A quarter of a century after the demolition of the disputed structure at Ayodhya's holy Ram-janmabhumi
site, a historic and dramatic resolution looks possible if the stake-holders agree to a suggestion mooted by the Shia Waqf Board, the real title-holder of the premise, to relocate the mosque to a nearby Muslim area which would facilitate the building of a magnificent Ram temple.
Generally, the Hindus welcomed the offer made earlier this week in court. But as could be expected, a section of Muslims under the hard-line Sunni Board and the Babri Masjid Action Committee has reacted with caution that falls just short of outright rejection. Is there a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, a resolution to the protracted legal battle of over seven decades and the bloody, violent agitations of the 90s? Going by the track record, any chance of a solution to the problem looks remote as long as the parties involved base their stand on the prestige, politics and ego of the individuals involved.
However, this is a big opportunity. The offer of the Muslim community, even if it is coming from only a faction, is the result of the inclusive policy and governance of the Narendra Modi government. Muslims feel safe enough and part of the mainstream for the first time since Independence. This is also the first time since the dispute went to court that the title-holder party or, for that matter, anybody from the Muslim community has proposed a shifting of the mosque from the disputed land. This in itself is significant, ground-breaking and the opening of a new chapter in Hindu-Muslim relations. This can become the starting point for a negotiated settlement.
What makes the Shia offer a big relief is the three major aspects of their proposal: first, technically, only the Shia community has a legal right on the property. The demolished Babri Masjid, though there was no Namaz
held there for many decades, was a Shia shrine, historically built on a temple that existed till the 14th century. Second, this is the first time any Muslim individual or outfit is making an offer to relocate the mosque. Third, the starting point for any dialogue has to be the admission of the Hindu claim that the site in discussion is the Ram-janmabhumi
or birthplace of Ram and sacred to Hindus. No solution can come unless these basic premises are brought on the table.
There is yet another important aspect to the Shia Central Board suggestion. It has identified, and without mincing words declared, that the hard-line sections in the Babri Action Committee are not interested in an amicable solution and are trying to vitiate the social fabric. "It is under the dominant control of hardliners, fanatics and non-believers in peaceful coexistence, who have absolutely no stakes in the case" it said. Though the Sunni Waqf Board has also petitioned the Supreme Court as a party in the dispute, they have no locus standi as far as the title deed is concerned, and the Allahabad High court in its judgement of 2011 declared as such. The Allahabad High Court had suggested a three-way division of the site with one portion going to the Shia Waqf Board, while accepting the historic Hindu belief that the place in question is Ram-janmabhumi
The appeal against the High Court verdict has been pending in the Supreme Court for many years. Early this year, responding to a review petition by Dr Subramanian Swamy, the apex court asked the involved parties to find a solution through mutual consent. Ever since, both Hindu and Muslim leaders have been constantly exchanging notes with Swamy and VHP leader Champat Rai taking the initiative.
In fact, at least 200 rounds of negotiations have taken place between the two sides since the issue became hot in the late 80s. A very serious attempt at negotiated settlement was held when Chandrasekhar was the Prime Minister in the early 90s. Then historians, archeologists and scholars from both sides involved themselves in quoting chapter and verse to prove their side. Dr BB Lal, Dr SP Gupta, Dr B R Grover, and many such luminaries then played a role in verifying the historicity of the Hindu claim. Historians like Dr Irfan Habib argued for the other side. In the end, archaeology, history and faith proved the Hindu claim stronger. But the Babri Committee was unrelenting.
What the Shia Board has now done is to call the bluff of this Committee which is still adamant. Mahant Nritya Gopal Das of the Janmabhumi Nyas expressed guarded satisfaction over the Shia Board proposal. Subramanian Swami and the VHP are more exuberant with the development. The Shia Board has suggested a two-judge committee with members of the opposing sides and experts work on the nitty-gritty of the negotiated settlement.
With the BJP in power in Uttar Pradesh and at the centre, the hope of paving the way for the grand temple in Ayodhya is on the ascent. Though the BJP was a party in the agitation in the 90s, it has not mentioned in its manifesto a commitment to building the temple. Rather, it has been maintaining that the temple will be built either after a negotiated settlement or a positive Supreme Court order. But Hindu organizations have been asking for legislation handing the disputed land to Hindus and facilitating the construction of Ram Temple. It is clear that the changed political climate could have encouraged the Shia Board to give a chance to the majority sentiment. The Ramjanmabhumi Nyas, which was spearheading the agitation to liberate the land for the last four decades, has sensed a silver lining in the Shia Board affidavit before the apex court.
The suggestion has undoubtedly opened a great window of opportunities to negotiate for all the parties involved. It may not be possible to satisfy all the segments and spectrum of opinion at any stage. The new suggestion may or may not yield a tangible solution. It is certain to be objected to by the more powerful Sunni Waqf Board which wants to become a major player in the dispute. The community would have to resolve the issue between rival factions within itself. (Dr R. Balashankar is Member, BJP Central Committee on Training, and Committee on Publications and former Convener BJP National Intellectual Cell and former Editor Organiser.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.