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LET us admit it. Most of us, and not only the government, despite ritual obeisance to our civilizational heritage of peaceful co-living, were apprehensive about the fallouts of the long delayed (and awaited) Allahabad High Court judgement on the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suits. The unprecedented deployment of security forces in sensitive spots across the country, the curbs on bulk SMS mails, the feverish pleas from leaders across the political spectrum for calm, were all evidence of the explosive potential of an issue that has marked our politics and public discourse for over two decades.

The judgement, the ramifications of which are still sinking in, was a surprise. Equally, though the relief is palpable, was the absence of organized public protest, even intemperate speech by the affected parties. So, is it that the Ram Mandir issue is now a matter of the past, its mobilizational potential over? Can we now look forward to a public discourse dominated by reasoned arguments rather than assertions of faith and hurt sentiment? And can we now assume a willingness on all sides to either effect a reconciliation or accept the judgement of the Supreme Court in the event that an affected party challenges the High Court verdict?

Despite the ostensible calm and assertions by political pundits that the current generation, many born after the tumultuous days of the early 1990s, have moved beyond such divisive (non)issues, and are far more concerned about issues of employment and opportunity, such conclusions might be premature. It is, for instance, unclear how the jurisprudence employed by the learned justices, which relies of ‘faith and belief’ as vital factors, especially on a question relating to a title suit in a property dispute, will play out in the future. Equally disturbing is the weightage given to the assertion, what many historians refer to as a ‘contested fact’, that five centuries back the ‘disputed’ mosque was constructed after breaking a temple. This while choosing to remain silent about the far more recent demolition of the mosque in contempt of court.

To state sharply, both the surreptitious installation of the statues of Ram Lalla in 1949 and the subsequent consecration of a makeshift temple on the site of the demolished mosque in 1992 have been given a judicial imprimatur, in the process sidelining both faith and claims to a place of worship on the Muslim side. It should then come as no surprise that the Muslim faithful feel apprehensive, if not betrayed. Not only are they being asked to ‘accept’ the status quo vis-a-vis Ayodhya and the mosque, they are being offered no convincing assurance that Ayodhya will remain an aberration, never again to be repeated.

It is instructive that despite the Sunni Wakf Board being given title to one-third of the disputed site, no one from the Muslim side is celebrating. Contrast this with the elation, even if subdued, of the Hindutva groups who have once again reiterated their ‘appeal’ to the Muslim community to come forward in a spirit of reconciliation and help build a grand temple to Lord Ram at the ‘holy’ site. There is, of course, no offer by any Hindu group to help build another mosque to replace the one that was demolished. No matter what ‘spin’ we give, it is difficult to deny that one side smells victory and the other defeat. Hardly a secure basis for reconciliation and lasting peace, far less a claim about justice.

Most residents of Ayodhya, both Hindu and Muslim, only want this issue to be given a deep burial so that they can safely resume their everyday lives. And yet, they too are aware that their agency has been snatched from them, that they are now mere bystanders in a larger drama being scripted by others – the Hindutva groups, who want a grand temple to correct what they claim was a historic injustice and a blow to national pride; the Sunni Wakf Board, worried about the status of the many sites of Muslim worship, most specifically in Mathura and Varanasi; and the secular intelligenstia, concerned about the intrusion of faith and belief in Indian jurisprudence and thereby the fate of Indian secularism.

But, above all, spare a thought for the Hindu faithful for whom Lord Ram, so far an illuminating presence residing in their hearts, is now being converted into a historical personage with specific coordinates in time and space. As the Supreme Court, where the matter will now land up, ponders over these difficult, if not irresolvable questions, one can only wonder over the fate of the many janmasthans which dot Ayodhya. And of the future of a state which, in its continuous pusillanimity and inability to take firm and timely action, permits a local dispute to assume national dimensions, and thus redefine our understanding of nationalism, secularism and democracy in ways that can only disturb.

Harsh Sethi