“MAT ranja kar kasu ko ki apney to etiqaad/ Dil dhaae ke jo kaaba banaaya to kya hua” (“A house of worship on the ruins of a broken heart?/ My faith and yours are so far apart”). The heart-tugging advice against inflicting one’s religion on another’s came from 18th-century Muslim poet Mir Taqi Mir. He lived roughly halfway in time between emperor Babar’s brief rule and the demolition 27 years ago of a mosque that one of his generals built in Ayodhya in 1528.
Had Mir Baqi, the general, constructed the mosque by destroying a Hindu temple, as some Hindus claim? Mir the poet would admonish him though India’s supreme court found no such evidence in its verdict last month. Were the zealots who razed the mosque on Dec 6, 1992, right in delivering what they claimed to be historical retribution? Mir would frown, though he was prone to departing from his faith to crave seclusion in Hindu temples, their bells and fragrances.
The five-member bench of the supreme court missed the delicate point last month when it gave away the land, where the mosque once stood, to the side that destroyed the monument to subvert the court’s orders.
Mir was not alone in sinking his spirit in India’s multicultural milieu. Nazir Akbarabadi and Ghalib, among others, followed him faithfully though the habit possibly precedes the earlier Urdu poet Wali Dakhani approximating to Aurangzeb’s period. They both died in 1707 after leading entirely opposite lives.
The Babri Masjid verdict should have brought succour to the government’s cheerleaders, but it hasn’t.
Wali wooed and applauded the diverse people of India. Aurangzeb alienated them, a departure from his forbears, led by the eclectic Akbar. “Koocha-i-yaar ain Kaasi hai/ Jogiya dil wahin ka baasi hai.” The Mughal era poet who wrote the lines was also known as Wali of Gujarat, which is where Narendra Modi’s hooligans destroyed his grave in 2002 and built a metal road over it. Some admirers still leave flowers at the spot to register their love and pain. What was the verse about? “My beloved lives in the sacred town of Varanasi/ And my ascetic heart belongs there.”
As this Friday marks the anniversary of the Ayodhya sacrilege, from the rubble of the mosque is emerging a tiny but discernible strain of unsettling remorse. Aggrieved Indians should rejoice that those who had supported the destruction of the mosque, or were followers of a dubious historiography that justified the violent assault are seeing their folly. For this reason and more, the widely-held fear of a majoritarian state emerging in India seems misplaced. A transient supremacist polity, yes, but a Hindu majoritarian state seems farfetched today. And this is the quandary for the Hindu right after the events in Maharashtra. Let’s go with Amartya Sen’s headcount of 200 million Muslims, about an equal number of Dalits with large number for Adivasis. Add Hindus who have been shot or jailed to the mix of a billon plus, Lalu Yadav, P. Chidambaram, Govind Pansare, Dhabolkar and Gauri Lankesh among them. Where’s the majority, leave alone majoritarianism?
An early encouragement to a strong hunch in this regard (some would readily call it conceit) came in the 1960s, when shabbily painted Ayodhya-related slogans in saffron appeared on Lucknow University’s walls and across the road on Colvin Taluqedar College. A little ahead was the IT College, hugging the road to Ayodhya, via Barabanki and Faizabad.
In the other direction, the graffiti extended right up to the British-built Monkey Bridge that linked the two banks of the Gomti. “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain” (“Say with pride we are Hindus”). The words went on monotonously. One hadn’t noticed any neighbour looking worried about their Hinduness, however, not one. So who was being cajoled?
The perplexing quest goes slightly back in time, actually, around the 1920s. Adopt the Hindu way of life or become a second-class citizen in future India, thundered M.S. Golwalkar to India’s Muslims and Christians. Would Ghalib or Mir pass the test? Well, see the treatment Wali got in Gujarat under Modi’s watch. What about Iqbal who described Lord Ram as ‘Imam-i-Hind’ in a long ode to the mythical hero?
A clear stance is emerging against an alien narrow-mindedness being pushed by the Hindutva coterie. Resentment connects Bengal to Maharashtra, Kashmir to Kerala. It is significant that the most dogged critics of Modi belong to the evolving Hindu right. They are matched only by a nondescript response from the left and centrist ideologues who will be tested again in the Delhi polls in February. It was their poor judgement that brought India to its current pass in May this year.
Among the leading voices slamming Modi are those of former BJP minister and journalist Arun Shourie and his colleague Yashwant Sinha. Shourie pronounced the Modi government as ‘Congress plus cow’. You would have expected the left at the barricades against the wilful subversion in Kashmir. However, it is Yashwant Sinha, formerly from the Hindutva stable who is leading the charge for Kashmiri rights. Industrialists who had supported the prime minister are publicly slamming his damaging sectarian policies. Journalists who never tired of cheering Modi are admitting their mistake.
And now the Maharashtra bombshell. The Babri Masjid verdict should have brought succour to the government’s cheerleaders, but it hasn’t, while opposition to un-Indian ideas being injected into the nation’s cultural veins in the name of spurious nationhood is gathering steam. Horse-trading of elected deputies cannot be seen as a win for Hindutva as was dubiously claimed in Haryana and earlier in Karnataka and Goa. It is bizarre that the world’s largest democracy should be shored up by elected representatives hidden away in safe houses for fear of being poached by the ruling party. The once silenced rubble in Ayodhya is conversing with Mir Taqi Mir, and more and more Indians are beginning to listen.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2019