Friday, 16 March 2018

Has AIMPLB killed the golden goose?

M Rajaque Rahman


In rejecting Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s propositions for an out-of-court settlement, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has chosen to play to the gallery rather than weigh the imports of the proposal in the best interest of the community it claims to represent.

A tweet from its official handle quoted its General Secretary Maulana Mohammad Wali Rahmani as saying AIMLPB rejects Sri Sri’s proposal and asked him “to play his role in the Hindu community to maintain peace if the Supreme Court verdict is not the (its) favour”. Sri Sri had written an open letter to AIMPLB raising some serious apprehensions about how the issue can pan out adversely for the country.

Sounding more like an intimate note to the Muslim community rather than a formal proposal, the letter had listed out the possible scenarios and their adverse ramifications while urging the leaders of both faiths to take this (action) seriously. It also sought to reason how any solution through the court or a through an intervention by the government could be “devastating for the nation at large and the Muslim community in particular”. Though these words of caution from the spiritual leader have been presented as a threat and provocation in certain sections, such apprehensions cannot be blindly dismissed.

With no dearth of fanatical elements on both the sides, it will be foolhardy to totally discount and deny the possibilities of frenzied reactions to a court verdict on the Ayodhya issue. The spectre of a situation where one community openly celebrating a court verdict in its favour and another burning inside with a feeling of being wronged is scary. This possibility of chaos and distrust is probably what Sri Sri meant when he talked about “pushing our country to the brink” if the issue is not resolved tactfully.

Given that Muslims are living in one of the most difficult times across the globe, AIMPLB ought to have taken a wider view of the community’s interest. It’s no rabble-rousing propaganda to say Muslims are in “khatre” of being left out of the national discourse. The political isolation of the community is almost complete. Besides the dwindling representation in Parliament and Legislatures, a leadership vacuum is making the community politically irrelevant. It’s a sad state of affairs that the community, which has given three Presidents and many other political stalwarts, is today being shepherd by people like Assaduddin Owaisi and Badruddin Ajmal, whose only claim to popularity is their penchant for spreading hatred and insecurity.

At the other spectrum, the community has to constantly confront the negative image owing to repeated incidences of Islamic terrorism and the narrative of historical atrocities. With such a harsh ground reality, the community can’t afford to allow a frenzied run-in over the Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid issue. What is needed is a tactful master-stroke that will establish the community as magnanimous and peace-loving. It desperately needs a good dose of good press to shrug off the baggage of the past.

From that perspective, AIMPLB has squandered a golden opportunity by summarily rejecting Sri Sri’s proposition. His “best solution” of Muslim bodies gifting the one-acre disputed land for the Ram Temple and the Hindus in return gifting enough land for a grand mosque nearby would have helped the Muslims gain the goodwill of 100 crore Hindus. It could have been a potent and respectable way of integrating with the mainstream and saving the community from further isolation. Most importantly, such an act will also undercut those who are out to “teach Muslims a lesson”. Encouragingly, Sri Sri has spoken about his Art of Living taking the responsibility of organising community celebrations across the country to bring together Muslims and Hindus in a spirit of harmonious coexistent.

It would have been wiser for AIMPLB to pick up the thread and pushed for a settlement that reassures the community like a commitment to maintain the status quo of all other places of worship. At this juncture, Muslims must be willing to undertake any enterprise that will endear the community to the larger world as considerate and generous towards the feelings of millions of Hindus. So what if the enterprise involves giving up claims on Babri Masjid?

(A former business journalist, the author now regularly writes on issues that are relevant to the Idea of India. He tweets @rajaque. He can be reached on rajaque@gmail.com)


Thursday, 8 March 2018

Was Sri Sri indulging in fear-mongering?

Can we totally discount the danger of communal unrest in today's polarized milieu?


M Rajaque Rahman

Was Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar indulging in fear-mongering when he raised the bogey of a Syria-like situation in the country if the Ayodhya issue is not tactfully resolved? Or was he expressing an apprehension that’s genuinely lurking on the horizon?

The debate on the prime time national television and social media has gone along the predictable lines of the political and ideological divide. His statement has been twisted, distorted, quoted, misquoted and tweeted as it suits one’s narrative. Unfortunately, we ended up trivializing an issue that is emotive enough to explode any time. Nobody really displayed the depth to see the import of the statement. 

To be fair to Sri Sri, he didn’t say India will burn if a temple is not built. He only said we could witness extremism and chaos like in Syria if we don’t resolve the issue tactfully. 
Sri Sri’s reference to Syria must have been in the sense of a conflict zone where chaos, distrust and civil war-like situation prevail. Can we totally discount the spectre of such a danger in today's polarized milieu? It's very easy to say India is different, but we have seen many communal riots, sometime over trivial issues.

Any court verdict that entails a winner and a loser could trigger passions irrespective of whichever way it goes and is fought with the risk of damaging the social fabric. As an Indian, and more so as a Muslim, I shiver at the thought of a situation where one community will be openly celebrating a court verdict in its favour and another burning inside with a feeling of being wronged. 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.

It’s not to suggest that the Supreme Court will not be sensitive to all these in its ruling. But the court has limitations and has to go often by the later of the law. While no one has the authority to dishonor any ruling of the Supreme Court, its verdict could create distrust in society. Like the system failure to prevent Barbi Mosque demotion gave boost to home-grown terrorism in the country, an unfavorable verdict could trigger revolt against the system. With no dearth of fanatical elements whose existence hinges on wedging a divide among communities, Sri Sri’s apprehension is no more a figment of imagination.

To be fair to Sri Sri, he didn’t say India could burn if a temple or a mosque is not built. He only said we could witness extremism and chaos as in Syria if we don’t resolve the issue tactfully. Any sane Indian will buy this line of thinking. Unfortunately, a word of caution from Sri Sri is being twisted and presented a threat and provocation.

What Sri Sri is saying is a solution through a court verdict may not be in the best interest of the nation. Even the Supreme Court subscribes to this viewpoint and has almost made it clear that issue is best decided jointly by the two communities. This reading of the case by the apex court needs to be taken seriously as the a conflict that has run on rhetoric for decades and got identified with the astitva and maryada (existence and identity) of two different communities.
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Without a softening of hearts and goodwill, it’s impossible to permanently resolve an emotive and vexed dispute like the Ayodhya. Sri Sri has been saying, courts cannot mend hearts. It’s very much possible that even if the Mandir is built, the problem might come back again in the future as one community is bound to feel alienated. That’s why this national endeavour of an amicable out-of-court settlement is so critical for the nation.

From that perspective, Sri Sri’s pursuit of enlisting anyone and everyone who can influence public opinion in favour a negotiated settlement and create an ecosystem for dialogue must be lauded. That people are willing to talk about it itself is no mean breakthrough and augur well for communal harmony in the country.

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. 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.

(The author is a former business journalist and now regularly writes on issues that are relevant to the Idea of India. He tweets @rajaque. He can be reached on rajaque@gmail.com)