Ayodhya Dispute: How Zameer Uddin Shah Fell Into the Hindutva Trap

The former Aligarh Muslim University vice-chancellor has advocated for a 'pro-majority' verdict. In doing so, he has peddled the words of the Hindutva brigade.

Note: This article was first published on October 12, 2019 at 12:03 pm and is being republished at October 13, 2019 at 10:30 am.

Lieutenant General (retired) and former vice-chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Zameer Uddin Shah, is reported to have said on Thursday that Muslims must hand over the disputed land in Ayodhya to Hindus as a goodwill gesture for the construction of the Ram temple, and to ensure communal harmony.

“It is my fervent wish that Muslims must hand over the disputed land to Hindus (for construction of Ram temple) as a goodwill gesture. This will ensure communal harmony and peace in the country,” Shah told media persons according to a report by Hindustan Times.

Lt. Gen. (retd.) Zameer Uddin Shah. Photo: Twitter/@zoomshah

Shah was in Lucknow to participate in an interactive session organised by an organisation of eminent Muslim citizens, the ‘Indian Muslims for Peace’, which is rooting for an for out-of-court settlement of the Ayodhya dispute.

On the face of it, the proposal seems to be a very noble idea and something which has the potential of putting a stop to a seemingly never ending strife. But, as in most other cases, the devil lies in the details.

Shah further goes on to say, “I also want the Supreme Court to give a verdict in favour of the majority community to end the dispute”. He also said, since “(H)indus have been worshipping there (the ‘Ram Janmabhoomi’) for a long time… (e)ven if the court rules in favour of Muslims, then also they will not be able to construct a mosque there.”

There are several issues with these arguments. First of all, how can one want the Supreme Court to deliver a judgment in favour of the majority, no matter how noble the cause?

The verdict of a court, especially the apex court, has to be based on facts and merits, and not according to the faith and/or emotions of some community or political situation in the country. The Ayodhya dispute, which includes the demolition of the Babri Masjid, is not just a matter between two communities — Hindus and Muslims — but one of national importance, which involves safeguarding some of the basics tenets of the Indian constitution, such as secularism and justice.

Also read: What Lies Behind the Delays in the Babri Masjid Case?

Hence, any judgment which is delivered taking into consideration the wishes of the just majority and not the facts, will not only be against the spirit of the constitution, but also set a bad precedent. This is not to say that the idea of peace and communal harmony are not important.

But let us not forget that there can not be sustainable peace without justice, as peace without justice is fragile.

Moreover, as Professor Apoorvanand notes in his Hindu piece, one also needs to understand that “(t)he Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue was never religious. The BJP has always included the promise of constructing a Ram temple in its election manifestos over the years. L.K. Advani’s 1990s rath yatra not only led to the eventual demolition of the Babri Masjid, but expanded the national footprint of the BJP. The campaign was aimed at denigrating Muslims and entrenching their ‘foreignness’ in the minds of Hindus by using the figure of Babar.”

Here it is important to recall that during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, one of the most (in)famous slogans was “tel lagao Dabur ka, naam mitao Babar ka” (‘Use Dabur brand oil, eliminate the name of Babar’). Notably, this slogan is still in use.

According to a news report, this slogan was a prominent chant in Ayodhya as devotees arrived to attend Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s dharam sabha there in November last year. Similarly, over the years, Indian Muslims have increasingly been referred to as ‘Babar ke aulad’ (sons of Babar) by proponents of Hindutva.

What is also alarming is that Shah and his associates are using the same arguments that are often given by Hindutva forces. His justification for the handing over of the place, citing that Hindus have been worshipping there (Ram Janmabhoomi) for a long time is one of the arguments that is often used by Hindutva leaders.

For the Hindutva brigade, it has always been “a matter of the sentiments of the Hindu community.” And, anything except for the building of the Ram Mandir is unacceptable and an insult to the Hindus.

VHP workers at the dharma sabha at Ayodhya in November, 2018. Photo: Reuters

Last year, when the Supreme Court decided to defer the hearing of the Ayodhya issue on the grounds that it was not a priority, the RSS general secretary Bhaiyyaji Joshi said that by doing so, the apex court has insulted the sentiments of the Hindus. According to a report in Times of India, “the RSS leader said that it was a matter of pain and anguish that an issue which Hindus consider their faith and to which their sentiment is attached is not on the priority list of the court. “Hindus are feeling insulted,” he said”.

Coming to the argument that, “even if the court rules in favour of Muslims, they will not be able to construct a mosque there,” one wonders as to the kind of logic that exists in this statement. For just because there is an apprehension that given a majoritarian sentiment, the judgment of the court will be not implemented, the court should therefore not look into the merits of the case and prefer an out of court settlement!

By this logic, we would have no need of the judicial system at all. Remember, in a judicial process what is important is that “justice must not just be done; it must also be seen to be done.” And if that is not ensured, then the common man will have nowhere to go and will loose their trust in judiciary. If a verdict is not implemented, then it is not a fault of the court but of those entrusted to carry it out. And a failure to do so reflects on their intention and will.

Furthermore, there is a difference between Muslims deciding to hand over the land as a good gesture after the verdict is delivered in their favour, as opposed to deciding to abandon their claim before the case has even been decided. While the former is an appreciable idea, the latter is not just akin to complete surrender, but also a sabotaging of the due process of justice.

Also read: The Many Voices of Ayodhya

There is another important point to remember here. Suppose Muslims decide to hand over the land in Ayodhya as good gesture.

What is the guarantee that Hindutva forces will not ask for the same in the future, such as claiming that the Jama Masjid of Delhi is built over the ruins of a mandir and hence should be demolished and land should be handed over to build a mandir.

This is not some wild speculation on my part but something that has already been propagated. Last year in November, BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj claimed that the Jama Masjid of Delhi was built by Mughals after destroying temples. He also claimed that Mughals played with the sentiments of Hindus and constructed over 3,000 mosques by demolishing temples.

Bakri Eid

Eid at the ceremonial grand mosque Jama Masjid in Delhi. File image.

In this context, another (in)famous slogan of the Hindutva forces needs to be recalled.

That is, Ayodhya to bas jhanki hai, kashi mathura baaki hai (‘Ayodhya is just the trailer, Kashi and Mathura are still left’). This particular slogan gained currency after the demolition of Babri Masjid. Notably, Ayodhya-like cases are going on in Kashi (Varanasi) and Mathura.

And it not just not about Ayodhya, Varanasi and Mathura. There are thousands of mosques across the country which have been claimed by Hindutva forces as having been built on the ruins of temples. If this is really the case, then the judiciary should be left to decide about them based on evidence and not faith.

Going for an out-of-court settlement in the name of peace and communal harmony is not going to help much as instead of solving the problem, it will only complicate it, which will end up damaging the Indian democracy.

Hence, instead of putting pressure on the court it is prudent to let the court take its time to do its work properly and deliver an evidence based and well reasoned verdict.

Meanwhile, if General Shah and his associates in the Indian Muslims for Peace are so keen to promote peace and communal harmony, they can work towards building an environment where judgments based on facts and evidence is respected by one and all and it is implemented in letter and spirit.

By doing that, they will do a greater service to the country as well as the community.