- Why the sudden decision to give up the claim to Babri mosque?
- What will this mean for the Hindu-Muslim divide in India? What will it mean for the Modi government?
- Next steps for a resolution
- The long and bloody history attached to this issue
Dubai: India’s more-than-a century-old flashpoint, the Ram temple-Babri mosque dispute, appears to be heading towards a resolution, Gulf News can exclusively reveal.
The row over the land in the city of Ayodhya, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, has resulted in violent sectarian clashes and thousands of deaths since the 1947 declaration of independence.
Its escalation in December 1992 when the Mughal-era Babri mosque was demolished by a mob of Hindu zealots was especially wrought with communal tensions, and triggered a wave of nationwide riots that permanently altered the social and political landscape of the country.
A breakthrough is thought to be on the horizon after Muslims started engaging with a panel appointed by India’s Supreme Court, which is hearing a clutch of petitions by Hindus and Muslims claiming the rights over the small piece of land where the mosque once stood.
Hindus believe that their deity Ram was born on the very spot the mosque stood and that a temple that celebrated his birth was demolished by a Mughal general.
The Supreme Court’s mediation panel, which includes Justice FM Ibrahim Kalifulla, spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu, was set up in March and since then it has met litigants, hundreds of religious personalities, including 300 imams, and members of civil society.
The panel has been directed to submit its report by July 18. Given the sensitivity of the case, the Supreme Court has barred Indian media from reporting deliberations.
Gulf News has been briefed by sources who have closely followed the panel and attended proceedings of the mediation panel in several cities, including Ayodhya, Lucknow, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai.
“A majority of the Muslim litigants have decided to settle this dispute by giving up the claim on the mosque site and allow construction of a Ram temple. There is a consensus that the dispute is a dead horse and [there is] no point in flogging it,” a source told Gulf News. This source spoke to Gulf News on the condition of anonymity.
“A consensus is evolving among Muslims that this is the best chance to settle the dispute. The first signal of their changing stance came during a meeting of [the] media panel in May when members of [the] Muslim Personal Law Board hinted at handing over the outer courtyard of the mosque to Hindus,” the source added.
Earlier, a prominent Muslim cleric from Lucknow, Maulana Salman Husaini Nadwi, had sought a resolution.
“The only way of resolving the problem was to shift the ‘masjid’ (mosque) from the disputed site with an assurance and undertaking for the protection of all [other] mosques in the country. The peace treaty signed by the Prophet [Mohammad; PBUH] (known as Hudaibiya Pact) is a shining example on how to avoid conflict and clash. Mosques have been relocated and shifted in the past. We tried to reach an amicable settlement to the dispute through mediation with the help of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (founder of Art of Living NGO),” he was quoted as saying by Indian daily Hindustan Times.
Why are Muslims giving up their claim?
“I have noticed big a change in perception among Muslims in the last 20 years and they believe that Babri is no longer an issue of life and death,” prominent Muslim businessman Zafar Sareshwala told Gulf News on Sunday.
“Muslims are not under any illusion of getting a favourable court verdict,” he said, explaining why Muslims believe that the mediation panel is the best way to settle the row.
A settlement of this dispute “will end the discord between India’s Hindus and Muslims to an extent”, he said.
The parties engaging with the mediation panel “must build a consensus among the community, and the terms and conditions of the settlement must be explicitly stated,” he said. Muslims must get an assurance that once the Ayodhya dispute is settled, no other issue will be raked up, he added.
Athar Hussain, director of Centre for Objective Research and Development, a Lucknow-based think tank, told Gulf News on Sunday: “We want a new beginning in this country…this is a golden opportunity and a solution will be good for the community. Within Islamic jurisprudence there is enough scope for such a solution.”
Islamic jurisprudence says that “any place of worship where Muslims have stopped praying should be returned to the owner of the property. In this case, the owner of Babri mosque was Mughal emperor Babur, who ruled India, and his successor is the Government of India. So the land on which the mosque stood till 1992 can be returned to the government,” Hussain explained.
What are Muslims expecting in return?
Sources familiar with the deliberations told Gulf News that Muslim leaders have made two key demands.
“One, they want the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, to be made watertight by a guarantee from the Supreme Court. This law prohibits conversion of any place of worship and provides for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on August 15, 1947,” one leader said.
Secondly, he added, the community should be allowed to pray at the 600 places of worship that are under the custody of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Another demand, supported by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, is to allow the restoration and renovation of 37 mosques in Ayodhya.
“Some members of Muslim civil society suggested reservation for Muslims in education but the mediation panel’s mandate does not cover socio-economic issues impacting the community,” he explained.
What will happen next?
The Supreme Court will hear the case on July 18 when the mediation panel is expected to submit a progress report. The panel has sought time until August 15 to submit its final findings.
“Our deliberations with the mediation panel have been good so far and we are hopeful for a solution if the panel is allowed to continue till August 15. But if the panel is dissolved then we are ready to fight the case in the court,” Kamal Farooqui, member of All India Personal Law Board, told Gulf News on Sunday.
Farooqui, however, hinted that the community remains flexible.
“Right from day one, Muslims were not adamant, they wanted a peaceful solution. I cannot divulge more as I am duty bound by the Supreme Court order.”
Another source, who attended the talks, said the media panel’s progress report is likely to include written assurances from key Muslim litigants giving up the claim on the site.
“I believe the panel will circulate the draft of the progress report for their signatures and then it will be up to the Supreme Court to decide the next step,” the source explained.
The importance of the Babri mosque
The Babri mosque was built by Mir Baqi, a general in Mughal emperor Babur’s army in 1528. Hindus say that the mosque was built after destroying a temple built on the spot their deity Ram was born in Ayodhya.
On December 6, 1992, a mob led by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders demolished the mosque, triggering nationwide violence.
The event resulted in the killing of around 2,000 people. In Mumbai alone, around 900 people were killed, according to some estimates.
In 2003, a team of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) said it found structures below the mosque site. The findings were contested by independent archaeologists, both Hindus, who accused the ASI of procedural lapses in carrying out excavations.
Long legal history
The first court case to build a temple was filed by Mahant Raghubar Das in 1885. The court rejected the application and an appeal was also rejected in 1934.
Since then, Hindus filed several petitions in 1950 and 1959, and Muslims filed a suit in 1961 seeking the removal of idols that were placed inside the mosque in December 1949.
In 1986, a court allowed the locks on the mosque’s doors to be opened.
After the demolition in 1992, the case was split into two: One, a criminal case against the BJP leaders who led the mob; and two, a civil case on the rightful ownership of the 2.77 acres of land on which the mosque stood.
In 2010, a high court divided the plot into three parts and ordered it to be handed over to Ram [the deity was considered a living being], and religious groups Nirmohi Akhara and Sunni Waqf Board. This verdict was challenged in the Supreme Court by Hindus and Muslims, and a mediation panel was set up in March this year to attempt an out-of-court settlement.
The political fallout
A solution to the Ayodhya issue will be a big boost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image if the government plays its cards well, a source said.
The government will have to provide political backing to any solution suggested by the mediation panel.
For example, the person explained, the government may have to provide guarantees on enforcing Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. However, the biggest challenge before the government may come from Hindu litigants who want to control the proposed Ram temple, he added.