5th August 2020 became a historical day when the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, laid down the first brick of Ram Temple at the ground-breaking ceremony in Ayodhya following the Temple Bhumi Pujan ceremony. It may perhaps be just the coincidence that the date is also remembered and rejoiced by many in India for the abrogation of Article 370 from the Constitution paving the way for the removal of the redundant provisions and full integration of the state of Jammu and Kashmir with the mainstream nation. The much-awaited action at Ayodhya will now kick start the construction of Ram Temple at the Janmbhumi, which is likely to be completed in the next three years. The event gains more significance in the light of the fact that this day has fructified after nearly five centuries of the struggle and sacrifice of thousands of lives.
The Chinese Wuhan virus responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic world has drastically changed the life and economy of people in 2020 at every nook and corner of the world. Consequently, initially the event was delayed by many months then on the occasion when hundreds of thousand people would have gathered to witness the auspicious ceremony, the list of attendees was drastically curtailed to just about 175 seers, prominent citizens from various walks of life and few government officials including the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and Prime Minister of India strictly complying the pandemic protocol of social distancing. Later the Prime Minister in a tweet said, "This day will remain etched in the memory of every Indian. May the blessings of Bhagwan Shree Ram always be upon us. May India scale new heights of progress. May every Indian be healthy and prosperous".
Why Occasion Merits Jubilation!
Many Indians including the Prime Minister called the day as historic which is indeed true because Sri Ramchandra of ancient Ikshvaku dynasty is an iconic symbol of ancient Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) culture and faith: He is popularly known as Maryada Purushottam Ram because he set paradigms of an ideal ruler, ideal citizen, ideal son, ideal husband, ideal brother, and universal values and ethics so much so that even the founder of the modern India, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (nicknamed Mahatma Gandhi) had visualized Ram Rajya (Ram’s Rule) in India on independence in August 1947. His birth place and capital Ayodhya finds a mention in several Hindu scriptures, later date books and travelogues, and even gazetteers and land records of British time supplemented with many archaeological evidences from the close surroundings and as dug out from the site.
Babur was a descendant of Timur and an Islamic invader who defeated Ibrahim Lodi in the First Battle of Panipat in 1526 CE and founded the Mughal empire in India. His brief stint of about four years as emperor was marked with religious persecution of Hindus and Sikhs, killings and massacre of thousands of them, and demolition of temples and other religious structures of their faith, illustrated account of which is recorded in the autobiographical historical record of Babur, Tuzak-i Babari and Baburnama. His contempt and dislike of the Indian culture could be fathomed from the fact that after his death in 1530, Babur was initially buried in Agra but soon after his remains were shifted to Kabul and reburied as per his death wish. It was during his brief rule that the Ram Janmbhumi Temple was demolished by one of his general Mir Baqi and a mosque was built on the temple remains in 1528-29 under the orders of Babur.
The tales and legends of Maryada Purushottam are not merely limited to Hindus in the Indian Sub-continent; instead, his life, moral conduct and deeds are remembered globally by followers, particularly in the South-Asian countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, and so on. There is not even an iota of doubt that the stated Ram Janmbhumi site at Ayodhya has the same significance for Hindus what Yerusalem has for the Christian and Jews and Mecca for the Muslims across the world. The faith of millions of devout Hindus and their legal demand for the restoration of Janmbhumi Temple was suppressed by bullet and draconian laws during the Moghul and British periods for over four centuries. Subsequently, despite constant efforts to deny the existence of Ram and his legacy by a dominant section of the ruling dispensation in the name of secularism and the biased historians of the independent India, the zeal and enthusiasm of the followers of Sri Ramchandra could not be doused.
Consequently, during the last two centuries several violent clashes occurred between the two communities with Hindus unsuccessfully trying to regain their holy land for the reconstruction of the Ram Temple at the site. This followed a protracted legal battle since 1949 onwards for the possession of the site but due to indecision and apathy of governments and courts, the issue dragged for the decades unresolved and thereby culminating into a crisis when thousands of Karsewaks gathered and demolished the dilapidated disputed structure at the site, leading to large scale communal violence in the Indian Sub-continent. Consequently, the title suit for the disputed site was transferred to Allahabad High Court, which delivered a majority decision of the two parts including the sanctum sanctorum to Hindu side and one part to the Muslim litigants. This followed another marathon legal battle in the Supreme Court which finally decided the title suit in favour of the deity on 9 November 2020, with an alternative 5 acres of land to be transferred to Muslim side elsewhere in Ayodhya.
All along during the court proceedings, the Muslim litigants and other leaders and clerics had committed that the court decision will be acceptable to the community irrespective of the fact which way it is decided. However, reactions of many of them and subsequent review petition proved this contention wrong but the apex court promptly rejected it making clear that the earlier unanimous verdict of the 5-judges bench was full and final. The perusal of over one thousand pages long court judgment clearly established that Hindu side had made a very strong case producing evidence much better in quality and quantity than that furnished by Muslims in support of their claim and also that Hindus had uninterruptedly worshipped inside the disputed structure with the belief that the inner sanctum was the birth-place of Lord Ram. These evidences included two access gates and umpteen Hindu structures at the site, three inscriptions, Vishnu Hari inscriptions, ASI findings from the site, citations from the religious scriptures and texts, books, travelogues and gazetteers, and so on.
On the other hand, Muslims’ case was based on the Historians’ report prepared in hush-hush at the behest of Babri Masjid Action Committee and lawyers’ endeavour to challenge and deny evidences produced by Hindu side. During the cross-examination in Supreme Court, the surviving member of the Historians panel conceded flaws in their report including some of them had not even visited Ayodhya and that the ASI report was not at all considered by them. Thus, nearly five centuries’ struggle of the followers of Lord Ram fructified with the Bhumi Pujan for the temple construction and in that sense it was indeed an occasion for jubilation of the victory of truth and faith of the Sanatana Dharmese Hindus world over. The judgment was unique for two reasons: First, according to the judges, a subject which was purely a matter of faith and religious belief was decided on only facts and evidences; secondly, the bench comprised of five judges has delivered the verdict unanimously, a rare feat seldom observed in higher judiciary dealing with the contentious issues.
Under the verdict of the Supreme Court of the country, an independent trust in the name of “Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra” has been set up by the Government of India for the construction and management of Shri Ram Janmbhumi temple at Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the formation of the trust in the Lok Sabha on 5 February 2020, which has been given the earlier disputed 2.77 acre (awarded to Shri Ramlalla Virajman) land as well as about 67.7 acre land acquired under the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993 following the Supreme Court verdict in this regard. The trust has 15 trustees headed by Mahant Nrityagopal Das, Swami Govind Dev Giriji Maharaj as Treasurer, Shri Champat Rai, General Secretary and Shri Anuj Jha, ex-officio trustee, Collector & DM Ayodhya. Some other prominent members include Shri K. Parasaran, main counsel who represented the deity in the apex court, and government nominees Shri Nripendra Mishra, Shri Gyanesh Kumar and Shri Avnish Awasthi. The Trust is expected to plan, execute and supervise completion of the Temple Project as per the orders of the apex court.
Reaction of Political Parties, Muslim Leaders and Clerics
Asaduddin Owaisi, the President of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, is one leader who considers himself as the messiah of the Indian Muslims and, therefore, he often remains in news and controversies due to his politics centred around the Muslims and Dalits. Soon after the completion of the bhumi pujan ceremony at Ayodhya which was marked with the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the State Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath at the invitation of the organizers, Owasi chose to make personal attack on Modi and his Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) suggesting India has no more remained a secular country and that Modi has laid foundation of a “Hindu Rashtra”. Earlier on the day, he had also tweeted: “#BabriMasjid thi, hai aur rahegi inshallah #BabriZindaHai”. Though he has made many scathing and sarcastic remarks on Modi, BJP and RSS in the past but the recent Babri Masjid remark found support of many Muslim organizations and clerics as well.
Prime Minister Modi has been visiting many religious shrines without reservations or discrimination belonging to Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and so on in the past. For instance, during his two-days visit to the United Arab Emirates, he had visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi in 2015, the iconic Chulia mosque in Singapore in 2018 and the Saifee mosque in Indore, India during the same year. He also visited the Golden temple in Amritsar that in 2016, a highest seat of the Sikh religion. Similarly, he visited Saint Anthony’s church to show solidarity and healing touch in Colombo, where the Easter attacks by the Islamic terrorists had killed over 250 people in 2019. These are few illustrations of his spirit of paying respect to all religions but being a Hindu by birth and a devout devotee of Sri Ramchandra, if he visits Ayodhya on invitation, the democracy and secularism of this great nation is endangered, if the views of the sectarian leaders like Owasi and some opposition parties, particularly of the Congress leaders, is to be reckoned.
The main opposition political party Congress has always been in dilemma in religious matters. While they have openly pursued the appeasement policy towards the minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians, for the decades, they have often been found oscillating in the context of the Hindus faith keeping the significance of the electorate to stay in power. Consequently, their response towards the religious matters is often mixed; for instance, two key leaders of the party criticized Modi’s visit to Singapore mosque citing “he refuses to put on Muslim cap in India and offers Chader (religious sheet) at mosque in abroad”. While maintaining rather a sober and cool stance on bhumi poojan at Ayodhya, the heir apparent Gandhi scion took a dig on the occasion on Modi by saying that Lord Ram was love, he could never appear in cruelty, hatred or injustice. In his fiery speeches against Modi, he has been often accusing him of pursuing the politics of hatred. He, however, also added that Maryada Purshottam Lord Ram was the ultimate embodiment of supreme human values and that he is the core of humanism embedded deep in our hearts. The dilemma of the country’s oldest party about the Muslim electorate could also be gauged from the fact that they often label Owaisi as an agent of BJP.
However, a for more damaging and dangerous threat for the communal peace and harmony in future was perceived from the reactions of many Muslim political leaders and members of All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) that simultaneously exposes the religious intolerance and pseudo-secularism of the so-called community leaders, and self-proclaimed liberals and intellectuals in this country. Many of these hatemongers have termed Prime Minister’s participation in bhumi poojan as against the spirit of secularism enshrined in the Constitution. Needless to mention they are the same people who have incited the Muslim community with a view to radicalise them on various pretexts in the past. Here it should also be remembered that the BJP has constantly pitched for the construction of the aforesaid temple with the item also appearing in their previous election manifestoes but they also simultaneously insisted that the construction should be done only after peaceful resolution of the dispute about the ‘title suit’ pending in the apex court.
Even ahead of the bhumi poojan ceremony, the AIMPLB issued a threat against the construction of Ram Temple in an assertion to undo the alleged ‘injustice’ that was meted out to the community by the country’s judiciary in the Ram Janmbhumi Temple – Babri Mosque dispute. Citing history, the Board notification said ‘Situations do not last forever’. Incidentally, it is the same Board that had constantly vouched for years to abide by the verdict of the Supreme Court, decision of which was unanimous with due representation of the community in the panel of judges. In their controversial remarks, the Islamic body maintained that the demolished structure will remain a mosque for them till eternity. The menacing threat issued by them drew a parallel with the “Hagia Sophiya”, 1500-year-old Orthodox Christian Cathedral in Istanbul, Turkey, forcibly converted into a mosque during the Ottoman rule in 1453, turned into a museum during the progressive reforms by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and has again been recently converted into a mosque by the present Muslim President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has often been criticized for radical changes.
AIMPLB tweet dated 4 August 2020 reads as under:
#BabriMasjid was and will always be a Masjid. #HagiaSophia is a great example for us. Usurpation of the land by an unjust, oppressive, shameful and majority appeasing judgment can’t change it’s status. No need to be heartbroken. Situations don’t last forever.#
Surprisingly, even after showing unclenching faith in judiciary, exhausting all legal remedies available and the fact that the verdict was unanimous with due representation of the Muslim judge too on the bench, the Board now has presented a twisted and misleading interpretation of the judgment suggesting that the “Supreme Court has given its verdict but has embarrassed justice”, among many other hard hitting utterances maintaining that “at whichever place a masjid is established, it remains a masjid there forever till eternity. Hence the Babri masjid was a masjid before, is a masjid today and shall Inshallah remain a masjid”.
A day after the bhumi poojan at Ayodhya, another Maulana Sajid Rashidi from All India Imam Association stated that Prime Minister Modi has violated Constitution by visiting Ayodhy. He even threatened that ‘believers of justice’ will demolish Ram Mandir and rebuild disputed structure. He asserted that Babri Masjid was not built after demolishing a temple but the temple will now be demolished to rebuild it. Reportedly, speaking to Asian News International, Maulana said, “Islam says a mosque will always be a mosque. It can't be broken to build something else. We believe it was, and always will be a mosque. Mosque wasn't built after demolishing temple but now maybe temple will be demolished to build mosque." It is a strange paradox in this country that when the Prime Minister belonging to majority community visits mosque, church and gurudwara, the move is welcomed but when he participated in any cultural or religious function of Hindu community, self-proclaimed guardians of religion and society declare the move as communal and violation of the Constitution.
However, this was not merely the AIMPLB and clerics but many other Islamist politicians and prominent community leaders also experienced a tremendous meltdown on social media platforms, electronic and print media to spew venom on the auspicious day and thereafter. For instance, the Samajwadi leader and MP Shafiqur Rahman Barq from Sambhal, Uttar Pradesh said in his controversial statement that Ayodhya had Babri Masjid and it will always remain a Masjid because once a Masjid is formed on a piece of land, it always remains part of Masjid. None can erase this. In the recent past, the same MP had led violent protests at Sambhal against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Similarly, an advocate and AIMPLB member Jafaryab Jilani objected to participation of PM and UP, CM in the ceremony stating the secular credential of nation was in peril and once again raised questions on the existence of temple at the site ever and doubts about the birth and existence of Lord Ram.
In a nutshell, the Islamists not only rejected the move of constructing the Ram Temple at the historic site but also criticised the Supreme Court judgement on the Ram Janmabhumi case to claim that site at which Ram Mandir is being built will always be a disputed structure and that the history will be repeated again at opportune time notwithstanding the fact that they miserable failed to establish own case and claims in the apex court. Ignoring facts, they continue to assert the Islamic ideology and establishment of an Islamic regime where any other faith has no place; although majority of them do not say it publicly in so many words but continue to deliver their hate and bigotry under the garb of secularism, democratic rights and the freedom of expression. Also, they vehemently oppose moderate and liberal Muslim faces in India and elsewhere such as Salman Rushdie, Tarek Fateh and Taslima Nasreen who dare to speak and write against Islamic radicalism.
However, it is not that all Muslims are against the bhumi poojan and construction of Ram Temple at Ayodhya; in fact, the majority of them are religious but peace loving and want to stay clear from any conflict or controversy. For instance, Iqbal Ansari son of the late Hashim Ansari, who was main litigant in Ayodhya dispute, has accepted the Supreme Court verdict with all humility and grace since beginning, and on the invite extended to him on the occasion, he reportedly stated that it was the wish of Lord Ram that he has been invited by the Trust for Bhumi Puja. He said that the Supreme Court has given its order and no politics should be done now and also that Ayodhya is a place where Hindus and Muslims have always lived peacefully. Few other Muslims responded that they had converted to Islam but changing their religion didn’t change their ancestors and they would be happy to celebrate the occasion with their Hindu brethren.
Global Reaction on Bhumi Poojan
Although the Hindus world over celebrated and rejoiced the occasion in their own way by organising puja, lighting diyas, crackers etc, otherwise the occasion did not receive much attention in global community. However, Pakistan and left leaning global media reacted in usual manner of disseminating false propaganda and misinformation through misreporting against India and Hindus.
Soon after the event, Pakistan promptly criticised India saying the extreme haste shown in starting the construction of the temple at the Babri Masjid site amidst the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic and several other measures, is a clear indication how Muslims are being “marginalised” there. The Pakistan Foreign Office statement release said, “The flawed judgment of the Indian Supreme Court paving the way for construction of the temple not only reflected the preponderance of faith over justice but also the growing majoritarianism in today’s India, where minorities, particularly Muslims and their places of worship, are increasingly under attack.” To counter Pakistani propaganda, the Ministry of External Affairs reacted on the following day that the neighbouring country should desist from interfering in India’s internal affairs and refrain from communal incitement.
Though the Western mainstream media did not have widespread attention on the event, but the left leaning prominent newspapers like the Washington Post’s reporting was on the usual predictable lines. For instance, Rana Ayyub, the alleged Global Opinions contributing writer (a non-descript Indian otherwise), who is a regular Hindu and Modi basher, contributed under the title “India marks another day of erasure and insult against its Muslim citizens”. Recalling a year-old event of abrogation of Article 370 on Kashmir, where, according to Rana, 7 million people have been living with increased repression under the brutal military occupation and Internet blackout, she wrote the day (5th August) added insult of a grand function in the city of Ayodhya, where the Babri mosque’s destruction led to a nationwide attack on Muslims in 1992. The truth is the disputed structure was indeed demolished by Hindu karsewaks in December 1992 after over a century’s unsuccessful struggle to resolve the dispute but the backlash led to violence and destruction of hundreds Hindu temples and other religious sites in India , Pakistan and Bangladesh and deaths occurred mainly due to clashes between the police and frenzied Muslim mobs.
A Suggested Saner Approach
Most Hindus have an ingrained and unshakeable faith in Maryada Purushottam Ram, who besides being an icon of ethics and virtues is also considered an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, whose saga has inspired the psyche and conduct of millions in India and elsewhere for thousands of years. Most of them believe the disputed site as Lord Ram’s birth place; hence the utterly contentious and acrimonious dispute agitated the mind of devout Hindus for centuries and was under bitter contested litigation for over last seven decades in various courts. The dispute was also one of the main reasons of deteriorating relations and communal conflicts between the two major communities in India. The Supreme Court indeed deserves full credit and laurel for showing grit and resolve to decide the issue through a long and continuous hearing in a unanimous verdict.
The verdict of the Supreme Court on the “Title Suit” of Ram Janmbhumi – Babri Masjid dispute on 9 November 2019 will certainly be remembered as a historical event. The judgment is unique for two reasons: First, according to the judges, a subject which was purely a matter of faith and religious belief was decided on only facts and evidences; secondly, the bench comprised of five judges including a Muslim member has delivered the verdict unanimously, a rare feat seldom observed in higher judiciary while dealing with the contentious issues. The verdict has an added significance in the backdrop that umpteen attempts of government, civil society, mediators and courts remained futile to arrive at an out of court settlement in the past. This judgment has paved the way for ending almost 500 years old dispute which was the cause for many communal clashes and loss of human lives and property.
As for the faith and belief of Hindus regarding birth and life of Lord Ram at Ayodhya, it was not disputed even by the Muslim litigants at any stage; the consideration of the Supreme Court bench was confined to only a limited submission as to whether the disputed site was the place of birth of Lord Ram or not. During the court proceedings, the pleaders of Muslim side mainly depended on a report of a group of historians at the behest of the Babri Masjid Action Committee and refutation of the evidences produced by the Hindu side. On the other hand, the Hindu side produced ample and solid evidences, witnesses and alibis from the structures of the disputed site itself, inscriptions, ASI report, books, travelogues, gazetteers, ancient scriptures and text to prove their continuous worship at the disputed site. Hence it is grossly unfair by any party or person to question Supreme Court verdict so heavily relied on evidences and facts. Any religious edict or belief cannot overrule or undermine the law of the land which is equally applicable and binding on all communities and citizens.
The much-hyped euphoria of Supreme Court judgment dismantling of imagined wall between the two communities to usher in peace and unity had started evaporating only within a couple of days with sharp reaction and unreconciliatory remarks emerging from the hardliner clergy, community leaders and politicians. Some blogs and utterances of the self-styled intellectuals and liberals of this country also appeared raising question marks on the jurisprudence of Supreme Court. All this by few saboteurs vitiates the communal harmony and atmosphere in the country. A true religion and human spirit is one that allows coexistence and prosperity of people of all faith together. This is a historical fact that thousands of Hindu temples were destroyed and desecrated by the Muslim invaders and rulers in the past, evidences and remnants of which are still available at several sites but Hindus have pursued with such resolve and grit only for the restoration of Ram Janmbhumi Temple. Like Christians and Jews have sacred faith in Yarusalem and Muslims have it in Mecca, Hindus too have a similar faith in Lord Ram and his birth place at Ayodhya. Hence the community leaders and clerics with vested interests must stop the policy of hate and intolerance for the larger interests of both communities and nation.
It is so ironical that the civilization and culture which never invaded or violated any alien country or culture during its vast history comprising of several millennia, is struggling today for the survival of its own cultural and creedal traditions at home despite its majority populace. President of Turkey, in the capacity of being representative of the majority population there, arbitrarily orders conversion of an erstwhile church turned museum into a mosque but the majority population in India with same leadership had to undergo a legal battle for almost seventy years to restore its symbol of culture and faith during almost five centuries of struggle. Notwithstanding, even the court verdict has not guaranteed its safety because even before the start of the temple construction, the threats of its demolition and reconversion to a mosque have emanated from the other community in the garb of democratic right and freedom of expression. This aggressive posturing in utter disregard to the court verdict and popular sentiments of the majority population of this country invites fears of doom rather than an occasion to rejoice; although it is difficult to have a premonition of what nemesis awaits in future.
There is no point in writing or reproducing here again what has been documented about Ayodhya and Ram in at least over two and a-half millennia old scriptures like Brahmanda Purana and Skanda Purana (Christianity is a little over two millennia and Islam about 1,400 years old) as cynics and detractors are still raising doubts about the very existence of Lord Ram or Ayodhya even after the Supreme Court verdict, arguing both as the mythological or fictional character and place. But this is certainly a very dangerous trend in a land which traditionally delivered the message of Sarva Dharma Sambhava (All religions are the same) and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the whole world is one family). Also, such hateful utterances are also a source of resentment and polarization on communal lines sowing seeds for conflicts. This is high time that the peace-loving people in both the communities identify and disown such communal and hardliner faces that constantly misguide and exploit people for own vested interests. Hindus are known to act decisively when constantly pushed to wall. Hence the growing polarization of communities is neither in the interest of people nor for the future of this country with democratic and secular credentials.