For the BJP, religion and politics are inseparable
Although it should be a matter of faith, the BJP has made the Rama temple part of its core political agenda.
The matter has been marred with controversy, as many Hindus believe or are made to believe that the exact spot in Ayodhya where the demolished Babri Mosque stood is the “Rama Janmabhumi” (the birthplace of Lord Rama), and that there was a Rama temple there until a local ruler of the Mughal Empire destroyed it to build a mosque on the same spot.
However, no historical evidence has been found so far to support these beliefs. The archaeological Survey of India did an excavation, and another structure was found beneath the spot, which neutral experts say are either ruins of an older mosque, or a ruin of some ancient Buddhist structure. It did not bear the characteristics of a Rama temple.
Hinduism is a religion based broadly on the Vedas -- the primary canon of the immigrant Aryans who arrived in India around the time of the decline of the Indus Valley civilization. Unlike many other icons of other religions, or Hinduism itself, Lord Rama isn’t a historical character, nor can the Ramayana, with all its miraculous happenings, be seen as a record of history.
Both are pure mythology, imagined and articulated initially by Valmiki, and later developed or modified by many others in various parts of India and even Southeast Asia, where it travelled through Indian merchants. Rama is considered an avatar (reincarnation) of Lord Vishnu in the Treta or Dapar period of Hindu mythology.
Those periods were many thousands years before the common era. There is no question that in those times there was an advanced (in some sense) civilization in India, ahead of most of the world. Even the pre-Aryan Indus Valley civilization rose and fell in a much later period.
Therefore, if there wasn’t any real individual called Lord Rama, how could he have a real birthplace? Even if it is a matter of faith that Lord Rama was born at that exact spot of the Babri Mosque, it’s a recently developed faith, rather than an ancient one.
Because in the plethora of Hindu scriptures, nowhere is the exact place of Lord Rama’s birth described. It’s possible that a few factors might have coalesced in this recent development of Hindu belief about Lord Rama’s birthplace on the Babri mosque spot.
Firstly, it’s true that there were some incidents in the history of the sub-continent where temples were converted into mosques by Muslim rulers or conquerors. One simple reason (although highly unethical in today’s moral scale) -- to save the money and effort of making another structure.
In those days, construction engineering was in a primitive stage, and the revenue base of the rulers was also not as advanced as today. Hence, the location Ayodhya, as mentioned in the epic Ramayana as the birthplace of Rama, might have given rise to the idea of a Rama temple in the location of the Babri mosque.
The idea was further spread for various reasons since the late 19th century, and has hence become a belief.
Yet, till late the 1980s, the Rama temple-Babri mosque issue wasn’t a major one in Indian politics. But all that changed when the BJP made it a major political agenda, and its cadre demolished the mosque in a heinous incident in 1991, which was followed by significant political consequences and a large number of riots and revenge attacks in India and other parts of South Asia.
Both political and legal battles of an intensified nature for the Rama temple at the place of the demolished Babri mosque ensued. However, the injunction of the court on any further demolition or construction of a temple or a mosque was enforced.
Interestingly, the then BJP government of Uttar Pradesh, where Ayodhya is located, was sacked by the Congress central government for the Babri mosque demolition incident and its aftermaths, and BJP could not return to power in the province for the next two decades.
However, the BJP and its affiliated organization kept using the issue of the Rama temple for political gain.
Giving up the site based on the BJP’s claims doesn’t have enough ground, and it may open up a Pandora’s Box of baseless majoritarian claims over many other Muslims sites, but a small group of liberal Indian Muslims think enough resistance has been put up, and their point has aptly been made.
The liberal Muslim view on the solution appears to be an intelligent and sensible one. Indian Muslims have many other bigger priorities than that small piece of land. However, the timing of such a gesture, if at all, should also be carefully selected. There is no point offering up too much to the forces of saffron.
Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury is an opinion contributor to the Dhaka Tribune.