Lessons from the Babri Masjid saga and the road ahead

By Ayub Khan,

The ruling of Allahabad High Court on the title ownership of the land were Babri Masjid was located has left the Indian Muslim community dazed and confused. A number of voices from within and outside the community have been advancing the merits of a variety of options that the community can choose from. These range from surrendering all claims in the name of creating goodwill to the stance that not even an inch of the site could be conceded. As these competing options battle it out it may be a good idea to probe if any lessons and generalizations can be gleaned from this entire saga. A few are offered below.

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Leadership Deficit

There appears to be general consensus within the Indian Muslim community, from the Irani hotels of Hyderabad to the comfortable drawing rooms of Noida, that there is no such thing as a national level Muslim leadership in the country. This much was accepted by Syed Shahabuddin of All India Majlis-e-Mushawarat who recently said in an interview: ‘There is no such thing as a Muslim leadership.’ The problem has become acute in the light of the court decision as the masses now realise that they are now ‘leaderless.’

Those who lay claims to leadership are often personalities with local influence, intellectuals with no mass based support, and religious scholars who represent certain sects and ideologies. In addition, there are pseudo-leaders who have neither the influence among the masses nor the intellectual acumen but have the right connections in the political parties.

None among the above claimant groups can be called a true leader of the community whose support cuts across sectarian, ideological, and political fault lines. As a group these elites have collectively failed the community.

The solution to this problem is complex. But for starters the national organizations can begin by revamping their respective structures. The first thing should be to weed out the dalals from national organizations like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. A number of wheelers and dealers have made their way into the organization whose sole aim is personal advancement on the backs of the community. They have been using their membership of the board for personal benefit like getting appointed to lucrative government commissions, getting murder charges cleared, etc. The sooner they are shown the door the better.

Secondly, these organizations should reflect the true demographic diversity of the community. Inclusion of youth and women is vital if these organizations are to successfully face future challenges. Candidates from these groups have to be cultivated from the bottom up by providing leadership and personality development coaching.

Politicization of purely religious issues can be fatal

It has become glaringly evident now that the Muslim leadership fell into the trap set up by the Hindutva forces by unwittingly, and probably unconsciously, helping them in politicising this issue. The Hindutva forces initiated the politicisation of the Babri Masjid dispute in order to gain electoral benefits. They might have been hampered in their attempts if the emerging leadership hadn’t succumbed to their machinations. But unfortunately they did. They also stand guilty of combining the Shah Bano controversy with the Mandir-Masjid dispute.

Prof. Tahir Mahmood, in his memoirs, writes that he warned a veteran Muslim leader against doing so but he was rebuked. He writes, “In my opinion the Babri mosque dispute was indeed a local issue which Muslim religious leaders later turned into a national—and Hindu politicians misusing Hinduism into an international issue.”

Such wise counsel went unheeded and the community now has to bear the consequences.

Abandonment of rights will embolden the fascists

There are well meaning individuals who have called on the Muslims to give up their claims and pave the way for the construction of grand temple. This course of action is tantamount to communal suicide as this will further embolden the fascists in the country who now think that they are being rewarded for their heinous actions.
In any case giving up the rights will not solve the issue. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has demanded that the now that the court had delivered its ruling the Muslims should give up Kashi and Mathura.

While asking Muslims to give up their claims none of these worthies whether it be Acharya Giriraj Kishore and Ashok Singhal or the sophisticated Arun Jaitley or Ravishankar Prasad are willing to offer anything in return.

The best thing under these circumstances for the Muslim community will be to proceed with this case to the Supreme Court and accept the final verdict. Let there be no mass mobilization on the issue any more.

Create Awareness

Throughout the Babri Masjid saga the Muslim intelligentsia, scholars, and leaders did not adopt a pro-active approach in creating awareness about Muslim history. They remained content with the research provided by scholars of repute like Romila Thapar, etc.

In direct contrast, the pro-temple movement utilized a large number of scholars to churn out tomes of their biased and grossly unscientific versions of history to support their claims. They carried this propaganda in the academia as well as in the public. Resultantly, we now have a situation where a significant number of people believe that Muslims were destroyers of temples and persecutors of Hindus.

This propaganda succeeded in creating the impression that this conflict is essentially about latent Hindu grievances which have been nurtured for centuries. In contrast, Muslims have nothing to complaint about. This half-truth and grossly inaccurate version of history neglects the fact that the Muslims have equally suffered in India since time immemorial. There is documentary evidence to show that hundreds of mosques were destroyed by Hindu rulers, Sikh soldiers, Parsis, and foreign colonists. Hundreds more have been destroyed, desecrated, or occupied since 1947.

Everyone associates Mahmood, Babur, and Aurangzeb with temple destruction. But no one seems to know that the Portuguese General Afonso De Albuquerque had destroyed scores of mosques in 1507. No one remembers that soldiers of the Kakatiya Dynasty indulged in destroying and desecrating mosques despite being in alliance with the Adil Shahis. No one remembers that in the thirteenth century the Parsis in the Cambay had instigated the Hindus to demolish the minaret of a mosque and burn it to ground. No one remembers that Sikh soldiers had occupied the Jame Masjid in the aftermath of 1857 and converted it into horse stables. Such examples abound but Muslims took no serious interest in uncovering and publicising these instances.

Doing so would have taken the winds out of the sails of the Hindutva movement’s attempts to stoke fires based on artificially constructed historical memories.

It is about time that Indian Muslims do their home work and correct the half-truth versions of history.