India: Ayodhya Issue – Social Verdict to be Watched for!

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by Nilofar Suhrawardy 8 November 2019

Notwithstanding speculations and apprehensions voiced about the possible tension that Supreme Court’s verdict on the controversial Ayodhya-issue lead to, certain things cannot be ignored. Prior to elaborating to further on this, it may be noted that Ayodhya-issue refers to a dispute over a religious site in Uttar Pradesh (UP), India. Till December 6, 1992 there was a mosque called Babri Masjid built during the reign of a Mughal Emperor Babur in 1528-29. Interestingly, though the mosque existed there for centuries, not many people were aware of it. The issue began hitting headlines when several right-wing elements started making noise about their aim to demolish it and build a temple there. Though the dispute has been legally pursued for decades, greater attention with a religious fervor began being associated with through organization of religious marches, demonstrations, etc by right-wing forces with the aim of highlighting their demand for a temple at the disputed site. Though these moves did succeed in making people aware about the controversial issue, they failed to raise any major communal chaos over it.

In fact, it would be erroneous to assume that communalism and Ayodhya-dispute are closely tied with each other. Undeniably, attempts have been made frequently to create such an impression among people in general. Yes, it is a fact that demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 was accompanied by a phase of Hindu-Muslim riots across the country. But the havoc and problems caused for the nation as a whole have not let that phase last for too long. Certainly, each year as December 6 approaches, tension clouds the atmosphere till the period passes by. A similar fear prevails when any judicial body is scheduled to take some stand on the issue. Likewise, attempts made by various politicians to gather at Ayodhya to display their stand on the controversial issue also raises apprehension of it leading to some social tension or chaos. That has not happened. Rather, people have begun viewing noise made over Ayodhya-issue as politically manipulated.

Against this backdrop, what can be said about the so-called “historic” judicial verdict on the controversial Ayodhya-issue awaited for with speculations in the air about the social tension it may lead to? Will it lead to any social anarchy marked by communal tension or not? News about possible tension is in the air. In addition, there are reports of security being increased in Ayodhya and other areas to check any outbreak of violence. Certainly, irrespective of whether any disturbance takes place or not, it is fairly sensible on part of concerned authorities to take necessary measures for checking the same.

Comments from various leaders and organizations are asking people to maintain peace and harmony, respect whatever the judgment is, not indulge in any celebration over it and so forth. Numerous such statements are being continuously issued with people being asked to restrain from making “provocative statements” on the verdict, accept the judgment, not spread and entertain rumors, remain calm, not be provoked and so on. Clearly, no leader and/or organization linked with the issue and/or concerned about it, wants to be left behind in issuing such statements in “interest of peace and harmony.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that these statements have not genuinely been issued in the national interest to assure that peace and harmony is maintained. It is possible, another objective maybe to use this opportunity for gaining media coverage. Undeniably, media hasn’t refrained from according substantial coverage to all possible aspects of Ayodhya-issue. The question being deliberated upon on most is whether the verdict will lead to any tension or not.

A lot of course depends not on the nature of the verdict but on how right-wing elements react to it. Also, if they have already made plans regarding this, it is to be watched if security arrangements enhanced really succeed in checking these elements. Equally significant is whether communal frenzy initiated by these elements succeeds in provoking people in general. Yes, the final judgment in this case is dependent on the nature of social decision taken by people cutting across barriers, religious and others. If they are not moved to a riotous state, a percentage of right wing elements are least likely to have any negative impact on social atmosphere as a whole.

In addition, there is no guarantee that as scheduled the verdict would be delivered. Even if it is, it is least likely to be confined to just a few pages. The possibility of there being differences of opinion among judges constituting the bench cannot be ruled out. In these circumstances, whatever the judgment/stand declared by the bench is, prospects of it not being easily comprehensible by people at large cannot be dismissed. Differences in opinion of various leaders/parties’ understanding of the verdict may also prevail. Several days may be devoted to heated discussions and debates on Ayodhya-verdict, whether it is delivered or not, is postponed further or not. While media conducts heated discussions, with issue being front-page news dominating headlines, it wouldn’t be surprising if common people move on with their routine activities, hardly bothered about whatever is going on at other levels.

Nevertheless, at present, Indian media and politicians seem extremely concerned about the social reaction to judicial verdict. Yes, as the day is drawing closer, apprehension, tension and concern about Ayodhya-verdict leading to communal tension are gaining ground. Various leaders, parties and various organizations appear to be apprehensive about the possible reaction to the judicial stand on the controversial issue. Concern about it leading to communal tension suggests that there prevails fear about the social verdict, that is the behavior people display as their reaction to the judicial verdict.

There prevails fear about the judicial verdict leading to communal chaos which the demolition of mosque led to in 1992. This is 2019. Prospects of the same communal history being repeated in the present phase may be viewed as extremely limited. Why should it be and how can it be? Whatsoever the verdict is, it cannot be implemented overnight. Also, at present, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) faces the litmus test. The party is in power at the centre as well in Uttar Pradesh (UP). Any kind of communal chaos following the verdict would only throw question marks on the ability of this party to maintain peace and harmony in the country. Clearly, at present neither Prime Minister Modi nor the UP state minister Yogi would want question marks thrown at their “image.”

Here, it may be noted, cow-lynching cases have not been ignored by the national as well as international media. Nor have other communal incidents targeting Muslims been sidelined. Rather, given the increase and spread of numerous means of communication, even if – under pressure – some outlets choose to ignore or sideline these incidents, “news” about the same doesn’t take long to spread through other means of communication. No leader, party and/or organization can be and/or is oblivious of the fact that communal mayhem at any level, at present, is least likely to be welcomed by people in general, the majority of whom are Hindus.

Clearly, over a period of time, both communities have accepted that communal riots spell loss for all of them at numerous levels. Considering the poor economic conditions most are caught in at present, nobody wants these to worsen further. Ahead of parliamentary elections, attempts were made by various means to arouse communal tension between the two communities. They failed. It is possible, attempts maybe made by some right-wing elements to provoke communal frenzy over Ayodhya-issue, irrespective of the verdict’s nature. But these can certainly be checked by PM Modi, Home Minister and UP chief minister. Refusal of people to be roused to a stage of communal frenzy may compel them to. The final course of developments regarding judicial decision about Ayodhya-issue may thus rest on social verdict!