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A metal monument to Dispute stands supreme
- Beams of steel create a circle of inaccessibility around the hottest piece of real estate in India

Ayodhya, July 6: A steady patter of hammers on pink Jaipur stone is the loudest symbol of Hindutva conviction in this temple town that a monument to Lord Ram is on its way. The artisans here hammer away, everyday — on days that sankaracharyas propose formulas and on days that Muslim personal law boards reject them.

At the workshop of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, the trust that lays claim to the god-king’s birthplace, the absence of its chief patron is not reason enough for the artisans to pause.

Mahant Ramchandradas Paramhans, the nonagenarian holy man, took ill last night and has been hospitalised.

En route to the workshop where the Sangh parivar’s cherished temple is work-in-progress, Mohammed Hashim Quereshi frets. Quereshi is one of the two surviving litigants who first petitioned the court, more than half-a-century ago in 1949, to legitimise the Babri Masjid.

“Independence was not won on the slogan of Ramjanmabhoomi. If a monument is to be erected here, it has to be a mosque,” he asserts in eloquent Urdu. “Here” is a spot that is on the left of the main road in Ayodhya from Faizabad. It is a labyrinthine corridor of iron grille and wire mesh that criss crosses the hillock on which stood the edifice built by Babar. The roads that are a gentle climb to the apex are skirted by temples built by various rajas and landlords of Ayodhya, the plaster mostly peeling.

“Here” is a metallic monstrosity spread over 67 acres with the idol of the god-king inside a tent at the top. The tent is under a tarpaulin and plastic roof that covers the expanse of the corridors through which people can pass only in single file, mostly for “darshan”, a view, of the idol of Ram Lalla. Since this time last year, the iron girders have also fenced in the rectangular and squarish digs where wage labourers work for the Archaeological Survey of India.

The priest (pujari), Sunil Das, proclaims his sympathies: “I am the pujari here and I want the temple here tomorrow.”

The lie of the corridors and the metal obstructions — battlements, actually — is impossible to map after a walk-through.

What the Sankaracharya, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and the Sangh parivar have actually missed is that a monument actually exists in the hottest piece of real estate in India. It is made up of beams of steel bound together by rusty nuts and bolts.

The metal girders and the wire mesh complete a monument to Dispute.

There are two families here for darshan on a blazing afternoon. The Naiks from Pune and the Raos from Vijayawada.

“We had come to Lucknow for the wedding of a relative,” says Shripad, the head of the family, hesitantly, not wanting to talk to the media.

“We thought we’ll just have a look,” Sudhakar, from Vijayawada, is more forthcoming. “I have been to Faizabad earlier on work. This time I brought the family. We all know that Ram was indeed born in Ayodhya.”

None of them has kept track of the news of the board meeting to consider the Kanchi Sankaracharya’s “formula”. Shopkeepers on Janmabhoomi Marg, the legal entry to the disputed spot, say they never thought it was important enough.

“All that the Sankaracharya was doing was convincing himself,” says Jai Prasad, who runs a shop selling puja paraphernalia. “All of this is politics.”

The sentiment is echoed across Ayodhya and Faizabad. “I was among the last to leave Mohalla Kotiya (in Ayodhya) in December 1992,” says Mohammed Iqbal.

“I left with my family of eight for Faizabad. What is Ayodhya' It is only a matter of winning elections and politics,” he says. Iqbal is Man Friday to Quereshi, the litigant.

In Faizabad, which has many more Muslims than Ayodhya, the reaction to the board’s consideration of the Sankaracharya’s proposal is angrier.

“If I had my way,” said Taswur Ali Shah, who runs a cloth store in Ghantaghar Chowk, “the envelope should have been returned unopened.”

Quereshi, just returning from his daily routine as one of the observers for the Archaeological Survey of India’s dig, says it was “stupid” of the board to give the Sankaracharya’s proposal such importance. “It is the public that will decide. Now let the courts handle it. There is irrefutable evidence that a mosque stood here and none that there was a temple here.”

Quereshi had as much faith in the effort for an out-of-court settlement as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

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