Thursday, 22 February 2018

Can we allow Ayodhya talks to be bombed?

M Rajaque Rahman
Will #AyodhyaBribeBomb end all out-of-court settlement efforts? This was the epicenter of a recent prime-time debate in the wake of allegations of underhand bargaining. I wish it were that simple and straightforward for India! The matter at hand is not merely about who gets a Mandir and who loses a Masjid.

Sitting in the comforts of a TV studio, it might be easy to say the Supreme Court is seized of the matter and we must wait for the verdict. But what such a verdict could entail on the ground is scary. Any court verdict, irrespective of whichever way it goes, would be fraught with great risks for the nation. Even if the court rules in favour of the Muslims, the resultant feeling of humiliation and provocation among the Hindus will make it a costly victory. And if it is the other way, the jubilation among Hindus will only further vitiate the precarious communal equations. Even if the Mandir is built, the problem might come back again in the future as one community is bound to feel alienated.

Seen from this context, India can’t afford to take the shortcut of a legal verdict. The chances of an amicable solution may be very bleak, but the efforts towards it cannot, and must not, be abandoned. Unsubstantiated allegations of seeking or offering bribe are too vague a reason to stop us from such a crucial enterprise. Even if there have been demands for an underhand deal, the wise approach at the moment will be to reject and isolate them and move on. India cannot afford to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this issue.

This where the presence of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to spearhead the mission and rally around those who understand the gravity of the situation will be of immense significance. For one, Sri Sri is someone who is unlikely to be deterred by any negative propaganda or bargaining. From the beginning, he has made it very clear that any settlement must be out of goodwill, not a buyout! “Soudha se nahi, ………,” he has always maintained.

His pursuit of enlisting anyone and everyone who can influence public opinion in favour a negotiated settlement and create an ecosystem for dialogue is vital here as it’s impossible to resolve an emotive and vexed dispute like the Ayodhya without a softening of hearts and goodwill. That people are willing to talk about it itself is no mean breakthrough in a conflict that has run on rhetoric for decades and got identified with the astitva and maryada (existence and identity) of two different communities.

Sri Sri has been able to broad-base his outreach with the Muslim community. If it turns out that Moulana Salman Nadvi’s change of heart isn’t driven by motives of personal gains, then the credit must be given to Sri Sri for perpetually engaging key stakeholders. His open-ended efforts to connect heart to heart can play a vital role in preparing the stakeholders for negotiations and compromises. So far, he has been quite successful in raising the comfort level and averting the fear of being pushed into adapting to a premeditated agenda.

As the stakes are high, it’s natural that there will be clashes of egos, mudslinging and even sabotage! But the hard language used by some leaders from both sides to oppose the efforts of constructing a mutual understanding doesn’t send good omen for the country. It appears some people are hell bent to milk the issue as a cash cow.

It will be in the interest of the country to allow the progressive individuals and groups like Sri Sri to work for pulling through a settlement that appeases the majority sentiment and reassures the minority community. If they could get around the nation to building a grand Ram temple at Ayodhya without hurting the sentiments and interest of the Muslim community, it would be almost like a heavenly miracle.

An early and amicable resolution of the dispute is in the interest of the nation as it will also prevent rabble-rousing and polarisation along communal lines. But the road ahead needs to be steered with caution by a driver who can manoeuvre with the sensitivities of an emotive issue that the Ayodhya is. Is Sri Sri primed to transcend the negative agendas and lead the way? 

(The author keenly follows and write on issues that are relevant to the Idea of India. He tweets @rajaque)

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