Secular guilt, secular solution
We could look at the Ayodhya affair from the Hindu angle. The contentious site is a Hindu sacred site, it is not a Muslim sacred site, so it should simply continue as a Hindu place of pilgrimage and be adorned with the appropriate architecture.
We could look at the Ayodhya affair from a Muslim angle. Of course Ayodhya is not sacred to Muslims. It would amount to blasphemy to claim any sacredness for Ayodhya: Allah is everywhere so He doesnt need sacred sites, and to the extent that any place on earth can be called sacred, it is Mecca, not Ayodhya. Yet, Muslim warriors have performed their duty of iconoclasm, replacing an idolatrous temple with a mosque. This creates a clear new situation under Islamic law: once a mosque, always a mosque. Muslims should fight to re-conquer the site, and in case Hindus manage to rebuild their temple, a well-planned bomb attack should remedy that anomaly.
But let us rather look at the Ayodhya affair from a secular viewpoint.
To a secularist in the Western tradition, the whole Ayodhya controversy was a non-issue. For that very reason, he would have favoured a solution that satisfied the community which is the largest, the most attached to the contentious site, and already in possession of the site. That solution would cause the least amount of bad blood, an amount that could certainly be compensated for somehow. The Muslims would get something in exchange for the abandonment of their claim to the site, which doesnt have any special significance in the Islamic worldview. They would even receive something expensive, just to make sure that all sides would be sufficiently accepting of the deal. Appease the clerics on all sides a little bit, so they dont cause any trouble for the rest of us. Not the most principled policy, but a highly secular one and, thank God, a blood-less one.
One such secularist, a modern man ready to deal with the matter pragmatically, was Rajiv Gandhi. He allowed the Hindus to prepare for the construction of a new temple with the ceremonial laying of a foundation stone (shilanyas) on November 9, 1989. He pressured the Chandra Shekhar government, which was dependent on Congress support, into organizing the scholars debate about the historical evidence, in the full knowledge that the temple party would win such a debate hands down. The thrust of his Ayodhya policy was to buy off Muslim acquiescence with some of the usual currency of the Congress culture: maybe nominating a few more Mians as ministers, banning a few Islam-unfriendly books (hence the Satanic Verses affair), raising the Hajj subsidy, providing cheap loans to the Shahi Imams constituency, donating government land for some Islamic purpose, things like that. Meanwhile, Hindus would get their temple. Muslims would have scolded their leaders for selling out, Hindus would have lambasted theirs for cheapening a noble cause with such horse-trading, but in the end, everybody would have accepted it.
Whatever may be said about and against Rajiv Gandhi, he had the calibre and the cool secular distance from religious passions to see such a policy through. Even his anti-temple confidants M.J. Akbar and Mani Shankar Aiyar, the self-described secular fundamentalist, could certainly be brought (or bought) into line. But in 1991 Indias top pilot was killed, and worse, in his years as Indias most important politician, dark forces had started fighting his reasonable and pragmatic policy tooth and nail. The problem was not with the obscurantist Mullahs, because in those days, a seasoned Congress leader knew how to strike win-win deals with them. The poison issued from the secularist intellectuals who raised a media storm against the historical consensus, the one factual certainty underlying all the political confusion. Their stance hardened Muslim intransigence, emboldened the Left in its anti-Hindu strategy and created international public opinion against the temple plan.
The irresponsible and downright evil campaign of history denial by the secularist opinion-makers has prolonged the Ayodhya dispute by at least a decade. Denouncing all pragmatic deals, these secular fundamentalists insisted on having it their way for the full 100%, meaning the total humiliation of the Hindus. They exercised verbal terror against Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao and all politicians suspected of wanting to compromise with the Hindu movement, making them postpone the needed steps towards the solution. This way, they exacerbated the tensions in return for the pleasure of indulging their self-image as implacable secularists. A real secularist would have sought to minimize a religious conflict, but this lot insisted on magnifying it and turning it into a national crisis. For them, it was a holy war, a jihad, just as it was for their Islamist pupils and paymasters.
So, the blood of all the people killed in Ayodhya-related riots from 1989 onwards is at least partly on their heads. The spate of violence in Gujarat in 2002, the genocide about which they cant stop talking, and which was triggered by the Godhra massacre of Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya, may well have been a late result of their slanderous effort to identify Ayodhya with deceitful Hindu fanaticism. Those holier-than-thou secularists are not so innocent.
But now, the historical evidence has definitively been verified. After every single historical and archaeological investigation had confirmed the old consensus, the secularists have now been defeated in the final test. The deceit turns out to be their own. Their lies stand exposed and recorded for all to see. Their strategy to sabotage peace and justice in Ayodhya was based on history falsification. With all the blood on their hands, they have disgraced the fair name of secularism. Henceforth, we should be kind enough to ignore them except to hear the confession of their sins.
Ideas have consequences, and so do lies. Before the eminent historians and other militant secularists are called up to purgatory, they would do well to clear their conscience by offering restitution to the scientists and Hindus they have smeared. And by begging forgiveness from the families of the Hindu and Muslim victims of riots triggered by a controversy that could have been old history already by 1989, had there not been the secularist obstruction.