Since I do not follow developments at Aligarh carefully, I have not known of the existence and activities of the New Aligarh Movement and the New Servants of India Society. So my observations relate solely to the ‘document’ they have prepared and circulated on “the grave political and moral crisis resulting from the tragedy of December 6, 1992, and its aftermath”. It is an extraordinary ‘document’ from the point of view of their own interests.
To begin with, it is noteworthy that the content and tenor of this document are a study in contrast with what many educated Muslims have been writing and saying, specially since the second round of riots in Bombay in January. It does not, for instance, say one word in criticism of Muslim leaders in charge of the Babri Masjid agitation in recent years, such as Syed Shahabuddin and Imam Bukhari of the Delhi Jama Masjid, whom a number of Muslim academicians, journalists and others have castigated for having misled the community.
The second point about the ‘document’ that attracts attention is the sharpness of the attack on Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao. It says: “Whether the December 6 outrage was an unintended denouement, or the result of naivete/perfidy/conspiracy, the Prime Minister ought to have offered, publicly, to step down in admission of his constructive responsibility. A sincere apology on behalf of the government perhaps could have assuaged Muslim sentiments and mollified their disgust and despair”.
While it is not possible to quote, for want of space, preceding and following sentences, these can leave no room for doubt that Mr Rao is the villain of the piece for the leaders of the two organisations.
Their hostility to the Sangh Parivar is understandable and, therefore, no cause for comment. Even so, it is remarkable that those so thoroughly opposed to the “fascist” and “anti-liberal forces” seeking to impose a “parochial version of Hinduism over the most majority of Indians” should commend a course of action in respect of the Ayodhya issue which would serve as the proverbial grist to the RSS-BJP-VHP mills.
Two of their recommendations deserve notice. First, “the ban on RSS and other parties must be made meaningful and effective. Otherwise, it should be withdrawn.” In plain terms, it means that the government must either arrest thousands of RSS leaders and cadres and make them heroes, or acknowledge its incompetence and/or insincerity in having banned it in the first instance and lose whatever credibility it still possesses in the eyes of “traumatized Muslims”.
Second, and more importantly, the document says: “If the apex court finds that an earlier shrine at the site had been demolished in the course of building the Babri Masjid, the proposed Ram mandir should be built on the site concerned. If the court finds that no previous shrine was demolished, the rule of law and Constitution demand that the mosque be restored at the original site”.
Since, however, the mosque cannot be functional in view of its distance from Muslim quarters, they would appeal to Muslims to permit an inter-faith place of worship there which “may have Ram idols in one portion and leave enough room for other forms of prayer and meditation”.
The insensitivity to the Hindu sentiment apart, men from Mars could not have demonstrated greater lack of realism. A court can, at best, say with the help of archaeological evidence whether in all probability a shrine was “demolished in the course of building the mosque”. Even a historian of Hindutva sympathies cannot so pronounce, though JNU historians have pronounced in the opposite direction with their usual aplomb. Moreover, is the proposal for an inter-faith place of worship being urged because the ‘mosque’ stands demolished, or out of respect for some principle?
Their proposal for an “interfaith place of worship” is, in any case, comparable to a doctor’s decision not to allow a wound to heal and keep tinkering with it. The result, in the first case, is as predictable as in the second. If the Sangh Parivar has such opponents, it does not need to look for allies. They will do the job for it.
The use of terms such as ‘fascism’ and ‘reactionary’ does not behoove Marxists and fellow travellers in view of the exposure of unprecedented crimes the practitioners of the ‘true faith’ have committed for seven long decades, of the collapse of communist regimes which, as has been proved, were embodiments of evil in the most nightmarish sense of the word, and of irrefutable evidence that Nazism, the most thorough form of fascism plus the most abhorrent form of racism, was an offspring of Bolshevism. That apart, the trouble with all such abuse for its users is that it blocks clear and realistic thinking.
In this specific case, a sensible Muslim and his equally sensible liberal-secularist ally would conclude without much difficulty that his foremost objective has to be containment of the RSS-backed BJP and not prevention of the construction of the purposed Ram temple on the site of the Babri structure and that pursuit of the second objective must mean the defeat of the first.
Judging by letters to editors in Urdu newspapers, a number of reasonably educated Muslims appear to have reached such a conclusion. The leaders of the two Aligarh-based movements are not so disposed. Apparently, there is something about that city and its environment that clouds the mind.
The demolition of the Babri Masjid is not the “culmination of the efforts of the BJP and allies to emerge as saviours of Hinduism”, as authors of the ‘document’ think. It can, at best, or at worst, be described as an unintended consequence of those efforts.
But for the hysterical response of ‘secularists’ and their Muslim allies, it could not have become a weapon in the BJP’s armoury which it has. And efforts to corner the BJP on this specific issue can only add to the potency of the weapon.
The BJP has much to gain and its opponents much to lose if they persist with the line that projects the demolition of a nondescript structure of ambiguous character (neither a mosque nor a temple since 1949) as a landmark in Indian history. By the same token, the BJP has much to lose and its opponents much to gain if they even now, belatedly, begin to say that, in their view, what happened on December 6 could not be a turning point in the life of 850 million Indian people with so long a history.
The ‘document’ is understandably reticent on Muslims, understandably because it is not easy to say something on the subject which accords with the requirements of nationalism and secularism, however defined, and it suits spokesmen of Muslims and of ‘secularists’ to cast the community in the role of victims. A Muslim as a Muslim cannot accept either nationalism or secularism without qualification even in a Muslim country. The question of his doing so in a predominantly non-Muslim country just cannot arise. This may create problems for him which he can seek to avoid but cannot possibly confront and resolve.
In reality, the Muslim rejection of nationalism and secularism in our country creates problems for the rest of us. Only those who know nothing about the country’s painful history since the failure of the Khilafat movement in 1922 can be indifferent to this reality and behave as the self-proclaimed secularists are behaving.
So the ‘document’ contents itself with two vague observations. First, “Muslim intellectuals and leaders also failed to educate Muslim public opinion on basic issues when some Muslim quarters adopted confused or anti-liberal stands”. Witness the issues are not identified and the Muslims quarters are not named.
Second, “Indian Muslims hardly realize that the talk of the seamless unity of religion and politics, of Islam as a total code of conduct and of an Islamic power block is bound to reinforce Hindu revivalism where Hindus are the preponderant majority.”
Only the naïve would think that the authors wish to redefine and reconstitute Islam. This has not been a practical proposition for over a millennium. The statement is, however, useful as a sop to the ‘secular’ conscience.
The Observer of Business and Politics, 10 March 1993