When a poised Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of right-wing Hindu RSS, emerged from the shadows after the Ayodhya verdict, his composed demeanour little prepared me for the words that followed. “The Ayodhya verdict is no one’s victory, and no one’s defeat.”
For an organization that has made Ayodhya central to its existential ideology, his reaction seemed an anti-climax to this purported moment of triumph.
On a closer look though, his commentary may well have been indicative of a Bildungsroman story of an India having come of age.
The sloganeering by foaming saffron leaders that once resounded across hinterland India seemed to have dulled into a reverie of acceptance of an India in search of a different narrative.
Yes there were celebrations by a few, but these were much muted when compared to the victorious “Jai Shri Ram” chants that had rung-in the BJP-led government at the patio of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
One could sense a discreet sense of joy amongst many other Hindus for whom faith still tugs at their heart strings. As many confessed, it was a vindication of their belief and the righting of many historical wrongs.
The reaction in the Muslim quarters was naturally more saturnine. Everyone had expected a one-way judgement. Many were anticipating that Themis, the blindfolded Goddess of Justice, would tilt scales in favour of the Sunni Waqf Board. This out of the box verdict had thus created an unexpected circumstance. No party had won everything, but no one had lost everything either.
With people still grappling with the new reality of the pronouncement, this highly emotional issue ended up evoking a pragmatic response. Not only was there not a single instance of violence, there was hardly a murmur of protest.
Across the country, a sense of relief was very real. The matter seemed headed to a unique, but workable solution.
Both the Hindu and Muslim litigants immediately announced that they would meet next in Delhi, at the apex court. Others felt that even an appeal was not required. While most Hindus felt that a temple could exist cheek by jowl with a mosque, many Muslims felt that by allowing Hindus to build a temple they should grab the opportunity to earn goodwill.
Nearly all unanimously wanted to end the old festering discord.
Wiser by its fast diminishing fortunes, even the BJP said that it would not make Ayodhya an issue during Bihar elections.
What has changed so much in two decades to bring about such marked alterations in the way we approach contention. Something certainly has, as suggested by a survey conducted by psephologist and political commentator Yogendra Yadav. The number of Muslims who wanted a mosque at all costs at the disputed site was 66% in 1996. This number had come down to 44% by 2004. Similarly, the percentage of Hindus who were adamant on only a temple was only 28% in 2004 as compared to 46% in 1996.
The softening of stances and a less confrontationist approach may have been a result, most visibly, due to the changing economic landscape of the country.
According to Economy Watch, Indian GDP growth rate in 1992 was 4.3% vs 8.7% in 2010. The per capita income calculated at current prices then was Rs 8104 p.a. as compared to Rs 55,092 now. Our GDP as part of world total has also nearly doubled from about 2.9% to 5.2% in the same time frame.
The fact is that in the 2010 India there is too much at stake. Too much money to be made, better homes to be built, brighter future for children to be dreamt.
On the reverse, extensive rioting after the demolition in 1992, Bombay blasts of 1993, communal violence of Godhra, and Gujarat have all made people wary. Often at the mercy of machinating politicians, citizens have begun to see through their Machiavellian plots. That is why the Rath Yatra of Advani which carried with it a sea of people in 1990, failed to create a ripple in 2006.
Our priorities have changes and so have our trials. The fruits of progress are the grapes of wrath for those who have been reduced to the margins. The serious threat posed by Naxals is a frightening challenge for the 21st century India.
The horrific terrorist attacks that have left our nation bloodied several times over are tribulations like no other. The periodic serial bomb blasts across the nation and the last and most fatal 26/11 has sickened people of carnage.
It is for this reason that for those of us who are hoping that India has turned the chapter, some vital questions remain.
What if the verdict had gone one way? Would the response of both the sides have been this mature?
What if there was no political will for peace and either the Congress or the BJP had been complicit in mayhem like in 1984 in Delhi and 2002 in Gujarat?
Riots are not always natural outbursts of outrage and rampant fury. They are often well scripted tales of dark conspiracies where indignation is manipulated and the faceless protagonists given a license to flout law.
What if one of the main political parties would have wanted the situation to go out of control to serve some parochial agenda?
What if the BJP would have insisted that they still want to decide the birthplace of Ram in the portals of Parliament through legislation?
What if there was no hope left for litigants to knock at the doors of the Supreme Court and the judgment was a final word cast in stone?
While answers to these difficult questions can remain tangled in the web of speculation, some anachronistic elements desperate for relevance in today’s day and age are bent on harping on an out-of-time tune.
Mulayam Singh, the self-serving SP chief who has done little by way of improving the lot of the minority community, or for that matter the majority, tried to whip up sentiments by saying that “Muslims felt cheated by the verdict”. If he had built infrastructure or created jobs for young Muslims when he was at the helm in UP, I would have given him my ear. But these crocodile tears mean nothing for a generation looking to climb the social ladder and cementing their place in an India of opportunities.
Not wanting to be left behind, Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid said Muslims can’t accept a decision taken in a “closed room”. Having let down his community on several occasions in the past, the Imam has hardly any locus standi. Besides, when he says decisions can’t be taken in a room, is he also meaning to imply that the matter should be resolved on the streets!
There is still no dearth of obsolete leaders who are hopelessly caught in the morass of the past. While India strains to move ahead full throttle these people are hell bent on applying brakes on our evolution.
The churning that is taking place in contemporary India is a combination of both fortunate and painful episodes. Our hope of a better tomorrow and fatigue with chronicles of destruction and bloodshed have hopefully led to fermentation of thought and maturation of outlook.
For India to truly break free, we would need to continue to tread the path of moderation, education and progress. We would need to reduce the gap between the haves and have nots. We would need to let the psychological wounds of history heal with the anodyne of time. We would also need to avoid traps laid by those who see us just as votebanks. Importantly, we must unshackle ourselves from those who are simply unwilling to move on….