jamiat-ulama-i-Hind is unwilling to relent. They have decided to file review petition in the Supreme Court. And while the judgement based on some scientific report of the Archaeological Survey of India, has brought relief to the ruling party as it can keep its poll promise, far more crucial issues, mainly in the economic arena, plaguing lakhs of people in the country, remain ignored and beg the government’s attention.
While it can be presumed that the Ram Mandir may now be built and bring religious satisfaction to the majority community, the AIMPLB saying it will not accept the 5-acre plot awarded by the five-judge Bench, triggers uncertainty of how the situation pans out. The judges had relied heavily on Hindu and Sikh religious texts to assert individual’s view that Hindus always took the disputed site to be Ram’s birthplace.
In this connection, mention may be made of historical records, where Joseph Tieffenthaler, a Jesuit missionary who visited India in 1740, mentioned ‘Bedi’, a cradle, where Beschan (Vishnu) was born in the form of Ram. Alexander Cunningham, Director General of the ASI referred to Ayodhya in his 1862 report as the birthplace of Lord Ram. Additionally, P. Carnegie, Commissioner and Settlement officer, Faizabad, mentioned in his 1870 report that “Ajudhia’ is to Hindus what Mecca is for Mohammedans”.
However, it is pertinent to make a note that the verdict came a day after Moody’s Investor Services trimmed its rating outlook for India to ‘negative’ from ‘stable’, citing increasing concerns that Asia’s third largest economy will grow at a slower pace than in the past. Moody’s said the cut in the outlook “reflected government and policy ineffectiveness in addressing economic weaknesses like prolonged financial stress among rural households, weak job creation and, more recently, a credit crunch among non-bank financial institutions, which has led to the present slowdown.”
At the same time it is also worth noting opinion on the verdict which is said to have given a pro-Hindu weightage. Former Supreme Court Justice, Asok Kumar Ganguly, questioned the matter as it pertained much before the Constitution was adopted or before the establishment of the democratic republic of India. “Then where a masjid was, where a mandir was, where a Buddhist stupa was, where a church was . . . if we sit down to make such judgments, a lot of temples and mosques and other structures will have to be demolished”. Justice Ganguly also questioned the emphasis on a mythological character like Ram who has no historical evidence as the whole matter happened, if at all, five centuries ago.
Further, Inquilab, one of the largest circulated Urdu dailies, posed an important question –”If the court accepted that a mosque existed at the site and had been demolished illegally, why wasn’t the verdict in favour of the mosque?” It goes on to suggest that the verdict seems to be based on circumstances rather than evidence. Another point made by the newspaper stated that the court ruled that “Muslims have also the right to be given land as compensation for the loss (but) the timing and place has not been decided”.
A point that has been raised, and quite rightly, by the minority politicians is why the apex court entrusted the ‘vandals’ responsible for demolition of the Babri Masjid the task of identifying an alternative plot of land to build a mosque. Also, the question where the land will be allotted— whether in the Ayodhya town or in the district, remains a big question and may complicate matters further?
However it is pertinent here to mention what the five Judges stated summing up the verdict: “Justice would not prevail if the Court were to overlook the entitlement of the Muslims who have been deprived of the structure of the mosque through means which should not have been employed in a secular nation committed to the rule of law. The Constitution postulates the equality of all faiths. Tolerance and mutual co-existence nourish the secular commitment of our nation and its people”.
Whether the apprehension of some analysts that the verdict would only hasten India’s transition towards a ‘Hindu Pakistan’ – or ‘Hindu Rashtra’ as Asaduddin Owaisi, four time member of the Lok Sabha alleged — remains to be seen. But the ruling party’s endeavour for a united Hindu community may not succeed as a significant section is opposed to fundamentalism and believe in Swami Vivekananda’s vision of unity of all religions. However, with religious nationalism being promoted by the government and the majority community being pampered, the future trend is not all that encouraging. One cannot deny that the trend in projecting religion as the core area of being a nationalist is most unhealthy for healthy growth of society.
Earlier people were not so assertive towards their respective religion but this gained ascendancy in recent times. The politicians are quite happy in making people religious conscious as this enabled the masses, as also even the educated sections, to take their attention away from core economic issues that are affecting the country. Thus, instead of attending to the pressing issues of the day, politicians are more interested in highlighting religious issues to back up their case for nationalism.
A few years from now, the mandir and the masjid may be built but what is necessary is the need for religious amity and respect for each other’s philosophy and way of life. While secularism devoid of any obscurantism should be the mainstay in society, a communitarian approach to life would be the best way to shape our social life when two communities live and work together.
However, it needs to be pointed out that economic well-being is also a key factor in keeping people happy and this can only be possible through improving the standards of life specially in Ayodhya as also other parts of the country.
Politicians should not try to bring divisions within the communities to meet their political ends but try to ensure that their living standards improve. Special mention needs to made here of the young generation, which should be put on the right track and engaged in employment so that they maintain a balance between religious faith and socio-religious life. However, only time will tell what emerges in the new Ayodhya district. The Mandir should not be an issue which should take precedence over matters of governance. The issue at hand is bound to linger and the government needs to set its priorities right.—INFA