In view of the recent resurrection of the long-festering Ram Mandir distemper, it is interesting to look back at its tangled trajectory, how it evolved over the years into intractability with rancorous communal overtones.
In 1528, it is claimed, Babur’s army demolished the Ramjanmabhoomi temple following a fierce battle with the Hindus that lasted for over 15 days. Many Hindus are said to have sacrificed lives to save the temple from demolition. The mosque being built over the rubbles of the temple, the Hindus kept on struggling to reclaim the site since the year the temple was allegedly razed down.
The long- drawn legal battle started much later. The first suit on the matter was filed at the Faizabad court on 19 January 1885, seeking right over the Chabootra (raised platform)-popularly accepted as the birthplace of Lord Ram. The plaintiff was Mahant Raghubar Das of Nirmohi Akhara.
The order, however, disappointed the Hindus. In the order dated 24 February, 1885, the judge declined permission on the ground that even though the land on which the Chabootra stood belonged to the plaintiff ‘it was too close to the existing masjid that it would be contrary to public policy to grant a decree authorizing him to build the temple as desired by him’.
Das then appealed to the Faizabad district judge, Colonel FEA Chamier, who after a spot inspection on 17 March, 1886, dismissed the appeal on the same grounds.
He ruled, “I found that the masjid built by Emperor Babar stands on the border of the town of Ayodhya… It is most unfortunate that a masjid should have been built on the land specially held sacred by the Hindus. But as it occurred 356 years ago, it is too late now to remedy the grievance. All that can be done is to maintain the parties in status quo.”
The first appeal to the court of law having fallen through, the Hindus remained calm for the next 48 years until 1934 when the place witnessed a communal flare-up over the slaughter of a cow in a neighbouring village.
As per official records, some villagers attacked the Babri Masjid and damaged one of the three domes. The Faizabad administration later repaired it.
Here an interesting thing deserves mention. It cast doubt on the ‘secular’ credentials of the Congress.
The party stewarded by Gobind Ballabh Pant, then chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, fielded Baba Raghav Das as Congress candidate for the Faizabad by-election in 1948.
At least, thirteen socialist legislators left the Congress under the leadership of Acharya Narendra Dev who contested against the Congress. Pant launched a vitriolic campaign against Acharya Dev, accusing him of not believing in Lord Ram. Das won the by-poll.
The situation came to a head again on 22 December 1949 when a Ram idol appeared ‘mysteriously’ inside the mosque. Hundreds of Hindus assembled there the same day and offered prayers.
The Faizabad district magistrate K K K Nayyar pleaded inability to have the idol removed in defiance of then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s reported order. He said that he would prefer to be relieved of the charge rather than carry out the order.
Then the Faizabad division commissioner, S S L Dar counseled to the government against removing the idol.Various suits claiming ownership of disputed site were followed.
On 16 January 1950, one local Gopal Singh Visharad filed a suit before the Faizabad civil judge, seeking permission to offer prayers inside the masjid.
Civil judge, N N Chadha passed an interim order with the rider that the public could not be allowed to offer prayers freely. However, the local priest was allowed to perform the daily bhog. In 1951, five Muslims from Ayodhya led by Mohammad Hashim moved a petition before the high court, seeing a vacation of the injunction.
In 1955, a division bench of the Allahabad high court ruled that the status quo needed to be maintained, but expressed the need for a final decision to be taken within six months in view of the seriousness of the situation.
However, the dilemma continued. Six years later, in 1961, Mohammad Hashim filed another suit, pleading for restoration of the property to the Muslims.
By 1964 the peripheral cases were settled and a date was fixed for the final hearing of the case. A new receiver was appointed in 1968. However, he could not do much as yet another appeal was filed before the Allahabad high court in 1971.
The case was in hibernation till 1983 when the Sangh Parivar launched a movement to ‘liberate’ the shrine fully for the Hindus. The Faizabad district judge KM Pandey ordered the gates of the disputed site to be unlocked on 1 February 1986.
Several distinguished persons, including a number of former Allahabad High Court judges, sought permission from the district administration for Ram’s darshan.
Meanwhile, the Sunni Waqf Board and the Babri Masjid Action Committee moved Allahabad high court against the district judge’s order.
Following this, all the related cases were bunched together by the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court. To examine the merits of the conflicting claims involving the rival parties, the court ordered the Ground Penetrating Radar Survey to examine the disputed site.
The survey being conducted, the pre-existence of a very vast structure under the demolished Babri structure was reported.
Accordingly, the high court ordered theArchaeological Survey of India to conduct the necessary excavation. Archaeological Survey of India’s excavation also confirmed the existence of a temple under the mosque that dated back to the 10th century. The rest is history well- known.
Now the question is-if the long-awaited Ram Temple is built at the disputed place by any means would the RSS revive its agenda for two other temples equally sacred to the Hindus- Krishna Janmastan Temple at Mathura and the Kashi Visvanath Temple in Benaras?
According to history- which is less misty than the fogbound narrative related to the Ayodhya dispute- the Krishna Janmastan Temple at Mathura and the Kashi Visvanath Temple in Benaras were razed by the Aurangzeb dispensation sometime in 1650s and in their places the Shahi Idgah and the Gyan Vapi mosque came up respectively.
The temples were reconstructed later to be destroyed again and they sprang up again – all these at the instance of the royal families of several princely states.
There is little doubt that a Hindu on a pilgrimage to Benaras and Mathura are not amused when he finds temples-and the most important ones for the community at that- existing side by side with mosques.
And if he is aware of the history as to how the coexistence came into being he is likely to grow more restive and hostile.
Gauging the public mood, the Sangh Parivar chose to include these disputes into its national agenda along with the Ram temple issue at Ayodhya.
It is not clear whether it has foregone the claims on the two other important shrines.
Thus exciting days are awaiting us as the 2019 Lok Sabha election is approaching fast.
Saturday, 10 November 2018 | Romit Bagchi—
Author: Romit Bagchi
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