Thoughts on "Truth and Reconciliation over Ayodhya"

Offstumped has set forth his views on how the Rama Janmasthana-Babari Masjid and such like issues may be resolved now and in the future.

Since I have some thoughts to share on the eve of a much awaited judgment on the Ayodhya dispute (which is now delayed by a week), I thought it better to link to Offtumped’s article since he has spoken of “Truth and Reconciliation”. Many of our elite these past days have spoken of “Reconciliation” but rarely, if at all, of “Truth”.

Let’s begin –

Offstumped starts with two apprehensions he uses to base his larger argument.

#1 Apprehensions of the culturally conscious within the Majority on whether a State wedded to “secularism” (however flawed its definition) will always find it incumbent to bend over backwards to appease the Minority at the expense of the Majority so Minorities feel secure.

#2 Apprehensions of the politically conscious within the Minority and the progressives on whether a State that yields to the Majority on culture issues will deny the Minority its freedom to faith and appear to be illiberal or fundamentalist to the “non-believing progressive liberal” global community (however flawed such perceptions maybe)

On the first point, I would like to say that many of the “conscious” in our country; either culturally or politically; retain superficial views about secularism and its dynamics in a Multi-Cultural polity such as ours. I believe that the issue has nothing to do with an acceptable or more accurate definition of secularism but with the basic received “wisdom” that the sacral must be separated from the temporal. Whatever might have been the compulsions in Europe and the West, Hindu polity has behaved differently. Our States have traditionally steered clear of imposing ruling or even majority religious norms on the common populace while remaining very religious. This has had to do with the nature of Dharma and the principle of different Dharmic (not restricted to orthodoxy) paths leading to Brahman. Even those Jatis or Janajatis that did not accept such Brahmanical frameworks never felt constrained or in conflict with the so-called mainstream.

Least someone think I’m putting too fine a gloss over our ancient polity; reform within tradition had sufficient play and reformers as a rule did not have to burn at the stake.

Therefore secularism in Hindusthan is actually a travesty and a perversion in the first instance. Privileging the assertive minority is how the disease manifests itself in our body politic.

Secondly and taking the nature of Hindu polity into consideration, minority fears are misplaced. Perhaps they have come to see secularism as that shield behind which they can wield and threaten the National Society. In the absence of secularism in Hindusthan, there is no basis to think that any minority would be constrained in its religious or cultural practices. So long as public space is not encroached upon disproportionately and so long as the National Society is not disturbed by gratuitous infringements; minorities will flourish.

Let me further define a minority in the case of Hindusthan.

A minority is that segment of our total population which insists upon an Only God and Prophet. Insists that its way leads to salvation and all others lead to hell. Insists on converting more and more of the people outside of its fold unto its own in order to save their souls.

It should matter little if individual members of such a minority don’t believe in these precepts. All that matters is that they owe alliance to these in some way, shape or form. The reason these are minorities and not of the same cloth as the National Society is because the latter Society has developed differently. There has been more give and take and a healthy respect for different paths and traditions.

So the problem is more basic and if we are to work towards deeper solutions, we must talk more about deeper causes.

I think Offstumped falters in recognizing these apprehensions as factual in themselves. Any structure that is built upon such a faulty foundation must shake. Let us now examine the Truths in his list.

#1 It is true that the communal fault lines in India have their roots in political mobilization on religious grounds during the Freedom movement on all sides.

– What is “communal”? It appears to mean religion based groups having religion based concerns. “Communalism” would mean such groups working towards goals that are specific to their groups. Sometimes such goals are in conflict with the goals of other “communal” groups – thereby creating “fault lines”. However, who is to say these fault-lines are not valid or are artificial?

As explained above, religion has never been apart from our politics. It has always been part of it. Only, the manner in which religion is perceived by the Hindu society has differed greatly from various minorities that have come to inhabit this land. The Hindu fight for independence started when their polity was encroached upon successfully by Islamic invaders and then later by the Christian West. (By successful I mean that when they managed to create more permanent bases on our land.) An early “fault line” was created. Seen from this light, our fight has always had a serious communal element to it. In 1857, the Muslims saw their opportunity to regain political prestige for Islam. Another “fault line” here.

During the “freedom movement” Offstumped alludes to and presumably he alludes to the movement under Gandhi; then too the fight was essentially from a religious perspective since Gandhi and his predecessors did not claim to be secular; the difference being that Gandhi sought to erase these “fault lines” by surrendering long standing Hindu religious and political interests. A highly visible but logical fracture that developed due to such “fault lines” was the partition of Hindusthan. This event should have seen the culmination of a series of fault lines but that did not happen because Hindus had seemingly forgotten the nature of the fault line that caused the fracture. At least their leadership of the time, had.

Therefore imagining that these fault lines could have been avoided if they were not politically mobilized is to try not to find water in an ocean.

#2 It is also true that partition of India on religious grounds further deepened these fault lines rather than erase them

– A natural and logical happenstance.

#3 The geo-political reality of the Sub-Continent as it exists today is unlikely to change and we must come to terms with it.

– Let us examine a little more. If by geo-political reality we mean the existence of Pakistan and Bangladesh as Islamic States, then these are real at least for the foreseeable future. Hindusthan is in flux. I don’t think a secular polity is a settled fact for us. There are plenty of factors that can still unsettle such convenient consensus not the least being the nature and logic of secularism itself.

#4 It is possible to envisage a future where borders could become irrelevant but that future aspiration should not be the basis for domestic political mobilization in the present times, we must accept that reality as well atleast for the next 10 years.

– How or why borders need become irrelevant is not explained. I think strong borders are very important. There are no current political mobilizations that are happening with such a future in mind unless one views Islamic mobilizations in Hindusthan from this angle. There is truth in that.

#5 We must also recognize the Truth that in the immediate aftermath of Partition, the Indian State went out of its way to make the Minority feel secure in India out of deep apprehensions of instability and violence.

– There is no truth in such a deduction. The State of Hindusthan went out of its way wrt minority security because philosophically, it saw no other way that was right. It never perceived itself as a possible Hindu State.

#6 We must also recognize the Truth that in that attempt to make the Minority feel secure the Indian State made mistakes some of which came at the expense of the Majority

– If the deduction is that this could have been avoided; given the nature of our secular polity; then it is wrong. It was and is unavoidable. So, in that sense these are not “mistakes” that can be corrected without changing our polity.

#7 We must also recognize the Truth that these mistakes coupled with 5 decades of political monopoly of one Party contributed to illiberal and anti-national policies getting Constitutional sanction via subversive amendments.

– Actually, the Shah Bano amendment was in tune with the secular character of our polity. The judgment itself that tried to slyly circumvent Muslim Personal Law was the travesty.

#8 We must also recognize the Truth that these 5 decades of monopoly had empowered political power brokers within the Minority at the expense of the “aam Admi” within the Minority

– There is no co-relation really to longevity of political tenure with policies that affected minorities. No co-relation unless there were challengers to the basis of such a polity.

#9 We must also recognize the Truth that these political power brokers within the Minority had no political incentive in eliminating the apprehensions and pursuing politics that would have genuinely benefited their socio-economic development

– When the secular polity inherently creates the miasma of “possible threats to minorities against which they should be protected”, such power brokers are merely doing their job. In order to disincentivize these and such brokers, we need to think about changing the basis of our polity.

#10 We must also recognize the Truth that this practice of nurturing political power brokers within the Minority to make flawed decisions at the expense of Majority had lead to an inevitable political backlash in the late 1980s and 1990s.

– There was a backlash to such politics but it was half-baked. An assault on a so called pseudo-secularism was mounted but not on secularism itself. The basic structure was still a holy cow. So the majority backlash is merely reactive and not really corrective. This cycle will go on.

#11 We must also accept the reality that while the politics of the late 1980s and early 1990s provided an outlet to the Majority to express its rejection of the flawed politics of the first 5 decades it failed to provide a coherent alternative within the ambit of the Constitution

– Of course, because that would have involved messing with the “Basic Structure”, our secular holy cow. Hindu leaders were not even thinking about challenging socialism forget secularism. Figuratively speaking, L.K. Advani decapitated the movement by peddling the myth of “pseudo-secularism” and the assumed fight for a “real secularism”.

If the Constitution is assumed to be founded on the “basic structure” enshrined in the Preamble, there is little hope of finding alternatives within the ambit of such a Constitution. We should start by questioning the sacrosanct nature of the “basic structure” itself.

#12 We must also accept the reality that the political mobilization on Culture Conflicts that remained unresolved due to the flawed politics of the first 5 decades while ending the political monopoly of one party and making national politics competitive came at a collateral social cost

– Flawed politics emanate from a flawed polity. The seemingly incoherent resistances to policies via political mobilization on “culture conflicts” are really resistance to the nature of our existing secular polity. This should be recognized clearly if we are to even begin analyzing possible solutions to such conflicts.

#13 We must also accept the Truth that the collateral social cost in the form of political violence from this political mobilization is no different from the collateral social costs from political violence from past abuses of power and social conflicts during the first 5 decades after Independence

– All arising from the nature of our secular polity.

#14 We must also accept the Truth that the first 5 decades of misgovernance lead to an Institutionalization of poor Judicial Performance leading to unacceptable delays in Justice Delivery at all levels of the Government thus contributing to an abject lack of Justice Delivery to the many victims of this collateral damage from abuses of power and political mobilization on culture/social conflicts

– One cannot treat the disease by merely attacking manifestations. That’s not how Hindus have traditionally solved problems. One should attack the root that rears the disease.

#15 We must accept the reality that the Constitution, the state of the Judiciary and the Executive at Federal, State, Local levels as it exists today does not have the necessary tools to facilitate a transparent and participative process of resolution to these Culture Conflicts while ensuring Justice to all Victims of Political Violence over the last 6 decades.

– How can these have “the necessary tools to facilitate a transparent and participative process of resolution to these Culture Conflicts”? Such tools are completely against the grain. Even if such tools exist, they are bound to be used to subvert the National Society (The notion of a National Society itself is alien to a secular polity). Such is true anywhere in the secular-liberal world. See for instance how such a tool paved the way for the Masjid in New York. The National Society in the US has now to resort to mobilizing construction workers and asking them not to work on the Masjid.

#16 We must accept the reality that the practice of the past 6 decades of amending the Constitution to give more powers to the Federal Government via Parliament’s ability to legislate does not lead to satisfactory solutions and only further weakens the sanctity of the Constitution and Federalism while sowing the seeds for future conflicts on account of local/regional sentiments being ignored or deliberately sidelined.

– Mere tinkering with the nature of governance will not help solve the problem. I think the idea is to localize disputes; however the resolutions still will need to abide by basic principles laid down in the current Constitution.

#17 We must also accept the reality that this practice of Federally legislated solutions to socio-economic conflicts has lead to short sighted politics that have only encouraged opportunistic political mobilization based on identity and all its associated negative effects of corruption, nepotism, political violence and instability through dissidence.

– Short-sightedness is assumed here. Perhaps the reason for such assumption is it has given rise to unpalatable conflicts. What is ignored is that such conflicts are natural in a flawed polity. The conflict is real. What manifests in its stead depends on how the conflict is resolved and the premise upon which such resolutions are based. It is very doubtful if an artificially localized (contained?) conflict that is resolved against the interests of a National Society will be accepted as fait accompli nationally merely because the local members of the National Society agree to such a “solution”.

#18 We must finally accept the reality that the pursuit of “self interest” via identity politics that thrives on historical grievances will not end with Constitutional amendments forced top down

– The assertion is not clear. However, the import seems to be to localize conflict resolution.

#19 We must also finally accept the reality that the Cultural Diversity of India is such that there will also be a multitude of such “identity determined self interests” which may not always be in harmony with each other leading to inevitable political conflicts

– The nature of Hindu diversity and the modes of communication this National Society has historically evolved is being confused with conflicts arising out of the “clash of civilizations” so to speak. Ayodhya falls in the latter category. In the former fall Jati related conflicts that are resolved amicably via relevant laws and social reform.

#20 We must also finally accept the reality that the only way to resolve such future conflicts is to allow for an Institutionalized Constitutional Framework within which such Conflicts can be resolved Democratically without the need for National Legislations that are forced on everyone and without succumbing to the blackmail of competitive Political Violence by Identity based Groups in conflict with each other.

– Again not clear unless one takes “National Legislation” to mean the Constitution including its “basic structure” and their legal interpretations. But the talk of an “Institutionalized Constitutional Framework” must mean our current Constituent including its “basic structure” and an adherence to it with perhaps some harmless amendments. This method forecloses any options that may be in the interests of the National Society. The minority can always resort to “threats to itself” and arm-twist the secular polity to do its bidding (its job, actually).

Taking into consideration all of the above points and the fact that the current Constitution with its “basic structure” is sought to be left untouched; one is not surprised to find that the State is forced to resort to strong arm tactics in order to enforce its diktat.

This situation is ably reflected in “Institutionalized Constitutional Framework” that Offstumped’s Big Tent offers –

#1 There will be ZERO TOLERANCE TO Political Violence and Identity based Discrimination

#2 The Rule of Law will be ruthlessly enforced on above

#3 Justice will always be delivered to every Victim of violence and discrimination in a timely manner

This makes the State and its structures an enemy of the National Society because the secular-liberal polity affords little or no leeway for expressions of the political or cultural Will of such a National Society.

Assertions nevertheless, will be met with force.

Alternately, in a Hindu polity that respects the National Society and considers it as such while providing minorities enough scope to live and flourish with dignity without giving offense to the dignity of the National Society, the State and its structures are not enemies but partners in unified endeavor. Therefore the State’s actions acquire substantial meaning when it claims to speak for National Interests.

Further, the “Institutionalized Constitutional Framework” seeks to promise the provinces (states) the following that are again bound to get into conflict with the nature of the secular-liberal polity; for Offstumped’s scheme has still not spoken about changing the nature of our polity. Just to be clear, I am in favor of devolution of powers but in a Hindu polity.

Let’s see if specific issues can be identified –

#1 States will have the freedom to frame laws on socio-economic issues like Reservations, Labor Laws, Social Schemes, Entitlements and the Constitution shall be amended to allow for this freedom to the States

– Reservations for minorities in Hindu majority states. How shall the state evade accusations of “pandering to the majority” and ignoring the “just” demands of the minorities?

#2 Local Governments will have the freedom to raise taxes and bear the responsibility for local delivery of services from public utilities, law enforcement, zoning etc…

– There is talk of proportional or increased representation of minorities in law enforcement to ensure “social justice”. Will Hindus be expected to pay for minority recruitment drives? If not, will the said state administrations remain unmolested for “ignoring” minority representation?

#3 Direct Democracy at the Local level will allow the people to push upwards proposals on Socio-Cultural issues to allow the States to resolve conflicts on Cultural and Social Conflicts in a democratic way

– Let’s take the Ayodhya dispute. Shall the minority in this dispute be forced to abide by a majority democratic verdict? How shall this be resolved if parties to the dispute approach the courts and the courts find for the minority that goes against the majority public opinion? Or shall the minority be forced not to approach the courts at all? The majority may not feel too pressurized given its numbers in the democratic arena.

#4 There is a risk of Direct Democracy resulting in paralysis of the kind we have seen in California or resulting in Constitutionally absurd proposals finding popular support. It is only in such extreme cases there should be a role for the Supreme Court to intervene and specify constitutionally acceptable parameters or limits while sending those issues back to the State and Local Government for resolution.

– The notion that some proposals are “absurd” becomes irrelevant when one has decided to devolve powers to local bodies and states. How shall the Supreme Court decide on relevance, acceptability and limits to issues raised by the community? It is for the community to decide. (A Hindu polity can resolve this by reference to traditions)

#5 For issues that transcend State boundaries or impact National Frontiers (like SSP) the current method of Federal Parliament based legislations will continue

– No issues here.

I’m afraid Offstumped’s optimism given the fact that he has refused to disturb the basic nature of our polity, is misplaced. His specific proposals for the “Institutionalized Constitutional Framework”, I have shown, even with limited illustrations, are insufficient to deliver on his following promises.

#1 Justice to all victims of Communal Riots

#2 Justice to all victims of Discrimination

#3 Freedom to Religious Institutions with no government interference

#4 Culture Conflicts that have remained unresolved on account of apprehensions of above 3

The flaw in Offstumped’s formulation reveals itself in his proposals for Ayodhya.

Step 1 – give freedom to local communities

– Given

Step 2 – Trust economics to find the right solutions by free will of people rather than forced top-down. Empower local community and stakeholders to take over religious shrines via direct democracy thru appropriate legislation

– The “local community” and stakeholders taking over shrines will necessarily have to be from the community to which the shrines belong. Unless there is a conflict like the title suite in Ayodhya, there really is no dispute as to who the stakeholders are. If this is to be resolved via Direct Democracy, one must deal with figures. Muslims in Faizabad constitute 14.6 % of the total population. The rest, we must presume, are Hindus. Economy of numbers is clearly in favor of Hindus.

Step 3 – all political outfits and socio-religious groups agree to respect step 2 as the basis for reconciliation. Both representative parties make their case to the people of Faizabad on faith and economic grounds and how the local community will stand to benefit from investments and economic activity etc

– Given. Offstumped assumes Muslims will agree if they feel there is more money in their pockets if a Mandir comes up. The Hindus can be assured of that fact for themselves.

Step 4 – with step 2 as the basis let the people of Faizabad settle the dispute via local direct democracy as far as the disputed land goes. For the rest where the legal status is clear hand it over to the legal stakeholders.

– Let’s look at the questions before the courts:

It is the longest running legal dispute in India. Call it by any name – Babri dispute or Ram Mandir dispute, but it all simply boils down to just who owns the 60 sq feet by 40 sq feet land in Ayodhya where the Babri Masjid used to stand till December 6, 1992.

The dispute actually dates back to 1885 when the first petition was filed by the head of the Nirmohi Akhara asking for permission to offer prayers to Ram Lalla inside what was known as the Babri Masjid. But the permission was never given.

In the following year in 1886, district Judge of Faizabad court FEA Chamier gave his verdict “It is most unfortunate that a masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus, but as that event occurred 356 years ago, it is too late now to remedy the grievance.”

Since then and from 1950 onwards five title suits were filed in the Allahabad High Court. Out of these four are in favour of Hindus and one from the Sunni Waqf Board, All the suits stake claim to the title of the plot of land of the Babri masjid.

It the title suits which are now going to be decided by the three-judge Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court. The bench comprising of Justice SU Khan, Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Justice DV Sharma has to answer the following questions: Did a temple exist at the disputed site before 1528 when Mir Baqi constructed the Babri Masjid? If the suit filed by Sunni Waqf Board in 1961 was barred by time limitation? Was Ayodhya really the birth place of Lord Ram and is there evidence to show that Hindus have been worshipping at this place for a long time?

Another question to be answered is if Muslims had abandoned the mosque in 1934? Was the appearance of Ram Lalla’s idols inside the Babri Mosque area really an act of miracle?

Now, which of these questions are for Direct Democracy to resolve keeping in mind our secular-liberal polity.

Note – I like Offstumped’s basic idea of devolution of powers to local communities. However, in a situation where decisions will have to conform to a secular-liberal framework, any exercise of devolved powers will remain constrained and mostly invite the State’s retribution if these fall outside of framework.

The other assumption I disagree with is the thinking that man lives by bread alone. To my mind, there cannot be any other reason for Offstumped to not have considered re-looking the “basic structure” of our secular-liberal Constitution all the while devolving powers and speaking in terms of “local economies”.

All in all, these call for a larger more detailed debate.

– Namaste

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One Response

  1. Till now, I did not read Offstumped’s Shweta Chhatra article. “Real news” interested me more than “proposals”. Now, I have read his proposals via your article and note that there my comment is the first here. It is obvious that your are direct and very perceptive, and the vision is completely spot on. Thank you!

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