Was it ever about Babri Masjid? Everyone knew what it was about right from the beginning as the momentous events began to unfold in 1986. It was about history and memory, about deliberate amnesia and reflexive recollection, about revanchist relapse into the past and prudent preservation of the present. It was about how a modern polity, in the course of drawing sustenance from its deep civilisational roots, faces the good, the bad and the ugly of the past, and how history is sifted from memory and how narratives are woven with lores.
On part of the Muslims, it was a collective failure to recognise it for what it was. Or, perhaps, they did, but didn’t want to face it squarely, as acknowledging the question would beg a resolution for which their collective genius, or the lack of it, had neither any intellectual integrity nor any creative imagination.
It was not a Title suit. It was a moment for Truth and Reconciliation; to acknowledge that many wrongs happened in the past; that they should neither be celebrated nor be avenged; that they should be solemnly and stoically remembered lest they are repeated.
Honesty is the best policy. And honesty lies in recognising the past with warts and all. Insofar as history goes into making a narrative which, in turn shapes the identity, we must be prepared to own, disown, embrace and reject the elements from the past accordingly. Our ancestors were Hindus when Mahmud Ghaznavi invaded. He looted “our” temples and killed “our” ancestors. Now that we have changed our religion and, with that, our ancestors too, we must, if we delight in Mahmud’s iconoclasm, be also prepared to bear the historical consequence of it. If you, so disingenuously, argue that though Mahmud was your ancestor, though he looted temples, though it was a pious act about which you feel proud, but you will not take any responsibility for it, you are being too clever by half. However, between these extremes, there can be a via media too.
The people are not responsible for their forebears, but they are responsible for the memories created by their forebears. I do not believe in collective guilt, the guilty are guilty, but the children of guilty are children. Then why must they remember? Because not to remember would be to acquiesce. Memory is already a protest; it is a way of saying what happened was wrong. If you do not remember, you turn the page and wipe out what happened.
Insofar as individuals are willing to glory in a group identity and accept its accomplishments as an extension of the self, they expose themselves to the crimes associated with that group identity as well.
Therefore, the title suit was not the right approach. But the right approach was not possible within the Paradigm of Confrontation which has been the Muslim way of life since the inception of modern polity in India.
And so, it redounds to the credit of the Indian State that it is seen as an impersonal — purely Weberian — entity, constituted by abstract principles, and not shaped, manned and run by flesh and blood men and women. There must be some sublime nobility in this state, its institutions and its personnel which makes a Minority, which regales in persecution complex, to regard it as neutral, fair and even handed.
It also redounds to the credit of the Hindu community that this State, despite having been built, manned and run by them, keeps the halo of impersonal and law bound neutrality.
It is also an eloquent commentary on the sagacity of Indian Muslims whose perspicuity saw the principles and institutions, but not who built them and who ran them, and whether, if they were flesh and blood people, they could have interpreted the letters of law in a manner suited to their instinctive likes and dislikes, particularly after the institution of Collective Conscience as a principle of justice. Anyway, for the Muslims, it was a lost case from the beginning; from the moment it was posited as a Hindu versus Muslim case.
It was not about Babri. Somehow it just became an untenable symbol of an unsubstantiated argument, which shows that if good arguments are not heard, bad will prevail.
Muslims, if you win the case, gift the land to Hindus. Your hearts bled at the demolition of one mosque. They too have hearts, and your historians say that innumerable mandirs were destroyed. Mend their hearts, yours will be mended too.
If you lose the case, there is already a fully functional temple on the spot. You can’t lose a lost case twice. Nothing is lost. The future beckons. India’s destiny is your destiny.
करेंगे अहल-ए नज़र ताज़ा बस्तियाँ आबाद
मेरी निगाह नहीं सू-ए कूफ़ा-ओ बग़दाद
کریں گے اہلِ نظر تازہ بستیاں آباد
میری نگاہ نہیں سوۓ کوفہ و بغداد