| Temple triumvirate: (top)Vajpayee, the Sankaracharya and Advani
June 11: When the Sankaracharya of Kanchi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee asked political outfits to stay out of the Ayodhya dispute with a hint that talks for a negotiated settlement were under way last Sunday, they allowed only a fleeting glimpse of the cards they were holding close to their chests.
Since then, some Muslim organisations have denied any such effort because they, too, want the cards not to be shown yet.
But a senior government leader said the talks may be reaching a stage close to a breakthrough. The assessment comes with the warning that it is still easy for things to go wrong.
There is enough evidence that talks between the Sankaracharya and Muslim leaders have been held over the past few months. Some members of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board admitted that they had been in touch with the Sankaracharya and even senior government functionaries. That includes the Prime Minister.
“We never said no to talks. There were several proposals or what you can call a ‘wish list’. We kept asking for assurances from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the government that the Sankaracharya failed to produce,” a member of the board said.
What this means is that various possibilities have been discussed but there has not yet been an agreement on the elements of a settlement.
Muslim organisations want a mosque to be built next to a Ram temple in Ayodhya, enactment of a law to let mosques under the Archaeological Survey of India be handed to the community and another legislation to safeguard the Mathura Idgah and the Kashi Gyan Vyapi mosque.
Public denials by Muslim leaders about the talks with the Kanchi seer were made for various reasons, one of which was the fear of a conservative backlash.
“It was improper of him (the Sankaracharya) to say that these discussions were the broader contours of a settlement at a public function,” said the board member.
But the Sankaracharya is undaunted by the adverse reaction. In Jaipur today, he said efforts were being made to find a solution to the questions raised by the Muslim community.
“We are making efforts. During the talks, two-three questions have arisen, including opening ASI-protected mosques for prayers. It could be resolved through talks,” he said.
This statement is a clear answer to the doubts raised by Muslim leaders about the seriousness of the process when they say the seer has not given them any assurance that their demands would be met in exchange for giving up their right to the Ayodhya land.
The Sankaracharya said today that those very issues were being addressed, obviously in close association with the government, though officially Delhi continues to call the process the seer’s personal initiative.
As in the Muslim camp, there were flutters on the government side also when the Sankaracharya took the lid off the talks, because of apprehensions of sabotage from fundamentalists on either side.
Until the talks get to a stage where success looks at least within reach, it suits the government to stay in the shadows and keep the option of going forward or back open.
Also working behind the scenes are some key leaders of Islamic countries whose opinion carries weight among Indian Muslims.
Sunday’s Sankaracharya-Vajpayee duet revealed for the first time that something might be afoot. Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani threw his weight behind the effort for a negotiated settlement at a press conference in Washington.
“A decision by the court may not be acceptable to everyone unless it is complemented by a consensus among the parties involved, which is better than the judicial process,” he said.
Advani was narrating the view on both sides. The VHP today said no matter what the courts ruled, it would build the Ram temple at the birthplace of Ram.
“We are convinced that the land belongs to us. Whatever the nature of the court verdict, whatever the result of the ASI excavations, the temple will be built at Ram’s birthplace and nowhere else,” VHP general secretary Surendra Jain said in Delhi.
The pronouncement matches the assessment of Muslim leaders who favour a negotiated settlement. Their argument is that even if the Ayodhya court verdict goes in favour of Muslims, the government would not be able to implement the order.
The late Qazi Mujahid-ul-Islam, who was head of the board, supported this view. His successor Maulana Rabey Nadvi stoutly defends the integrity of those that belong to this section.
The board’s spokesman, Qasim Rasool Illyas, said the Sankaracharya and Vajpayee must first work out a formula or at least what they intend to offer to the Muslims in the “problem-solving phase” before going public.