The Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir dispute is like the proverbial ghost that comes to haunt Indian politics every election season. However, cases of such far-reaching consequences should not and must not be decided in haste. Which is why the apex court has, in my view, taken the right decision in resisting attempts to fast-track a decision on an issue that has divided our polity like no other in independent India.
The Ayodhya issue has caused tumoil in India like no other. (Photo: PTI)
The mandir-masjid issue has made its presence felt, to varying degrees, in almost every election since 1989. Though the dispute goes back centuries, it came to the fore after the unlocking of locks at the disputed site in February 1986. The unlocking was a kind of a balancing act by the Rajiv Gandhi-led government to appease the majority community that was hugely upset with the government for capitulating to demands from the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) to reverse the Supreme Court judgement in the Shah Bano case a fortnight earlier. In the Shah Bano case, the apex court had ruled that it was mandatory for Muslim men to provide alimony for their divorced wives.
Rajiv Gandhi felt Ayodhya was a good 'Hindu' counter after Shah Bano politics. (Photo: PTI)
Both the Congress and the BJP were quick to latch onto the potential gains that could accrue from politicising the mandir-masjid dispute – and both parties began jostling fiercely for the Hindu vote.
The Congress sought to take ownership of the movement, with Rajiv Gandhi starting his election campaign from Faizabad in October 1989, by calling for Ram Rajya. A couple of weeks later, on November 8, the government told the court that it had no objections to the shilanayas being performed at the site as in its view, it was not a part of the disputed site. A day later, the VHP performed shilanayas – and, in effect, laid the foundations for the temple to be built on the site.
It was the BJP that gained the most politically once it decided to unreservedly campaign in favour of the temple. At its Palampur convention, the BJP formally adopted a resolution pledging to build a grand Ram Temple in Ayodhya. The move reaped rich political dividends for the BJP – and in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, it won 85 seats compared to the two seats it had won in 1984.
BJP gained the most politically from the Ram Temple movement. (Photo: IndiaToday)
The BJP's association with the Ram Mandir movement has proved to be extremely beneficial for it in electoral terms. Seeking to consolidate its gains, LK Advani embarked onto Somanath for an Ayodhya yatra to press for the construction of the temple – and in the 1991 polls, the party won 120 seats, that number went up to 161 in 1996, and to 182 in 1998.
The last couple of weeks has seen a concerted attempt to ratchet up the pressure for an expeditious hearing and judgment on the centuries-old dispute. The all-powerful RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat has called on the government to enact a law to facilitate the building of the temple at Ayodhya, while Union Minister Giriraj Singh has issued an ominous warning, saying he shudders to think of the consequences once the patience of the majority community runs out on the mandir issue.
They all have views on Ayodhya. But only one of them should decide. (Photo: DailyO)
The Supreme Court has scheduled the next hearing of the case for January, when it will decide on the timetable and schedule for the hearing and also, the composition of the bench to take up the matter. The position taken by the Court is an eminently sensible one. It has done what it could to try and keep politics out of an issue that has, in the past, led to large-scale violence, the loss of innocent lives and divided the Indian polity like never before.
The Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid dispute, like everything else, must be decided within the framework of the Constitution and according to the laws of the land - not through assertions of numbers or the threat of force. It is time for wise heads to prevail, and like all civilised and law-abiding countries, let us keep the faith with our legal system. We must all wait for the Supreme Court to decide in its wisdom and once the verdict is delivered, irrespective of what it is, we need to accept it, close this chapter and move on as a country.