The judgement by the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court has divided the disputed Babri Masjid site into three parts among the Muslim and Hindu litigants. It seems that such a division was done less out of concerns to resolve the dispute among the parties and more to resolve the larger communal conflict that the dispute had come to symbolize. The almost universal use of the term ‘Ayodhya judgement’ or ‘Ram Janmabhoomi’ (as used even in the appeal for peace released by PMO) instead of the Babri Masjid judgement undermines the Muslim claim to the site. It takes away the concreteness of Babri Masjid and places it in Ayodhya, which is not geographically located in the physical world but a mythical version as espoused by the Hindutva forces as the birth place of Lord Ram.
Therefore, the division of property between the two Hindu litigants and one Muslim litigant came to symbolize the proportional credibility of each community’s claims. Building upon the judgement, the Babri Masjid demolition stands justified as an act of reclamation and not destruction. It further strengthens the binary by presuming the Hindus and Muslims to be monolithic identities frozen since the time of the alleged destruction of Ram temple and construction of the mosque over it. Thereby, playing into Sangh Parivar’s version of historical narrative that alleges Muslims as foreign invaders and Hindus as the one aggressed upon.
Previously, the same reasoning has been used to justify violence against Muslims in communal riots by those stage-managing them. These elements have also gained gradual but continuous legitimacy through the support they have been able to garner by polarising sections of the electorate. Ironically, the growth of this legitimacy has paralleled the growth of neo-liberal policy. The leaders of Sangh Parivar were condemned for their role in the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition by almost all political parties. But soon enough BJP, the political face of Parivar, along with other political opportunists (who had condemned it for partaking in the demolition), came to power; first for short stints in 1996 and 1998 followed by a full term in 1999. Thereafter, the same BJP was let off without a protest by its coalition partners in NDA for its role in the Gujarat pogrom and the consequent justifications provided by it. However, it should be noted that the symbiotic relationship between neo-liberalism and right-wing politics is not a feature peculiar to India alone but a global one. Be it the implicit racism of the Thatcher-Reagan regime or the more explicit beauracratic-authoritarian Latin American regimes.
The rise of the current phase of Hindutva politics could be traced to the late 1980s where the rise of various social and political movements threatened the stability of the political and economic elites constituting the Brahman and Bania, who wanted to usher in the neo-liberal project for furthering material accumulation that licence regime had hindered till now. The movements constituting unprecedented growth of regional parties, the new farmers' movements and the Mandal mobilisations challenged the Congress dominated power structure that prevailed since independence. Declining hold of the Indian state and Congress party in the socio-political arena risked breakdown in the existent economic arena, thereby, posing a risk to the neo-liberal project as well.
The dominating elite’s fear of such a situation was sought to be transferred to the erring masses by means of creating a fearful common enemy in the Muslim. The prevailing antagonism against Muslims after partition was supplemented with antagonistic version of historical narrative. The demolition of the Babri Masjid and the countrywide mobilization around it, thus, provided the fodder for overlooking inherent contradictions to stand against the common enemy manifested in the invader who had allegedly destroyed the Ram temple to build the Babri Masjid. Both, neo-liberalism and Hindutva seek to reduce social processes to individual choices. While in neo-liberalism the choice is exercised in the form of maximization of utility whereas for Hindutva it is exercised in the realm of morality. The individual is the common category of analysis with other contradictions of class, caste, religion and gender are assumed away. The Hindutva’s ideology seems to have taken unprecedented legitimacy from the judiciary, considered to be impartial and credible, as it upheld the same ‘beliefs’ and ‘faith’ that were employed by the Sangh Parivar’s leaders to demolish the Babri Masjid in the first place.
The acceptance of the judgment, which upheld faith over law, by political parties of all colours, except the Left, has come as a major shock for the Muslim minority. What exposes the double standards of the prevalent discourse(s) is the appeal for peace and harmony suggesting as if Hindus and Muslims both are in the danger of riots that may arise if the judgement is not accepted cordially. That the riots are mostly stage managed by the Hindu majoritarianists with Muslims as the majority of victims is either conveniently ignored or consciously suppressed. The irony of it all is so blatant (Narendra Modi was appealing for peace and harmony!) that it requires serious and honest introspection as to what constitutes peace for the nation.
Such a form of peace suffers from selective amnesia that implores the nation to ‘move on’ from the large scale violence of 1992 and yet seeks to redress the alleged aggression of 1528. The media, especially the (liberal) electronic media, seems to be oblivious to the fact that different people will move on for very different reasons. What motivates Rahul Gandhi to proclaim that Mandir-Masjid is a non-issue has nothing in common with the reasons for the aam aadmi to move on. The casual labourers, the street vendors, etc, who lead a hand-to-mouth existence, fear that any mobilization around the issue and probable consequences – protests, riots, curfews - may lead to a loss of their paltry earnings, or even worse, their lives. So, for the poor the question of moving on is not a conscious choice but rather an economic compulsion. For the other side, the purpose of moving on from this crisis is to indicate a smoothly functioning free market economy that the global investors would benefit from. They are keen to project such an image of a conflict-free India precisely because they are the greatest beneficiaries of the liberalized economy.
Moreover, the rhetoric deployed by the media of ‘peace, harmony, national unity and secularism’ surrounding the judgement leaves no room for any other interpretation of these terms and situates dissent only in opposition to the existing interpretation i.e. as aggressive, antagonistic, unpatriotic and communal. Such a rhetoric that claims to be representative of the public ethos silences dissent, especially from the vulnerable minorities whose lack of freedom to dissent, is misrepresented as a mature reaction to the judgment.
The almost complete absence of dissenting voices against the judgement in the popular or mass discourses perhaps is due to the changing definition of what constitutes a successful way of life in these discourses. In the neo-liberal paradigm that has come to dominate our lifestyle, success is defined as individual advancement (measured in material terms) rather than any other social process. Thus, any attempt to highlight the contradictions in society, arising out of asymmetrical power relations, in this case between religion based communities, is sought to be underplayed. For, the assumption is that allowing market to function unhindered from such social realities, will allow these individuals (for whom any identity – caste, gender, religious - is not a serious disadvantage - including Muslim middle classes who have secured a footing in the liberalized economy) to accrue unhindered market returns. These beneficiaries would seek to preserve the status quo, even if the same power relations are responsible for the Babri Masjid demolition, Gujarat pogrom and the systematic exclusion of Muslims as described in the Sachar committee report.
To maintain such a social order, negation of identity and conflicts among social groups is required because the resolution of such conflicts would require acceptance of their existence in the first place and the various ways in which they determine life chances and outcomes for different social groups such as the Muslims. The recognition of such a reality would inevitably require correcting what the market could not, thus, calling for intervention by a neutral third-party such as the state, responsible for ensuring non-discrimination in opportunities and outcomes. As a corrective measure, the deprived status of Muslims would then require affirmative action and allocation of resources for parity with the rest.
The belief in maintaining status quo is reflected in the discussions on the affirmative action for Muslims that have not disturbed the existing power relations by restricting the debate to minimal corrective measures. Although the Sachar report gained wide publicity, it never formed the basis for affirmative policies. There has been no progress even after the reports of Fatmi committee, Mishra commission and the study group on Cultural Diversity Index (which were based on and subsequently supported the findings and recommendations of the Sachar committee). It was only with the latest and politically correct Equal Opportunity Commission report that the government decided to work for the Muslims. Structures of deprivation were sought to be preserved by the politically correct versions of affirmative action that would not recognize the contradictions in the system, let alone challenge them. Even the development oriented measures such as the Minority Concentration District scheme seeks only participation of Muslims in the market dominated development process rather than confronting the exclusionary nature of neo-liberal development itself. In such a scenario, the promise of Muslims becoming equal citizens in the near future sounds hollow because the ‘inclusive’ policies seek to integrate Muslims into a free market regime which in itself is inherently unequal and exclusive.
Finally, what the citizens of India, adhering to the secular constitution of the country, need to ask is whether RSS, VHP and the committee representing Ramlalla will decide reconciliation on behalf of the Hindu majority. The Babri Masjid judgement though came to symbolize conflict between Hindus and Muslims but it was in fact a struggle between secularists and communalists.
Nonetheless, it is important to keep in mind that there should be a concerted effort within the Hindu community to isolate the extremists. Against the regressive ideology of the Sangh Parivar that justifies the second-class status through antagonistic religious and historical narratives, there is a need to pose a more humane and subversive tradition of Hinduism that challenge and de-legitimize the fascist– interpretation of Hinduism. However, such a measure to counter right-wing majoritarianism is necessary but insufficient.
Such a necessity arises out of the aim of right wing extremists to homogenise Hinduism. This homogenizing tendency is not only a threat to cultural diversity but also paves the way for greater market penetration. The Sangh Parivar’s market-friendly Hindutva serves the interests of global capital and imperialism by defining nationalism in irrational and anti-materialist terms instead of articulating nationalism in terms of economic and political sovereignty.
However, such an approach of de-legitimizing Hindutva by invoking diversity of Hindu traditions, though partly helpful in the prevailing context of wide-spread religiosity, is obviously insufficient and highly inadequate. The battle has to be fought on secular grounds itself. The values of the Enlightenment, of which secularism is a key one, cannot be diluted in the name of engagement with religion. It would be a mistake to expect one sort of irrationalism (albeit more palatable) to defeat another irrationalism (though of a more vicious variety). Hence, in the process of battling Hindutva forces, we should not lose sight of the fact that the real struggle lies not in moderate Hinduism and extremist Hinduism but in the struggle between Reason and Faith. In the first round, Reason has lost out. We hope that the Supreme Court shall serve justice on the basis of Reason alone.