Babri Masjid
Babri Masjid

Such headings have often been used in news and views published in various languages. But I am using it again. The special CBI court in Lucknow delivered its verdict on 30 September in the Babri Masjid demolition case. The case had been filed 27 years ago against 49 persons, including top BJP leaders, accusing them of conspiracy, planning and instigating the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Among them, 17 have passed away. The court unconditionally acquitted the remaining 32 as there was no ‘conclusive proof’ against them. The acquitted include leaders like Lal Krishna Advani, Murali Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh.

The court verdict stated that as institutions, the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS) and the Vishva Hindu Parishad were neither directly not indirectly involved in the matter. The court did not find conclusive evidence to prove the crime. The court ascribed the demolition of the mosque to spontaneous public outrage, saying that those who carried out the deed were anti-social elements. The accused, on the other hand, had tried to prevent them, the court said.

Advertisement

The question may arise as to how deeds of anti-social elements can be ‘spontaneous public outrage’. There also needs research into why this sudden public anger flared up. In the days leading up to the demolition of the mosque, RSS, BJP and its affiliated organisations had stirred up a fanatic communal frenzy around India.

I do not think this verdict is anything to be surprised about. In this region the culture hasn’t grown where leaders of the ruling party are ever punished in cases against them, and India is no exception.

It began with the 1990 Ram Rath Yatra of Lal Krishna Advani. Everyone is well aware of the vicious vitriol spewed out by Advani, Uma Bharti, Ritambara and others over the following two years. Then in December 1992, the kar sevaks were gathered in front of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya with the clear intention of destroying the mosque.

The media is replete with pictures of these leaders beaming and distributing sweets after the demolition of the mosque. But the honourable judge did not take these into cognizance as the speeches were unclear and it hadn’t been possible to verify the veracity of the audio and video tapes.

Writing from New Delhi, Ashish Gupta also questioned if no one felled the Babri mosque. He wrote that the Liberhan Commission submitted their report December 1992, saying that this destruction of the result of a long and detailed plan. RSS and Vishva Hindu Parishad funds had been collected and preparations were made, assigning people to various tasks in the demolition. From the tools which were brought along to demolish the mosque, it is obvious that this was a well prepared plan. Justice Liberhan saw this court verdict as an absolute farce.

Advertisement

I do not think this verdict is anything to be surprised about. In this region the culture hasn’t grown where leaders of the ruling party are ever punished in cases against them, and India is no exception.

The verdict in the main case pertaining to Babri Masjid must also be taken into consideration. From when it was constructed in 1528 till the partition of India, this structure was used as a mosque. It was only in 1885 that a priest called Raghubir Das claimed that this was the birthplace of Rama and asked the Faizabad district court for permission to set up a canopy outside the mosque. The court rejected the appeal.

After partition, in 1949, someone placed a statue of Rama in the mosque in the deep of night. The next day claims were made that Rama himself had placed his statue there. The administration locked the entrance of the mosque just to maintain peace. Three cases were filed.

In 1950, Ramchandra Das and some others asked for permission to keep the Rama statute in place and allow them to worship there.

In 1959 an organisation called Nirmohi Akhra asked to be given the entire mosque property to construct the temple Ram Mandir there.

In 1960 the Sunni Waqf Board asked for the property to be handed over to them.

In 1986 for the first time the bias of the court was apparent when the local court ordered the mosque to be unlocked so that puja could be performed there.

The first full-fledged verdict came in 2010. By then extremists had demolished the mosque. The Allahabad court has directed that the property be divided into three, among the Nirmohi Akhra, the Sunni Waqf Board and ‘Ram Lala’. In an unprecedented manner, the court saw the scriptural character Rama as one of the parties in the case pertaining to ownership.

An appeal was lodged against the verdict with the Supreme Court. The court on 9 November 2019 gave its verdict, instructing the government to form a trustee board and hand over the property for the construction of Ram Mandir.

Advertisement
The Indians proudly claim their country to be the world’s largest democracy. The country has regular elections and the government is changed through elections. But democracy is more than just elections. A strong democracy needs a strong society and strong state institutions.

The verdict is riddled with contradictions and discrepancies. One, this structure had been a mosque for 450 years, but rather than taking this into consideration, focus was placed on someone sometime performing puja there.

Two, the verdict termed the placing of the statue in the mosque in 1949 and the demolition in 1992 both as criminal offences, yet gave its verdict in favour of the objective of these crimes.

Three, the court mentioned people’s sentiment. It is quite novel to take sentiment into consideration in a property ownership case. Also, there could be sentiments on both sides.

BJP, Vishva Hindu Parishad and many more organisations and individuals hailed the court verdict. Even Priyanka Gandhi hailed the Supreme Court’s verdict. It was from Rajiv Gandhi’s rule that the Congress took a lenient attitude towards Hindutva in order to appease the Hindutva extremists. That did not do them much good. In fact, the secular votes slipped away to the smaller parties.

Advertisement

The long cherished dream of the Indian Hindutva groups is not materialising. The construction of Ram Mandir on the site of the demolished Babri Masjid was inaugurated with a puja to worship the ground. The event was held with much pomp and fanfare on 5 August 2020. Prime minister Narendra Modi and other eminent personalities attended the ceremony.

Will the communal conflict end with Ram Mandir? The extremist Hindutva elements have been claiming other mosques too. The success and Ayodhya and impunity for the accused will surely encourage them further.

Breaking mosques and replacing them with temples has more significance than meets the eye. These actions and the court verdict sound warning bells to India’s democracy. The Indians proudly claim their country to be the world’s largest democracy. The country has regular elections and the government is changed through elections. But democracy is more than just elections. A strong democracy needs a strong society and strong state institutions.

Advertisement

Non-communalism is one such institution, as is the rule of law and the judiciary. Non-communalism has to a great extent been expelled from India’s sociopolitical system. People in distress go to the court as their last resort. Despite the erosion of many institutions, the Indian court has been a bright example. But that brightness did not illuminate the two verdicts related to Babri Masjid.

Just as we want democratic institutions in our own country to be strengthened, we want the same for our neighbour India. After all, whatever occurs in India has an impact on us, whether we want it or not.

Md Touhid Hossain is a former foreign secretary of Bangladesh. This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English version by Ayesha Kabir