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  A day of reckoning
  Verdict on Babri Masjid  
  IT is unusual for the Union Cabinet to pass a resolution to appeal to the people to maintain "equanimity and tranquillity" over a court verdict which is yet to be delivered. But, then, the Babri Masjid case is not an ordinary court case that it can be of interest only to the litigants concerned.

In fact, the whole country is waiting with bated breath for the verdict the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court is expected to deliver on September 24. The last time the Allahabad High Court gave a verdict of such import was when it declared then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's election from Rai Bareli null and void. The unseating of the Prime Minister led to the promulgation of the Emergency.

This time the court will, essentially, try to answer two questions. Was the spot at Ayodhya where the Babri Masjid stood till it was demolished 18 years ago the birth place of Lord Ram? Since it is a matter more of faith than fact, it would be too much to expect a clear answer. Yet, it would be interesting to know how the three-member bench would use its ingenuity and the law to tackle the highly emotive issue.

Another question for which an answer is expected is whether the Babri Masjid, built four centuries ago, was exactly on the spot where a Rama temple stood earlier. In simpler terms, was the Masjid built by demolishing a Hindu temple, dedicated to Lord Ram? Much of the controversy is based on these two simple-looking questions.

The Ayodhya case has been pending for the last 80 years. It was the delay in giving a verdict that provoked the Hindus to take to the path of agitation. Even so, the agitation remained dormant till the mid-eighties when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), now in the Opposition at the Centre, adopted it as a party programme.

Suddenly, the agitation for building a "magnificent temple" in place of the Babri Masjid picked up momentum, catapulting the BJP, which was reduced to two seats in the 520-member Lower House of Parliament in the 1984 elections, to a commanding position at the national level.

The high-water mark of the temple campaign was the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, which led to communal riots in several places in the country, particularly Mumbai. But for the BJP, the demolition deprived it of a powerful political slogan.

The elections held immediately in the aftermath of the demolition in four states, ruled by the BJP, showed that the Indian voters did not approve of the organised vandalism. The BJP's appeal to the electorate in Uttar Pradesh, India's largest state where Ayodhya is located, has been plummeting in successive elections. That is precisely why the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, and not the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, is now ruling the country.

While appealing to the people to remain calm when the judgment is delivered, the Union Cabinet has reminded them that if any disputant is not satisfied, it is free to approach the Supreme Court for a final verdict. On its part, the UP Government has been mobilising thousands of security personnel to deal with any eventuality that may arise.

One noteworthy aspect in all this is the readiness shown by both Hindu and Muslim organisations to respect the court's verdict, whatever it may be. No longer is there any shrill talk of going directly to the people to decide whether a temple should be built on the disputed land.

Of course, both Hindu and Muslim organisations have also reserved their right to challenge it in the apex court in case the verdict is not satisfactory to either of them. This is certainly a commendable development, which cannot be seen in isolation.

Much water has flowed down the Saryu, on the banks of which stands Ayodhya, since the eighties when the Ramjanambhoomi (Ram's birth place) agitation peaked. In between, the BJP got an opportunity to rule the country for a full term with Lal Krishna Advani, who led the Ayodhya movement, holding the all-important Home Ministry portfolio and the position of Deputy Prime Minister.

Yet, the BJP could not do anything to advance the cause of the temple, because the party had to keep the demand on the backburner. In fact, it was on this very condition that other political parties allowed Atal Bihari Vajpayee to form a coalition government, which did well on the economic front.

Many ordinary, religiously-inclined Hindus, who supported the temple cause, realised that the BJP was ready to abandon the temple plank in its pursuit of power. On its part, the BJP also realised that the temple issue was a trump card, whose utility could be taken advantage of only once.

The leading lights of the temple movement like Advani, who at 83 finds that his prime ministerial ambition is in a shambles, and Uma Bharati, who has been sulking on the political side-lines, are no longer able to inspire confidence.

The India of the eighties, when the rate of growth was a measly 3 to 4 per cent and the balance of payments position was so precarious that the government had to mortgage gold reserves to the International Monetary Fund, is not the India of the 21st century.
With the economy growing at 8-9 per cent, opportunities for employment, be it in the service sector or manufacturing, has increased manifold. The young people would rather find jobs in one of the call centres than become cheerleaders of politicians who wave tridents in the name of Lord Ram.

There is also growing realisation among political parties that it is good governance that the voters want, and not a temple or a mosque. Yet, in a country of nearly 1.2 billion people, no one knows for sure how a group of people would react to a religious issue. When a madcap in the US threatened to burn the Holy Quran, it resulted in the death of over a dozen protesters in India.

Is it any wonder that everybody keeps his fingers crossed as the Allahabad High Court makes arrangements to deliver its verdict on September 24?
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