It was perhaps 2011-12. When I entered Prayagraj Express to travel from Allahabad to Delhi, I saw an old gentleman sitting in front of me. I was settling down and arranging my luggage, when he said, I have seen you somewhere? When I looked back at him a little closely, I also felt that I had met him before, but where?

Then he cleared the doubt. The old gentleman extended his hand and introduced himself, my name is Palok Basu. Oh Dada! These words came out of my mouth spontaneously. Palokda was honourable Justice in high court, but he never gave up the bond of brotherhood with the people of Allahabad. When I met him for the first time, he was among the eminent jurists and theatre artists of the city. I asked him why was he going to Delhi. He replied: “I am trying to solve the Ayodhya issue. I keep travelling to Delhi in this regard." Hearing this the journalist in me became alert. I asked him several questions and he replied to all of them. Palokda was convinced that this long pending matter would be resolved soon. Today, he is no more with us, but his optimism comes to mind.

After a week of this chance meeting with him, I mentioned this conversation at a gathering in Lutyens Delhi. Many MPs of various parties were present there. Almost everyone there agreed on one thing—that this was not possible. The reason? The matter had become political. There can’t be a more interesting ‘political’ comment by political people than this. We all know that the Ayodhya issue might have started with religious faith, but since the time of the Britishers the shadow of politics has been hovering over it.

Instead of opening the damp doors of history, I would like to mention the decisive phase of the present. In 1986, a district court judge of Faizabad allowed Hindus to worship there by instructing the administration to unlock the doors of the temple. The foundation of this judgement was laid in 1949, when on the intervening night of 22-23 December the statues of Lord Ram, Lakshman and Sita ‘appeared’ there. The next week a receiver was deputed there after confiscation of the property. If you want, you can recall that in 1949 Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was the prime minister and in 1986, Rajiv Gandhi’s government was in power.

This matter took another significant turn in 1990 when Lal Krishna Advani took out his famous Rath Yatra. On 23 October, he was arrested in Samastipur, Bihar. This date will always be considered important in the history of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). After that, the response to it across the country made it clear that now the matter had gone beyond Mandir-Masjid, and had gained significance enough to make or overthrow a government. It’s not that only the Congress and the BJP were involved in this game. The regional satraps were also being benefited by this. The orders for arresting Advani were issued by Lalu Prasad Yadav. Mulayam Singh Yadav was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh back then. During his stint at the top, police had opened fire in Faizabad killing 10 people. Till today, Lalu in Bihar and Mulayam in Uttar Pradesh enjoy a lot of influence among the minority community voters.

After October 1990, the social structure of north India shook as the earth shakes from inside before an earthquake, but people living on the upper surface of the earth can’t feel it. This fatal earthquake surfaced on 6 December 1992 in the form of the demolition of Babri Masjid. After that, almost 2,000 people died in the riots that followed and property worth crores was destroyed or damaged. Needless to say, circumstances which prove to be a boon for politicians are often nurtured by the blood of the common people.

That phase has gone. Now, the apex court has to pronounce its judgement on this issue. These moments could make one restless, but it is also an excellent opportunity for the Indian intellect. To pronounce judgements on disputes is the duty of the courts, but the responsibility to follow those judgements falls on the citizens. The decision of the apex court may please one side and make the other unhappy. This is an opportunity for Indians living in the 21st century to send out a message that the feeling of coexistence runs in our veins. During the long journey of this dispute, there came many phases when we stumbled, but after the judgement a little positive effort from our side can set an example for the world, which is plagued with many disputes.

For example, Guru Hargobind Singh, after defeating the Mughals in 1634, built a mosque for local Muslims. After independence, the Nihang Sikhs took control of the mosque. For decades, the Sikhs worshipped Guru Granth Sahib there, but in 2001, they formally signed an agreement and handed over the mosque to the Muslims again. Now, in this ‘Guru Ki Maseet’ namaz is offered.

If this sentiment of coexistence can be so clearly expressed in Sri Hargobindpur, then why not in Ayodhya?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekarkahin

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