I firmly believe that Muslims of India should voluntarily hand over the three disputed sites at Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi to the Hindus. As a token of compromise, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and others should not bargain for the 39,997 other sites.
I am not saying anything new. I have maintained this for the past 40-odd years or so. The Indian Express had even published my opinion in their "Letters to the editor" section on December 15, 1990, when I was serving as deputy superintendent archaeologist (Madras Circle).
I had written: "I can reiterate this (the existence of a Hindu temple before it was displaced by the Babri mosque) with greater authority - for I was the only Muslim who had participated in the Ayodhya excavations in 1976-'77 under Prof BB Lal as a trainee. I have visited the excavation near the Babri site and seen the excavated pillar bases. The JNU historians have highlighted only one part of our findings while suppressing the others... Ayodhya is as holy to the Hindus as Mecca is to the Muslims; Muslims should respect the sentiments of their Hindu brethren and voluntarily hand over the structure for constructing the Ram Temple."
By JNU historians, I meant the Leftist historians such as Irfan Habib, Romila Thapar, DN Jha, Bipin Chandra and RS Sharma who do not want to see a solution to the Ayodhya issue. Till the Allahabad High Court judgment came out on September 30, 2010, these historians maintained that there was no temple beneath the Babri mosque.
I remember speaking to several Muslim groups who were negotiating with the Hindus at the time, and most of them were in favour of an amicable solution. The matter could have ended if the Leftist historians had not brainwashed the Muslim stakeholders and prevented a breakthrough.
A section of the media today has quoted historians like KN Panikkar who have questioned the timing and intention of my book I, an Indian. They have also accused me of serving the interests of the Sangh Parivar ahead of assembly elections in some states, including Kerala from where I hail. I am deeply pained at this. As I have said earlier, I have held this view for four decades.
I am not new to facing criticism and threats for my beliefs. At different points in my career, I have not only faced a backlash from Leftist historians but also the radical Right, such as the VHP and Bajrang Dal, and powerful politicians like Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, for speaking the truth. I have even successfully negotiated with dacoits like Nirbhay Gurjar and the Naxals of Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh for the conservation of monuments.
When I was a superintending archaeologist of the Patna circle between 1997 and 2001, some Hindu fringe elements tried to encroach upon Sher Shah's tomb in Sasaram. After the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) failed to get any support from the local administration, we moved the Patna High Court and obtained a stay on the encroachment.
Syed Shahabuddin, the fiery Muslim leader who was associated with the Babri Masjid demolition case, wrote a letter to the then Union culture minister Ananth Kumar in 2000, praising the ASI's initiative.
Similarly, in Agra, VHP and Bajrang Dal activists started extending a 20th century temple within 500m radius of the Taj Mahal when I was a superintending archaeologist of the Agra Circle between 2001 and 2003. The ASI raised objections over their attempt. The VHP activists attacked my office, broke all furniture. I was fortunate to escape five minutes before the mob came. In spite of the attack, I demolished the illegal structure.
In fact, I can clearly say that Hindu communalism is on the rise in India today because of Islamic fundamentalism.
Hindus and Muslims can still sit together today and reach a solution provided Leftist historians don't interfere. They must show maturity now. Whatever has happened has happened.
(As told to Kumar Shakti Shekhar.)