Happily, reality differs from appearance in this case. The Apex Court has not legitimised the movement to demolish the mosque. On the contrary, it says quite explicitly that the destruction of the mosque was a crime. Further, it says that ending Muslim prayer in the mosque after idols were installed inside the mosque in 1949 was illegal and unfair. It is because of this injustice done to Muslims that the Court has directed grant of five acres of land in Ayodhya to the Wakf Board for construction of a mosque. The Court reiterates the principle of equality of faiths that informs the Constitution. The judgment, by itself, does not dilute India’s commitment to secularism.
The Court verdict is based on the preponderance of evidence, not the intensity of faith. What this means is that if the temple movement had taken the route of litigation and the judicial system had worked with efficacy and dispatch, the legal system would have ruled the site as belonging to the Hindus. Would the Court have ordered demolition of the mosque, too?
This is something the verdict has not addressed. The mosque was not just a place of worship built over another place of worship but a four-century-old edifice. Should historical importance outweigh religious significance? The Court was spared having to answer this question by virtue of the mosque having been demolished, in any case. A happy compromise, perhaps, would have been for the historical structure, the mosque, to be transplanted, at a location nearby, away from the site many Hindus believe to the birthplace of one of their principal gods.
The Supreme Court has rubbished the Allahabad High Court’s legally tenuous, attempted compromise of dividing the disputed site into three parts (although the judgment refers to trifurcation repeatedly as bifurcation). This is most welcome.
How does the verdict impact the agenda encapsulated by the slogan, Kashi Mathura baki hain (Kashi and Mathura remain, referring to temples where mosques have been built alongside)? Forcible destruction of any edifice is a crime, asserts the verdict. But what if litigation is initiated? Would historical possession be deemed to overrule subsequent history? The verdict does not offer much insight on the subject. Political sense would have to moderate the debate. Since demolishing mosques is no longer a pre-requisite to establish political Hindutva, the salience of this demand has ebbed.
Suppose the Qutub Minar turns out to have been built at the site, and with the salvaged parts, of a demolished temple; should the Minar be torn down and the temple resurrected? Most people would think the historicity of the tower should prevail over the harm done to a temple a long while ago.
Acts of aggression and conquest in history are part of what humanity is today. They cannot be separately identified, reversed or provided recompense. We move on.
In fact, the Indian polity has moved on. The aim of the Ayodhya campaign was to demolish the mosque built by Babar, the stress being on Wahin in Mandir wahin banayenge (We’ll build the temple there itself). Once that political project succeeded, building the temple was like clearing the debris, an act of tidying up, which matters far less.
If the judgment had failed to label the demolition of the mosque as a crime, it would have been extremely problematic. If the judgment had failed to recognise the injustice sustained by Muslim worshippers since their prayer was barred in 1949, it would have eroded the Court’, and therefore, the Indian state’s secular authority. It does not fail on this score, however, and it offers a solution that allows India’s society and polity to move forward, beyond divisive identity politics.
This column cannot conclude without a mea culpa. The present writer has held that Ayodhya-Babri mosque is a dispute of faith, which cannot be settled by the courts and so, the Supreme Court should refuse to entertain the suit. As it has turned out, the Court would appear to have, indeed, found a solution that strengthens the secularism.