The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Defeat for voice of Muslim moderation

Lucknow, July 6: The first letter posed “no problems”, but the second “slammed the doors” shut.

Jayendra Saraswati’s July 1 letter advising Muslims to “donate” the Babri Masjid site and a warning to be mentally prepared to hand over the Mathura and Kashi shrines to Hindus provoked the All India Muslim Personal Law Board to reject his formula.

The Kanchi Sankaracharya’s first set of proposals of June 16 did not even come up for discussion as law board chief Maulana Rabey Nadwi announced that the seer had “withdrawn” his proposals while responding to a letter seeking clarifications.

G.M. Banatwala, one of the hardliners, got up in anger. “The Sankaracharya seems to be acting on behalf of a particular political party and his remarks are dangerously similar to those of the RSS,” he said.

The hawks led by Syed Shahabuddin, Yusuf Hatim Muchala and Zafaryab Jilani took charge, terming the seer’s letter a “veiled threat” to the community.

The board spent barely an hour on Ayodhya before setting up a committee to prepare an eight-page response to the second letter which said “all the three” — Kashi, Mathura and Ayodhya — “belong to the Hindus”.

It added that these places, “if not today, but at some time or other…have to be given to the Hindus”, keeping in mind the larger interest of the country and communal harmony. “The Muslims have to mentally prepare themselves for this.”

Nadwi, who was keen on a negotiated settlement, expressed dismay that the Sankaracharya had “slammed the doors” on negotiations. “It appeared that something somewhere had gone wrong,” he said, implying that the seer had second thoughts because of pressure from certain quarters.

But the board kept its door ajar, saying it was still prepared to negotiate on the basis of a “reasonable and rational” formula.

Muchala said the seer’s first letter wanted a “no-objection certificate” for construction of a Ram temple in the undisputed area, construction of a wall between the “disputed” and “undisputed” areas, creation of an amicable atmosphere and a joint approach to the government for effective and time-bound implementation of the formula.

Nadwi said the board had “no problems” except that it wanted the Sankaracharya to stand by his earlier statement that both sides would abide by the court verdict on the disputed site where the Babri Masjid stood. “It was a simple demand and we did not expect any complications,” Nadwi said.

The board, too, hardened its stand on both the disputed and the undisputed areas in Ayodhya. Muchala referred to the Supreme Court order of March 2002, which said no activity could be permitted on the acquired land, whether disputed or undisputed. The board working committee reiterated its “oft-repeated stand” that under the Sharia, the site of the mosque was Allah’s property and could not be alienated by sale, gift or otherwise.

“The committee is of the view that the proposed gift will not promote communal harmony or national integration because such gift is under duress and not based on principles of fair-play, justice and constitutionalism,” the board resolution said.

While Nadwi was upset, the political component of the board was delighted. When Prakash kulfi, a local delicacy, was served at 11 am, Jilani declared he would have two: “One for unflinching unity within the AIMPLB and the other for exposing the hidden agenda of so-called neutral persons.”

But the joke did not bring a smile to most faces. Late this evening, pro-settlement members were heard discussing the board’s future and feared it would be difficult to create goodwill. “After all, if the Sankaracharya cannot keep his word, who can'” one of them asked.

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