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‘Ayodhya’s locals have moved on with their lives’

‘The locals want a permanent solution to the perennial Mandir-Masjid issue. They have realised political parties will lose relevance if a temple is built.’

The air in the dusty and run-down town of Ayodhya, which, on December 6, 1992, saw a mob razing the historical Babri masjid to the ground, is filled with fresh hopes and renewed tensions.

The buoyant right-wing Hindu organisations are almost certain that constructing the Ram temple will be completed before the general elections of 2019. They are gearing up, believing that the BJP-led Centre would get a Bill passed in both Houses of Parliament to pave the way for the construction.

Similarly, they hope that the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government in Uttar Pradesh would provide the resources and means for the construction.

“Modi-Yogi will build us a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya,” says 79-year-old Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, chairman of the Ram Janmabhumi Nyas, an outfit affiliated to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

Das, who sports a luxuriant grey beard, has been galvanising support for the Ram temple for more than five decades. He is also one of the key accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case. Das, by virtue of his age, happens to be one of the most revered sants in Choti Chawani of Ayodhya.

Across Choti Chawani are the ruins of the Babri masjid and the makeshift Ram temple, which came into existence after some people sneaked into the central dome and placed an idol of Ram in the early hours of December 23, 1949. Since then the disputed site has become a bone of contention between the Hindus and Muslims.

Hindu outfits believe that the apex court would set aside the Allahabad high court judgment dividing the disputed land equally among the three primary litigants — Nirmohi Akhara, Sunni Waqf Board, and Sri Ram Lalla Virajman (Lord Ram was considered as a litigant) — in 2010.

“It has already been established in the high court that the disputed land is the birthplace of Lord Ram. The entire land should be returned to the Hindus,” says Kamal Nayan Das, the successor to Mahant Nritya Gopal Das.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday decided to hear the civil appeals filed by various parties challenging the 2010 Allahabad High Court verdict on February 8 next year.

Mistrust

Even if the Supreme Court rules that the disputed land belongs to the Hindus, the VHP or any other Hindu organisation will find it difficult to construct the temple.

The Nirmohi Akhara says the right to the construction and management of the temple solely rests with them.

“The VHP has no right to the disputed land. It is our land and it will be inappropriate for us to hand it over to others. The VHP can talk to us and give its support in building the Ram temple,” says Mahant Dinendra Das of the Nirmohi Akhara, hinting at the growing mistrust between the two Hindu organisations.

Dinendra Das doesn’t shy away from blaming the VHP for trying to sabotage the Akhara’s talks with the other two litigants — the Sunni Waqf Board and the Sri Ram Lalla Virajman.

“The VHP has collected crores in the name of constructing a Ram temple and it would lose its relevance if the temple is constructed. They don’t want us to settle the matter outside the court,” Dinendra Das rues.

Dinendra Das claims that the Nirmohi Akhara had arrived at an agreement with both the Hindu Mahasabha and Sunni Waqf Board following months-long parleys under the guidance of spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. He says the Sunni Waqf Board was ready to relinquish its title claim on the disputed Ramjanambhoomi land in lieu of another Akhara property in Ayodhya.

The Akhara is believed to be holding large swathes of land across the country and claims that it has followers running into millions.

But everything is not as simple as is being projected.

The Akhara’s own house is not in order as another seer claims to be the chief litigant in the Supreme Court and also the chief of the Akhara. The matter became worse a few days ago when Dinendra Das was caught on camera admitting that Rs 20 crore would be paid to the Sunni Waqf Board to relinquish its claim.

Propaganda

An upset Sunni Waqf Board called it another propaganda to create a false narrative that the Muslims want to give up their rightful claim. This perception, however, has gained ground recently after a few members of the Shia Waqf Board advocated the construction of the Ram temple at the disputed site. They proposed that a new masjid can be constructed in Lucknow, some 130 km from the disputed site.

Khaliq Ahmed Khan, representative of one of the litigants, Maulana Mahfuzurahman, says the Shia Waqf Board doesn’t have any holding in the case.

“They lost the case in 1946, when the Faizabad court ruled that the Babri masjid and its surrounding land belongs to the Sunni Waqf Board,” Khan says.

Khan says the Sunni Waqf Board has been fighting the Babri Masjid-Ramjanambhoomi land case since 1961 and they were geared up for a long battle in the Supreme Court as well.

“We are going to challenge the findings of the Archaeological Survey of India. Its report doesn’t conclusively say that the Babri masjid was built in place of a temple,” Khan says, seated in his shop in the bustling city of Faizabad.

It was the ASI report on the basis of which the three judge-Bench of the Allahabad high court had concluded that the portion below the central dome belonged to the Hindus and where the Ram Lalla has been established is the birthplace of Ram.

Sheetla Singh, the 85-year-old editor of Faizabad-based newspaper Janmorcha, says the apex court alone can decide the title of the disputed land. But it is the central government that owns the disputed land through an Act of Parliament.

After the demolition of the Babri masjid, the central government passed the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993, with the objective to build a temple, mosque, library, among other things, at the disputed site.

“The central government will have to bring an amendment to the Act before awarding the land to any of the claimants,” says Singh, overseeing his staff at the newspaper roof-top office in a nondescript building.

People of Ayodhya/Faizabad

The people in the twin cities say that it would be difficult for the right-wing Hindu outfits to whip up a frenzy similar to the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition incident.

“The locals want a permanent solution to the perennial Mandir-Masjid issue. But they have moved on in their lives. They have realised political parties will lose relevance if a temple is built,” says Anil Kumar, a Faizabad-based political analyst.

“It won’t take time for outsiders to convert a spark into a communal fire,” he warns.

Photograph: Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters.

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