Saturday, October 02, 2010

Verdict leaves ‘secular intellectuals’ aghast

By Swapan Dasgupta

The suggestion that India has 'moved on' from the turbulent decade of conflict may have become the shorthand for lazy and facile thinking. Yet, there is more than a grain of truth in the deduction that India's priorities have changed significantly in the past 25 years. Last Thursday's High Court judgment on Ayodhya was followed keenly by the entire country. The authorities were apprehensive that the outcome could trigger disturbances and even rioting. But nothing untoward happened either on Thursday or after the Friday prayers. The sound and fury was confined to the tamasha in the TV studios. There were reports of simmering anger in the 'Muslim street' and a few inflammatory sermons from the pulpit but the disquiet, if any, was internalised.

The matter-of-fact way in which India digested the complex High Court judgment suggests three possibilities. Perhaps people just weren't interested—a plausible explanation in a country where the sense of history is feeble. Maybe, people had heeded the Home Minister's advice and were mulling over the verdict's implications—an implausible explanation in an easily excitable country. Finally, it is indeed possible that most of India thought the verdict—particularly the order for a three-way partition of the contentious 2.77 acres—was fair, just and based on the one thing that counts: robust common sense.

The suggestion that the High Court verdict has enjoyed a spectacular degree of popular acceptance runs counter to the indignation in "intellectual" circles. Not since the Supreme Court's Shah Bano verdict in 1986 was rubbished by clerics and some ministers of the Rajiv Gandhi Government has any court judgment been at the receiving end of so much abuse by so few.

Those who till 4 pm on September 28 were solemnly pontificating on the "majesty of the law" and the overriding importance of the Indian Constitution went completely berserk after it became that the Sunni Waqf Board petition had been rejected and that the court had favoured the Ram lalla deity with possession of its perceived janmasthan. The judgment was compared to a "panchayati" order and "majoritarian conceit" and painted as being so outrageous that it destroyed Muslim faith in the judicial process. Additionally, it was pilloried for having reduced Muslims to second class citizens.

It is understandable that those convinced of a favourable verdict were deeply disappointed. Ironically, the intemperate, inflammatory and indecorous language didn't come from the representatives of either the Sunni Waqf Board or the Muslim Personal Law Board. Apart from the MP from Hyderabad's Razakar party who was his usual provocative self, it was the cream of India's liberal chic that went berserk.

Some of the outburst was predictable. Those whom Arun Shourie dubbed the "eminent historians" were understandably agitated that the High Court judges had the effrontery to discount their 'no-temple-ever' assertions in favour of the evidence culled by the Archaeological Survey of India. Their spirited attempt to reclaim the mantle of sole spokesmen for India's past was understandable. If the courts discount their fatwas, it was only a matter of time before the stifled voices of other historians would make their departmental dominance more fragile.

Also following the script was the apoplectic fury of those who had hitherto been the respectable face of secularist modernity. Their apprehension was any possibility that the Hindu and Muslim leaderships would cut a deal above their heads and make redundant their franchise to speak on behalf of the minority. For two days and courtesy some TV channels, the secular modernists attempted to whip up Muslim opinion against the judgment and use the community's apparent displeasure to force the Government into using its proverbial "good offices" with the Supreme Court. The overall idea is to build up an intellectual climate so forceful that the Supreme Court would think it prudent to overturn the High Court judgment.

The provocative, self-preservation tactics of the thekedars of conflict—one 'secular' lady saidthat the Indian state no longer had a social contract with Muslims, an assertion that could well be construed as legitimising terrorism—would have certainly had a disorienting effect had it been backed by community pressure. Without mincing words, the professional secularists are trying to create a fresh communal schism by nurturing minority victimhood. It's a very dangerous game.

Fortunately, India is a country where nothing is really ever perceived in black and white; there are always enough shades of grey to muddy the search for total clarity. There is a constant search for compromise—what is colloquially called 'adjust'—to cope with life's difficulties. True, the quest for harmonious equilibrium does break down occasionally—as it did during the Ayodhya movement—but the desire for unflinching certitudes is usually short-lived.

By coupling the letter of the law with the spirit of reconciliation, the High Court has set the framework of a solution. It is important that Middle India is unflinching in its determination to herald a compromise that accommodates both the desire for a Ram temple and an undisputed mosque. For that it is important to not rise to the secularist provocation and keep faith in the good sense of an India that wants to be at peace with all its citizens. If both the Congress and the BJP can keep its nerve and maintain composure, India will soon be witnessing the end of the Ayodhya dispute.

Sunday Pioneer, October 3, 2010

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