Janambhoomi-Babri Ayodhya – The Battle for India India's soul – 3

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URL: http://mikeghouseforindia.blogspot.com/2012/12/ayodhya-battle-for-indias-soul-3.html

Thanks to Wall
Journal and
Krishna Pokharel and
Paul Beckett for writing the series on the topic, it is one of India’s
unfinished social business and needed to be
addressed. The article follows my


 Here is Chapter 3 of the 6 on
the Battle for India’s soul. The authors Mr. Pokharel and Beckett have done a
great job of storytelling,  I do hope, most of us Indians are reading this
as objectively as it is written, first to understand the full complexity of it,
then be ready to find a solution – that is both Hindus and Muslims can live
with. Neither should be pushed around, historicity is not the issue; the issue
is dealing with flared up emotions.

We are human, and one of the greatest telling in this story is the human
spirit; no one wants to be pushed around, and no one wants to be cornered or
dumped a decision on them.  Had the Planters of Ram Lallah consulted
with Muslims, the outcome would have been different, as opposed to sneaking in
the statue in to the Mosque, knowing well that was the wrong thing to do in the
name of God.
 Think about this, seriously
think about this, if parties were called in to discuss with free choices, we
probably would have found a solution long time back.  In national
dialogues, people are called in to talk without conditions and it makes sense.

the conversion front, it is a sour subject, it should not be.  We need
to seriously think: Shouldn’t we have complete freedom in what we drink,
eat, wear or believe? What should be regulated is when we we steal,
rape, lie,  murder, break the agreements or infringe upon each others
right. Every Indian should be free to become a Hindu, Muslim,
Christians, Atheist or whatever he or she chooses. Do you subscribe to
this? Forget about others, do you subscribe to the idea of freedom?

Both Hindus and Muslims are
agitated for lack of acceptable choice, of course, a few on both sides don’t
care about the other, it is their own feelings, a sense of security they care.
Has that produced results? Justness is the only thing that binds and sustains a
society in the long haul. We have to take the steps and decide, and hold on to
the damned temptations to shove it on the other. We have to bring resolution to
this, and cannot pass it on to the generation; lets’ leave them to focus on
prosperity and living their lives.

 As Patriotic Indians, who
care about a better and peaceful India, not an India of harassing each other,
we need to find an amicable solution, even if it takes a lot of pain and
frustration. Once a decision is made with free and willing parties, the
decision will last, and the next generation can focus on better things of life.

At this moment, if you feel like blaming one of the other, than you are the
wrong person to be in the decision making process and need to let others do it
for the sake of India and the future of next generation.

Jai Hind

Mike Ghouse
for India’s Pluralistic ethos


Ayodhya, the Battle for India’s Soul: Chapter Three

By Krishna Pokharel and Paul Beckett
Courtesy – http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2012/12/05/ayodhya-the-battle-for-indias-soul-chapter-three/

Paul Beckett/The
Wall Street JournalA painting on a Muslim house in
Meenakshipuram, Tamil Nadu. Click here
to view related slideshow.

In the 1980s, the Ayodhya dispute escalated from a local issue to a national
one. It fed, and was fed by, other points of tension in Indian politics and
society that set Hindus and Muslims on a collision course over the span of the

Each side came to feel that its religion and status in India was under threat
– and both sides responded with political pressure and shows of force.
It started in 1981 in Meenakshipuram, an unremarkable village deep in the
countryside of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, more than 2,000 kilometers from

The village hit the national news when its low-caste Hindus – about 400
families, villagers say — converted, en masse, to Islam.

“We became Muslims to become equal,” said 65-year-old N. Hidayathullah, one
of the converts, in an interview on the porch of his modest home, as a herd of
goats wandered by.

The families had felt ill-treated by local upper-caste Hindus, he said.
“Nobody told us to convert; it was our desire to be treated with respect,” he


Vishwa Hindu
ParishadSadhus during the 1984 dharma

At stake was more than belief: In India, how you worship defines your
community, most likely your marriage and whom you vote for, your approach to
life, and your identity.

In 1984, Hindu leaders responded to what they viewed as the threat of Islam
emanating from the Meenakshipuram conversion.

About 500 sadhus — Hindu holy men — from across India gathered at Vigyan
Bhavan, a government-owned conference center in New Delhi. They comprised a
“dharma sansad,” or religious parliament.

The meeting was put together by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a conservative
Hindu organization founded in the 1960s. The chief organizer was Ashok Singhal,
then the VHP’s joint general secretary.

Pokharel/The Wall Street JournalAshok Singhal

The son of a government official in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, Mr. Singhal
graduated with a degree in metallurgical engineering from Banaras Hindu
University in 1950. Now 86 years old, he has worked to promote Hindu causes ever
since. “Our culture is under siege,” he said in an interview at the VHP’s
offices in New Delhi.

The religious parliament began with a song by a group of musicians. “This
country’s soil is sacred,” they sang, according to a later account of the event
published by the VHP. “Every girl is an image of a goddess, every boy is

After a sadhu blew a conch shell, speeches began. Among the speakers was
Karan Singh, a former minister in Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s cabinet. At the
time, he was an independent member of Parliament. Courtly and soft-spoken, he is
the son of the last Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir.

Mr. Singh was the founder of an organization to espouse the values of
universal brotherhood and human welfare contained in the Vedas and Upanishads,
Hindu sacred texts. He formed it in direct response to the events of
Meenakshipuram, he said in an interview in the book-lined study of his Delhi

The mass conversion to Islam “was, first of all, a clear statement that the
way Hinduism was functioning is not acceptable to a large number of people,” Mr.
Singh said. At the time, the message was: “People are leaving because we are not
following our principles.”

At the religious conference, Mr. Singh spoke about the need to reconnect
individual life and politics with the tenets of Hinduism, and to rid society of
the dowry system and the stigma of “untouchability” that relegated lower-caste
Hindus to an underclass, according to the VHP’s account of the event. He also
rued the fact that Hindu holy sites had been neglected.

Vishwa Hindu
ParishadKaran Singh, at the center,
during 1984 dharma sansad

“We cannot even light a holy lamp” at Ram’s birthplace in Ayodhya, he told
the sadhus. “How shameful a matter is it for 80% of this country’s residents who
call themselves Hindus?”

The gathering issued a code of conduct for individuals, families and society.
Its code for the country’s statesmen included the demand that three important
holy sites be “given back to Hindu society.”

The Babri Masjid, the mosque in Ayodhya that many Hindus claimed was Lord
Ram’s birthplace – “Ram Janmabhoomi” in Hindi — was top of the list.

Ram appealed to Hindus of all castes: one story recounted in the Ramayan, the
text about his life, has him happily eating berries given to him by a
lower-caste woman.

A few months after the religious parliament, the VHP followed up with a rally
for devotees led by a motorized chariot. Hindu scripture says Ram rode a chariot
into battle.

The rally started at Sitamarhi in Bihar in late September 1984. The district
is believed by Hindus to be the place where Sita, Ram’s wife, emerged from the

Vishwa Hindu
ParishadThe 1984 rally from Sitamarhi
to Ayodhya.

Thousands of the faithful joined the procession, which reached Ayodhya 12
days later. There, they descended to the banks of the Sarayu river, cupped its
water in their palms and, according to several participants, took an oath.

The crowd totaled about 50,000 that day, according to Mr. Singhal of the VHP,
who was among them. Similar oath-taking ceremonies were held at major rivers
around the country.

The Hindus at the Sarayu that day wanted to go further than keeping a tiny
statue of Ram inside the Babri Masjid. They wanted to build a house of worship
where Ram sat: “We will give up everything to build Lord Ram’s temple at his
birthplace,” they swore, according to several people who took part.

The organizers say they were surprised by the number of supporters. “People
found that this is an agitation which will be successful,” Mr. Singhal said.
“Such a large number of people came from small villages to witness and join the

A day later, the chariot started rolling again. But its journey was
interrupted when, on Oct. 31, 1984, Mrs. Gandhi, the prime minister and
Jawaharlal Nehru’s daughter, was shot dead at her New Delhi home by two Sikh

Soon, Ayodhya would become a defining issue for the country’s new leader:
Mrs. Gandhi’s 40-year-old son, Rajiv.


Rajiv Gandhi was a political beginner. Eschewing politics, he worked as
a pilot for Indian Airlines and married an Italian, Sonia Maino.

France-Presse/Getty Click here
for an overview of key players in chapter three.

He was elected as a member of Parliament in 1981, following the death of his
younger brother, Sanjay, in a plane crash. Soon after Mr. Gandhi succeeded his
mother, he called for national elections. His Congress party won the biggest
Parliamentary majority in India’s electoral history.

Mr. Gandhi brought the promise of a new kind of Indian leader. He was young
and interested in promoting technology. Within months, however, he was deeply
embroiled in the historical tussle between Muslims and Hindus and the sense of
victimhood that both sides felt.

The catalyst was a case brought by a Muslim woman called Shah Bano. She had
been divorced by her husband several years before and was left destitute. She
asked the Supreme Court to force her ex-husband to pay maintenance.

In the spring of 1985, the Supreme Court ruled in her favor, citing the
provisions against destitution in Indian criminal law that applied to all

Prominent members of the Muslim clergy viewed the ruling as a threat to
Islamic law, which had long governed their personal matters. It does not require
the equivalent of alimony. But the justices had ordered a divorced man to pay

At first, Rajiv Gandhi backed the verdict. Arif Mohammed Khan, a Muslim and
minister in Mr. Gandhi’s government, made a long speech in Parliament in praise
of the ruling.

In an interview, Mr. Khan said he did so at the prime minister’s request.
Afterward, he received a note from Mr. Gandhi, he said, which congratulated him
on a “wonderful performance” and a “great speech.”

But the Muslim clergy protested, heaping pressure on the prime minister. They
demanded he counter the verdict through an act of Parliament. “The Muslim clergy
found this as an opportunity to mobilize the Muslims and project themselves,”
said Mr. Khan.

Mr. Gandhi succumbed and started preparations for a law that would
effectively overturn the Supreme Court ruling.

But he also wanted to find a way to mollify Hindu outrage over the Muslim
protests and to counter anticipated Hindu claims that Muslims were being
appeased by the government, said Mr. Khan.

The prime minister, he said, found his answer in a court case in Faizabad,
the city next to Ayodhya.

The case sought to have the lock removed on the main gate of the Babri
Masjid, granting greater public access to the idol that had been sitting in
seclusion under the central dome for almost four decades.

Mr. Gandhi’s calculation, Mr. Khan said, was that the Hindu focus on the Shah
Bano case “will be redirected to Ayodhya.”


Pokharel/The Wall Street JournalUmesh Chandra Pandey at his
residence in Lucknow.

Umesh Chandra Pandey filed the petition to open the lock in late January
1986. He was a 30-year-old lawyer and occasional journalist who then lived in

His interest in the issue had begun three years earlier, when the editor of a
local Hindi newspaper asked him to write a feature on the festival commemorating
Ram’s birthday, Mr. Pandey and the editor said in interviews.

Mr. Pandey said he also heard leaders from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad claiming
that there never had been an official order to lock the Babri Masjid gate.

“I thought, ‘If this is so, then how has this lock been put there?’” he

Adding drama and urgency, a prominent sadhu had threatened to set himself
ablaze if the lock was not removed, according to Mr. Pandey and other accounts.
Other sadhus threatened to get themselves arrested by trying to unlock the gate
themselves, according to the VHP’s Mr. Singhal.

Mr. Pandey, a short man who speaks in emphatic phrases, said he spent a
couple of weeks examining court papers. He came to the conclusion that there had
never been a formal order putting the lock in place, he said. (Priests who cared
for the idols in the building entered through a side gate.)

Soon after Mr. Pandey filed his petition, he found out that a copy had
been sent to the state agency in charge of internal security, he said.

Paul Beckett/The
Wall Street Journal

The petition also attracted the interest of Rajiv Gandhi and Arun Nehru, a
cousin of Mr. Gandhi’s and a powerful adviser to the prime minister, according
to Arif Mohammed Khan, the government minister at the time.

Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Nehru wanted to ensure that the petition succeeded so
Hindus would feel assuaged, Mr. Khan said. The prime minister asked Mr. Nehru to
coordinate the government’s participation in the case, including dealing with
the state government of Uttar Pradesh, Mr. Khan said.

Other officials from the time say Mr. Nehru, the adviser, was the more
influential in seizing on the issue and the prime minister acquiesced. Yet
others say Mr. Gandhi was unaware of what was happening.

Either way, said Mr. Khan: “The buck stops at the door of the prime minister”
as the head of the government.

When asked about the episode in a brief telephone conversation, Mr. Nehru
responded: “That’s none of your damn business.”

The government ensured that two senior local officials appeared – unusually —
before the judge, rather than submitting affidavits, Mr. Khan said. They
testified that law and order could be maintained if the lock was removed, a key
consideration in the judge’s deliberations.

Mushtaq Ahmad Siddiqui, one of the lawyers representing Muslims in their
legal claims to the Babri Masjid site, said he also asked to be heard before the

“You may, there is no hurry,” he said the judge responded. “The matter is
continuing for 36 years – you will be allowed sufficient time.” He was referring
to the fact that litigation over the site had begun in 1950.

On the afternoon of Feb. 1, 1986, the judge ruled there had been no official
order that placed the lock on the mosque’s gate. He ordered the lock opened
“forthwith,” according to witnesses. The judge is now deceased.

Within 30 minutes, a senior police officer in Ayodhya broke the lock. A
camera crew from Doordarshan, the government-run television channel, was there.
The event was broadcast to the nation.

Mr. Pandey, the man who filed the petition, said he couldn’t sleep that
night. The next morning, he went to the site.

“I was without words,” he said. “But I was thankful to God that I was able to
look and to offer my prayer.”

The gate opening was the first that millions of Hindus had heard of Ayodhya
and the battle over Ram’s birthplace. It energized them en masse because Ram was
a role model. 

Grandmothers told their grandsons to aspire to be like him:
obedient to their parents, faithful to their family, honest in their

Mani Shankar
AiyerRajiv Gandhi, right, in an
undated photo with Mani Shankar Aiyer.

Rajiv Gandhi received the news during a visit to the Maldives, according to
Mani Shankar Aiyar, his speechwriter at the time.

In the hours before a state banquet, the prime minister was putting the
finishing touches on his formal dress and on his speech when he received a
telephone call, Mr. Aiyar said in an interview. Mr. Gandhi was told the lock was
opened, Mr. Aiyar said.

The lock opening quickly took on a mystical aspect. Mr. Pandey claimed that
on the afternoon of the decision, a monkey sat on the roof of the Faizabad court
house. A monkey was symbolic because Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, was a loyal
friend of Ram.

The animal, unusually for a monkey, sat still for more than 30 minutes, Mr.
Pandey said. Then, when the judge issued his order, the monkey walked to the
flagpole on the courthouse roof and touched the Indian flag, according to Mr.
Pandey. “I don’t think this can happen without the Almighty’s permission,” he


The lock opening shocked Muslim elders and lawyers who had been following the
Ayodhya dispute because they saw in it a threat to their mosque and to their
religion. They gathered the next day in an orphanage in Delhi.

“Today, it appears we have become second-class citizens,” said one elder,
close to tears, according to two people who were there.

The leaders worried that the next step would be the Babri Masjid’s

On Feb. 3, 1986, two days after the lock was opened, a small group of Muslim
lawyers petitioned the high court in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, to
order that nothing more happen to the site, according to two of the lawyers.

The judge issued a notice that the “status quo” be maintained.

JilaniZafaryab Jilani in the

Zafaryab Jilani, one of the lawyers, was then just shy of his 36th
birthday. The lock opening would vault him to the forefront of the Muslim
movement seeking to retain the Babri Masjid site for Islam.
Born in a town close to Lucknow, Mr. Jilani pursued his legal studies at
Aligarh Muslim University.

There, he gained his first experience in organizing protests. He said he was
part of a small group that, in 1970, led students in opposing government plans
to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the school’s incorporation by
an act of Parliament.

The students were angry about previous government measures that stopped
Muslims from being the sole administrators of the university. Faced with the
protests, the government scrapped the golden jubilee festivities and,
ultimately, undid the administrative changes.

After the Babri Masjid lock opening, Mr. Jilani started organizing protests

He and a handful of associates called meetings of prominent local Muslims; it
included one gathering of about 200 in a hall in Lucknow, Mr. Jilani said in an

They created the Babri Masjid Action Committee to organize public strikes and
demonstrations– and to push back against what the leaders viewed as Hindu

On Feb. 7, 1986, Mr. Jilani said he and about eight others met the then-chief
minister of Uttar Pradesh, Vir Bahadur Singh. The chief minister denied any
involvement in the lock opening, Mr. Jilani said.

“I haven’t done it. Whatever has been done, it is at the behest of some other
leaders, top leaders,” Mr. Jilani said the chief minister told them. Mr. Singh
died a few years later.

A week after that meeting, the new committee held its first event: a “Black
Day,” or state-wide public strike, Mr. Jilani said. Later, tens of thousands
protested in Lucknow and other cities.


In May 1986, the government used its huge majority in Parliament to push
through a law that effectively reversed the Shah Bano ruling and made it clear
Muslim personal law would prevail.

Mr. Gandhi’s supporters say the prime minister was only trying to clarify
that matters of Muslim personal law would be governed by Islam, as they had been
for decades.

The law’s passage cemented the idea among many Hindus that the government was
kowtowing to Muslims. Muslim leaders, on the other hand, were angry about the
lock opening. The prime minister’s plan to do something to mollify both sides
had gone awry.

Arif Mohammed Khan, the minister who had supported the Shah Bano ruling,
resigned from the government. He recalled that Mr. Gandhi said to him at the
time: “The situation is such that I am feeling very helpless.”

And, as Mr. Gandhi’s grandfather, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, had feared
in 1950, the new prominence of the Babri Masjid dispute complicated the delicate
political equation in the late 1980s in Kashmir, the Himalayan region fought
over by India and Pakistan.

Militants who favored a separate country of Kashmir used the opening of the
lock on the mosque to rebuke Indian Muslims who favored embracing India’s
secularism and democracy.

The militants said, according to Mr. Jilani: “Your government is not sincere
with you, how do you expect that government to be sincere with us?”

Tomorrow: The
last chances at a settlement slip away.

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