Between 1999 and 2009, I was subjected to a great deal of hate mail from supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and other such organizations. If an article I wrote touched in any way on faith, Hinduism, Hindutva, Gujarat, or Ayodhya, by breakfast I would have had deposited, in my inbox — or perhaps in the ‘Comments’ section of the newspaper’s own website — mails which were hurt, complaining, angry, or downright abusive.
These mails stopped coming after May 2009, perhaps because the second successive electoral victory of the United Progressive Alliance had taken the wind out of the hardcore Hindutvavadi’s sails. Now, however, in the wake of the Allahabad High Court’s judgment on the title suit, they have begun pouring in again. The mailers are particularly angry at my suggestion — first offered in these columns, and later on television — that the piece of property under dispute must not be used for building a temple or mosque (or even both), but should rather be home to a hospital or park that would serve a trans-religious and truly human purpose. Some of the responses to my proposal follow:
“If the Ram temple was built on the site, believe me, there will be a resurgence of Hindus in their culture — which in a way is Indian pride.”
“What would heathens know of Ram? or those Westerned corrupted mindsets Englished up, Englishmaniacs!”
“There are other better ways to prove secular bona fides than by killing the very spirit of Indian civilization which is but Ram! You mean fellas!”
“What this man is??? Is he cricket writer or historian? His knowledge of history is as filthy as D-grade novels. Look this man named Ramchandra Guha, who is hell-bent upon insulting Lord Ram. Your parents were certainly stupids who named you after Lord Ram.”
“Who cares about your opinion, man? You speak as if you are representing a billion plus Hindus! Dimwits and slaves like you sit in a corner of your dimly-lit houses and pontificate to others. I am educated, young, well-read (with 3 masters degrees) and residing in the West. Yet I have great pride and respect for my country, its culture, my Hindu religion, its Heroes, God and philosophies. I know its worth. I know what Lord Rama means to Hindus. Length and breadth of India bear His name. His name is spread beyond India and in places like Malaysia, Indonasia [sic] and even Afghanistan! He is a national Hero. His birth place needs no certification from mere mortals. You want a park there? Get it built over your burial place, if you want to. Who the eff are you to pass your sick opinion onto the rest? Take a hike, loser.”
The hurt, the anger, and, yes, the abuse. The internet does tend to promote vulgar and extreme language, so perhaps we should let the tone of the responses pass without further comment (although I cannot help remarking on the fact that it is rather typical that those who show the greatest reverence for ‘Hindu’ pride tend to reside in the West).
What these mails represent is a majoritarian worldview, where India is in essence a ‘Hindu nation’, its ethos, values, ideals and aspirations determined by the interpretation of the ethos, values, ideals and aspirations of the Hindu majority. There is an obvious paradox here — that, as poll after poll has shown, this majoritarian worldview is subscribed to by a minority of Hindus themselves. The vote share of the BJP at its peak was never more than 23 per cent. And yet, it presumes to speak for Hindus as a whole, and by virtue of the equation it makes between Hindu interests and the Indian nation’s, for the nation as a whole.
The new majoritarianism of cyberspace has been encouraged by a striking omission in the verdict of the Allahabad High Court. This was the judges’ silence on the demolition of the Babri Masjid, an act of criminality that led to widespread riots and the loss of very many lives. As the respected jurist T.R. Andhyarujina has remarked, by downplaying the destruction of the masjid which stood on that piece of ground for more than 400 years, the Allahabad High Court has, willy-nilly, “allow[ed] an act of lawlessness to benefit the party that indulged in it.” Or, as another legal analyst, Manoj Mitta, more pithily observed, the judgment has permitted the vandals of 1992 to emerge as the victors of 2010.
Coincidentally, in the weeks leading up to the Ayodhya judgment, I was reading the early volumes of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. On the day itself, I had reached Volume 9. In the aftermath of the verdict, I had to temporarily put this work aside, but shortly after I resumed, I came across a strikingly contemporary statement by a man I hope I can uncontroversially refer to as both a great Indian and a great Hindu. In June 1909, a Muslim friend, Habib Motan, had asked Gandhi how Hindu-Muslim unity could be achieved within the diasporic community in South Africa, and, more importantly, within India itself. Here is what Gandhi replied:
“I make no distinction between Hindus and Muslims. To me both are sons of Mother India. My personal view is that, since numerically Hindus are in a great majority, and are, as they themselves believe, better-placed educationally, they should cheerfully concede to their Muslim brethren the utmost they can. As a satyagrahi, I am emphatically of the view that the Hindus should give to the Muslims whatever they ask for, and willingly accept whatever sacrifice this may involve. Unity will be brought about only by such mutual generosity. If Hindus and Muslims observe, in their dealings with one another, the same principles that govern the relations of blood-brothers, there will be unbroken harmony, and then alone will India prosper.”
Following the split verdict, spokesmen of the RSS and the BJP began asking Muslims to show “magnanimity” by giving up the one-third share allotted to the Sunni Waqf Board. These proposals displayed a perhaps understandable ignorance of the English language. For only victors and rulers can afford to be magnanimous. As in 1909, Hindus are both numerous and more prosperous than Muslims. If a sacrifice is to be made, then surely it should come from those who are richer and stronger?
If one took Gandhi’s remarks of 1909 and applied them directly — or literally — to the current dispute, then, instead of the Waqf Board handing over its share to the Hindu groups, it is the latter who should part with their two-thirds share to the Muslim bodies. In that case, only a mosque would come up on the site. This, of course, is what might have happened if the Sunni Waqf Board had won its title suit, when conservative Muslims would have demanded that the Babri Masjid be rebuilt.
In my view, a brand new mosque rather than a grand new temple is an equally senseless solution to the dispute. If, however, it is not to be either/or, can it be both? Such, of course, is the seductive proposal held out to us by Justices S.U. Khan, D.V. Sharma, and Sudhir Agarwal. History in general, and the history of the site in particular, tells us that this proposal is unworkable. It would spark off a further bout of competitive communal rivalry, with advocates of temple and mosque each demanding more space to play out their own particular fantasies. Hence my recommendation that a park or hospital be placed there instead. The only just, sustainable, and peaceful solution is for Hindus and Muslims alike to seek their spiritual solace in pieces of territory as yet uncontaminated by hatred and bloodshed.