Ayodhya dispute: The complex legal history of India’s holy site

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath are lining up for the bhoomi pujan on 5 August .

Actually, a lot of people can claim credit for bringing India to this penultimate step of bhoomi pujan before the grand Ram Mandir is built in Ayodhya — Advani, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishva Hindu Parishad, and the Congress. But, most importantly, Indian families.

Undoubtedly, L.K. Advani not only set the ball rolling but also introduced the new language of Hindutva pride in the early 1990s. He single-handedly pull to pieces the word ‘secularism’ from India’s aspirational pulpit, and gave it the adjective ‘pseudo’. In every stump speech from the rath, he spoke of the historical Hindu wound and made Babri Masjid a buzzword for hate in Indian living rooms.

But Indian family conversations should also be a big pretender for this credit. They kept chipping away at India’s founding ‘narrative template’. This is why scholars stumbled early on by locating the so-called ‘idea of India’ in saving the Babri Masjid. That idea wasn’t demolished at a religious site, it was taken apart brick by brick in our living rooms.

Re-doing history

Many in the Indian liberal commentariat have said that the demolition of the Babri Masjid was the biggest blow to Nehruvian ideals. But to invest an old decrepit mosque with the burden of secularism and an ‘idea of India’ was never going to fly. First, a religious structure can’t be and shouldn’t be a site to preserve secularism. Second, and more importantly, many Hindus, over generations, had been taught to view the mosque as a site of historical humiliation. They acted as ‘mnemonic communities’ (thick-memory communities) self-identifying as wounded.

And that wound, reminded Arun Shourie, was strewn across India, not just Ayodhya. According to a book that he co-wrote — Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them — which was published much before the demolition in 1990, there are 2,000 mosques that stand on top of demolished temples. The red book listed each of these mosques with name, village and some photographs, and gave intellectual fodder to the Vishva Hindu Parishad’s campaign in the 1990s that said Hindus are ready to give up their claims over these 2,000 mosques if Muslims would give them the Ayodhya, Varanasi and Mathura sites.




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