Sagarika Ghose's blog: Ayodhya in New India
Senior jurists have voiced their misgivings about the apex court deferring the Ayodhya judgement by a week to the 28th of September. The Supreme Court has in the past taken a line of strict non-interference in the Ayodhya dispute. When one Aslam Bhure moved the Supreme Court in 1992 against the acquisition of 2.77 acres of land by the Kalyan Singh government in and around the mosque site, after the demolition, the Supreme Court in 1994 ordered abatement of all pending suits, nullified interim orders issued by various courts and ordered that status quo be maintained until the case had been disposed of by the three judge bench of the Allahabad High Court. One has heard of the apex court consistently asking for judgements to be hastened, but as Soli Sorabjee has observed, this is the first time the highest court is asking for a judgement to be delayed!
Final hearing in this case began on July 23 1996. The court examined a voluminous amount of material. Hearing was concluded on July 27 2010. Attempts at amicable solutions between the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Babri Masjid Action Committee have been attempted since 1992. Both parties have consistently said that there is zero chance of a settlement and a legal solution is the best option. If attempts at an amicable solution have failed for 19 years, can they succeed in a week? To quote Soli Sorabjee again, "it's nothing but blind and irrational optimism."
Jurists are asking if executive incompetence is a legal basis to postpone the legal process. Are apprehensions that the government will not be able to maintain the public peace, a just ground to put off a judgement. If this argument is extended then will the courts be able to pronounce a verdict on any issue that hypothetically poses a law and order problem?
And does the Ayodhya dispute still pose a law and order problem? It's interesting that the Sangh Parivar and the BJP have been remarkably cautious in their pronouncements on the Ayodhya dispute this time. There has been no fire and brimstone rhetoric. Sushma Swaraj has regularly maintained that she will only comment after the verdict. The RSS, too, has said there will be no knee-jerk reaction and any grievance would be addressed by the court. In earlier times, the Sangh and its affiliates would insist that there was no question of a legal solution to a matter of faith. This time, the BJP has stated it would abide by the guidelines of the court.
On my recent trip to Ayodhya I discovered that the Babri Masjid Ram Janmabhoomi dispute is not really a living issue with residents. Natives of Ayodhya are apathetic and cynical about politicians trying to whip up passions repeatedly and exhausted by the paroxysms their city has been forced to endure. At RML Avadh University students said a hospital should be built at the disputed site and called the Ram Janmabhoomi Babri Masjid Hospital! Muslims were equally weary. The grandson of Mohammad Hashim Ansari, the first Muslim petitioner in the case, said he was tired of his grandfather's legal battle and wanted to go abroad to pursue higher studies.
Ayodhya has become a symbol. A symbol of an intense political competition between the Hindu and the Muslim political identity. In the 1990s the temple movement polarized society, took hundreds of innocent lives and spawned a new language of politics. "Minority appeasement", "pseudo-secularism", these were all the words born during the Hindu movement of the time.The movement catapulted the BJP to the national mainstream and pushed the Congress on the backfoot.
Yet India is a different country today. Globalisation and 8 per cent growth have created an upwardly mobile newly rich society. While Ram may remain an article of faith for many Hindus, there is little evidence to show that conditions for street protests of the 1990s exist today. The Leaders of the Ayodhya movement who I met seemed disillusioned and bereft of cadres. Advani is 83 and is trying to reinvent his identity. Sushma Swaraj recently said, that the BJP takes pride in becoming a "responsible" opposition party. There are reports that the RSS too is thinking of a reach out towards minorities and Narendra Modi too had appealed for calm ahead of the verdict. Vinay Katiyar, once the "perpetually-in-battle-mode" chief of the Bajrang Dal, now has a Facebook profile! Can there be a more telling example of Ayodhya being overwhelmed by New India?
India 2010 is a very different country from India 1992. Ayodhya the article of faith, Ayodhya, the political symbol, is very much alive. But Ayodhya, the inspiration for a mass movement, seems to be an idea which has been overtaken by the opportunities and hopes of a new century and a whole new generation of voters born after 1992.
Also watch: A special show on Ayodhya with Sagarika Ghose