20. Babri or 'Barabari'?
The Hindustan Times
New Delhi, 19 August 1996
20. Babri or ‘Barabari’?
Sudheendra Kulkarni on Muslims’ choice
Two Prime Ministers, one present and the other his immediate predecessor, have last week made statements about Indian Muslims which, despite the sharp differences in their political ideologies, reveal a remarkable commonality of observation. H.D. Deve Gowda, in an interview given to a major Hindi daily, has stated that ‘the socio-economic conditions of Muslims in some parts of the country are worse than those of Dalits.’ Earlier in the week, addressing a meeting of the Minorities Morcha of the BJP in the Capital, Atal Behari Vajpayee observed that the real issue before Indian Muslims was ‘not Babri but Barabari (equality).1‘ Implicit in this remark is the admission that a majority of Muslims in India are, indeed, victims of inequity.
It is not that what Deve Gowda and Vajpayee have said is not already known to the rest of us. It is sufficient to take a walk through the dilapidated lanes and bylanes of Bombay’s Bhendi Bazaar, which was a proud address for the city’s Muslims only fifty years ago, or visit the awfully unhygienic tanneries of Kanpur, to know how millions of ordinary Muslims live in this country. Unemployment is high, nutritional standards are low, educational facilities are few, housing conditions are shocking; middle and even upper class Muslims find it difficult to get houses on rent; loans and assistance from official sources are hard to come by, and the government machinery (irrespective of which is the ruling party in the state) is unresponsive - such is the woe of common Muslims today.
By no means are Muslims the only victims of such wretched conditions. These are the lot of the poor of all castes and communities. But, in the case of Muslims, they carry a peculiar poignancy - and it is in this context that the uncharacteristically candid statements of two of our important politicians assume significance. It is also in this context that the leaders and intellectuals of Indian Muslims should self-critically analyse why their community’s plight has an added layer of inequity and ask themselves the question: ‘Is it largely because of our own, or our past leaders’, strategic mistakes and missteps? If so, shouldn’t we take corrective steps at least now, when the problem of the present is so stark that it cannot be wished away either by harking back to the past glory of Muslim rule or dreaming about the future promise of Dar-ul-Islam?’
A compelling occasion for Muslim introspection is provided by the 50th year of India’s independence, if for no other reason than the fact that the costliest Muslim misstep is anchored in the epochal event - partition of India - which took place in 1947. The two-nation theory has brought Islamic glory of the most questionable kind to Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh. But to Muslims in India it has brought something worse: it has created a lingering distrust in the minds of Hindus which transcends their party or caste affiliations. This distrust has not disappeared in the past five decades, but assumed darker shades on account of further missteps by the dominant Muslim leadership. And, let us face it, it is this distrust which manifests itself in many ugly and unjustifiable ways to produce that added layer of inequity mentioned earlier.
One of the major Muslim missteps in post-independence India has been the stand of the community’s vocal leaders on the Ayodhya issue. This issue, as also the folly Muslim leaders have committed and are continuing to commit in this matter, is intrinsically linked to the earlier strategic blunder: the two-nation theory. This linkage has been deliberately overlooked by our ultra-secularists in their voluminous and vituperative condemnation of the demand for reconstructing the Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya. The basis of the two-nation theory, as elucidated in the Lahore resolution of the Muslim League in 1940 and as tirelessly articulated by Mohammed Ali Jinnah in his later years, was this: ‘Notwithstanding thousand years of close contact, there is nothing common between Muslims and Hindus spiritually, culturally, socially, linguistically or in their perception of their separate national destinies.’ Such a formulation of Muslim self-identity did not leave any room for Indian Muslims to identify themselves with, and to take pride in, the pre-Islamic and non-Islamic culture and heritage of the land. Indeed, advocates of the two-nation theory could derive legitimacy for their demand for India’s partition only by totally disowning this heritage.
Now, isn’t the Muslim leaders’ vociferous opposition to the Ram Janmabhoomi movement also premised on their refusal to identify themselves with, and to take pride in, India’s pre-Islamic and non-Islamic heritage? Even lesser considerations of forging good-neighbourly relations with Hindus would mandate that Muslims respect the sentiments of the majority community and pave the way for the temple by agreeing to relocate the Babri Mosque. The refusal to take this sensible course, coupled with the false hope that non-BJP governments at the Centre and in Lucknow would implement the Muslim demand in the matter, complicated the issue to the extent of precipitating a major confrontation. The unfortunate and undesirable outcome of this confrontation is too well-known to bear description here.2
But there has been yet another dimension of this outcome which is relevant to our present analysis. The stalemate over Ayodhya has deepened the Hindu distrust towards their Muslim brethren. This, in turn, has further complicated ordinary Muslims’ legitimate search for socio-economic equity and advancement. Muslim leaders and their ultra-secularist non-Muslim supporters would be deceiving themselves if they thought this to be true only in the states ruled by the ‘communal-fascist’ BJP. The fact is, this is more or less the sad case in almost all the states, including those where the BJP is weak and which have long been under Congress or Janata rule.
Equally futile and self-deluding would be the Muslim leaders’ hope that one or the other non-BJP governing combination at the Centre would some day rebuild the Babri Mosque at the same spot. Short of converting India into a Muslim majority land, no power or ploy on earth can make it happen. This much should be obvious even from the fact that, not a single non-BJP party has pledged in its manifesto to rebuild the demolished structure. Look how P.V. Narasimha Rao has stopped reiterating the famous line ‘What has been destroyed will be rebuilt’ - ever since he uttered it, only once, in his 1993 Independence Day speech. Look how Taslimuddin was upbraided by his own partymen for publicly voicing the demand of many Muslim leaders that the idols of Ram Lalla be removed from the make-shift temple in Ayodhya. Look how the United Front is back-tracking on its own key promise in the Common Minimum Programme about referring the Ayodhya matter to the Supreme Court under Article 138(A) of the Constitution, instead of Article 143. And look, also, how the Congress president has openly ridiculed the UF for trying to change the terms of reference, even though his own government’s reference under Article 143 had been rejected by the apex court.
Do Muslim leaders really believe that all this unprincipled hide-and-seek in legalism would bring back the Babri Mosque at the spot where it stood? They must realise at least now that, at its heart, the Ayodhya issue is neither legal nor even political. Its solution will, hence, defy both legalism and electoral politicking. Ayodhya has to do with India’s conception of its own nationhood. It is not too late even now. Muslim leaders have an opportunity to learn from their past mistakes and make themselves and their community equal partners in nation-building. Let them come forward to remove all hurdles in the way of building the Ram Temple. This decisive gesture of goodwill-generation will certainly meet with even more decisive reciprocatory gestures from Hindu community. Together, the two gestures will de-communalise and de-politicise the matter once and for all. This, in turn, will herald a new phase of harmonious Hindu-Muslim relations in India, whose beneficial effect will help in the rejuvenation of the whole of the Indian sub-continent. Clearly, both Hindus and Muslims deserve a different historical fate after 50 years of the blood-soaked partition of our common land.
For this well-deserved fate to befall us, however, Muslim leaders must first make their choice: Babri or Barabari?
Playing with words, flying into poetic fancies, and clowning on public plaltforms have helped Atal Behari Vajpayee to become a crowd-puller and the Big Brother of the BJP if not of the Sangh Parivar as a whole (The latest report about Vajpayee playing with words is provided by The Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 13 June 1997: ‘Addressing an impressive ‘Gujjar rally’ held today [June 12], he [Kanshi Ram] said that the former Prime Minister Vajpayee had called him Shiv in response to his terming the BJP as a cobra.’) If Vajpayee had not swallowed the slogans of Nehruvian Secularism and cared to have a close look at ground realities, he could have seen quite clearly that Muslims in India have been, in George Orwell’s famous words, ‘more equal than others’ ever since Vajpayee’s mentor and model, Jawaharlal Nehru, emerged dominant on the Indian scene. In any case, who told Vajpayee that Muslims would be satisfied if they got barabari? What Muslims have strived for, always and everywhere, is total dominance. ↩
Kulkarni is an excellent illustration of Mirza Ghalib’s famous couplet which may be rendered as follows in English: ‘There is no dearth of dunderheads in the world, O Ghalib. If we go in search of one, we run into thousands (of them).’ One wonders why these wise guys refuse to study the doctrine of Islam and discover the key to Muslim attitudes and behaviour. ↩