Debating India

EXCLUSIVE AYODHYA

Hawking Doves

POORNIMA JOSHI

Saturday 20 December 2003, by JOSHI*Poornima

Article paru dans Outlook India, ?dition en ligne du samedi 20 d?cembre 2003.

The BJP presents another track-2 formula for Ayodhya with an eye on the 2004 polls.

First, the Kanchi Shankaracharya said he had hit upon a formula to solve the Ayodhya issue. But it foundered in a mist of pique and scepticism and is now in cold storage. Now, with an eye on the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the Ayodhya Jama Masjid Trust-a Union home ministry-backed body-has come up with yet another formula for ’solving’ the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute. The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) has been roped in for "creating the right atmospherics" for talks based on the new initiative.

Maulana Syed Asgar Abbas Rizvi is the Muslim face of the AJMT. But the brain behind the new formula is another trustee, Kartik Chopra, a businessman-activist believed to be close to Union minister of state for home Swamy Chinmayananda. The formula the AJMT has floated includes three basic points: the Muslims should give up their claim on the disputed plot number 583 as well as the adjoining land that has been acquired by the Union government through a parliamentary act.

Once they surrender this claim, the Muslims will be allotted land close to the house of the original claimant to the disputed plot, Hashim Ansari. And after the land is allotted, the government would allocate money to the tune of Rs 400 crore to build a mosque on the new site.

Chopra has been busy behind the scenes, having stationed himself in Ayodhya for the last couple of months. He lists the number of Ayodhya bigwigs he has enlisted in his bid to reach a settlement based on this new formula. "Mahant Gyan Das called for an iftaar last month and over 1,000 Muslims turned up. Do you think such things are done spontaneously? All this is part of confidence-building measures. The Muslims have been very reasonable throughout the Ayodhya controversy. The VHP wants nothing short of total humiliation for them. We are not going to let that happen. But time has come to reach a settlement and everyone involved should realise that," says Chopra.

The next push for the latest formula will be in January. Rizvi is planning to mobilise some of his fellow clerics and pay a visit to the VHP-run karsevakpuram in Ayodhya for "further talks". Says Rizvi: "We will go to Ayodhya on January 26. All of us need to get together and initiate a dialogue."

Besides convincing the local Hindu and Muslim leaders in Ayodhya, the crucial task before Chopra is to get the influential All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) on his side. For now, the AIMPLB has dismissed the formula as one tailored to please the VHP. Says board member Zafaryab Jilani: "We have always maintained that we are not closed to a dialogue, but talks always boil down to suit the VHP agenda. All this is just a preparation for the Lok Sabha elections."

Chopra, however, denies the trust has any intention of promoting the VHP’s agenda. "We are talking with the petitioners and locals who are genuinely interested in reaching a settlement. There is no question of supporting the VHP’s agenda in these talks."

Meanwhile, the original claimant to the disputed land, Hashim Ansari, and Khaliq Ahmad Khan, a lawyer who helps Ansari with the legalities of the case, have responded to the AJMT formula by offering suggestions of their own. These have been sent to the prime minister’s office for "consideration". Ansari has pointed out that the final settlement of the title suit of the disputed site should be left to the courts. As for the land adjoining plot number 583 (the disputed land on which the title suit is being heard), Parliament has already paved the way through the Land Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993.

The Act envisages construction of a temple, a mosque, a library and a museum on this piece of "acquired land". Ansari has also noted that the Supreme Court’s verdict of October 24, 1994, in the case of M.Ismail Farooqui vs the Union of India-when the court clearly said the provisions of the Act should be followed-must be seen as the judiciary’s confirmation of the 1993 Act.

According to him, the Muslims are ready to abide by whatever the judiciary and Parliament decides, unlike the VHP and the dharam sansad. Ansari told Outlook: "Have we ever said we will not follow the court orders? Even if it is a negative verdict, the Muslims will abide by it. Then there is the 1993 Act that has been passed by Parliament. Why doesn’t the government implement the provisions of the Act? We are all for national consensus and peace. Unlike the VHP, we don’t want constant bloodshed and communal tension in the country."

In the past three months, the government has sent many feelers for a dialogue based on the AJMT formula to the AIMPLB-not just through Chopra et al but also the NCM. NCM chairman Tarlochan Singh says he is in constant touch with the AIMPLB chief, Maulana Rabe Hasani Nadvi. Says Singh: "I have met the AIMPLB chairman. I have also written to him pressing the need for a dialogue. You see, we want a solution to this whole problem. But I personally have not floated any formula. Since ours is an institution created for minorities, I thought we should be involved on matters such as these. Let us sit together and talk. Something will definitely come out of it."

UP chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav too was initially expected to be involved in creating a conducive environment for talks around the new formula. The hype around his role gained momentum when he attended a meeting called by the AIMPLB on December 7. He was also expected to meet some board members on December 17. But his colleague and Rajya Sabha MP Amar Singh flatly denies the SP’s involvement in any Ayodhya dialogue initiated by the bjp. Says he: "Any speculation about the SP’s involvement in a dialogue initiated by the bjp is total rubbish. We have nothing to do with any such move."

Whatever the fate of this latest formula, a shift in the bjp’s position is clearly perceptible-that a solution to the Ayodhya dispute may be far more profitable before the 2004 general elections than all the trishul-brandishing in the name of Ram. Most importantly, the prime minister is backing the new initiative and is very keen on solving the Ayodhya dispute before elections next year.

P.S.

The New Formula

1. Muslims give up their claim to the disputed Plot No. 583 as well as the acquired land adjacent to it.

2. In return, Muslims are allotted land near the house of the petitioner in the title suit, Hashim Ansari. A mosque is to be constructed there.

3. Rs 400-crore central government grant to build the mosque, a temple and a library.

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