The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The sagacity of the formula for an Ayodhya settlement and the perfect timing of the proposal raise hopes of a promising dialogue

There could not have been a better moment for an Ayodhya formula. The best proof is that extremist Hindu outfits have been reduced to restive growling. This is in sharp contrast to the confident admonition of the Kanchi Sankaracharya to Mr Ashok Singhal, the working president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which is still threatening to derail the process of settlement. Even more important is the direct snub offered by the Bharatiya Janata Party president, Mr M. Venkaiah Naidu, to the VHP. Its monotonous demand for a law that would allow the land to be handed over for temple construction has grown shriller. But the BJP presidentís firm dismissal of it has unambiguously demonstrated, both for the VHP and for the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, the BJPís determination to reach an amicable resolution.

Quiet dialogue and cautious steps to build understanding have made this moment possible. To reach a point of comparative calmness in a long sequence of ongoing events, obscured by high emotion, strident rhetoric, violence, rigidity and religious sentiment, is in itself an achievement. The formula offered by the Sankaracharya of Kanchi is a striking example of astute simplicity. To make its full impact, it needed a moment when religious radicals were being marginalized, if only because the moderate mindset had begun to feel the urgent need for a settlement. It may be that the BJP has fears that the Gujarat experiment will not work in every state, and then there are the general elections ahead. Perhaps the minority community too, is assessing its losses because of the dominance of the extremist voice, and feels it is time a different approach is necessary for comfortable coexistence. It is no wonder therefore that the AIMPLB has decided that it should not be seen to block negotiations. It would give its detractors too much of an advantage.

Central to all this is the sagacity of the plan. It suggests that a temple be built in the undisputed area, and a mosque just outside the Ram temple complex but within Ayodhya on the banks of the Saryu. The disputed area remains under the jurisdiction of the court. The Sankaracharya has avoided bringing up the past and thus all questions of fairness or majoritarianism thereby. The demolition of the Babri Masjid and its subsequent sealing off by the court are established facts. They cannot be undone, but an understanding has to be reconstructed. The formula concentrates on that goal alone. It takes into account the sentiments of both sides, assuming the moderateís desire for peaceful settlement, with relative attention to all claims. The VHP has been repeatedly told that its claims for the structures in Kashi and Mathura will not stand at all, if necessary a law will be enacted to make their present status permanent. Both communities must accept this. The show of firmness and fairness, especially towards the radical groups of the majority community, will help further in building trust. There is no doubt that the formula itself is just a first step towards a settlement. But the clarity of the plan makes it a promising first step.

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