On August 5, the 'shilanyas' of the Ram Temple will take place in the presence of a select gathering. The piece of land on which the Ram Mandir is proposed to be built was the subject matter of a long standing dispute between Hindus and Muslims going back to several 100 years.
In 1885, the dispute between the two parties had reached the High Court. On the disputed land stood a mosque which was constructed during the Mughal period. The people of Ayodhya believed and claimed that Lord Ram was born there, so they have a right to worship there. The dispute continued for several decades, culminating in filing of civil suits by both the parties in the 1950s. That dispute was finally decided by the Supreme Court on November 9 last year and it cleared the path for construction of the temple.
Earlier in 1989, the late Rajeev Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, had done the 'shilanyas' but in December 1992 the mosque was demolished by a violent and unruly mob leading to filing of criminal cases against hundreds of people, including the bigwigs of the current ruling party.
A day after the demolition of the disputed structure called Babri Masjid, I was ordered to take over as District Magistrate of Faizabad district, now renamed as Ayodhya. This unprecedented event created the worst kind of strife between Hindus and Muslims resulting in large scale rioting across the country with huge losses of lives and properties across the nation.
Since the entire area was under curfew and the roads leading to Faizabad were all blocked by kar sewaks, I was sent by a helicopter. An eerie and uneasy quiet defined the area. The threat of violence was imminent despite the curfew. The administration had to urgently restrain the lumpen mobs who had run amok in the past week. Rampaging mobs had torched and ravaged numerous houses belonging to Muslims and damaged mosques in the vicinity of the disputed structure after the demolition. The rule of law had been totally negated and the administration had been a mute spectator to the mayhem and violence. This was an assault on the rich pluralistic heritage of our country. It had to be reclaimed.
The work of repairing the mosques commenced in earnest and within a short span of a month or so all the damaged mosques were restored to their original state. All those belonging to the minority community who had lost their homes and belongings were duly compensated and rehabilitated in their original habitat. The rule of law was re-established. Criminal cases were filed against those found responsible for the demolition of the mosque and they are facing criminal trial and the court is expected to conclude their trial in the near future.
Since the advent of humanity, debate has been ongoing about the question of faith, existence of God and so on. The debate is still on even after several thousands of years. Some believe that god does not exist and it is only faith with no proof of His existence, while others see no scope of argument in this regard and ardently believe in God’s existence.
In the modern age, after logic became the foremost tool to decide issues and of what is right or wrong, many prominent thinkers and philosophers used this to declare that God does not exist. The famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche even announced the death of God. Several western philosophers like Hume, Mill, Schopenhauer and Sartre used all their analytical tools to deny the existence of God. Despite all these efforts by existentialist philosophers and others over the past few centuries, the influence of religion has constantly increased. Truly the existence of religion rests on one single factor called faith. History has been driven by these faiths for centuries. These faiths were responsible for creation of many of the nation states and the drawing and redrawing of national boundaries.
Now with the advent of democratic form of governments in large number of countries, the rule of law, not faith, has become the basic tenet of governance and the main basis to decide various issues. We are one of the fortunate countries who adopted the democratic form of governance structure based on rule of law. The Ayodhya dispute posed one of the biggest challenge before our nation in many ways. The Constitution permits all its inhabitants the freedom to propagate and follow their faith unhindered. It has also laid down the due process of law for settlement of all kinds of disputes. But what happened on December 6 was totally against the principles of rule of law. Faith can not and should not take precedence over rule of law. We have to ensure collectively that this kind of incident is not allowed ever again, under any circumstances, come what may.
Now the construction of the temple is going to take place on the piece of land duly adjudicated by the Supreme Court, the highest court of the land and in which people of India have deep faith. It shows the maturity of citizens of all faiths, particularly Muslims, who waited patiently for the Supreme Court’s decision and abided by it gracefully to bring down curtains on a long standing dispute. Faith in the rule of law and acceptance of supremacy of the courts is the only road to peaceful resolution of any dispute, big or small, in a democratic society. Certainly this is not going to be the last dispute the country had to face and resolve as per rule of law and laid down procedure. The Ayodhya dispute has taught the Indian nation a lesson which we can ignore only at our own peril.
(The writer, the former secretary to the Government of India, was the first Collector who was posted in Ayodhya to control the situation after the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid. Views are personal.)