Sunday, May 25, 2008

"Arey Bhai, Masjid Hai Hi Kahaan�?"

Arun Shourie
"But why do you refer to it as a mosque at all? Where is the mosque, my friends, when the namaz is not performed? When for forty years idol worship is going on there, what kind of a mosque is it? That is just the temple of our dear Ram."

That is not L K Advani talking to V P Singh. It is V P Singh talking to several RSS leaders.

The elections had not yet been announced. V P Singh had traveled to Bombay to meet the RSS leaders. Persons I know intimately were present throughout the meeting, which was held at his request in Mr Ramnath Goenka's penthouse at Express Towers. V P Singh said then that as the structure was valued by the Muslims and the site was sacred to the Hindus, he was for Rajmohan Gandhi's proposal -- i.e., for shifting the mosque bricks to another site and constructing the temple at the site.

This is in essence what the VHP and the BJP came to espouse, with the improvement that the Hindus shall raise the funds to bear the entire cost of shifting the structure.

Later, too, I know from one of the senior most leaders of the BJP, one who measures every word he says, Kidar Nath Sahni, V P Singh used the exact expressions of the BJP leaders.

Later still -- and I know this directly from my friend Jaswant Singh, the BJP MP and today the Chairman of the Estimates Committee of Parliament - he used the very expressions to Jaswant Singh. To him V P Singh added that as the structure was a mandir in any case, why "demolish" it?

"Where is the need for demolition?" V P Singh had asked, "One shove and it will crumble. If each of you were to carry just one brick home, there will be nothing left there."

The Formula

Nor was there any change in the ensuing months. I know -- again from persons who were directly involved that V P Singh did not just endorse the three-point formula which was worked out, he actively participated in devising it.

Under it the entire property -- i.e. the structure and the land -- was to be acquired by the government. The structure was termed Part A, and the land around it Parts B and C, for reasons we shall just see.

As for Part A, the Supreme Court was to be asked to determine the character of the structure.' Till the determination was handed down, VHP etc., though continuing their movement, would not touch the structure. The lands around the structure were divided into two parts - and only because the method of acquiring them had to be different. The lands around the structure which were owned privately had to be acquired under the Land Acquisition Act. In normal circumstances to acquire these, notices of up to two years would have to be given. The notices were dispensable in emergencies, but even then it was necessary to give notices of three weeks or so. This latter is what was to be done in the case of this land.

The rest of the land was Nazul land. This the Government could, and therefore would, acquire immediately.

The lands had some structures on them -- a temple, a dharmashala, an office, etc. It was decided that for the time being the government would keep these intact.

The lands per se were to be made over to the VHP, etc., and they were to commence construction from the spot where the shilanyas had been done last November.

It was then noticed that actually the entire land could be acquired by Government under a special ordinance. There was therefore no reason to hand over the Nazul land one day and the privately owned land three weeks later. It was all to be done in one go.

All this was worked out between V P Singh and others between Monday, October 15, and Thursday, October 18.

George Fernandes met Bhaurao Deoras and Atal Behari Vajpayee on the night of Thursday, October 18, and confirmed the arrangement. As did P Upendra. V P Singh confirmed it on Friday, around 11 am.

At 3 pm that day two minister, Madhu Dandavate and Subodh Kant Sahay, met Moropant Pingle, the RSS strong man overseeing the VHP, and reconfirmed the arrangement. Pingle expressed the VHP's reservation: it would accept the formula, but it would not give up its right to continue its movement for shifting the mosque, he said; however, he agreed, it would not disturb the structure for the time being in any way.

Then came a stormy meeting of Muslim leaders with V P Singh. And so around 5 pm V P Singh let it be known that he had changed his mind. What was the "disputed structure became the "disputed land". And all lands, the titles to which were in dispute before the Allahabad High Court were now to be taken to be covered by the expression "disputed land".

As nothing was to be done to disturb what was "disputed", this change meant that nothing could be commenced anywhere, not even at the spot where the shilanyas had been done.

"But once Government acquires the land," the law officer of the Government explained to him, "all disputes about its titles would end. There is thus no reason for going back on what has been agreed -- about commencing construction."

"Then I won't acquire the land," said V P Singh.

The Ordinance

That night however came the Ordinance. It did not make the distinction which had been agreed to originally between the structure and the land. Government did not spell out what exactly was to be referred to the Supreme Court. And there was nothing about transferring anything to the VHP. Even so, the Ordinance had at least acquired the land.

The VHP was furious. It felt it had been taken for a ride, not just by government but the mediators, among whom were two I know and work with intimately. But the impression was given on behalf of Government the next morning, on Saturday that is, that the Ordinance had been just the first step, that the rest would follow within the next two or three days. Moderate leaders, L K Advani and Vajpayee, therefore declared that while the Ordinance was a small step, it was a small step forward.

The initial reactions of the Muslim leaders too were of cautious relief: they had been in what was being negotiated; they did not reject what was announce; they said the details would be studied.

Even on Saturday therefore, the original arrangement was alive.

But by Sunday recriminations had started among the Muslim leaders: you have agreed to a step which will become precedent for taking over waqf properties anywhere and everywhere, charged some about the others.

The hard liners prevailed. And so the Muslim leaders warned V P Singh, if you allow any construction even in the plot in which the shilanyas had been done, the Muslims will spurn you the same way they spurned Rajiv last year.

And it became clear too that Mulayam Singh, who had already outdone V P Singh in chatting up the Muslims, might seize upon the Ordinance as opportunity. It wasn't just that he could, by halting the rathyatra, undo on the ground whatever might have been agreed to in Delhi. It was that a word from him that V P Singh had caved in to "Hindu fundamentalists" would erase the image which V P Singh had been so assiduously cultivating all this while.

The CPM stepped in too, in minatory tones.

These things and nothing else were the spur to the "secularism" which burst upon everyone so suddenly on Monday, and of which we have heard so much in the last five days.

Secularism has not been upheld. It has been given a body blow. The one and only inference which will be drawn from the fact that a Prime Minister of India went back on what he had himself helped put together, and thereafter even withdrew the Ordinance which had been issued in the name of the President of India, and that he did all this because of pressure from secularists like Imam Bukhari, the only moral that will be drawn from this is that Hindus too should raise Bukharis among them.

Not just secularism, the authority of the State has been dealt a body blow. And in the long run no one will be harmed as much by such weakening of the State as the minorities.

The Tragedy of it

I am not so much on what all this reveals about V P Singh: no one has to labour much on that these days, he is doing all the revealing himself day and night. I am on the tragedy of it for our society, and for the Muslims in particular.

Throughout the last few decades the rational course for all citizens has been to work together to strengthen the institutions, in the proper functioning of which alone the security and prosperity of all lies. But section after section has been led to believe by the thekedars in it that its security and prosperity lies in fortifying itself as a group separate from the others. And at each turn the lay members of it have been led to believe that this leader or that -- Mrs Gandhi one day, Bahuguna the next -- was the one and only available guarantor of their security and prosperity.

The real reason behind this has been simply that that leader has won over the thekedars by the customary devices, that the interests not of the poor Muslim masses were secure in the hands of that leader but that the interests of those thekedars had been taken care of by him.

That has been the real reason. But the poor Muslims have been made to fall for the contrived superficials: the achkan with a Lakhnavi or Hyderabadi cut, the cap of this cut rather than that, the person's demeanour at Iftaar parties, the smattering of Urdu in the person's speeches. They have been led to fall for surface promises -- "The Minorities Commission shall be given Constitutional status," "There shall be special financial institutions for the minorities."

It is not only that so many of these promises have been hollow - what is the poor Muslim weaver, his trade being swamped as that of any other weaver by the rush of technology, or the poor Muslim boy toiling away over a carpet like any other poor boy, going to get from the conferment of constitutional status on the Minorities Commission? It is that many of these sops will worsen the lot of the Muslims: Just set up separate financial institutions for them and see the attitudes of managers in ordinary banks towards Muslim clients.

But because a leader has held out such baubles, the Muslim masses have been enticed by their thekedars to repose faith in him.

Of course, the leaders and the thekedars are not the only ones who have contributed to this. The pseudo-secularists have done even more. They have not cared to study the details of any controversy that has arisen � be it Shah Bano or Rushdie's book or the affair on hand. The hand slogan and the smear have been all for them. But these have been let loose ferociously. Every rational solution has thus been drowned.

And the very thing they said they were out to prevent -- Hindu reaction -- has been enflamed.

V P Singh taunts the BJP leaders today, asserting that they embarked on the rathyatra for electoral purposes. Assume they did.

But what is portentous is not the rath they launched. What is portentous is the tumultuous response it evoked. Today no one stokes that reaction more the sudden secularists, V P Singh and Mulayam Singh.

And the poor Muslims are led to believe by the thekedars among them, by the pseudo-secularists, and of course by the two of them that these two are their protectors!

The Indian Express
October 25, 1990

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