Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ayodhya and what it Implies

By Badri Raina

The Supreme Court having dismissed a Special Leave Petition seeking deferment of the Allahabad High Court judgement which was slated to be delivered on the 24th of September, the decks have been cleared for the said judgement to be pronounced now at 3.30 afternoon tomorrow, the 30th of September, 2010.

At the heart of the issue in court is a title suit to determine who is in rightful possession of the site where the demolished mosque stood—a Muslim organization or a Hindu one.

Remarkably, after some sixty years of litigation in the matter, all parties to the dispute have welcomed the prospect of a legal determination regardless of who wins or loses, or whether the judgement-to-come confronts the parties with a mixed bag of determinations. But leaving the way open to all to go in appeal to the Supreme Court depending on how the chips fall.

It is to be recalled that one justification preferred for the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992 was that the courts were taking forever, and that the Rambakhts were thus obliged to take matters into their own gruesome hands to level the ground for the construction of a “grand” temple to lord Ram, who they simply believe was born at the very exact spot where the main dome of the mosque stood.

Interestingly, the BJP whose stalwarts were in the forefront of the demolition event on December 6, 1992, and which till now had been holding to the view that the Constitution and the Courts have no locus standi in the matter of “civilizational” convictions, seems suddenly as fervently favourable to the judicial pronouncement as the Muslim litigants who have consistently argued that any final legal determination of the matter will be accepted by them without demur, however it turns out for their side.

The BJP’s new stance of course may not be as straightforward or upright as it seems. As much as we can forsee, having understood that the national mood in India is visibly transformed, it will be their further tactics to “go to the people” come national hustings and ask for a legislative majority in parliament so as they can legislate that “grand temple” to be “lawfully” constructed at Ayodhya—something they have tried before and failed to achieve. Which suggests importantly (something that tends to be brushed under the polemical carpet) that however they have sought to make the temple issue a “Hindu” one, endorsement for such a read has not been forthcoming. Remarkably, to this day, the BJP has failed to obtain the electoral patronage of some 70% among the Hindu electorate.

Cannily, most Hindu Indians who after all are not averse to a Ram temple being built also understand that it is not the temple so much that the BJP and the Sangh Parivar want as an anti-Muslim political and civilizational assertion, and a seal on the fascist view that the concerns and convictions of the sectarian-cultural majority must take precedence over electoral majorities as mandated by the Constitutional regime. A programme that ordinary Indians across the board do not concur with.

We have often defined India’s democracy as indeed still work-in-progress. There has been no better evidence of that than the manner in which two momentous arms of the state have through the years tended to deal with the Ayodhya imbroglio, namely the Executive and the Media.

In 1992, the year of the watershed demolition of the mosque, the central government led by the “secular” Congress party simply went into deep siesta the whole day long, allowing the vandals and the criminals to finish off the job in glee and glamour. And even now when there is overwhelming demand on all sides that the court be allowed to pronounce on the title suit, the characteristic pusillanimity of the Congress remains unaffected: it would much rather avoid having to assert the Constitutionally obligatory mandate of the State to sort out the publicly disorderly consequences, if any, of the judicial pronouncement, but will reluctantly do so if the parties to the suit fail to reconcile—something they have failed to do over six long decades of trying.

All that in stark contrast to its willingness to launch “operation greenhunt” against recalcitrant tribals in some six states of India and to fire real bullets at stone-pelting teenagers in the valley of Kashmir.

At the heart of the pusillanimity, let us repeat, has been the peculiar version of secularism adopted by the State from its inception, namely not a separation of church and state, but an “equal” regard of all religious faiths.

Clearly, where some 85% of all Indians are Hindus of one kind or another, that mandate of “equal” regard finds its own disequilibrium in the politics of “mainstream” India. Just as dependable citizenship remains coloured by denominational proclivities and preferences.

For those reasons, therefore, (and especially when a “new” young India refuses to be much drawn to the dispute), it will remain to be seen how the Congress party and the state led by it now rise to the occasion. No more inspiring words than those of the Supreme Court that just as the judiciary cannot be prevented form doing its job, it is for the State to do its.

As to the Media, especially of the big corporate variety: its class allegiance willy nilly obliges it to oscillate between the Congress and the BJP, its dream of long that such a two-party dispensation comes to gel to the exclusion of the plethora of other political formations whose agendas tend to be either inimical to big business or wholly localized and “socially retrograde.”

And between the Congress and the BJP, it has tended to prefer the latter for its more openly and completely market-friendly predilections. And where the BJP practices a non-lethal variety of religiosity, this is also seen as a boon, to the extent that such a stance taps the energies of the mass of working Hindus whose devotions to the deities are legendary, keeping them away from mobilizing on livelihood issues. No better ploy to keep the pretentious politics of the Left in its sidelined place. It is only when a communal mayhem is let loose that the corporate media begins to fidget, since the image of an India on the march to accumulation and profit maximization is then severely dented and thwarted.

In the current moment, there is evidence that some sections of this media are more boldly out to support the Constitutional assertion of the judiciary and the state than they have been hitherto.

Some others who have been more closely in embrace with the BJP are strangely and distressingly heard to counter the general mood in favour of a judicial determination of the Ayodhya issue with the old “tea party” argument about the non-justiciability of “faith.” A sort of back-up to the clandestine BJP position which the party itself for now seems to have suspended in the hope that any further prolonged career of the dispute in the Supreme Court will open the route to its demand for an electoral majority so that the temple construction be legislated.

But, finally, more than all these, a great deal of what may or may not transpire will depend on new civil society and mass attitudes to the judicial verdict due tomorrow.

A distinct watershed moment then in the post-Independent history of “modernizing” India which will tell us whether the Constitutional clock moves ahead or suffers a circum ambulatory regression in time.

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