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Mainsteam, Vol XLIX, No 12, March 12, 2011

The Tragic History of Muslim Complacency (1949-2010)

Wednesday 16 March 2011, by Syed Shahabuddin


Communal politics, partition and the migration of the Muslim elite from UP to Pakistan had all cast their shadows on Ayodhya around independence and the tiny Muslim community (about five per cent) in that small town, stood demoralised and helpless. It was systemically harassed after independence came.

Ayodhya had been known for communal harmony and composite culture and as a meeting place of Sufis and sants, where most of the standing Mandirs, including the Hanuman Garhi, stand on land gifted by the Muslim Nawabs of Awadh. It had about 100 big and small mosques and dargahs and hundreds of acres of Qabristans dating back to the 12th century. After indepen-dence it became the arena of an organised and systematic challenge to the existence of the Muslim community, with daily demonstration in which slogans against the Babri Masjid were raised. To control the situation, the district administration had created a police post just outside the Babri Masjid but the police did not intervene even when, before their very eyes, graves were dug up and Muslim shrines desecrated in the vicinity of the Babri Masjid, including the Mazar of Sheikh Qadwa.

As the late Akshay Barahamchari, the then General Secretary of the District Congress has recorded, even nationalist Muslims who had sided with the Congress in the freedom movement were not spared. But the Muslims in general, and of Faizabad in particular, were so demoralised that they did not register FIRs when they were harassed and their shrines were desecrated.

Apprehending on organised assault on the Babri Masjid, several local delegations called on the Chief Minister, G.B. Pant, in Lucknow to seek assurance on its security but they failed to receive any. The Muslim leadership in UP, and even at the national level, was not in a position to take up the issue. It was in this ambience that the by-election—caused by the resignation of the socialist leader, Acharya Narendra Dev, from the UP Assembly—was held. The Congress put up a Mahant against Narendra Dev and the Chief Minister himself canvassed against him to make out that Narendra Dev was a socialist and agnostic who did not believe in Ram and would not promote the claim of the Hindus over the Babri Masjid! Thus he sprinkled fuel over the communal fire.

It is not surprising, therefore, that when the idols were ‘surreptitiously and illegally’ placed in the Babri Masjid on December 22-23, 1949, no FIR was filed by the Muslim community. This was the first omission.

When the DM, K.K. Nair, ostensibly defied the order of the Chief Minister to remove the idols, as was wanted by Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel, the State Government gave him a free hand, it did not remove him as it should have done. The Muslims did not move the judiciary for the vacation of illegal occupation or the refusal of the District Magistrate to take remedial action. They did not even follow up the FIR filed by the police. This was the second omission.

IT is not known whether the Muslim community formed any local committee for the defence of their religious places and whether the committee, if formed, took up the matter with the prominent or central Muslim leaders like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad or Maulana Hifzur Rahman, the General Secretary of the Jamiatul Ulema-e-Hind. In any case there is no record that Azad or Hifzur Rahman intervened while Nehru, Patel and Rajaji did. They remained silent.

On December 29, 1949 the city Magistrate passed an order under Section 145 of the CrPC attaching the Masjid to maintain the status quo, thus protecting the unlawfully placed idols from being removed. But what was worse, the Babri Masjid was placed out of bounds for the Muslims and Namaz, which had been going on in the Babri Masjid upto December 22, 1949, was stopped. Then the city Magistrate appointed the chairman of the local municipality as the Receiver of the Masjid and asked him to frame a scheme to manage the attached property. The Receiver produced a scheme not for the management of the Masjid and the attached property but for the religious service of the idols by a Pujari with one or two assistants to enter the Masjid every day and perform the ‘bhogbhog’, thus turning the Masjid into a functional temple. This scheme was patently one-sided and indeed changed the nature of the property attached but the Muslims did not protest or knock at the doors of justice. This was the third omission.

Subsequently, one by one three suits were filled by the Hindu parties to claim possession of the Masjid and ensure non-removal of the idols. The cases went on from 1949 to 1961 slowly in Faizabad. The UP Sunni Wakf Board, which had the duty to protect the Babri Masjid because as a Wakf property it was for several decades under its management, kept sleeping for 12 years. Only in December 1961 when the period of limitation of 12 years was about to end, the Board filed a suit to claim restoration of the Masjid. This was the fourth major lapse on the part of the Muslim community.

All the four cases were tried at Faizabad; they were treated rather lightly by both sides and between 1961 and 1986 recorded little progress. The Wakf Board should have protested to the higher judicial authorities that the case filed by it be expedited. There is no such record. The Muslim community had apparently taken the Masjid as lost. There is no record of the Babri Masjid issue being raised in the UP Assembly in Lucknow between 1949 and 1985 or when the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat was formed in 1965 or in Parliament. This was the fifth lapse.

By then the nationwide movement launched by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad for constructing the proposed Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir on the site of the Babri Masjid was in full swing. On March 1, 1986 as a result of a political manoeuvre, planned and executed by the Rajiv Gandhi Government, the Masjid gate was unlocked under the order of the district judge to allow the Hindus to enter the inner courtyard of the Masjid and access the idols under the central dome for puja and darshan. At this stage, on behalf of the Muslim community, Hashim Ansari filed a case in the High Court. On February 3, 1986 the High Court issued an interim status-quo order. Subsequently, the Wakf Board also filed a contempt case. The Muslim community did not petition to the Supreme Court for expeditious order on the case. This was the sixth major lapse.

FOR the first time in March 1986 the Muslim Indians took notice of the development at the national level. There was a nationwide protest. The Muslim MLAs of UP and the Muslim MPs in Delhi submitted memoranda to the govern-ments and Action Committees were formed spontaneously in several places including Delhi and Lucknow. The All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat called upon Muslims all over the country to observe March 9, 1986 as a Black Day. Subsequently, it organised the All India Babri Masjid Conference in New Delhi in December 1986 with the support of the Babri Masjid Action Committees of Delhi and UP. The Conference created the Babri Masjid Movement Coordination Committee (BMMCC) and chalked out a Programme of Action. The most noteworthy elements were a call to the Muslim community to boycott the official celebration of the Republic Day on January 26, 1987, the organisation of a mass demonstration in Delhi in March 1987 to be followed by a March to Ayodhya. In its submission to the Central Government the Babri Masjid Movement stressed that to expedite a judicial settlement, the four civil suits relating to title and possession be consolidated by the Allahabad High Court and heard on a day-to-day basis. It was only as a result of the Muslim pressure that the Central Home Minister advised the UP Government to move the Allahabad High Court. This was done in December 1987. But only on July 10, 1989 the pending cases were placed before the Special Full Bench of the Allahabad High Court in Lucknow. Several loose ends had then to be sorted out and there was little progress in the title suit upto October 1991 except framing the issues. The issues were not confined to the question of title but indeed many issues of historical and theological interest. This was the seventh and a major lapse.

In framing the issues the Bench went far beyond the question of illegal occupation of the Babri Masjid since December 23, 1949, the identification of Ram Chandraji with Ayodhya, the alleged construction of the temple on his birth site and the alleged demolition of a standing Ram Temple in 1528 to build the Babri Masjid in its place. Accepting the issues as framed was the eighth major lapse by the Muslim side.

In 1989 the Congress governments in Delhi and Lucknow permitted the VHP to lay the foundation stone of the proposed Mandir close to the Babri Masjid in clear violation of the status quo order. Muslims did not register any protest, political or judicial. This was the ninth major lapse.

There was a deliberate move by the Hindu side to expand the ambit of the case by adding extraneous issues of theological or archaeological or historical character while overshadowing the basic case and completely ignoring the advent of Islam in Ayodhya, the establishment of Muslim settlements there since early 11th century and the development of Ayodhya as a major centre of Sufism under Muslim rule since the late 12th century before Babar appeared on the scene in 1528.

The Muslim side could at that stage have gone to the Allahabad High Court in appeal and even to the Supreme Court in review in order to bring the train back on the rails, but this was not done. This was the tenth major lapse.

In 1990,the BJP Government of UP, then headed by Kalyan Singh, acquired 2.67 acres of land linking the outer courtyard of the Babri Masjid with the Shilanyas site, ‘for providing facilities for Hindu pilgrims’. The Muslims filed a case against the acquisition but did not pursue it seriously. The case was finally decided only after the demolition of the Babri Masjid! This was the eleventh lapse.

Neither did the Muslims press for the finalisation of the case under Section 145 pending in Faizabad since 1950, nor did they threaten to boycott the title proceeding unless the status quo ante was restored in the Masjid. This was twelfth major lapse.

The Muslim side, for lack of preparation, had already cancelled the Ayodhya March and only watched the unfolding of the events. The Babri Movement Coordination Committee was split but the pro-March faction did not organise any March while the kar sevaks from all over the country moved towards Ayodhya. The split which weakened the Movement and demoralised the community was the thirteenth major lapse of the community

In 1991 the Vishwa Hindu Parishad first constructed the foundations of the proposed Mandir according to its architectural plan, then it organised the first attack by Ram Sevaks to take over the Babri Masjid during the regime of Mulayam Singh Yadav who used force to repel it. The Muslim side did not seek any preventive or protective measures by the Central Govern-ment or protective orders by the Supreme Court. This was the fourteenth lapse.

The Advani Rath Yatra was launched in October 1991. There is no record of the Muslims knocking at the doors of the judiciary to stop it, though its basic purpose to motivate the Hindu masses and incite their religious passion and to organize a massive and well-organised attempt to demolish the Babri Masjid was known. This was the fifteenth lapse.

During 1992 the State Government became a party to the campaign. The Central Government acted in collusion with the Sangh Parivar and did not take any effective steps to protect the Masjid against vandalism on its own or through the Supreme Court.

The Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992. There were several attempts at negotiation to find a mutually acceptable settlement. But the Muslim community took a courageous stand and it did not agree to the Hindu side’s demand to surrender the Masjid. At the same time some Muslim organisations offered that the Hindus may construct a temple on the Ram Chabutra situated in the outer courtyard of the Masjid as they wanted in 1885, if they withdraw their claim on the Babri Masjid proper (the hall with three domes and the adjacent inner courtyard). On the failure of negotiations the Movement did not formally ask the govern-ment to declare the Babri Masjid as a national monument, and protect it. In retrospect this appears to be a lapse by the leadership. This was the sixteenth lapse.

Following the demolition, Prime Minster Narasimha Rao promised to ‘rebuild’ it. The Muslim leadership believed him and took no steps to force him keep his ‘word’. This was the seventeenth lapse.

The government organised the construction of the make-shift temple on the debris of the Babri Masjid right after the demolition and completed it on 7th morning. It issued an Ordinance on January 7, 1993 to acquire 70 acres of land, including the Babri Masjid site, and abating all pending suits. Also the President sought the opinion of the Supreme Court on whether any ‘religious structure’ existed under the Babri Masjid. On October 24, 1994 the Supreme Court declined to give an opinion, validated the act of acquisition, revived the abated pending suits so that the title be determined, before the acquired land was put to any use to fulfill the object of acquisition and ordered maintenance of status quo as on January 7, 1993. The Muslim side did not file a review because January 7, 1993 legitimised the make-shift temple. Nor did the Muslim side challenge its construction or the reinstallation of Ram idols. The Board did not challenge the acquisition of more than 30 Wakf properties. This was the eighteenth lapse.

Once again the UP Sunni Wakf Board or any Muslim organisation did not lodge an FIR against the demolition. This was the nineteenth lapse.

The proceeding on the abated cases could be recommenced only in January 1996. The Muslim side, in the light of the 1994 judgment of the Supreme Court, could have asked the Special Bench to reframe the issues and limit them strictly to the question of adverse occupation in 1949, and delete the other theological, historical or archaeological issues. The Special Bench may not have agreed to do so but the Muslim side could then have moved the Supreme Court because in its 1994 judgment it had made it clear that the key issue was the title to the disputed site; whether the Muslims or the Hindus had title over it and whether the Babri Masjid was in the possession of the Muslim community on December 22-23, 1949 before the idols were placed there. This was the twentieth major error.

In the course of the proceeding, on March 5, 2003 the Special Bench ordered excavation by the ASI despite Muslim objections. The ASI submitted its Report on August 22, 2003. The Muslims submitted many objections to the Report and several nationally eminent archaeo-logists and historians came forward to give evidence on their behalf. But the Special Bench ruled that it would decide the question of acceptance or rejection of the ASI Report at the time of giving its verdict in the case. The Muslim side meekly accepted this ruling, when it was open to it to approach the Supreme Court against it, as it was only a collateral proceeding and should have been decided. This was the twenty-first major mistake.

The fifth case, which had been filed in 1989 by Justice Agarwal, the Vice-President of the VHP, on behalf of Shri Ram Chandraji, was the last case to be argued. The Hindu side contended that the ASI Report had proved that Ram Chandraji’s birth site lay under the Babri Masjid and following his birth and the construction of a Ram temple to mark it, the entire site had become a deity and therefore a property of Ram Chandraji. This novel proposition, an innovation in Hindu jurisprudence and the other pleadings of its advocate, were virtually left unchallenged by the Muslim side. This was the twentysecond major mistake.

The result is that two members of the Special Bench have based their verdict on the above theological presumption, apart from ‘the ancient faith and belief of the Hindus’ in total ignorance of the fact of existence of the Babri Masjid since 1528 and the illegal introduction of the idols in 1949.

AFTER the hearing was completed in July 2009 and a date was set for the pronouncement of the verdict in September, the Muslim side insisted that the verdict be pronounced as scheduled, before Justice Sharma retired on September 30, 2010. This was the twentythird and a major mistake which proved to be fatal for their cause. The approach and attitude of Justice Sharma and Justice Agrawal in the course of the proceeding particularly during its last phase had left no doubt that intellectually and emotionally they shared the ideology and thesis of the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement. But the Muslim side had failed to read the mind and gauge mood of the judges. It is not understood why the Muslim side wanted the judgment to be pronounced before Justice Sharma retired. The only possible reason can be that the Muslim side was over-confident about winning the suit!

In fact till three months before the end of the hearing, the Hindu side privately acknowledged that it had lost the case. Assuming that the verdict was not pronounced before September 30, 2010, it would have only meant that another judge would be appointed to take the place of Justice Sharma and the hearing would have been further extended by a few months. But the Muslims had lost the Babri Masjid physically in December 1949 already more than 60 years ago; so there was no logical reason for them to be in a hurry.

Now the case is before the Supreme Court. As a community, the Muslims are committed to accept the final judicial verdict. The entire civil society, intelligentsia, academicians, archaeologists and even the media are shocked by the Allahabad judgment. Even secular political parties have criticised the judgment. But the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which had taken charge of the litigation in 1993 after the demolition, has made no effort to associate them or even other nationally eminent Muslim bodies and other minorities, the secular organisations or civil society to intervene in the matter. How could it when it has itself not decided to intervene! This is the twentyfourth mistake—one hopes, not the last.

The All India Personal Law Board has filed appeals on behalf of some Muslim plaintiffs and booked a leading lawyer, Rajeev Dhawan, to take up the case. Other possible interveners would have come forward, if the Board offered the best legal talent available to other sympathetic organisations. Muslim organisations have got cold feet; only one or two have decided to intervene in due course. A few have said that they are considering the step. The Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind (Arshad Madni Group) has also filed an appeal. So has the UP Sunni Wakf Board.

The Hindu side has already begun a campaign to mobilise the Hindu masses to exert pressure on the government to hand over the entire acquired land, including the Babri Masjid site, to them for building the Ram Mandir and on the Muslims to give up their ‘one-third share’ in the disputed site to hand it over to the Hindu parties or face massive force. Some from among the Muslim elite have joined them and advised the community to give up their resistance for the sake of survival and harmony. The Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir project at the highest point in Ayodhya is not a religious but a political project. Ayodhya can become a Hindu Vatican, as declared by the Hindutva forces, only after the Ram Mandir project is executed and all existing Masjids in Ayodhya (only about 30 now) are demolished and all graveyards, hundreds of acres of them, are ploughed over.

The author, a former member of the IFS, served as the Indian ambassador in several countries; he is also an erstwhile MP. Currently he is the President, All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat.

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