For Hindus, the site where Lord Ram was born — irrespective of whether this can be historically proved or not — has very special significance.
I cannot understand why anybody — Hindu, Muslim or of any other faith — would oppose the building of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. Even an atheist would accept that purely in terms of numerical democracy, there are millions of Hindus who would like to honour Lord Ram by building a temple in his name in the city where he was born, and to which he belongs. Those who are not atheists but believe that the money spent on constructing the temple can be better used for building a hospital or a school, are being naïve too. Firstly, it is not an either-or scenario: We need hospitals and schools, but those of the faith need places of worship too. And if the “developmental” imperative is so strong, why not a campaign to convert the Rashtrapati Bhavan into a hospital — as Mahatma Gandhi wanted to do in 1947?
Lord Ram is a much loved and respected deity. He is maryada purushottam, the very epitome of rectitude. The Ramayan — whether of Valmiki or Kamban, or the vastly popular Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidasa — are not only works of literary genius but deeply sacred texts. In popular imagination, Lord Ram is the touchstone of right conduct, and the divine guarantor of moksha or salvation. When a Hindu dies, the words chanted by those who take the body for cremation is: “Ram naam satya hai: The name of Ram is the enduring truth”. Gandhiji, who wanted independent India to be as righteous as Lord Ram’s kingdom — Ram Rajya — died to an assassins’ bullets with these two words as his last exclamation: “Hey Ram!”.
So there really can be no credible opposition to the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. The question that can be asked is: How to build it, since the site where it is to be constructed — and where an earlier Ram temple existed — was in Babur’s time replaced by a mosque, the Babri Masjid? That Masjid was condemnably demolished in 1992 by right-wing hoodlums, but the question of title or ownership of the land itself is still contested between Hindu and Muslim groups. Currently, the matter of title is before the Supreme Court, and hearings are to start in January.
It is generally agreed that the matter should be decided either by the judgement of the Supreme Court, or by mutual agreement between all relevant stakeholders to the dispute. This is the civilised way to proceed, and would be in conformity with the maryada always associated with Shri Ram. However, personally, I have my own reservations on whether a matter of faith can be definitively decided by a legal intervention. The Court can decide on title, and that won’t be easy either, given the mass of conflicting evidence, much of it not of a judicial nature. But, even if a judgement is forthcoming, and is interpreted to be against either of the opposed parties, will it put a final closure to the dispute?
The second option is a far better one. A dialogue would be the ideal way to put this acrimonious and divisive issue behind us. For this, both sides will need to curb their inflexible hardline elements, and find a modus vivendi. This is easier said than done. One way could be for Muslims to agree for a mosque to be built at an alternative site, and for Hindus to declare that if this is done there will be a closure to all other disputes of this nature — whether at Kashi or Mathura or anywhere else. The mosque built by Babur does not have any special significance separate from the fact that it is one of the many mosques built by the Muslims after they had invaded India. It has acquired significance because of the condemnable nature in which it was forcefully demolished in 1992. But that is a blot of the past from which lessons have to be learnt, the foremost of which is that such incidents should never happen again. Now we must respond to the imperatives of the present, because so long as this dispute remains unresolved, extremist elements on both the Hindu and Muslim side will continue to draw sustenance.
For Hindus, the site where Lord Ram was born — irrespective of whether this can be historically proved or not — has very special significance. It would be a grand gesture of great import if Muslims agree to allow a temple to be built here, in exchange for a mosque to be built in Ayodhya itself, but at another place. But such a gesture requires Muslim liberal opinion to assert itself, and break the stranglehold that a handful of clerics and ulemas have currently acquired in the matter. The million dollar question is whether moderate Muslim voices will be willing to take this initiative, given that the bulk of both Hindus and Muslims are as keen to put this dispute behind them, and get on with their lives in peace and harmony, by marginalising the kattar-vadis among their communities.
It is sad, however, that while a great many Muslims I know, privately agree to the possibilities of such a solution, very few are willing to come out in the open. It is true that a community that often feels under siege by the inflammatory statements and intimidating actions of Hindu extremists, can retreat into a shell-like fear psychosis. But the question still is relevant: Where are the Muslim liberals? Apart from a few, like Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi, and Shahid Siddiqui, most appear to have opted for silence, and ceded space to the stereotypical mullah, so visible — perhaps by design — on some TV channels.
It is time for Muslims, who have no vested interest in perpetuating this dispute, to become more visible, and if possible, in an organised manner. It is time also for Hindus to facilitate this process by robustly rebutting fanatical Hindu fringe groups. Only when sane elements among both Hindus and Muslims come together can we have a solution to the Ram Mandir issue. It would seem that the best way to do this is to take the negotiating process away from those who only have relevance if this dispute continues to remain unresolved.