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A Case Study in Hindu-Muslim Conflict
VOICE OF INDIA
Notes on Transcription
Some Indian-English terminology
1. The historians' debate
1.1 A British hoax?
1.2 Hideaway communalism
1.3 More arguments
1.4 Political misuse of history
1.5 Date of Ram's life
1.6 Valmiki's Ayodhya and other religions
1.7 "The secular emperor Babar"
1.8 Any evidence for the demolition?
1.9 Evidence for the Janmabhoomi tradition
1.10 The larger picture
2. Political implications
2.1 The proposed solutions
2.2 Similar cases
2.3 Hinduism no better than Islam ?
2.4 "This isn't really Hindu"
2.5 The insecure minorities
3. The Ram Janmabhoomi I
Babri Masjid's recent history
3.1 History before 1857
3.2 The judicial debate
3.3 The Ram Janmabhoomi and
Babri Masjid campaigns
3.4 Ram Janmabhoomi and the elections
Table of contents
© Koenraad Elst 1990
First edition: 1990
Second impression: 1990
Third impression: 1990
Published in India by Voice of India, 2/ 18, Ansari Road,
New Delhi-110 002.
and Printed at D.K. Fine Arts Press, Delhi-ll0 052.
Notes on transcription
. Throughout the text, I have used for terms and
names in Indian languages, the transcription most
common in journalistic and non-indological academic
writing. This is not because I am so enthusiastic about this
transcription into ordinary English spelling. On the
contrary, among the Roman-written languages, English is
the single most clumsy one when it comes to unambigu-
ous transcription. It systematically leads to mispronuncia-
tion, for native English speakers and more so for others. It
makes people say "Delhi" instead of "Dilli", "Meerut"
instead of "Merath". Moreover Indians themselves tend to
make it worse by overdoing the EnglIshness of their
names in transcription, e.g. "Tewary" instead of "Tiwari",
"Iye(" for "Ayyar", "Thackeray" for "Thakre", "Maneka" for
"Menaka" , "Panicker" for "Panikkar", "Lucknow" for
"Lakhnau", "Cauvery" for "Kaveri". However, it is for the
Indians themselves to get their act together and to rectify
and uniformize their transcription policy. For now, I have
decided to just follow the more common practice fot the
sake of easy recognition. ,
For Islamic terminology, I again have followed the
predominant practice of transcribing the Persian-Urdu
pronunciation, even when it differs from the original
Arabic. Thus, "Ramzan" instead of "Rarrtadan", "Hadis"
instead of "Hadith".
, -,';It .
high-priest of a temple.
temple, mainly Hindu.
caller to prayer in Islam.
teacher-pupil chain, tradition.
States' Assembly, elected from the State
month of fasting for Muslims.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (=National
Volunteer Corps), a Hindu mass
march with a chariot, procession.
ideology of keeping religion out of public
Shiva's Army (named after the anti-Moghul
leader Shivaji), a Hindu party in Bombay.
purification of the Muslim population from
talaq Muslim unilateral divorce.
tilak mark on forehead.
tirthankara ford-maker, Jain sage.
Vidhan Sabha : Legislative Assembly of the states.
VHP : Vishva Hindu Parishad (= World Hindu
yajna (yagya) : sacrificial ritual.
zamindar : landlord.
Rajya Sabha :
Some Indian-English terminology
akhand : unbroken, unintenupted.
avatar : incarnation of a god.
bhajan : devotional song, psalm.
Bharat : India.
BJP : Bharatiya Janata (= Indian People's) Party.
bodhi : awakening, enlightenment.
chabootra : platform.
communalism : championing the political unity
and mterests of a religious community.
Congress-I : Indira Congress.
CPI Communist Party of India
CPM Communist Party of India (Marxist).
crore : ten million.
dacoit armed robber, criminal.
dalit oppressed, the depressed castes.
doordarshan : television; India's TV network.
fatwa Islamic' judicial verdict.
garbha-griha : "womb-house", sanctum sanctorum.
ghat bathing-place. '
goonda : (hired) rowdy.
gurudwara : a Sikh temple.
traditions of the prophet Mohammed.
hanJan people of God, name given by Mahatma
Gandhi to the untouchable castes.
imam prayer-leader in mosque.
!D Janata Dal (= People's Group)
Janmabhoomi : birthplace.
: reader in mosque.
kutan devotional chant.
lakh one hundred thousand.
Lok Sabha People's Assembly, directly elected.
Hans Bakker :
Ayodhya, Groningen University, 1986.
Dipak K. Barua :
Buddha Gaya Temple and its History, Buddha Gaya
Temple Management Committee, 1981.
Bipan Chandra :
Cammunalism in Modern India, Vikas Publ.,Delhi
Devahuti, editor :
Bias in Indian Historiography, D.K. Publ., Delhi 1980.
Prabha Dixit :
Communalism, a Struggle for Power, Orient Longmans,
Delhi 1974. .
S.M. Edwards :
Babur, Diarist and Despot, Heritage Publ., Delhi 1977.
Sita Ram Goel :
Story of Islamic Imperialism in India, Voice of India,
History of Heroic Hindu Resistance to Muslim Invaders, id.
Mrs. Surinder Kaur :
The Secular Emperor Bahar, Lokgeet Prakashan, Sirhind
Stanley Lane-Poole :
The Emperor Bahar, Sunita Publ., Delhi 1988 (1899).
R.c. Majumdar, editor :
History and Culture of the Indian People, Bharatiya Vidya
Bhavan, Bombay (vol.V 1966(1957), vol.VI 1967(1960),
Syed Shahabuddin et al. :
Muslim India, monthly, Delhi 1983-1990.
Sri Ram Sharma :
The Religious Policy of the Mughal Emperors,
Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi 1988(1940).
· ~ ..
Arun Shourie :
Religion in Politics, Roli Books, Delhi 1989 (1987).
et el, Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them, Voice
of India, Delhi, 1990.
Bhanu Pratap Shukla :
Shilanyas se Shikhar ki Or, Suruchi Prakashan, Delhi
Radhey Shyam :
Babar, Janaki Prakashan, Patna 1978.
Ram Swarup :
Understanding Islam through Hadis, Voice of India, Delhi
Romila Thapar, Harbans Mukhia, Bipan Chandra
Communalism and the Writing of Indian History,
People's Publishing House, Delhi 1987(1969).
Peter van der Veer :
Gods on Earth, Oxford University Press, Delhi 1989.
The biggest problem for India's national unity and
integrity in the twentieth century has no doubt been what
Indians call 'communalism', the political conflict between
the religions, especially between Hindus and Muslims.
The actual occasions of conflict can be sparked by a wide
range of issues, from matters of life and death, like the
Partition or the separatist movement in Kashmir, to purely
The most conspicuous communal bone of conten-
tion in India in the years 1986-1990 has certainly been the
Ram Janmabhoomi Babri Masjid issue. The material object
of the controversy is quite small: an unimpressive
mosque-structure on a hilltop in Ayodhya (eastern Uttar
Pradesh), the town traditionally considered as the .birth-
place of the protohistorical hero Ram. This architecturally
rather uninteresting building is known as the Babri Masjid,
Babar's mosque. As such, it has been named after Babar,
the first Moghul emperor, implying it was built on his
orders, or in his honour, in 1528.
Many Hindus believe that Ram was born on the
very spot where Babar's mosque is standing. Therefore
they call it Ram ]anmabhoomi, Ram's birth-ground. They
also believe that Babar's men built the mosque after demo-
lishing a temple which was standing on the same spot in
commemoration of Ram, the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir.
Some Hindu organizations want to 'rebuild' this temple,
which implies removing the present structure. The Hindus
have already taken control of the building in 1949,
when the mosque was not in regular use any more. They
installed idols and converted the m o s q ~ e into a temple. By
orders of the government, however, the worshippers
could only offer puja from outside. In 1986, a judge ruled
that the temple be opened for unrestrained Hindu
worship. Subsequently, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP;
"World Hindu Council") started a nationwide campaign
for the replacement of the existing mosque-turned-temple
with a proper temple structure.
There is now a twofold discussion about the
Ram Janmaboomil Babri Masjid: a) Did Babar, or another
Muslim ruler, really demolish a Hindu temple to build the
mosque in its place? b) If so, is it justified to right the
wrongs of history by demolishirig the existing structure
and replacing it with a brand new Ram Janmabhoomi
The first question is a matter for historians, and
they indeed have carried on a very lively discussion about
it. They have brought into the open most of the known
data that should clinch the issue. The is a purely
political question, and the viewpoints of the different
parties are quite clear, and irreconcilable. Of course, any
convincing and just answer to the political question on
grounds of principle may in practice find itself overruled
by an unjustified but judicial or party-political
Let us proceed, first, to map the historians'
argument over the historical basis of the problem; then, to
assess the justifying power of the relevant facts of
history for a course of action in a modern, secular polity;
and finally, to chronicle the actual course of events that
make up this controversy.
2 RAM JANMA1JHOOMI VS. BABiu MASJIO
1. The historians' debate
1.1. A British hoax?
The big statement of anti-cornrnunalist history-
writing on the Ram Janrnabhoomi / Babri Masjid is
contained in a 6-page booklet issued .by the Centre for
Historical Studies of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU)...
Delhi, in the autumn of 1989: The Political Abuse of History:
Babri Masjid/Rama Janmabhumi Dispute. The text was also
published, slightly shortened, in the Times of India,
November 6, 1989. All politicians and opinion-makers
who call themselves secularists !lave rallied around this
manifesto. They recommend it and quote from it.
Accroding to Praful Bidwai, we "should be deeply grateful
to professors Sarvapalli Gopal, Romila Thapar, Bipan
Chandra and other historians of JNU. These scholars,
among the finest working in this discipline anywhere,
have produced . a booklet on the Ram Janmabhoomi
controversy which deserves to be given wider publicity in
the media and to be read in every school and college if
only because it introduces an element of sobriety which
has been completely missing from the debate." 1
In the subsequent chapters we will look closely
into the arguments of the JNU historians. For now, we can
summarize their statement as follows. Firstly, the city
which is now called Ayodhya, was only given that name
by the Gupta emperor Skanda Gupta in the late fifth
century A.D. in order to attract religious prestige and
pilgrims; it is not the Ayodhya which the ancient poet
1. Times of India, 20.11.89.
Valmiki described as Ram's capital. It is impossible to
know where, if at all, Ram ever lived.
Secondly, the Ram cult became prominent in
Ayodhya only in the eighteenth century, when the
Ramanandi sadhus, a monk order of Ram devotees,
settled there in large numbers. Before that, it was a holy
place mainly for Buddhist, Jain and Shaiva devotees. The
claim that there was a Ram Jarimabhoomi temple on the
controversial spot, is in conflict with what we know about
Ayodhya's medieval religious significance.
Thirdly, there is no reliable evidence whatsoever
that the existing Babri Masjid was built after the de-
molition of an important Ram temple. It is even doubtful
whether Babar had anything to do with the building of the
. the history of Ayodhya in general
provIdes Important examples of intra-religious strife and
inter-religious amity. It disproves the view professed by
communalists, that Indian history in those centuries was
essentially a struggle between a closed Muslim front and a
closed Hindu front.
One problem with the stand taken by the JNU
historians is the question: what is then the source of the
tradition, alive in Ayodhya since at least 1857, that a
Hindu temple had been demolished to make room for the
Babri Masjid? The standard answer, given by some of the
JNU historians in their other writings, is that the British
spread that story as part of their policy to 'divide and
rule'. Of course it is possible to find British gazetteers of
the nineteenth century, as well as British historians, who
hold up that tradition and take it for granted. In fact,
all the British records and gazetteers are unanimous
in confirming (or just adopting) this Hindu tradition.
But according to the JNU historians, there are no
independent of the British ones, that confirm
5 THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
This view has been widely broadcast by the
English-language press. For instance: "All the historical
evidence amassed by the VHP comes from British sources.
Indeed historians are in maintaining that not a
single record has been found dating from pre-British times
which makes any mention of this dispute." 2 Babri
Masjid Coordination Committee (BMCC) convenor Syed
Shahabuddin has confidently stated that he would de-
molish the Babri Masjid with his own hands if his
opponents could come up with one original non-Birtish
source confirming that a temple was demolished to make
way for the Babri Masjid. And this was not presented
as a generous gesture, but as a theological necessity:
Shahabuddin claims that according to Islam, prayers
offered in a mosque for which a place of worship of
another religion has been demolished, are not accepted by
The challenge was taken up by dr. Harsh Narain
(formerly a philosophy faculty member of both Banaras
Hindu University and Aligarh Muslim University), in
an article titled Ram Janmabhoomi: Muslim Testimony.3 He
rejects Shahabuddin's pious declaration that it is
un-Islamic and against the Shari'a to forcibly convert a
pagan temple into a mosque: "It is common knowledge
that most of the mosques built by the Muslim invaders
stand on land grabbed or extorted from the Kafirs." There
are a great many well-attested examples of mosques
forcibly replacing temples, in India as well as elsewhere,
such as the Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi, or the Kaaba in
Mekka. "Is Shahabuddin prepared to keep his words in
the case of such mosques?"
Dr. Harsh Narain argues that the theologico-
juristic rulings to the effect that no mosque can be built on
2. Week, 25.2.90.
3. published in the Lucknow edition of The Pioneer (5.2.90) and,
slightly modified, in Indian Express (26.2.90).
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI Mi\SJID 4
4. as in Fatawa-i-Alilmgiri, Aurangzeb's law codex, upon which the
British and the Indian Republic based their "Muslim law", vol. 16, p.214.
S. Bukhari, Kitab ai-Jihad wa's-Siyar , hadis 406.
. Shourie, A. : Religion in Politics, ch.13.
THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
1.2. Hideaway communalism
. It is noteworthy that one of dr. Narain's sources
narrowly escaped oblivion. It is a chapter of the Muraqqah-
i-Khusrawi by Shaikh Azamat Ali Kakorawi Nami (1811-
93) written in 1869, and till recently existing only in
fonn. The passage relevant to the Babri Masjid
issue appears in a chapter on the struggle between the
Muslims, led by Amir Ali Amethawi, and a Hindu order
of martial sadhus, over the possession of another hilltop
temple at Ayodhya, the Hanuman Garhi, in 1855-56. "Onlr
one manuscript of it is extant... A press of. It
was prepared by dr. Zaki Kakorawi for WIth
the financial assistance of the Fakhruddm All Ahmed
Memorial Committee, Lucknow. The committee vetoed
the publication of its chapter dealing with the jihad by
Amit Aii Amethawi for recapture of Hanuman GarhI from
the Bairagis ("renunciates"), from its funds, ground
that its publication would not be opportune In VIew of the
prevailing political situation, with the result that dr.
Kakorawi had to publish the book minus that chapter in
19'86.. .he published the chapter separately and
independently of any financial or other assistance from the
Committee in 1987.. . It is a pity that, thanks to our
thoughtless 'secularism' and waning sense of history, such
primary sources of medieval Indian history are presently
in danger of suppression..."
This is not the only instance of interest groups
trying to hide documents relevant to the
bhoomi / Babri Masjid dispute. Arun Shoune, m hIS ar-
ticle "Hideaway Cammunalism",6 relates another case. A
book about India in Arabic, by Maulana Hakim Sayyid
Abdul Hai (died 1923), rector of the famed Islamic
cademy Nadwatul-Ulama in Lucknow, has been translated
and published by that institute in Urdu in 1973, in English
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID 6
land grabbed or illegitimately acquired,
apply to land
owned by Muslims, and not to that owned by the infidels.
The prophet has made it clear that all land belongs to God
and, via His prophet, to the Muslims.
Ibn Tayrniyyah, the
14th century theologian and jurist, stated that jihad simply
restores lands to the Muslims, to . whom they rightly
belong. The poet Iqbal put the following words into the
mouth of Tariq, conqueror of Spain: "All land belongs to
the Muslims, because it belongs to their God." A Muslim
ruler wanting to replace temples with mosques, can easily
find scriptural justification, and does not have to break
the letter nor the spirit of Islamic law.
Coming to the specific Babri Masjid issue, dr.
Narain presents four independent Muslim sources, out-
side the sphere of. British influence, that confirm the story
of the demolition of a Ram temple to make way for the
Babri Masjid. All the four documents are from the 19th
century, but at least two of them claim to be based on
older records. All four describe as a well-known fact that
the Masjid is often called ]anmasthan (birthplace) Masjid
or Sita ki Rasai (Ram's wife Sita's kitchen) Masjid, and that
the Hindus have for centuries offered puja in the garden of
the Masjid; which they would not reasonably have done
except in continuation of a pre-Masjid temple cult. We will
take a closer look at this testimony in ch. 1.9.
Both Syed Shahabuddin and the JNU history team
have replied tha,t these documents don't count because
they are from the 19th century, hurriedly replacing their
earlier demand for non-British testimony by a demand for
pre-19th century testimony.
in 1977. The foreword is contributed by the author's son,
Maulana Abul-Hasan Ali Nadwi, better known as Ali
Mian, rector of the same institute since 1961.
The Urdu version contains a 17-page chapter on
"Hindustan ki Masjidein ", the mosques of Hindustan. Of
seven mosques, the author relates how they had replaced
Hindu temples, either by redesigning or by demolition
and reconstruction (largely using the same stones). One of
these is the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya. Translated into
English, it reads like this: "This mosque was constructed
by Babar at Ayodhya which Hindus call the birthplace of
Ramchandarji. There is a famous story about his wife Sita.
It is said that Sita had a temple here in which she lived
and cooked for her husband. On that very site Babar
constructed his mosque in H. 963..."
This is really rather harmless to the Babri Masjid
cause. The writer doesn't claim any other foundation for
his story than "It is said". He merely reports what was
believed in the beginning of this century. Yet, now that the
Babri Masjid has become a hot item, Arun Shourie found
he had some difficulty in getting a copy of the book. In the
libraries of some famous Islamic institutes (Shourie names
six of them) where it certainly should have been, it
had disappeared: "Many of the persons whom one would
normally have expected to be knowledgeable about such
publications were suddenly reluctant to recall this
book. I was told, in fact, that copies of the book had been
removed, for instance form the Aligarh Muslim University
Library. Some even suggested that a determined effort
had been made three or four years ago to get back each
and every copy of the book." However, the fundamentalist
front is neither solid nor omnipresent, and a few libraries
did have copies of the book available.
In the English version, the one most likely to be
read by unbelievers, the tell-tale passages about mosques
replacing temples have been censored out. Or substituted:
7. [ndum Express, 27.3.90.
8. Indian Express, 9.4.90.
1.3. More arguments . .
Even the joint challenge by fundamentahst
Muslims and secularist historians that their opponents
produce some pre-19th-century evidence has not been able
to save them. For, such evidence exists.
Mr. A.K. Chatterjee presents in full detail the
report by a European traveller, Tieffenthaler,
visited Ayodhya in 1767.
He wrote the
worship regularly conducted on the MasJld
and mentioned the tradition of a temple havmg been
destroyed to make way for the existing mosque. .,. .
Syed Shahabuddin has sent in a reply
Chatterjee's conclusions, and has at once raISed hIS
demands: now, even pre-19th century accounts will not
suffice, only pre-1528 accounts are accepted.
while the Urdu version says that the mosque of Kanauj
"was built on the foundation of some Hindu temple", the
English version tells you that it was built "the place
earlier occupied by an old and decayed fort .
It may be of interest that the editor. of these
translations is not only rector of a famed ·IslamIC college,
but also chairman of the Muslim Personal Law Board and
founding member of the Raabta Alam-e-Islami (Arabic:
Rabita al-Alam aI-Islam, "World Council of Islam"), a pan-
Islamic body with headquarters in Mecca, involved in
financing Muslim organizations all over the world.
To my knowledge, these to c?llceal
inconvenient testimony have not been pubhcly demed by
the people concerned, nor by Syed . (in his
numerous replies to the relevant articles m Indian Express
and other papers) or other Muslim campaigners.
THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
RAM lANMABI-lOOMI VS. BABRl MASlIO 8
Dr.. S.P. Gupta, fonner director of Allahabad
In two articles in Manthan,9 also mentions
Tleffenthaler's report of his visit to Ayodhya in 1767.
On top of that, he mentions "similar accounts" by
Montgomery Martin in 1838, and by William Finch in
Dr. Gup.ta, himself an archaeologist, also brings
evidence into the debate. The JNU
had claimed to have archaeology on their side.
And It IS true that the traditional belief that Ram ruled at
Ayod.hya some five thousand years ago, is seriously un-
by of any archaeological findings
predating the fIrst mIllennium B.c.
Well, the scientific
chronology of the Ramayana hasn't been fully established
so .far, perhaps Ram lived a lot later than commonly
belIeved; or perhaps the Janmabhoomi campaigners have
to face the possibility that Ram's habitat remains un-
But while many (not all) archaeologists believe .
Ram to be outside the reach of even archaeology
they certainly can decIde on the issue of whethe;
was temple on the spot where now the
Babn MasJId 15 standing. Dr. Gupta writes that dUring
excavations in 1975-8.0, led by prof. B.B. Lal, a deep
trench was dug behind the Masjid, touching it and
even penetrating somewhat underneath it. In the 11 th-
12th century level, pillar-bases of burnt brick were found
obviously to the pillars of a building;
a pre-1528 pIece of eVIdence. Moreover, the most im-
portant archaeological evidence is there for everyone to
of an unmistakably Hindu building used
the constructIon of the Babri Masjid. We will look closer
Into the archaeological chapter of the debate in ch. 2.9.
9. Manthan, 2 /90. p.9-18, and 3 /90, p.9-14.
as was announced in India Today, 15.1.89, with the triumphant title
A Myth Exploded ". .
11. Indian Express, 25.2.90.
12. Indian Express, 1.4.90.
11 THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
The hardest-hitting reply to the JNU historians'
pamphlet was an article by prof. A.R. Khan (history
department, Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla) in
Indian Express:" In the name of' history' It . 11 Prof. Khan
contends that the JNU historians on the one hand make a
big case out of proving the evident fact that Ram's birth-
place cannot be located (except by accepting the tradition),
but on the other hand their whole attempt "is elusive in
character", and "sounds like an apologia for the deeds or
misdeeds of Muslim rulers of medieval India". He attacks
not just their conclusions, but their methodology. To this
article, the JNU team has condescended to write a full-
bodied reply, which was published together with a final
reply from prof. KhanY In the next chapters, we will
analyze the arguments propounded by both sides.
1.4. Political misuse of history
The JNU historians start their original pamphlet
by justifying their intervention in the ongoing debate:
"Each individual has a right to his or her belief and faith.
But when beliefs claim the legitimacy of history, then the
historian has to attempt a demarcation between the limits
of belief and historical evidence."
This somewhat pleonastic 'demarcation between
the limits' should not be an academic exercise, but a public
statement: "When communal forces make claims to
'historical evidence' for the purposes of communal politjcs,
then the historian has to intervene."
Some writers of letters to the editor have denounced
as hypocritical, the JNU historians' pose as being
neutral outsiders called on to arbiter the dispute from
above. After all, their statement is very much instrumental '
in the campaign of one of the parties, and is very clearly
RAM ]ANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MAS]ID
- ,j) -
directed against the other one of the parties to the debate.
The JNU argumentation has been gleefully quoted by
people sympathetic to the Babri Masjid cause in their
campaign against the Ram Janmabhoomi activists. The
JNU hi'5torians cannot not have foreseen this.
To be sure, the pamphlet concludes even-
handedly: "The above review of historical evidence
suggests that the claims made by Hindu and Muslim
communal groups can find no sanction from history." But
that is only a fig-1eaf, because the whole of the pamphlet is
not even-handed at all. In fact, there is not a single point in
the whole paqtphlet, which is raised against the Muslim
, claim that the Babri Masjid was built without troubling
anyone. On the contrary, that claim is systematically
defended against the Hindu contention that a Hindu
temple was destroyed to make way for the Masjid. The
whole point of the pamphlet is to find "sanction from
history" for precisely that claim which is loudly made by
:'Muslim communal groups", viz. that the Masjid was built
And the pamphlet proposes as a political solution:
"Ram Janmabhoomi/Babri Masjid area be demarcated and
declared a national monument." It is true that this is not in
consonance with the Muslim communalist viewpoint.
5yed 5hahabuddin has vehemently denounced this
proposal as an insult for all religions alike. So, this is
where Marxists and Muslim communalists part company.
But that doesn't make the proposal impartial.
Implementing it would mean taking from the Muslims
something they only claim, but from the Hindus a temple
they actually use; and from the Muslims a third-rank
mosque which they themselves had abandoned, from the
Hindus a place as sacred as, say, the Umar mosque in
Jerusalem. For the Muslims it would still be half a victory,
and even more than that, since for the Hindus it
would be a terrible defeat. So, let not the JNU historians
deceive themselves that they are above the dispute: their
pamphlet has been firmly enlisted in the war effort of one
of the two parties.
The fact that historians take sides, need not
automatically raise suspicion regarding the objective and
scientific character of their statement. Certainly, the truth
sometimes lies fully with one of the parties in a dispute.
Some soft-hearted people think they are going to solve the
communalist problem by systematically . pretending
that "the truth must lie somewhere in the middle"
and that "all equally guiity". Alright, let us admit that
metaphysically the truth by definition lies in
middle: it then does not follow that two contendmg
viewpoints are equidistant from the mi?dle. Sometimes
the truth lies fully in one camp and not m the o.ther,
scientists may conclude their research by taking SIdes
without anyhow renouncing their duty of objectivity and
methodic impartiality. '
At any rate, the JNU historians
and made clear what side they are on. They contmue
introduction by announcing: "Historical evidence is
presented here not as a polemic. .." Prof. Khan
has a point when he retorts that the pamphlet smacks of
polemic despite claims to the contrary".
This is what a reader wrote to the Times of
India, in reply to the JNU historians' pamphlet (aiming
also at the new editor, Dilip Padgoankar, who gave the
paper a sharply 'secularist' orientation after he
Girilal Jain, "that communalist" as he calls him, m 1989):
"Perhaps you want to invest them with some kind
academic glory by using the legend of JNU, but theIr
best introduction, intellectually speaking, is that they are
Stalinist historians... Their ideological brothers in the press
make sure, through selective reporting and.
that their views are properly advertised. The Tzmes of Indza,
too, is in this rank: its editorials, leading articles, special
THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE RAM lANMABHOOMI VS, BABRI MASlIO
13. Times of India, 11.11 .89
recently, elements of the Hsia chronology have also
been confirmed. The tacitly accepted axiom of oriental-
ism, viz. that the indigenous historiography is unreli-
able if not mythical, has .been undermined by some
pertinent facts (which doesn't keep it from still being cher-
ished by many scholars, including some Indians).
The Ramayana certainly has a historical core. The
idea of a purely fictional work which is made to look like
history, complete with astronomical indications of the
time and genealogies, is quite foreign to ancient cultures.
But the Ramayana has also undergone centuries of literary
embellishment even before Valmiki, other legends have
been incorporated and so on. And unlike the Chinese Hsia
and Shang chronology, the Ram story is not a matter of
consensus even among the ancient indigenous writers. So
of course, it cannot be accepted as history at face value. An
especially difficult point is the timing of the Ramayana
"According to Valmiki Ramayana, Rama, the king
of Ayodhya, was born in the Treta Yuga, that is thousands
of years before the Kali Yuga which is supposed to begin
in 3102 B.C." This statement is for the ]NU historians the
basis of their argument that Ram cannot have lived in the
city which now is called Ayodhya: "There is no
archaeological evidence to show that at this early time the
region around present day Ayodhya was inhabited. The
earliest possible date for settlements at the site are of
about the eighth century B.c."
Prof. A.R. Khan comments: "Despite their reser-
vations about accepting Valmiki's characters, plac;es,...as
authentic, they have not paused awhile in uncritically
ccepting Valmiki's poetic exaggeration identifying Rama
with the Treta Yuga... The very premise on which they
have built their argument to disprove Rama's association
with the present day Ayodhya rests on their acceptance of
Valmiki's allusion to the Treta age, which no historian
THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO
reports - all breathe venom, not just against Ram
]anmabhoomi but against any Hindu viewpoint."13
Western readers should keep in mind that the reporting
about Indian affairs (including the communal conflict) that
they get in their press, is often just copied from Indian
English-language papers, starting with the prestigious
Times of India.
1.5. Date of Ram's life
The ]NU historians reject the Ramayana as a source
of historiography: "The events of the stroy of Rama,
originally told in the Rama-Kqtha which is no longer
available to us, were rewritten in the form of a long epic
poem, the Ramayana, by Valmiki. Since this is a poem and
much of it could have been fictional, including characters
and places, historians cannot accept the personalities, the
events or the locations as historically authentic unless
there is other supporting evidence from sources regarded
as more reliable by historians. Very often historical
evidence contradicts popular beliefs."
No one need have any quarrel with this
statement. It does not exclude using the epic meterial in
conjunction With other sources in order to put together
ancient Indian history. This is a sensitive point among
Indian historians, because many of them rightfully protest
against the way Western orientalists have chosen to totally
disregard the epics and other ancient scriptures as
sources of history.
After all, those Western scholars used to display
the same haughty rejection of the traditional Chinese
chronology, with its history of the Shang (1765-1122 B.C.)
and Hsia (2207-1766) dynasties; until qocuments were
discovered that proved the traditional list and chronology
of the Shang emperors correct to the detail. And more
even of a lesser order would accept. " The hypothesis that
the Ramayana events took place after the ninth century
B.C., but were projected back by Valmiki, is not at all
To the JNU historians' observation that lithe
archaeological remains (of Ayodhya, 8th century B.C.)
indicate a fairly simple material life, more primitive than
what is described in the Valmiki Ramayana", prof. Khan
replies that Valmiki may have clothed the Ramayana
events, for him already some centuries old, in descriptions
of the material culture of his own times (just like European
paintings put Biblical scenes in a medieval or renaissance
As for the whole concept of Yuga (age), I would
like to point out that even among pandits there is no
consensus about its exact meaning. Some (including the
Marxist historian D.O. Kosambi) have suggested that the
four Yugas are really nothing but the four seasons.
This is in perfect agreement with the fundamentally
cyclical character of Hindu chronology.
But if we stick to the classical interpretation of
four centuries-long ages, there are still different opinions
about their duration. The most common opinion is that the
present Kali Yuga started in 3102 B.C., and will last for
432,OOOyears, the three earlier ages having lasted even
Swami Sri Yukteswar, however, quoting literally
from the ancient sage Manu, whom he consideres to be the
original source of the Yuga theory, says that the length of
the ages is as follows: 4800 years Satya (or Krita) Yuga,
3600 years Treta Yuga, 2400 years Dwapara Yuga, 1200
years Kali Yuga. After that, the same ages return on an
ascending arc, from the dark Kali Yuga back up to the
glorious Satya Yuga, with the same length but in reverse
order, all in, all making up a cycle of 24,000 years (an
approximation of the precession cycle). The extremely
14. Swami Sri Yukteswar : The Holy Science, SRF Pub!., L.A. 1977
I . "In the name of history", in Indian Express, 1.4.90
long time spans commonly allotted to the Yugas are a
deviation from the original Yuga theory through
multiplication of the quoted figures by 360 (a stylized
approximation of the number of days in the year), on the
assumption that a year in the world is only a day in the
life of Brahma.
The practical implication of sticking to the literal
text would be, that Treta Yuga ended around 3100
B.C., Dwapara Yuga lasted till around 700 B.C., Kali Yuga
followed on the descending and again on the ascending
arc, lasting therefore till around 1700 A.D., so that today
we are in Dwapara Yuga, scheduled to make way for
Treta Yuga in about 3100 A.D. If Ram is to have lived in
Treta Yuga this version of the Yuga theory still makes it
impossible for- him to have lived in or after the ' eighth
century B:C. Nonetheless, the fact that even spe:ialists of
Hindu religious chronology disagree on the exact timing
of the successive Yugas, makes it quite unacceptable for
historians to base their conjectures on an uncritical reading
of dates expressed in Yuga terminology. .
The JNU historians replied: "Our statement that
according to Valmiki, Rama belonged to the Treta Yuga, is
read by him to mean that we accept that this was so. How
he arrives at this conclusion remains a mystery. illS Well, if
the JNU think tank doesn't understand, it still , is quite
simple. They have indeed, from Valiniki's placing Ram in
the Treta Yuga, flatly and without pause concluded that
Valmiki's Ram lived before 3102 B.C., long before the 8th
century B.C., when life at Ayodhya supposedly began.
They have not at all considered the possibility that
Valmiki may have exaggerated the time-lapse since his
hero lived, or that the mysterious term 'Treta Yuga' may
THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
r '-1fT, -
- --- ,...
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO 16
16. "In the name of history ", in Indian Express, 1.4.90
have had a different meaning from the one now accepted
by many pandits. In fact, any serious historian should
have rejected the traditional meaning of the term 'Treta
Yuga' in this context, for it would imply that Ram was
born not just before the Kali Yuga's inception in 3102
B.C., but also before the Dwapara Yuga, Le. hundreds of
thousands of years ago. Some few pandits actually believe
that, but it is obvious nonsense.
In passing, it should be remarked how obnoxiously
condescending the JNU team is towards its critics:
"Mr. Khan's misrepresentation of our views on these
matters is, we presume, not a deliberate attempt to malign
us, but due rather to an unfortunate lack of familiarity
with historical sources and an inability to comprehend the
language of our argument... His own familiarity with the
evidence leaves much to be desired."16 Let us remember
that "Mr. Khan" is professor of history, equal in rank to the
Their haughty attitude must be understood in
the context of the elitist character of Marxism in India.
Marxism, like Western dress and English, is part of the
make-up of an intra-colonial elite which is out to civilize
its backward countrymen. When JNU was founded, and
intended to become India's Harvard, it was packed with
Marxist staff. And though a number of the 25 signatories
of the JNU pamphlet are CPI members, they
are not troubled too by an equalitarian mentality.
They uninhibitedly use the pedestal of JNU to belittle and
denigrate their opponents.
Except for the time in the Ramayana (in
their classical interpretation), there is another source that
postulates a history for Ayodhya reaching far beyond the
9th century B.c., which none of the parties to the debate
has used so far. This is the Jain tradition concerning the
17. See Sharma, Chandradhar : A Critical Survey of Indilln Philosophy,
1'.48. [MotHai, 1987 (1960)].
lineage of Tirthankaras ("makers of river-crossings"). There
must have been 24 of them, the last one being Mahavira
Jina, a contemporary of Buddha (6th century B.C.). One of
his predecessors, Parshvanath, is known to have been a
historical person, living in the 8th or 9th century B.CY
So far, except for the colonial scholars' prejudice
against indigenous traditions, no positive reason for
dismissing the list of Tirthankaras as unhistorical been
given. But of course, like with the Ramayana, interpreting
the indications of their timing correctly may be a more
In both the Ramayana and the Tirthankara list,
absurdly long timespans are mentioned (such as Treta
Yuga). This doesn't prove that the characters concerned
have not existed (as some people, argui,ng the mythical
nature of the Tirthankaras, have ' assumed). Abraham is
considered to have really existed, yet the only source
about him, the Book of Genesis, says he,lived to the age of
175, becoming a father at 99. His father died at 205, his
ancestor Sem at 635, and other predecessors are described
as having lived even longer. In African legends, many
of them also spun out around histori<;al heroes, similar
cosmic timespans are common. We simply have to accept
that an essentially historical account has been blown out of
its time proportions, and that this was a common thing to
do among ancient tradltionaries.
If we make a very modest estimate, and we assume
arbitrarily that the Tirthankara lineage was in fact only an
uninterrupted parampara (guru lineage), with one
Tirthankara per generation, the first one must have lived
more than five centuries before Mahavira, Le. well into the
cond millennium B.C. Of course, the Jains themselves
postulate a far earlier beginning for their lineage, and claim
THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
. ""' ..
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID 18
18. See T.K. Tukol : Compendium of Jainism, p.10-13 (Karnataka Univer-
sity, Dharwad 1980).
to be the oldest religion in India '(a claim deemed credible
by many historians). ,
It is possjble, if we assume the Western sch?lars
deep distrust of the indigenous tradition, that 24 Just. a
sacred number (as in the 24-spoked wheel promment In
the Indian flag, or the 24 years Mahavira spent in lonely
ascetic practice, or the 24 tattvas in Sankhya cosmology),
and that Mahavira 'completed' the list of his predecessors,
inventing maybe·twenty of them, so as to make them into
a nice 24-patalled closed set with himself as the final
one. However, this methodical skepticism ends where
positive independent testimony for the existence of at least
some of the earlier Tirthankaras is found. Four names of
Tirthankaras, including the first and second one of the list,
occur in the Rig-Veda and the Atharva-Veda, which again
points to a time well before the first B.C.
long as is no positive reason t?
the essence of the Tirthankara trad1tion, the IndlCations
are that the first Tirthankaras clearly predate the first
There is also an internal criterion to find out
whether a story is just mythical or essentially historical. It
is used by Bible exegetes to decide on the historicity of
Bible narratives, but also by forensic child psychiatrists to
find out whether a child's accusations against its father are
in fact dictated by the mother (assuming she never heard
of this criterion) who wants better divorce terms, or are a
genuine complaint. The criterion is this: is the made
up of stereotypes, or does it contain some contmgent and
unpredictable yet realistic details? . . .
Applying this criterion to the
we do find quite a few non-stereotyplCal elements. It 1S
beyond the purview of this study to analyze all of them,
21 THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
19. See op. cit. , p.10-22 for more arguments.
but one striking example certainly is this: the nineteenth
Tirthankara was a woman. Woman teachers were quite
common and accepted in the Vedic age, but for the later
Jain wirters, it was an embarrassing oddity. They certainly
did not concoct this woman predecessor to embellish their
lineage, on the contrary, they are very apologetic about
her. What they have indeed concocted, is the explanation
that this Tirthankara was born as a woman as a con-
sequence of deceitful behaviour in her previou,s incar-
nation. They had absolutely no to put a woman in
the list, except for the fact that she has really existed.
SQ, we have enough grounds
assume that the Tirthankara tradition is essentially
historical. We may sift out the cosmic timespans and the
miracle stroies, but the rest is probably historical.
Now.the interesting thing is that according to Jain
tradition, the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 14th Tirthankaras were
born in Ayodhya.
Each of them belonged to the Ikshvaku
family, just Ram.
With the Ramayana information about Ayodhya,
there is scope for doubt whether that was the same
Ayodhya as today's: there is a story that the 5th-century
A.D. king who called himself Vikramaditya (as many .of
them did, but the theme of the story points towards
Skanda Gupta) 'rediscovered' Ayodhya, indicating that it
had been lost, and allowing for the suspicion that this king
had arbitrarily declared the city of his choice to have been
the ancient Ayoahya oJ Ramayana fame (more about this
in ch. 1.6.).
But in this Jain tradition, there is continuity from at
least the Vefic age through· the Maurya period down to
the Gupta and the Turko-Afghan period. A Jain presence
in Ayodhya is archaeologiclly attested since the 4th
- , < - •
. RAM )ANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID
century B.C., which is even before the presumed time
Valmiki lived. There is no reason whatsoever to assume
that they just arbitrarily identified this city with an ancient
city where the first of their Tirthankaras had dwelt. And it
is quite ludicrous to postulate that they, with their
continuous presence in that city, would somehow have
lost sight of the city of five of their Tirthankaras, and given
that honour to Ayodhya by mistake.
Moreover, postulating that the Jains distorted or
just concocted their own tradition, and at the same time
postulating that Vikramaditya and the Ram worshippers
did the same thing, with both parties moreover agreeing
in their concoctions on the crucial point of the
millennia-old central importance of this city Ayodhya, is
taking us rather far away from probability and common
sense. Of course, in science you may sometimes depart
from common sense and postulate the wildly improbable,
but then you will be asked the positive grounds you have
for doing so. Here, such grounds have not been offered.
We have two witnesses, two separate traditions
postulating a hoary and glorious antiquity for this
Ayodhya, extending beyond the 9th century B.C. Against
them, we have only one, negative, testimony: the absence
of archaeological finds from before the 9th century
B.C. The charges of untrustworthiness against the Jain
testimony, and the charge that Vikramaditya arbitrarily
named a city of his choice Ayodhya, are not based on any
positive historical grounds; they are at best plausible.
We may conclude that it is quite alright to assume,
as long as no positive proof of the contrary is
that the Jain tradition is correct, and that some of the early
Jain teachers lived in Ayodhya, the same Ayodhya of to-
day, well before the 9th century B.C. It is not necessary to
postulate this for saving ' the historicity of Ram (including
his living in Ayodhya), but it may as well be true, re-
gardless of its usefulness in this debate.
I. Someone who does conclude that therefore there cannot have been
.lOy habitation in those 7 or 8 centuries, without paying attention to
I I lian Tsang's evidence to the contrary, is Debashis Mukerji in Week,
It is true that the archaeologists haven't found
any<thing pre-dating the first millennium B.C. yet, but
there are good reasons, viz. the literary sources of the Jain
tradition, as well as the classical reading of Valmiki's
Ramayana, to insist on the possibility that signs of human
life in Ayodhya at a much earlier time may yet be found in
Some will consider it a cheap and easy way out to
assume that the excavations haven't ·found anything older
than the first millennium B.C. simply because they haven't
found it yet, and that something is yet to be found. For
them, I would like to point out that B.B. Lars excavations
in Ayodhya haven't found anything from the time
between the 3rd and the 11th century A.D., and yet those
who conclude therefrom that there was no habitation then
in Ayodhya, are contradicted by a number of literary
sources, the best-konwn among them being HsiianTsang.
Most of the anti-Janmabhoomi writers, including the JNU
historians, have accepted and argumenJatively used this
li terary testimony. They have accepted that Ayodhya was
inhabited in the Gupta period, and have thereby correctly
refused to consider the absence of archaeological
fi ndings as evidence of non-:inhabttation. If HsiianTsang's
positive testimony can prevail upon the archaeological ne-
gative testimony, then Valmiki's or the Jain's testimony
might do the same.
The search for the historicity and timing of the
Ramayana events, as well as .of the Jain Tirthankara
lradition, is still on. The matter has not been decided for
It od. It often happens that academics in public forums
1r sent their own pet theory as the scientific viewpoint,
when in fact the question is still open. Here also, scholars
THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS, BABRI MASJID
should guard themselves against excluding possibilities
that have not been conclusively ruled out, even while ·the
indications in their favour are also insufficient. Saying
that, scientifically speaking, there C4nnat have been a
city on site in the 2nd millennium B.C., is a
misrepresentation of the status quaestionis of the relevant
In subsequent chapters, we will nevertheless
comply with the prevalent opinion, and assume that any
explanation of the historicity of Ram should not violate
the terminus postquem of the 9th century B.C.
1.6. Valmiki's Ayodhya and other religions
Ayodhya was, according to the Ramayana, the
capital of Koshala. But the JNU historians point out in
their pamphlet: "Early Buddhist texts refer to Shravasti
and Saketa, not Ayodhya, as the major cities of Koshala.
Jama texts also refer to Saketa as the capital of Koshala.
There are very few references to an Ayodhya, but this is
said to be located on the Ganges, not on the river Saryu
which is the site of present day Ayodhya."
As prof. Khan points out, it is very strange to
disregard pieces of evidence on the ground that they are
"few". The first fact, before we start counting, is that there
are Buddhist and Jain texts that do mention Ayodhya. It
remains a problem that Ayodhya is Sc;lid to be on Jhe
Ganges. But by how many sources? The JNUhistoiia.ns do
not even c4tim that each of evert those few texts they know
of, locates Ayodhya on the·Ganges. And even if that were
the case, the jNU people should not count it as evidence,
on the ground of fewness: it is after all the very same texts
. they choose to, disregard as proof of the very
eXIStence of an Ayodhya in those times.
The ancient writer may have made a mistake in the
town's geographical location. Or perhaps he meant
'Ganges' in the broad sense of 'the Gangetic plain', if he
22. as B.S. Upadhyaya (India in Kalidasa, S. Chand & Co., Delhi 1968
p.2) has found in the Samyutta NikJJya.
23. Manthan, 2 / 90, p.1S.
mE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
himself was from a different part of India. At any rate, if
the jNU historians want to explain away an Ayodhya on
the Saryu by disc9vering or inventing another Ayodhya
on the Ganges, they must face the consequences. They
now will. have to find other evidence of this other
Ayodhya, explain how it got its· name, and why it dis-
without leaving a trace. If they cannot corne up
WIth any of that, then we must decide that the postulation
of a second Ayodhya is an excessive theory; one that
multiplies entities beyond necessity.
Moreover, if we consult the relevant Buddhist
texts, we find that an isolated reference to Ayodhya
the Ganges does not even imply that this Ayodhya was
dIfferent from Saket, because Saket in at least one text is
also mistakenly situated on the Ganges.
It is a fact that Buddhist texts routinely call the site
of Ayodhya, Saket. Jaina texts refer to the town by the .
same name, or call it Vinita. Dr. Gupta comments that
those texts call Saket the capital of Koshala, in and since
the time of the Buddha (6th century B.C.); while Valmiki
(perhaps 3rd century B.C.), ' who must have been a
contemporary of at least some of those Jaina and Buddhist
writers, mentions Ayodhya as the capital of Koshala.
Valmiki may have been lying, or he may have been
writing about the situation during some far-off Treta
Yuga, but it is more probable that in the centuries before
and up to Valmiki, the capital of Koshala was known
alternatively as Saket, Vinita and Ayodhya.
. Dr. Gupta says: "There is nothing Surprising in
thIS. The town of Varanasi has also been called
Kashi...Similarly, Pataliputra... was also known in ancient
li terature as Kusumpur.. . Hence, in all likelihood,
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO 24
24. Manthan, 2 / 90.
27 THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
century do we find the Ramanandi sadhus settling on a
large scale. It was in the subsequent centuries that they
built most of their temples in Ayodhya."
However, as prof. Khan points out, they contradict
their own theory by another contention made in the same
pamphlet, where they explain why Skanda Gupta would
have named the city Ayodhya: "This does not necessarily
suggest that the Gupta king was a bhakta of Rama. In
bestowing the name of Ayodhya on Saket he was trying to
gain prestige for himself by drawing on the tradition of
the Suryavamshi kings, a line to which Rama is said to
Prof. Khan aptly remarks· that this statement
"concedes the fact that the tradition of Rama and his
association with Ayodhya had gained credibility in the
minds of the people as early as 1500 years ago... to the
extent that the Gupta king could hope to gain prestige by
merely renaming a town as Ayodhya (although there is no
evidence to suggest that Skanda renamed it to gain
We may add a supporting fact mentioned by dr.
S. P. Gupta: "Emperor Skanda' Gupta...laid the foundation
tone of a Vishnu temple at Ayodhya which, as mentioned
in the inscription, he dedicated to god Saringin, i.e. the
od with bow and arrow, obviously Rama."
In their reply to prof. Khan's critique, the JNU
historians retreat to the next line of defence. While
orrectly stating that "the Suryavamsha lineage is distinct
(rom the Rama cult and was adopted by many ruling
f, milies for purposes of political legitimation", and over-
I oking the fact that this legitimation was based precisely
(n a broadly recognized deified status of Ram, they
oncede that some kind of Ram cult must have been
In xistence. But for them that fact doesn't count, because
"Ih importance of Rama in Gupta times was as one
of the avataras in a Vaishnava tradition of worship,
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO 26
Ayodhya... had different sectors, some religions
patronized some sectors and gave them one name, while
other religions patronized other sectors and called them
by another name. But basically they all belonged to a
single human settlement area. "24
What is more, there are ancient sources that
explicitly refer to both Ayodhya and Saket as one and the
same city. Kalidas, the famous Sanskrit poet of the early
5th century AD., uses both names interchangeably in his
Raghuvamsha Hsii an Tsang, the Chinese traveller of the
7th century, calls the city A-yu-t'o, clearly a transcrip-
tion of Ayodhya, not of Saket. The JNU historians have
not considered these facts, but they might retort that at
least Hsu an Tsang wrote after the situation had changed
in the 5th century AD., when, in the words of their book-
let, "the town of Saket was renamed Ayodhya by a Gupta
king. Skanda Gupta in the late 5th century A.D. moved his
residence to Saketa and called it Ayodhya."
This brings up another point: while the JNU
historians are perfectly right in asserting that in pre-
Muslim times the town had been a religious centre of both
Buddhists and Jains, was the town then already a centre of
Ram worship? They say it wasn't: "Its rise as a major
centre of Rama worship is, in fact, relatively recent."
They cite "inscriptions from the 5th to the 8th
century Hsu an Tsang, and "texts of the 11 the cen-
tury AD.", as not mentioning Ram or the Ram cult in con-
nection with Ayodhya. "The cult of Ayodhya seems to
have become popular from the thirteenth century. It gains
ground with the gradual rise of the Ramanandi sect and
the composition of the Rama story in Hindi. Even in the
15th and 16th centuries Ramanandis had not settled
in on a significant scale. Shaivism was more
important than the cult of Rama. Only from the 18th
.r, -- ,,_,
•• ::.,..,... 1 ....
his independent status as an object of worship was a
subsequent development of a later period."
This statement makes an irrelevant distinction and
displays a clumsy understanding of the concept of
(a god's incarnation) in Hinduism. The Hindu gods are
representations of aspects of reality. For instance, when
conceived as parts of a threesome (trimurti), Brahma,
Vishnu and Shiva represent the aspects of a threefold
reality. Brahma (as well as his 'consort' Saraswati)
represents inception, initiation, tuning the mind to the
.vishnu represents fullness, continuity, stability, and
YIeldmg 'consort' Lakshmi symbolizes .fertility
and wealth). .represents breaking the ties, saying
goodbye, retreatmg mto oneself (therefore, his consort is
Parvati, 'the one of the mountain', i.e. the lonely heights).
Now, these principles are embodied in the
phenomenal world. Every student is an incarnation of
or Saraswati, as well as everyone who imparts
mitIation or does an inceptional ritual. A man and a
woman who marry, who become pillars of social stability,
and are about to transmit and continue the stream of life,
thereby become incarnations of Vishnu and Lakshmi. And
those who renounce the world thereby become and
Parvati. The Hindu 'gods' really make sense.
It should now become clear in what sense Ram was
an avatar or incarnation of Vishnu. His main significance,
a.ccording to tradition, is that he was an upholder of
(dharma), an establisher of the kingdom of
(dharma rajya, or indeed 'Ram rajya'): a
typIcally Vishnu mission. There is no difference between
'Ram as incarnation of Vishnu' and 'Ram as such'.
Still, there is a difference in flavour between
Valmiki's Ramayana and its Hindi the Ram Charit
Manas by Goswami Tulsidas (16th century). In more
recent times, Ram is more superhuman, more deified
in advance less human and historical than in ancient
2. Indian Express, 1.4.90.
'} . Manthan, 3 / 90.
29 THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
accounts. Some say that this is due to Muslim influence, in
imitation of the untheologically superhuman status of the
prophet in popular Islam. At any rate, even while the Ram
cult may have become more personalized-devotional,
there is no change in Ram's status as 'an incarnation of
Vishnu'. As prof. Khan writes:"As long as Rama's worship
had started, it is immaterial whether he was worshipped
as an avatara of Vishnu or by virtue of an 'independent
status' of his own... To this day, Rama is worshipped even
by those who are not Ramanandis and most of whom are
unable to distinguish between Rama as an avatara of
Vishnu or as an independent god..."25
We may conclude that, whatever be the true story
behind Valmiki's Ramayana, Ayodhya has been a centre
of Ram worship since at least the 5th century A.D, when
Skanda Gupta founded a Ram/Vishnu temple there, and
named the city Ayodhya, either in continuation of an
existing tradition or as the start of a new one. So, when
Babar's men arrived in Ayodhya, they may well have
found a centuries-old and flourishing Ram cult there.
While the for material traces of Valmiki's
Ram story may have less bearing on the Babri Masjid issue
once the fact of a pre-Babar Ram cult in Ayodhya has been
established, it need not be given up. Prof. Gupta reports
on the campaign 'Archaeology of the
Ramayana Sites', in 1975-80, led by prof. B.B. Lal: "The
earliest habitational layer in these trenches, laid directly
ab,ove the llatural soil, yielded the most beautiful pottery
of Indian material culture... This pott,ery is dated to the
period not later than 8th-9th centiry B.C."26 Perhaps it did
kind of live ,up to the luxuriant standards of Valmiki's
descriptions. The findings certainly don'l explode the
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID
legendary king Vikramaditya... who was able to rediscover
the original locations of Ram's life by means of
meditation".29 Van der Veer also mentions an interesting
detail from the stroy: Vikramaditya saw a black man enter
the river Saryu, and come out white again. The man was
Prayag, black with the sins that many pilgrims had
washed off, and "he explained that even he could wash
away all 'his' sins in this place, because it was Ayodhya.
So, Vikramaditya perchance was already in Ayodhya
when he met Prayag. The latter then showed him all the
places where Ram had lived.
The king went to "Prayag, the king of tirthas",
who showed him the way to Ayodhya. Who is this
Prayag? I mean, if you want to use this story as evidence,
it is important to understand it fully, and to know who its
protagonists are. Only an analphabet to Indian culture
could fail to notice that Prayag does not designate some
wise old king, but the foremost place of pilgrimage, the
'king' among the tirthas, where the gigantic Kumbha Mela
festival is held (nowadavs also called Allahabad). Here,
Prayag is personified, which is very common in Indian
religious discourse (efr. anthropomorphic sayings like:
"Assi Ghat [= most upstream bathing-place of Varanasi] is
where Ganga-ji meets Kashi [=Varanasi].").
Now, what to make of this story? Apparently, it is
not attested to have been in existence for more than a
millennium after this 'rediscovery' supposedly took place.
Tsurmise it was invented by the personnel of Ayodhya's
Ram cult (who, according to the JNU historians, only
tarted flocking to Ayodhya in the 13th century) . In their
world, basing the ancient credentials of their city on a
miracle story meant something very different from what it
means to us. For them, it meant adding a divine element,
therefore sacredness, to the history of their city; while for
Gods on Earth, p.34.
n. id., p.19.
THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
RAM JANMABHOOMI vs. BABRI
hypothesis of Ram living in Ayodhya sometim! early in
the first millennium B.C.
h' Moreover, prof. Maheshwari Prasad (ancient
. BH1!), who has archaeologically traced Ram's
dunng exile episode, and found Valmiki's list
J?urney stations to be consistent with the actual
findmgs, .sta!es categorically that the place where Ram
hIS Journey (Le. Valmiki's Ayodhya) must be
withm a few miles from the city now known as
Don't underestimate the accuracy of
. Th.e JNU historians try to counter the tradition'
WhICh Ayodhya as the ancient city of
Ram, WIth another pIece of tradition. It is potentially im-
portant an .therefore it is a bit strange that
they. mentIomng theIr source, just calling it "the local
. Anyway, let's hear the story.
. In a way, the local tradition of Ayodhya
the ambiguous history of its origin. The
story IS Ayodhya was lost after the Treta Yuga and
was redIScovered Vikram;:lditya. While searching for
lost Vikramaditya met Prayaga, the king of
tlrthas [= nver-crossings", places of pilgrimage], who
about Ayodhya and showed him where it was
Vikramaditya marlced the place but could not find it later:
Then ·he met a yogi who told him that he should let
a cow and a calf roam. When the calf came across
Janmabhoomi, milk would flow from its udder. The
king followed the yogi's advice. When at a certain point
the calf's began to flow the king decided that this
was the SIte of the ancient Ayodhya."
Van der Veer also reports being "told by
Ayodhya s pandas [= temple priests]" that Ayodhya had
been lost and was "miraculously rediscovered by the
27.. The same are also listed in dr. Murlidhar H. Paho'a in his
data on Temple, in Indian Express, 14.5.90. )
28. IntervIew, 1.3.90.
us, it supplying a gap in the 'historical' history of
Ayodhya wIth a convenient fairytale.
. Certainly this story wasn't around when Skanda
Gupta to have been the Vikramaditya of this
bUIlt a Ram temple in the late 5th century AD, in
the called Ayodhya. And at any rate it could not
Influence Kalidas, who lived two generations ear-
lIer and called the town alternatively Saket and Ayodhya.
If. the was called Ayodhya some fifty years before
discovered it to be Ayodhya, well, then he
nght, no matter what practices he used to arrive at his
. At any rate, this story's contents are used as a piece
of. by. the JNU historians (without any source
CntIclsm), but mterpreted to mean just the opposite of
what it says, viz. that Ayodhya was not rediscovered
this not the ancient Ayodhya. They take stor;
they assume that that king went through
thIS dIVInation procedure of follOWing an animal until
happen. But while Ayodhya
pnest.s would belIeve In the efficacity of this procedure,
and m the correctness of the divinatory designation
of Ayodhya, the modem historians would say that this
was not more than a matter of chance, unable to
decIde factual questions like the location of an ancient city.
!herefore, the re-Iocating of Ayodhya, faithfully described
m the story, was unscientific, superstitious, and unable' to
produce the truth. It was myth filling a gap in history.
. JNU historians assert: "This myth of 're-
of Ayodhya, this claim to an ancient sacred
hnea?"e, IS effort to import to a city a specific religious
sanctity WhICh it lacked." Remark the typically Marxist
to. decide on the truth of a story not from an
Independent investigation thereof (which they forego'
they.don't consider, let alone check out, the possible
deceItful grounds that the king may have had for calling
the city Ayodhya), but from the postulated use to
which the story has been put. Anyway, there is a flaw in
On the JNU historians' own admission, Ayodhya
was..an important religious centre of at least Buddhism
and ]ainism in the centuries preceding this Gupta king.
Well-known Buddhist philosophers of the Yogachara
school lived there in the 4th century AD. It didn't lack
sanctity at all: at the least it was considered to be the birth-
place of five Tirthankaras and one of the places where the
Buddha had meditated. The king may have moved his
seat of government to this city to impart religious sanctity
to his own dynasty, but the city's own religious credentials
were already well-established. And again, using the name
Ayodhya to confer religious prestige, be it on the dynasty
or on the city, implies that the Ram cult was alive and
functioning in that area and era.
Moreover, the story is ' not related by
Vikramaditya, it is not used by the king to "impart
sanctity" to his city. It is related by preachers, and it is they
who use it to exalt _the holiness, i.e. the cleansing
power, of their city. Taken at face value, the story is useful
as advertisement for Ayodhya among devout people.
Perhaps it contains an element of competition, so typical
in hagiography (when saint is credited with a miracle,
devotees of another saint attribute the same kind of
miracle, slightly magnified; to their own saInt): Prayag
cleans well, but Ayodhya cleans even better!
To a more depth-oriented listener, the story may
ound like a religious parable, not a more or less historifal
tradition..Parables, explanatory stories, and metaphorical,
piritual interpretations 'of commonly known stories both
fictional and historical, often humorously presented, are
the basic tool-kit of Hindu preachers. .'
For example, I have once heard a Swami use the
historical character of the British king Edward, who abdi-
33 THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID
cated his throne in order to marry an American divorcee,
a metaphor of the people who abdicate their 'kingdom
of heaven. for pleasures. Very well-known.are the
of the great · epics, e.g. the
basIc. characters m the Mahabharata: : Arjun's chariot is the
phySIcal human the horses are the senses; Arjun is
the mdweller in the human person, the Self;
IS charioteer, the controller of the senses, the
dIScnmmatmg power of the intellect. .
1!'is o.f discovery of Ayodhya, even if it
has ongm, may be interpreted like such a
parable. In my conjecture, it only became
hIStOry When. a asked a .half-educated panda (the
poverty and diminIshmg level of schooling of the priests is
of the great problems Hinduism faces today) for the
hIstory of Ayodhya, and the good man related the only
relevant story he could think of, never mind pulling it out
. . Going on pilgrimage to Prayag, the king, like all
pllgnms, found back the way Ayodhya, Le. the way to
the lost paradise of dharnia. As Van der Veer's version of
the storr it through meditation that the king
fmd It. ,?harma, m the ramayanic, heroic sense of
, a metaphor for dharma in the
sense of religIOn, the Way". Prayag represents the guru
the who and shows Ayodhya, explained a;
no stnfe , the state without disunity, the state (of
conSCIousness) beyond the pairs of opposites.
Where is this lost paradise, this Rain Rajya ? Well
says the place where evert Prayag, who is black
WIth the sms of all those pilgrims who wash themselves at
Prayag, comes to bathe and rises clean and white from the
The according to popular belief, takes upon
hImself the sms of his pupils. Where does he get rid of
them? Whenever he enters the state of conscious-
ness, automatically all sins are washed away Th'
I • IS
35 THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
purifying effect of this highest state is depicted as the river
Saryu. This highest state is Ayodhya, the state from
which Ram is born. What is born in this state is "Ram",
considered to be derived from the Sanskrit root 'ram',
meaning "to rejoice".
Now, when your guru isn't there anymore,
how to find Ayodhya then? Well, says the yogi in the story
(stripping his advice of its miraculous element), where a
cow gives milk, there is Ayodhya. Perfectly ordinary
yet wholesome, even holy, that sacred cow. One
might connect this with the Vedic cosmological myths and
symbols, but it is simpler to draw attention to the fact that
the yogi does not name any specific place. This means that
the real Ayodhya is not a place, and the Ram that matters
is not the historical Ram; just like Augustine's 'Civitas Dei'
comes instead of the earthly Rome, and the 'New Jerusalem'
is not the geographical Jerusalem.
That doesn't ru,le out the historicity of Ram
and his rule in Ayodhya (efr. Jerusalem, both historical
and symbolical), but that was not what this yogi was
interested in. The Ayodhya that the yogi pointed out, was
the spiritual Ayodhya, not the geographical one. And,
more importantly for our topic, the Ayodhya that had bem
lost, was the spiritual Ayodhya, not the geographical Ayodhya.
The physical Ayodhya had been known all along: people
do 'not just lose track of their sacred cities.
Why would that sadhu have made Vikramaditya
the hero of his story? Because Skanda Gupta, one of many
kings who were also called Vikramaditya, was known to
have looked for Ayodhya (which would imply a far-off
historical basis for the story, after a11)? Perhaps we are
t aling here with another Vikramaditya, the original one,
who defeated the Shakas and reconquered Ujjain in 58 Be,
.md after whom the Vikram Samvat calendar system is
n, med. Many legends have bec()me attached to his
p rson, and it would be normal, even a bit stereotypical, to
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID
, r .... -
"'." . -' ' '+
name the chief character of a story just Vikramaditya (as in
King Vikram and the Ghost). Then again, it may be Skanda
Gupta, if the listeners were thought to know of the fact
that Skanda Gupta had indeed made the physical move
(of his throne) towards Ayodhya, thus exemplifying what
we all have to do in a non-physical sense. Either way,
Vikramaditya only performs in this story because a fairly
recent story-teller put him in. '
I want to stress once more that the allegorical
interpretation of the story cited by Vander Veer and the
JNU historians, is not at all far-fetched at least in the sense
of misplaced and mechanically forced upon the story. You
really do find many Hindu teachers who work out this
kind of allegory to speak about this kind of topic. That this
story is about yoga and not about history, should be clear
from these facts: it contains no histarical details, no
calendar data of even the vaguest kind, no precise name
for the protagonist (there has be,en many a 'king
Vikramaditya', in stories a stereotypical name), because
those things are not needed in a parable: one out of three
characters in the story is a yogi, and meditation (i.e. yoga)
is explicitiy mentioned as the way by w ~ i c h the places of
Ram's life were discovered.
It is a different matter that some less-educated
pandas of Ayodhya have started to t a ~ this story literally
(at least according to their academic interviewer),
interpreting a metaphor as a mira<;:le, etc. That is an all too
familiar phenomenon in the history of religious discourse.
At any rate, I don't think it is good history-writing
to build conclusions on this story. As an extra argument, I
might point to the strange line that the king in the story
"marked the palce but could not find it later". This clearly
gets us in trouble if we take it as historical. In the time
before Skanda Gupta made Ayodhya his capital, it was
already a flourishing and radiant city. How could one
possibly forget it, once it had been found to be the place
1.7. ''The secular emperor Babar"
In 1987, a five-member 'research team' led by mrs.
urinder Kaur pulished a book, The Secular Emperor Babar.
Was Babar an Iconoclast ? The book is quite interesting, for
il gives many quotations from source material which is
rd to get. The authors have checked a numb,er of
THE I-flSTORlANS' DEBATE
one was looking for? And why would that yogi not
simply have given the name of the city, a clear enough
designation, rather than to go through a miraculous
procedure? Was that because, even within the sotry, the
cow-divination was not used to find the city Ayodhya,
which wasn't lost at all, but only the Janmabhoomi (the
term is used in the JNU historians' version), the precise
birth-spot? We need not go into that question, because
there is enough reason to believe that the story does not
relate any historical events at all, and that there isn't any
distinction here between the specific birth-spot and
Ayodhya, since both are just metaphors for 'the source
(= birthplace) and realm (=city) of joy (= Ram)'.
The story is not connected even in a distorted way
with the political process of Skanda Gupta's moving his
capital to Ayodhya. So, I think there is sufficient reason
not to consider this (otherwise instructive) story as an
argument against. the continuity of Ayodhya as one and
the same city, from the core events of the Ramayana down
to the present.
Of course, that doesn't clinch the issue of the exact
birth spot, the 'Janmabhoomi'. But then who knows for
sure if Jesus was born in the stable in Bethlehem? Still,
Christians go on pilgrimage' there, and would be rightfully
indignated if Jews or Muslims interfered w,ith it. So the
real issue in Ayodhya is not where exactly Ram was born,
but whether or not a Janmabhoomi (or even another)
Mandir has been destroyed to make way for the Babri
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO 36
historical references used by other partici'pants in the
MandirIMasjid-argument. It is a contribution
to this debate. And yet, in all the pubhc statements
by historians, politicians and columnists, this book is
never referred to.
The reason is not that the book's editor is biased.
Of course, she sometimes writes in Dalit Voice, the most
virulently anti-Hindu paper in the world. But · other
prominent participants ' in the intellectuals' debate. over
.Ayodhya are also declaredly anti-religion, anti-Mushm or
anti-Hindu. And of course, even biased people can make
correct points. .
I think the first reason for ignoring the book IS the
fact that none of the authors wield any academic titles.
The Indian academic world has a strong caste mentality,
with a tremendous disdain for qutsiders (not due to. its
being Indian, but due to its The
ing quality of the book is also a bIt
poorly with the Penguin editions of RomIla Thapar s,
Bipan Chandra's or M.J.IAkbar's books.
The second reason why the book isn't taken very
seriously, is probably that while of hard and
useful search - work, it is badly dISfigured by very
poor reasoning, contradictory statements, and flatly un-
For example, the authors quote with approval a
statement about the Ramayana, that "there is evidently
no historical core below the surface, no scholar of Indian
history now thinks that Rama, the hero of the
was a historical person... "31 As we have just seen, IS
plainly unture: a number of and archaeologIsts
do think that the Ramayana is centred around some
essentially historical characters and An? even
many of those who think otherwise, t the
entire fictionality of the Ramayana as eVIdent.
31. Secular Emperor Babar, p.20.
TIm HISTORIANS' DEBATE
But the statement is not only untrue it is also
by the authors themselves. At one'pOint, the
bnng. Ram's enemy, into their argument.32
they ImplICItly accept the fairly common theory that the
between and Ravana is essentially the
hIStoncal struggle between North- and South-Indians
which is nothing less than a historical basis for the epic. '
Moreover they postulate (again by quotes with
approval) that Ravana was a convert to Buddhism and
that there is even a Buddhist Source describing a m:eting
between Buddha and Ravana, as a basis for their conten-
tion that "Rama legend represents the victory of Hinduism
over Buddhism" (a conclusion borrowed from a book of
1893, The History of India by Talboys Wheeler, and now
commonly considered far-fetched). So, while refusing
t? one of the central characters of Ramayana,
VIZ. Ram hImself, they allot it to another one, Ravana.
Well, that amounts to recognizing a basis in history for the
The quote Hsii an Tsang as counting one
hundred Sangharamas in Ayodhya, and only ten
eva (accordmg to the JNU historian, this is to be
That is to say, "91 %
r lIglOUS Institutions at Ayodhya were Buddhist and only
9% were Hindu temple".34 They have not paused to do
me historical criticism, and to consider the well-known
(. t that Hsiian TSC!ng was a somewhat biased pro-
BUddhist writer, who wanted to tone down for his
hinese readers his own impression that Buddhism was
I ply declining in its land of origin. Moreover, did he
h .k whether all those institutions were really Buddihist,
Id he conclude this from, say, the display of Swastikas
the outside walls, a ' symbol which would seem
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID 38
35. id., p.30-33.
36. id., p.53-57. The authors refer to ASI RepeTt, vol. XII.
Buddhist' to a Chinese, but which Buddhism shares with
the other Indian traditions?
Nevertheless, I will not quarrel over Hsiian Tsang's
figures. The point is that the authors themselves contradict
these figures (on which they base a few conclusions) in the
next chapter, where they o$um up a whole list of Jain
temples, such as "five Jain temples dedicated to
Trithankaras born there, king Nabhiroy's
temple, Sitakund, Sahastardhara, Swargadwara etc. Jain
temples ".35 They even assert: "There is no doubt that the
first of the Muslims in the 11th-12th century
With Ayodhya was as a Jain city because upto that time
Jain religion seems to have been the dominating religion
of Ayodhya." And Jainism in Ayodhya was not a
post- Hsii an Tsang' novelty: "Maurya emperors (3rd cen-
tury B.C.) and king Vikramaditya (5th century A.D.) also
renovated the ancient Jain temples and built new Jain
temples." So, if Hsiian Tsang overlooked them, or counted
them among his "ten" Deva temples, he clearly
miscounted, and mrs. Surinder Kaur was wrong in
accepting his figures.
Another self-defeating passage in the book is the
following. The authors critkize a British officer of the
Archaeological Survey of ·India (ASI), a mr. Carlleyle, who
has written that a mosque in Sambhal, near Delhi, was
originally a Hindu temple. Mr. Carlleyle argued that .some
stones showed signs of having been turned over, so as to
hide pieces of Hindu imagery from the believers visiting
Now our authors disbelieve his hypothesis,
arguing rhetorically: he tum any pavement stone
upward and [find] the Hindu sculpture on it?" If mr.
Carlleyle doesn't break out those stones, it is because he's
THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
7. id., p.75.
just a biased pseudo-scientist who avoids the test of
observation, so they imply. But then they blow
theIr own case by continuing: "Will Muslims allow him to
do so, even if he [is] a research scholar? No." In fact, not
only the local Muslims, but also the ASI rules forbade
breaking out stones from a mosque still in use. So the fact
that mr. Carlleyle couldn't show the remains of Hindu
sculptures, does not prove that they aren't there.
A final example of mrs. Kaur's uncareful reason-
ing, is her contention that the Masjid cannot have been
built in the three months between Babar's troops' arrival in
the and the beginning of the rainy seasonY
The first thmg that strikes the visitor to the present
controversial is that it is so small, like a big
hous.e, and so siJnple and unrefined. It was perfectly
pOSSIble to build it in three months (and moreover
building activity even during the rainy season is not
Anyway, let us now focus on the central thesis of
the book: there is no indication that Babar was a fanatical
on the contrary, he was quite incapable of
fanatIcal acts such as destrOying Hindu temples,
a supposed Ram temple at Ayodhya. "
Before we try to find out whether this assertion is
tru,e, let us first ask ourselves whether it is relevant to the
issue u.nder consideration. Indeed, it is possible that the
assertion is correct, while the claim that a temple was
demolished to make way for the Babri Masjid is equally
correct. The Ram Janmabhoomi campaigners in general'
don't care who precisely demolished the Mandir and built
Masjid, on basis of an on the Masjid
they beheve It was done by Mir Baqi, one of Babar's
heutenants. Babar himself may never even have been in
Ayodhya city (though he has certainly camped in Awadh,
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID 40
.' . .
38. id., p.32.
i.e. Ayodhya province). Tradition has it that Mir Baqi, or
whoever was in control, did this under pressure from a
local Muslim divine, Fazle Abbas, alias Musa Ashikan. So,
all that is assumed, is that this one cleric was fanatical and
had some influence. Babar, and perhaps even Mir Baqi,
can safely be absolved from the charge of being fanatical,
without dropping the claim that Muslims built the Babri
Masjid on top of an existing place of worship.
Coming to the question of the correctness of the
authors' thesis, let us look at other events in Babar's life to
See whether he was indeed an example of tolerance. Mrs.
Kaur's team states, in a different context: "In 1528, the
Mughal emperor Babar, it seems, got many Jain
temples...mutilated. Babar did order the mutilation of
nude Jaina idols in Urwah valley near Gwalior. He has
[admitted] it in his autobiography."38
However, they claim that this iconoclasm 'had
nothing to do with fanaticism and intolerance: "The nudity
and obscenity of the Jain idols at Ayodhya might have
promoted him to order their mutilation too." While Jain
statues are often nude, they are hieratic and can by no
stretch of the unfanatical imagination be considered
obscene. The authors admit even more: "The black pillars
used in Babari Masjid seem to have been taken from
the ruins of the Jain temples." Put in this context, this
statement implies that Babar destroyed more than just
parts of idols. Their next sentence, an approved quote
from an Ayodhya guidebook, confirms this impression:
"During the liberal rule of [Babar's successors] Akbar and
Jahangir, some Hindu and Jain temples were constructed
again." So, dUril}g his conquest of India (after a lifetime in
Muslim countries), Babar did not tolerate at least one kind
of Kafir temples and art.
39. id., p.47.
40. id., p.52.
TIlE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
To build up their case for absence of intolerance in
Babar, the authors cite an interesting e silentio.
Guru Nanak, who has fiercely and eloquently criticized
"Babar's cruelty and treatment of innocent citizens,
particularly women",39 describes cruelties against both
Hindus and Muslim Pathans, abductions of both Hindu
and Muslim women. "The point to be noted is that Guru
Nanak does not accuse Babar of any iconoclast zeal, nor
particularly of anti-Hindu crusade."40 In that case, Guru
Nanak is saying that Babar was not cruel because he was a
Muslim fanatic, but just because he was greedy, or
because he had a lust for power and women, or because of
some visceral tendency to cruelty. If God is a seailarist,
that distinction will spare Babar's soul some years in
Meanwhile, absolving Babar is a differnt matter
from absolving Islam. While Babar's cruelty after his
conquest of Lahore may have been meted out equally to
Hindus and Muslims, Babar does make a distinction
between them. Only when he goes to war against Hindus,
does he call the war a jihad. And for those who still believe
the fairy-tale that jihad means 'earnest striving in the
faith', or some such harmless thing, the facts of Babar's life
should clarify convincingly that jihad does mean war. Mrs.
Kaur faithfully translates it as 'holy war'.
When he fought fellow Muslims, he had to count
on strategy and strength of arms, as in any war. But when
he fought Hindus, he could and did apppeal to an
influential ideology that gave him some substantial
advantages: Islam and its doctrine Qf jihad.
Firstly, among believing soldiers, the declaration of
jihad added a lot to their motivation and fighting spirit.
The Quran promises a prominent place in paradise to the
RAM ]ANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MAS]IO
Muslim who djes in a jihad. And the survivors who have
killed Kafirs, get the honorific title ghazi" fighter against
infidels. Moreover, they get a free hand in looting,
abducting women and having or selling captives as slaves.
Such practices exist in most wars, but Islam gives them
scriptural sanction in the case the enemies are unbelievers.
Both Quran and Hadis are very eloquent and unambig-
uous on thiS topic. .'
Secondly, alliances being a crucial factor in many
wars· the declaration of jihad gives a Muslim general the
advantage that, in 'principle, every nearby Muslim army
will support him, and that, in practice, no rivalling
Muslim general will use the occasion to make an alliance
with the Kafirs against him. Surely there have been
exceptions, bad Muslims who preferred their personal
ambitions to their Islamic duty. But in general this (at the
least passive) Muslim solidarity was a strong factor in
favour of the Musim side in a jihad.
An ecample of this Muslim solidarity in case of
jihad we see in the following well-known episode. When
sultan Bahadur of Gurjarat attacked the Rajput stronghold
of Chitor in 1533, the rani (queen) of Chitor sent to
Humayun (Babar' son) for help. Humayun, known as a
romantic, was inclined to go to her rescue. However,
Chitor fell Humayaun got there. That at least is' the
version given out by modem secularists, to spread the
message: look what good friends Hindus and Muslims
were, a Hindu asking a Muslim -for help!
What they omit, is that Humaytm never actually
set out for the defense of Chitor. Sultan Bahadur,
suspecting attempts to forge an alliance between the
Rajput and the Moghul (both were in trouble and could
use an ally), worte a letter to remind Humayun of his
Islamic duty, not to interfere (except on the good side) in
the current jihad: the two of them could fight each other
41. id. , p.65-66.
afterwards., if that was what he wanted, but first the Kafirs
had to be defeated. And Humayun obliged.
In this case, as in Babar's, it is immaterial whether
the sultan was a truly believing Muslim, whether he was a
fanatic at heart or.only in his actions. What matters is that
he disposed ,of an ideology, Islam, which obliSed all those
who adhered to it (again, not necessanly i,n their private
thoughts, but at least through their public commitments
and actions), to stand together in holy war against the rest
The debate over Ay:odhya really is a footnote in the
fundamental ideological debate about the nature of Islam.
No matter what Babar's innermost motivations were, the
impression exists and must be investigated, that Islam as
an ideology played a crucial role in bringing about wars,
plunder, oppression, slavery, and the destruction of places
of worship, possibly including a Ram temple at Ayodhya.
We will look into this fundamental question in ch. 1.10.
The strongest argument brought up by mrs. Kaur's
team in favour of Babar's personal tolerance and non-
fanaticism, even secularism, is a document considered to
be his testament. It is a letter to his son Humayun, and a
manifesto of Moghul tolerance, as practised by his grand-
son Akbar. Babar writes that "the Empire of Hindustan is
well known for its diverse religions... Cleanse the heart of
religious bigotry and administer justice in accordance with
the prescribed manner of every sect... Especially avoid the
cow sacrifice for that is the way to win the hearts of the
people of Hindustan... Also do not desecrate the temple
and other places of worship of the different communities...
It is better to spread Islam with the sword of kindness
than with the sword of persecution... Harmonize the
people of different faiths..."41
THE' HISTORIANS' DEBATE
:-,"....... . -
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID
These lines fit the case of the Babar fans so
perfectly that one might suspect the testament to be a
forgery. In fact, many historians have done so. Mrs.
Beveridge, who prepared a translation of Babar's diary
(known as the Babar Nama), lists no less than fifteen
that the document is a forgery, including
anachromsms and unroyal quality of the seals, the calli-
graphy and even the spelling.4
Dr. Radhey Shyam has
brought up some counter-arguments, but refrains from
categorically asserting that the document is authentic.
mrs. Kaur's otherwise well-researched book, this
controversy of source criticism is totally ignored, the
document's value as a strong piece of evidence is not
questioned at all.
If the testament is genuine, it still doesn't prove
. that Babar never was a fanatic. In fact, it sounds more like
the tolerant afterthoughts of an ageing man who had come
to understand that his earlier intolerance had only made
things much more difficult for himself. Nevertheless, mrs.
Kaur's conclusion from the testament, as well as from
other documents such as grants of land to Hindus by
Babar, is: "Now after drawing this picture of Babar's
personality we leave it to readers to decide: could a man
like Babar order destruction of a Hindu temple?"
reasoning is as follows. Major: Babar didn't do anything
fanatical. Minor: demolishing the supposed Ram
Janmabhoomi temple (if it ever existed) would have been
fanatical. Conclusion: Babar didn't demolish a Ram
One problem with this reasoning is that it is circu-
lar. That Babar never destroyed temples, as postulated in
the major, is a contention dependent on the correctness of
42. quoted in full in Radhey Shyam : Babar, appendix 4.
43. - id.
44. Secular Emperor Babar, p.65.
45. id., p.68.
46. id., p.66; the quote is from S.K. Banerjee : Babar and the Hindus,
Journal of the United Provinces Historical Society, July 1936.
47. id., p.69.
48. id., p.79.
49. Radhey Shyam : Babar, p.457-58.
the conclusion, viz. that he didn't destroy the Ayodhya
temple. Moreover, even if the major is interpreted in a
more loose sense, and counted as a correct general state-
ment about Babar's personality, human beings are such
that they sometimes do uncharacteristic things, so that
even generally tolerant people are sometimes intolerant.
Another problem with the conclusion suggested by
this rhetorical question, is that historians who worked
from the same premise, viz. Babar's tolerance, still contend
that the Babri Masjid replaced an existing Hindu place of
worship. The authors quote S.K. J3anerjee as saying: "It is
now clear that a person like Babar could hardly be unkind
to Hindus."46 And yet, the same mr. Banerjee is also
quoted as saying: liThe temples of the [Hindus] were in no
circumstances to be demolished or desecrated... [One] of
his overzealous officials.. .Mir Baqi took advantage of the
religious fervour and demolished the main temple of
Ayodhya (Janmasthan) during his march to the east. Later
on he obtained sanction from the emperor and built the
Another historian, Radhey Shyam, is quoted in
thick print as saying: "It would be quite injudicious to hold
in any way Babar responsible for the destruction of the
famous Janmasthan temple. Destruction of temples was
neither in consonance with his policy nor attitude,
especially at a time when he needed the support of non-
But he says this in the middle of his
version of the commonly believed story that there was a
Ram temple there and that it was demolished in 1528 to
make way for the Babari Masjid.
THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID
50. Secular Emperor Babar, p.79, from Radhey Shyam : Babar, pAS1.
51. id. , from Babar, p.452.
52. Mrs. Beveridge's of Babur Nama , to
Islamic theology a momin (believer) becomes a (holy warnor)
when he wages war against the infidels" and a ghaZl when he slays
infidels with his own hands. .
53. Saiyid Athar Abbas Rizvi, Mughala Kalina Bharata: Bahar, Ahgarh,
1960, p. 233. 9
54. Religious Policy of the MughJll Emperors, Bombay, 1962, p. .
also gives a specific minor indication to the contrary. It is
"both in Babar's favour and against him".
Some more unambiguous testimony/not on
Babar's idol-breaking record but on his mental
towards unbelievers, is furnished by Babar himself. In.hIS
memoirs, he comments on the outcome of a battle
the Rajput confederacy in 1527/ and quotm,g
copiously from the Quran, he concludes: . After thIS
success, Ghazi was written amongst the royal tItles. Bel?w
the titles entered on the Fath-Nama, I wrote the followmg
For Islam's sake, I wandered in the wilds,
prepared for war with pagans and Hindus,
resolved myself to meet the martyr's death.
. I b "52
Thanks be to Allah! A g aZl ecame.
That should clinch,the issue of Babar's 'secularism' .
Direct evidence of his iconoclastic zeal is, however,
available in the statement he made on the eve of
against Rana Sanga, when he vow.ed .to give up dnnkmg
wine and got the vessels and dnrkin& .cups
"Those vessels/" he says/ "were broken mto pIeces m a
manner in which, if Allah wills, the idols the idolaters
will be smashed (murtipujakon ki murtiyon 1w tukre-tukre kar
diya jayega)." 53 Sri Ram Shanna,
Mughal policies vis:.a-vis the Hmdus, Cites.
to state that "His (Babar's) Sadr, Shaikh Zam,
many Hindu temples at Chanderi when he It. .
Babar himself says at more than one place in hIS memOirs
THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO
On the other hand, he doesn't give that version the
weight ' of researched and confinned history, but relates it
prefixed with "It is said" and "It is related". Mrs. Kaur
comments: "On what basis it has been said or 'related'
dr. Radhey Shyam doesn't tell us. Hist.ory is a science, not
an art. But Radhey Shyam and Sri Ram [Shanna] have
made it an art in India." A very good line, that. And one
that applies to a few other vocal historians as well,
Mrs. Kaur also has no patience with another of
Radhey Shyam's statements: "As regards the destruction
of the Hindu temples, there is historical evidence both
in Babar's support and against him. "SOShe retorts:
"Impossible. Historical evidence can either support Babar
or condemn him. It cannot do both Simultaneously."
Well, historians don't always dispose of hard
evidence. Often they have to infer what happened from ·
indirect indications. For instance, mrs. Kaur herself
doesn't produce any first-hand document to prove that the
Babri Masjid was built on an empty plot of land. She too
has to deduce this from secondary evidence, such as signs
of Babar's incapability of disturbing Kafirs in their
worship. Now, all that this secondary evidence produces,
is probability, not certainty. The facts sometimes differ
from what is rendered probable by the indications. And so
it can happen that two alternative possibilities both have '
indications in their favour, while only one of them can be
She herself gives a perfect example, her very next
quote from Radhey Shyam: "Except in the case of the Jain
idols in the Urwah valley Babar never gave orders for the
destruction of the temples of other places."SJ Mrs. Kaur
calls this "historical evidence in favour of Babar", but in
facti while it gives a indication in Babar's favour, it
that his attack on Chanderi was a jihad for converting a
dar-ul-harb into dar-ul-Islam.
Besides the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, there are at
least eight other controversial mosques which are known
to have been built during Babar's reign. The Jami Masjid
at Sambhal (Moradabad District, Uttar Pradesh) is
credited to Babar by the local Muslims, though some
archaeologists are inclined to ascribe it to an earlier
period. The fact remains that the mosque has temple
materials built into it and, according to local Hindus, is a
converted Vishnu temple. Another Jami Masjid built at
Pilakhana (Aligarh District, Uttar Pradesh) in 1528-29 AD.
also carries temple materials in its structure. The Babri
Masjids at Palam near Delhi and Sonipat, Rohtak (there
are two of them) Panipat and Sjrsa in Haryana do not
seem to have been subjected to close archaeological inves-
tigation. But local traditions affinn that they have re-
placed Brahmanical or Jain temples.
So, in conclusion, we may say firstly that the
answer to the question whether at all a temple has been
demolished to make way for· the Babri Masjid, is not
dependent on whether Babar was personally a fanatic.
And secondly, that the case made to prove that Babar was
unfanatical and secular-minded, is not a very strong one.
Before we go on, we want ot follow mrs. Kaur in
drawing attention to two facts generally overlooked by
many participants in this debate. One is that Ayodhya was
a Muslim provincial capital for two centuries before
the construction of the Babri Masjid. The question of
how Hindus and Muslims co-existed in those centuries
deserves more investigation.
The second and related fact is that Sabar or Mir
Baqi were not the first Muslim conquerors of the town.
Mohammed Ghori devastated much of North India in his
storm campaign of 1192-94, including thousands of
temples in Kanauj and Varanasf. About his savagery in
5. Secular Emperor Babar, p.33.
51 THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
A odhya we have not many details, but at least the
relate this much: "Around 1200 AD Mohammad
Chori's brother Makhdum Shah Zuran
and after destroying the famous [Jain] Admath .MandIr,
built a mosque there. "55 This episode of devastatIon may
have some importance in this debate, as when mrs. Kaur
argues that a pre-Babri-Masjid temple have been
built during Gupta times, for: "How could It escape the
h Z Gh
devastation caused by Sha uran on....
-l.8. Any evidence for the hI fid tly
The JNU historians in theIr pamp et con en
state' "So far no historical evidence has been unearthed
to the claim that the Babri has. been
constructed on the land that had been earher by
a temple." Well, the archaeological evidence CIted by ?r.
S P Gupta (see ch.1.3.), viz. the pillar-bases of burnt bnck
underneath the back wall of Masjid, does,.prove
that the spot "had been earlier a temple or by
another building with pillars. What IS stIll unsupported by
proof, is the contention thft the .had
standing there until the day Mir Baqi deCIded to replace It
with a mosque. . . .
To corroborate their point, the histonans hst some
references to sources that should have the
forcible replacement of a temple by the Babn MasJId,
don't. The first one is the Masjid itself. Three, PerSIan
inscri tions have been engraved in the swaIls,
nd of them praises Allah for the glonous de.struc-
lion of a Kafir temple as a prelude to the constructIon of
the present mosque. t
Not satisfied with this important argumen um e
's ilentio, the JNU historians at this point choose to deny not
- - -
RAM lANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASlIO
57. full Persian text and English translation in Radhey Shyam : Babar,
only that a temple was demolished, but also that the
mosque was built on Babar's behalf: "Except for the verses
in Persian inscribed on the two sides of the mosque door,
there is no other primary evidence to suggest that a
mosque had been erected there on Babar's behalf." All
three. of the poetic inscriptions mention Mir Baqi as the
. builder and give praise to Babar. Two of them give 935
AH (i.e. 1528-29) as the year of building. One of them even
says that "this descending place of the angels" was built
"on the orders of king Babar".57
It should be clear by now that the point is not who .
exactly ordered the demolition of the temple, assuming
there was one. But if at all one wants to prove something
. about the individual role of Babar, it is a strange line of
argument, in the context of the JNU historians' position, to
plead that Babar had clean hands regarding the construc-
tion of the mosque. If, as. the JNU historians contend, there
never was a demolition of a temple, to make way for
this mosque, then where is the 'need fo the person
of Babar from the construction of this mosque?
At any they make a methodological mistake.
They cho'ose to dismiss as evidence one of the very few
primary sources available in this whole discussion. And
the reason cited is that "there is no other primary
evidence". There is also no primary evidence to the con-
trary. So the contemporary sources claiming that someone
else than Babar ordered the building, number zero, and
those that claim Babar did it, number one. One may keep
in mind that there is a whole tradition of secondary
sources (including the very name of the mosque) also
claiming the mosque is Babar's, while the JNU historians
don't come up with any secondary evidence showing that
someone else ordered the mosque's construction. But
8. reply in Indian Express, 1.4.90.
choosing between one piece of primary and more pieces of
secondary evidence naming Babar, and no evidence at all
naming someone else, our historians still prefer the latter
option. (They could have mentioned in desperation that
Tieffenthaler was told in Ayodhya in 1767 that the mosque
had been built by Aurangzeb)
When challenged on this point by dr. Khan, the
JNU historians plead that the quoted line should not be
interpreted as a rejection of the inscriptions as evidence:
"Mr. Khan maintains that we have rejected the evidence of
the inscription that the mosque was built at the orders of
the emperor Babar. This is amazing. We have nowhere
rejected such evidence. What we do question is the claim
that the mosque has been constructed at the site of a
temple... "58 Not so. In their pamphlet, the JNU historians
have unmistakably denied that the Masjid was bupt on
Babar's behalf which does mean that they reject the in-
scription's testimony to the contrary. (dr. infra)
It is another matter that they are inconsistent in
their rejection or acceptance of the inscriptions as valid
evidence. After dismissing the Persian verses as proof of
Babar's involvement because unconfirmed by "other
primary evidence", they still use them to prove a different
point: "Nowhere does either of the inscriptions mention
that the mosque had been erected on the site of a temple."
A valid argument, but less so if you have just declared this
source to be wrong. If the verses are wrong in naming
Babar as the man who ordered the building, they may also
be wrong in omitting that the mosque had been erected on
the site of a temple.
Apparently, the JNU historians have decided that
the verses are valid source material after all. But strangely,
fter saying that "except forlhc verses inscribed on the two
ides of the mosque door" (emphasis added), no other
THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO 52
primary evidence suggests that the mosque was erected
on Babar's behalf, only eight lines down they say the
opposite, viz. that even the verses don't suggest this: "The
inscription only suggests that one Mir Baqi, a noble of
Babar, had erected the mosque." (emphasis added) This
interpretation is simply wrong. The opening line of one of
the inscriptions, in mrs. Beveridge's translation, quoted by
the JNU historians themselves, reads: "By the command of
the Emperor Babar..." With their attempt to disconnect
Babar from the Babri Masjid, they undeniably disregard
evidence furnished by the inscriptions.
Of course, the author of the inscription may have
been lying. Mir Baqi may have built the mosque on his
own initiative, only afterwards getting or claiming Babar's
approval. But that is not what the text says, and it cannot
be honestly interpreted as saying that. And again, those
who don't accept the testimony of the verses in one
respect, should think twice before building conclusions on
them in other respects
The next piece of meaningful silence listed in the
pamphlet, is this: "'Nor is there any reference in Babar's
memoirs to the destruction of any temple in Ayodhya."
With that statement, unmistakably brought up as an
argumentum e silentio, the JNU historians have gone too far.
They have :rossed the line between fierce debate and
The absence of any reference only makes a logical
difference (and can then have value as an argumentum
e silentio) if the presence of a reference is reasonably to be
expected. That is not the case in Babar's memoirs.
Babar was not someone who did a lot of looking
back or looking into the future. If you want his version of .
the facts that have taken place in a certain month, you
have to look up that very month in his memoirs. Now,
thanks to the wind that blew some pages away (as Babar
himself reported), the relevant months for the Ram
55 THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
Janmabhoomi / Babri Masjid affair are missing in all
extant copies of Babar's memoirs. In all modem editions of
these memoirs, known as Babar Nama, including mrs.
Beveridge's translation which the' JNU historians have
used, it is stated quite explicitly that there is a lacuna in
Babar's narrative between 2/4/1528 and 18/9/1528. That
includes the time when Babar stayed in the Ayodhya
region. Therefore the Babar Nama's 'silence' is not an
argumentum e silentio. The JNU historians' attempt to pass
it off as one, is incontrovertibly an attempt at deception.
In reply to prof. Khan's drawing attention to this
unjustified reference to the Babar Nama, The JNU
historians admit that "the gap in Babar's memoirs.. .is well-
known. There is no way of finding out whether in the
missing pages, Babar had referred to either the temple or
the mosque in question." That's better.
The next document which speaks out by its silence,
is the Ain-i-Akbari. It doesn't mention the erection of a
mosque in Ayodhya by Babar, Akbar's grandfather. But,
says prof. Khan, "the Ain is...primarily a sort of gazetteer
of Akbar's empire, giving the rules and regulations of
Akbar and the statistical information about various
pheres of his administration... One can cite a long list of
pre-Akbari monuments, still extant, which do not find
mention in the Ain-i-Akbari."59
In their reply, the JNU historians quote the entire
passage relating to Ayodhya. Indeed, it contains no
r ference to the Babri Masjid, let alone to a demolished
R m Janmabhoomi Mandir. Does the passage prove the
JNU historians' point? On the contrary, it gives strong
upport to prof. Khan's point: it does not contain any
ferences to any building, thus confirming that the Ain-i-
kbari is indeed not the kind of writing in which to look
>r this kind of information.
. Indian Express, 25.2.90.
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID
" ' .
.. ... :
The final instance of meaningful silence is in
Ram Charit Manas, the Hindi Ramayana, by
Tulsidas, a contemporary of Akbar. He lived in Varanasl,
which is not far from Ayodhya, and was an exemplary
devotee of Ram. Shouldn't he have bewailed the destruc-
tion of a prominent Ram temple in Ayodhya? Prof. Khan
states that "it may be pointed out that even emper.or
Akbar.·..does not find any mention in Tulsi's works
the fact that Tulsi gave thought to the subject of rulershlp
and has expressed his notions on sovereignty." If JNU
historians had first shown Tulsidas to be a chromcler of
the numerous temple demolitions and
tions then Tulsidas' silence on the Babn MasJld ISsue
would have been significant. But now, lo?king f?r such
topics in the works of this famous bhaktl prof.
Khan's words, "amounts to looking for pengUins In the
Sahara and camels in the Antarctic.
1.9. Evidence for the Janmabhoomi tradition
, The present structure called Babri Masjid may also
prove a few things. Some people that it not even
a proper mosque, becasue it doesn t have mmarets and
because it doesn't have a water-tank for washing
offering namaz. However, a minaret is not essential to
make a building a mosque. The Muslim . in
Europe, ,for instance, simply transform reSIdential houses
into mosques, without adding minarets. The
on the other hand, is essential, because cleanhness at
prayer is ordained by Scripture. ..
Among the indications on the spot o.f a
Hindu presence are the following. On the SIde
out-side the mosque, there is a kind of pnmltIve
platform, with a fire-place and baking-tools, ,a
kitchen called Kaushalya lei Rasoi, Kaushalya s (Ram s
mother) . kitchen. On the left-hand side outside the
mosque's fence, there is a platform with Hindu idols
TIiE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
lin. in Man/han, 3 / 90.
(chabootra), reported to have been there and in use even
before the British time by travellers like Tieffenthaler. It is
extremely unlikely that the Hindus would have started a
new tradition of worship in the compound of an existing
mosque. The more logical explanation is, that Hindus
insisted on continuing the existing tradition after the
mosque got built on their place of worship, and that a
tolerant, ruler (according to the common story, Akbar;
others say Sher Shah) granted them a piece bf the garden.
It is, moreover, very unlikely that an elevated place
would have been left unused in what was then already a
temple city. The hypethesis that the Babri Masjid was built
on an empty spot, or even on one containing an insignif-
icant building which no-one would have minded
replacing, is wildly improbable.
In the construction of the Masjid, 14 black
sculptured pillars with Hindu-type images have been
used. The only other nearby place where such pillars (2 of
them) have been used. is the tomb (said to be) of Musa
Ashikan, the very divine on whose insistence the Babri
Masjid is said to have been built over the so-called Ram
Janmabhoomi. Dr. Gupta reports: "We have now re-
photographed these pillars, examined the details of their
arvings, compared them with similar carvings on pillars
used in other contemporary temples in Northern India.
r finding show that these belong to a Hindu temple of
the 11th century, the period dUring which the Gahadval
ings of Kanauj were ruling at Ayodhya."60
The display of pieces of Hindu sculpture and other
1 ftovers of temples on the outside of mosques was a very
mmon practice., For instance, the back wall of the
(.yanvapi mosque in Varanasi is an undisguised part of
Ih earlier Vishvanath temple. This was a continual show
of Muslim victory over idolatry.
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO
Dr. Gupta also reports: "There is also one door-
jamb of similar stone, presently kept loose in the courtyard
of a comparatively recent building called 'Janmasthan',
located about a hundred yards away from Janmabhoomi/
Babari Mosque. "61 The Babri Masjid activists, like Syed
Shahabuddin and mrs. Surinder Kaur, make much of the
existence of a rival Ram Janmasthan (Birthplace of Ram).
They claim that indeed a Birthplace Temple existed in
Babar's time, but that it was never demolished: it is still
there, some 30 meters to the North of the Masjid.
In fact, several temples in Ayodhya (nowhere else),
are reportedly claimed by the temple-priests to be the real
birthplace of Ram. Of course, they are interested parties,
and their testimony, if unsupported, shouldn't be counted
for much. But this one Janmasthan temple is a different
matter. My conjecture is that after the Masjid was built on
the place then already believed to be Ram's birthplace, and
worship there was temporarily interrupted, the nearest
temple took over the function of the discarded
Janmabhoomi. For that very reason, a leftover of the old
Janmabhoomi Mandir (the black-stone door-jamb) was
brought to the compound of the temple, .to give some
material continuity to the transplanted tradition.
In their reply to prof. Khan's ' reply, the JNU
historians give some new information about the tradition
regarding the precise birth-spot: "It would seem that it
was in the Ayodhya-mahatmya (l4th to 16th centuries AD)
that the Janmasthan was demarcated for the first time and
became an important place of pilgrimage. Yet even in this
text, it is curious that in the detailed instructions to the
pilgrim regarding worship and offerings at the
Janmasthan, the benefits of such worship are listed, but
there is ro mention of a temple at the Janmasthan."
THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
They do not say whether the Janmasthan was
unambiguously demarcated as being on the spot now
covered by the Babri Masjid (but if it was described as
being somewhere else, they would certainly have told us).
In fact, Syed Shahabuddin claims prof. Sushil Srivastava's
authority for his contention that the directions in the
Skanda Purana Ayodhyamahatmya can be read to indicate
sever?l p l a ~ e s , but not t ~ e site of the Babri Masjid.
rate, In theIr second artIcle the JNU historians admit that
there was a Birthplace tradition in Ayodhya before Babar's
invasion. But no temple, at least no proof of one after 1300
Well, that could be explained. First of all, the
Ayodhyamahatmya may have left unmentioned what it
considered self-evident. Otherwise, it is possible that a
temple on that very spot, archaeologically attested by the
pillar-bases mentioned by Dr. Gupta, and dated to
roughly 1100 A.D., was demolished during the Ghori cam-
paign in 1192-4, and not replaced by any new building.
Perhaps the Muslim rulers didn't allow rebuilding it, but
as soon as posibble, the Hindu worshippers came back
and made do with worship in the open air (as had been
customary in pre-BUddhist times). In that case, Babar's
men would not have demolished a Janmabhoomi temple
(and the black pillars would have been taken from another
demolished or decayed temple), since the Birthplace wor-
shippers didn't use any temple.
However, that wouldn't make a difference to the
essence of this episode, viz. that the Babri Masjid was built
so as to replace an eXisting place of worship. What matters
is not whether the roof over the Janmabhoomi was made
of stone <;>r of sky, but whether the Muslims imposed an
62. letter to Indian Express, 9.4.90; the same is said in an article in Radi-
ance, 21.5.89, which mr. Shahabuddin has re-published in his monthly
Muslim India, 7 /89.
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID 58
__ - r ..
- , .
- - ---r
63. published in the Lucknow edition of the Pioneer, 5.2.90, and,
slightly modified, in Indian Express, 26.2.90.
64. Indian Express, 13.3,90. '
Islamic presence on an existing Hiridu place of worship, or
That a place of worship pre-existed there, is
rendered very likely if it is established that tnere was
indeed a continued tradition of Hindu worship iJ:l the'
Masjid compound whenever a ruler allowed: it, until the
British decisively gave the place to the Muslims' after the
eventful rebellion of 1857. In this connection, we, should
give some closer attention to the debate between dr.
Narain (starting with his article Muslim testimony , )63
and a few Muslim leaders about four pieces of Muslim
testimony, already mentioned in chapter 1.1. ",
His first document is "an applicatiol1 dated
November 30, 1858, filed by one Muhamma,d Asghar,
Khatib and Mu'azzin, Babari Masjid, to initiate leg'al pro-
ceedings against 'Bairagiyan-i Janmasthan' [m6nks _of the
Birthplace]". In this application "the Babari Masjid ,has
been called 'masjid-i Janmasthan' and the c04rtyah;l near
the arch and the pulpit within the boundary of the
mosque, 'maqam Janmasthan ka' [the site. of the Birth':-
place]. The Bairagis had raised a platform in the courtyard
which the applicant wanted to be dismantled. He has
mentioned that the place of Janmasthan had been' lying '
unkempt/ in disorder (parishan) for hundreds of years and
that the Hindus performed worship there."
In a reply,64 Mohammed Abdul Rahim Quraishi,
secretary of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board,
has argued that this testimony proves that the platform,
called Ram Chabutra, marks the spot of the real Janmasthan
according to, tradition. The Masjid, he says, was only
called Janmasthan Masjid because it was near the
Janmasthan (i.e. the Chabootra), just as it is also called Sita
, Gods on Earth, p.20-21.
ki Rasoi Masjid, without anyone denying that the Masjid
is only near to (not on top of) Sita ki Rasoi.
This reply could perhaps find support in a local
tradition, related by Peter van der Veer.
When Mir Baqi's
men were building the Babri Masjid, so the story goes, the
work wasn't going anywhere because every night the
day's work was mysteriously undone. Then the faqir
Musa Ashikan that the mosque should not be built
right on top of the demolished temple's garbha-griha
(sanctum), but a little bit behind it, leaving the most sacred
place to the Hindus. There they resumed worship using a
simple platform. Perhaps this is just a cheap story which
the Hindus told their children to explain away the shame
of having to worship in the shadow of a mosque. Or per-
haps it is true but then it only confirms that the Babri
Masjid was built on a Hindu temple, though not on its
most sacred spot.
The important fact is that dr. Quraishi's reply
doesn't even attempt to disprove that Ram worship was
indeed conducted in the Masjid's courtyard. Some hair-
splitting to move the traditional exact birthplace a few
metres, from the Masjid to the Chabootra, cannot obscure
the fact that Hindus considered as Ram's Birthplace a spot
under Muslim control - which they would not reasonably
have done except in continuation of a pre-Masjid tradition
and this implies that that spot had been taken from them
to build a mosque, or a mosque's courtyard, over it.
Archaeologists have noted Hindus performing puja in
the vicinity of many Muslim monuments which were
according to local tradition, Hindu places of worship at
But mr. Md. Abdul Rahim Quraishi has another
xplanation for the Hindus' attachment to a spot occupied
by the Muslims: "After 1819, the Britishers embarked upon
THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
RAM JANMABHOOMI vs. BABRI MASJID 60
66. Indian Express, 13.3.90.
their .run:'0ur planting campaign to annex Awadh...The
machinations of the Britishers provoked Hindu-Muslim
attacks in 1853 and 185,5...These were the days when the
with , aim to annex Awadh, after their
occupation of Bengal and Bihar, planted false
stones in misleading the masses to believe
tha! Babn MasJId stood in the premises of the Ram temple
whIch was demolished by Babar." Once this belief had
popular, it played a role in gestures of Hindu-
especially when in 1857 Hindus and
Mushms rose m rebellion against the British, and probabl
even before that: 'To ,avoid Hindu-Muslim conflict
the Hin.dus were allowed to sing bhajans and
kirtans on a raIsed platform in the open yard within the
.9l1ter enclosure of the masjid, to the left of the entrance
gate." 66 ,
Well, this is a bit of a strange story. British agents
are sent from Bengal into Awadh to spread false stories.
They }hepeople, pointing to a perfectly honourable
mosque. Look, that mosque was built after demolishing
the that marked Ram's birth spot. Go fight the
to get that site back." Firstly, why would the
BntIsh have concocted a story about the Babri Masjid
when there are .so many mosques which nobody doubts
have been bUIlt over demolished temples? Secondly,
w0';lld the common people believe the British agents on a
topIC about which they themselves knew a lot more than
these outsiders? Thirdly, even if the hypothesis of British
explains the known facts, it needs
some.lJldep:ndent corroboration before it can be accepted.
That IS a POInt of elementary scientific methodology.
67. I am not using the term "fundamentalist" lightly : in the 1985 Shah
Bano Case, these men have successfully campaigned for imposition of
the strict Shari'a rulings against alimony on talaq-ed Muslim ex-wives.
And this is Syed Shahabuddin's opinion on secularism : "Hindus
profess secularism because they are cowards and are afraid of Muslim
countries." (Sunday, 20.3.83).
68. See Ram Swarup : Hindu-Sikh Relationship, Voice of India, Delhi
1985; Arun Shourie: The Accord' - in the Light of Secular Principles, pub-
lished as ch. VI of Religion in Politics; Rajendrasingh Nirala: Hum Hindu
Hein, Bharat-Bharati, Delhi; 1989.
After all, not only Muslim fundamentalists like
Quraishi and Shahabuddin,67 but also the JNU historians
and many other academics have 'explained' the existing
Ram Janmabhoomi tradition as 'a British hoax'. Have tney
finally dug up some evidence for their hypothesis? Have
they, at the very least, fourld analogous instances? Have
they discovered documents proving that the British
encouraged Hindus to take back some of the mosques that
have undisputedly (often still visibly) replaced Hindu
What makes the demand for hard evidence for the
hypothesis of British rumour-mongering even more
pressing, is the fact that other types of ll'achinations to
'divide and rule' are quite well-attested. The status of the
Sikhs as a separate, non-Hindu religion, is purely a British
creation. For instance, the distinctive Sikh dress, which
originally was worn only by a limited class among the
Sikhs, was encouraged: by the British and imposed on the
Sikh soldiers, who were organized in separate regiments.
But what is more important in this context, scholars were
put to work to ground the newly-created status of the
Sikhs as a separate religion with a separate history and
separate doctrines. This process has been duly described
and analyzed.68 It is not just a convenient allegation that
the British have purposely created a rift between Sikhs and
other Hindus: it is unambiguously proven by available
THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
RAM lANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASlIO 62
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE 65
policy and correspondence, and by
umnhIbIted declaratIOns of intention in British-made
The hypothesis of the British concoction of the Ram
tradition is situated in a period of Indian
hIstory of which an enormous wealth of original
documents is still extant. Scholars who think they can
wage a debate about such scantily
documented penods as Valmiki's or Babar's should
certainly not be satisfied with the British c;ncoction
hypothesis, if it. fits the facts, until they can dig
up some posItIve eVIdence. So far, the entire host of
vocal secularists and Muslim fundamentalists have not
a single piece of evidence for the hypothesis so
convement to them.
Dr. Narain's point is that this hypothesis
does not even fIt the facts. One of those disturbing facts is
that some of. documents he quotes, expreSSly claim
older, pre-BntIsh documents as their source. Thus dr
Narain's second witness claims to write on the basis of
older records (Kutub-i-sabiqah).
. Mirza Jan was a participant in the jihad led by
AmIr Ali Amethawi in 1855 for recapture of the Hanuman
Garhi, a temple hill only a few hundred metres away from
the Babri Masjid. Would such a staunch 'crescentader' be
taken in by British rumours detrimental to his own camp?
In his. E!adiqah-i-Shuhada he worte: "Wherever they found
t,emples of ,the Hindus ever since the conquest
by SaYYId Salar Mas ud Ghazi (Mahmud Ghaznavi's
the. Muslim rulers in India built mosques,
monastenes and Inns, appointed mu'azzins, teachers and
store-stewards, spread Islam vigorously, and vanquished
the Kafirs. Likewise, they cleared up Faizabad
a.nd. too, from the filth of reprobation/Kufr
(InfIdelIty), because it was great centre of worship and
capital of Rama's father. Where there stood the great
temple (of Ramajanmasthan), there they built a big
mosque, and where there was a small mandap (pavilion),
there they erected a camp mosque (masjid-i mukhtasar-i-
qanati). The Janmasthan temple is the principal place of
Rama's Incarnation, adjacent to which is the Sita ki Rasoi.
Hence, what a lofty mosque was built there by king Babar
in 923 AH (1528 A.D.), under the patronage of Musa
Ashiqan! The mosque is still known far and wide as the
Sita ki Rasoi mosque. And that temple is extant by its side
(aur peMu mein wah dair baqi hai)."
Syed Shahabuddin has replied
that the last
sentence refers to the Janmasthan temple, still standing in
the near vicinity of the Masjid. This temple would have
been the real Birthplace temple, and the Babri Masjid
would have been peacefully constructed next to it. He
thereby glosses over the fact that the cited document,
while indeed stating that a temple is extant close to the
Masjid, explicitly declares that mosques were built where
temples stood. He also overlooks the explicit distinction
made in the text between Janmasthan (the present Masjid/
Janmabhoomi) and the adjacent Sita ki Rasoi (the present
Janmasthan Sita Rasoi).
Dr. Quraishi adds: "Not far away from the Masjid,
a grand old temple known as Ram Janamasthan temple is
extant in Ayodhya. The centenarian priest of this temple
Mahant Janaki Jiwan Das vehemently asserts that his
temple had been the real Janmasthan temple... No one has
challenged the claim by the priest and the description in
the records as the Janamasthan temple."
And dr. Harsh Narain replies:
Shahabuddin, dr. Quraishi makes too much of the existing
structure called 'Janmasthan Sita Rasoi'. It has so far been
nobody's case that it is the real Janmabhoomi temple.
Dr. Quraishi cites 'the centenarian priest of this temple,
69. Indian Express, 8.3.90.
70. Indian Express, 21.4.90.
Mahant Janaki Jiwan Das', who according to him, 'asserts
vehemently that this temple had been the real Janmasthan
temple', He appears to be misinformed. There is no such
Mahant there. The marble plate at the gate of the
'Janmasthan Sita Rasoi' (mark the name of the building in
question appearing at its gate) bears the name of
Harihar Das. On personal enquiry, I was told that thIS
Mahant Harihar Das has been in charge Of the building for
over half a 'century. (He is at present ailing under partial
paralysis) And I found not a single person connected with
it who claims it to be the real Janmabhoomi temple."
It is hard to judge those personal testimonies from
a distance. Everybody who has stayed some time in India,
knows that many people there will tell an enquirer
those things that they think he wants to hear. So it is not
impossible that dr. Quraishi, unlike dr. Narain, has indeed
found someone who was, upon enquiry, willing to testify
that some eXisting temple is the one and only Ram
Janmabhoomi. Be that as it may, dr. Narain proposes an
eXBlanation that would accomoQ.ate views, viz. that
the existing Janmasthan temple IS the BIrthplace temple,
and that the Birthplace temple was demolished and
replaced by the Babri Masjid: "The fact of the matter is
something like this. The vast mound called
(Rama's stronghold), divided by a road on one SIde of
which stands the so-called Babari mosque and on the
other the 'Janmasthan · Sita Rasoi', appears to have
originally been a big complex of called Rama
Janmabhoomi temple. The 'Jamasthan SIta Rasol formed
part of it and escaped destruction. Its very name,
at the gate, indicates it. It is called Pakasthan (kItchen) In
the Ayodhyamahatmya of the Skanda Purana." .
This means that the Ramkot hill originally con-
tained a temple complex, perhaps comparable in size
to the present-day Birla temple in Delhi. Such temple
complexes were quite common until the Muslims made
67 THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
them their favourite target for destruction. In South India,
where Muslim impact was less thorough, you still find
many of them. The central part of this complex would
have been replaced' by the Babri Masjid, but peripheral
parts would have This ' hypo.thesis is in
conflict with any of the known facts, general or specIfic. It
would also solve a · disputed point regarding the next
Dr. Narain's third document, the one that some
people tried to hide (seech.1.2.. ), is a chapter of the Mu-
raqqah-i Khusrawi, also known as Tarikh-i Awadh, com- ,
pleted in 1869, by Shaikh Azamat Ali
manuscript is slightly so dr. Naram has fIlled m
a few unclear words, indicated by brackets. The opening
paragraph reads thus: "According to old records, it
been a rule with the Muslim rulers from the first to budd
mosques, and inns, spread Islam, and put
(a stop to) non-Islamic practices, wherever they found ·
prominence (of Kufr). Accordingly, even as they cleared
up Mathura, Brindaban, etc. from the rubbish of non-Is-
lamic practices, the Babari Masjid was b\,lilt up in 923 (?) .
A.H. under the patronage of Musa Ashiqan in the
Janmasthan temple (butkhane JanmQ$than . mein) in Faiza-
bad-Awadh, which was a great place of (worship) and
capital of Rama's father... Among the · Hindus it was
known as Sita ki Rasoi."
. Syed Shahabuddin replies: "The word 'mein' (in) is
suggestive and dr. Narain's translation itself lets out the
truth. A mosque cannot 'be built 'in the Janmasthan
temple', It can be built 'on' but not 'in' a temple. Hence, the
translation of Butkhana itself is wrong. The word refers to
the town of Ayodhya arid not just to the site where Babri
Masjid stands."71 .
71. Indian Express, 8.3.90.
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS, BABRI MASJIO 66 '
68 RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
In that case, the expression 'Faizabad-Awadh'
refers to province Awadh (or Oudh), not to the
double-city Faizabad-Ayodhya, so that we can say that the
'house of idols' Le. Ayodhya (Awadh in the
narrow sense), is 'in' Faizabad-Awadh, Le. the province
Awadh (Awadh in the broad sense). As a matter of fact,
Shahabuddin in his next reply72 writes: "Ayodhya is not
Awadh. Ayodhya is a place; Awadh is a region or a
Dr. Narain in his re-reply73 counters: "This is
simply untrue. 'Awadh' is a corrupt form of the Sanskrit
word 'Ayodhya'. During medieval times, 'Awadh' was
used as the name of a town as well as of a subah (province)
or territory." Moreover, whereas Syed Shahabuddin is
right in stating that 'Awadh' refers (also) to the entire
province, he overlooks the fact that the text says that the
'Butkhana' (house of idols, in his opinion the city
Ayodhya) lies in 'Faizabad-Awadh' (the twin cities of
Faizabad and Ayodhya, but in his opinion, the entire
province). Now, 'Faizabad-Awadh' is never used as a
name of the province. On the contrary, 'Faizabad' is
annexed to 'Awadh' precisely to distinguish the city
Ayodhyal Awadh from the province. It unambiguously
indicates the city, not the province. Therefore, the
Butkhana situated "in" the city of Faizabad-Awadh cannot
itself be the city.
And anyway, Syed Shahabuddin knows enough
Urdu to know that butkhana means 'idol temple' and noth-
ing else. Khana, like Hindi ghar, means 'house, building'.
Thus, dak-ghar/dak-khana means 'post office', gharib-khana
means '(my) humble house'. Butkhana in the sense of 'city
full of idols' (Le. Ayodhya), as suggested by Shahabuddin,
is simply unheard of. It is one more of those ad hac
72. Indian Express, 6.4.90.
73. Indian Express, 25.4.90.
hypotheses that the Babri Masjid campaigners build their
So, the disputed passage says that the Babri Masjid
was built "in the Janmasthan idol-house". Dr. Narain
explains this:"The entire mound called Ramakot...appears
to have originally been covered with. a big block called
Ram Janmabhoomi temple. The Janmasthan Sita Rasoi
formed part of it and yet escaped destruction, without
ever usurping the right of the destroyed part to be the
birth-place of Rarna... The position stated above serves
also to explain the phrase 'butkhana-i Janmasthan mein'
(in the Janmasthana temple). The Babri mosque covers not
the whole but only a part of the erstwhile Janmabhoomi
temple, hence the use of the preposition 'mein' is quite
We should not forget that the people who built the
original Janmabhoomi temple complex, assuming there
was one, took the Ram tradition seriously, and designed
the temple complex as a memorial to Ram's father's
palace, in which Ram was born, and in which he later
lived as grown-up prince together with his wife Sita, and
his brothers, and some servants, altogether a large
community of people. It is normal that the princes, as well
as the king and his wives, had their own quarters in the
original Ramkat. In the logic of the temple-builders, Ram
and Sita therefore must have lived in a different place than
Kaushalya, Ram's mother, in whose quarter Ram must
have been born. Consequently, the precise birth-spot was
not identical with the place where Sita served Ram, com-
memorated as Sita ki Rasai (ar Pakasthan), Sita's kitchen.
Kaushalya's place would have been where the Babr,i
Masjid was built: hardly a few metres on its right, there is
a small kind of cooking-stone, called Kaushalya ki Rasai.
74. Indian Express, 25.4.90.
: ~ ~ . :
75. Indian Express, 105.90.
7. Indian Express, 8.3.90.
in 923 (?) A.H.under the patronage of Sayyid Mir
Ashiqan.. . Aurangzeb built a mosque on the Hanuman
Garhi... The bairagis effaced the mosque and erected a
temple in its place. Then idols began to be worshipped
openly in the Babari mosque where the Sita ki Rasoi is
The author bewails the decline of Muslim anti-
Hindus fervour. He quotes with approval a poem that
described the good old ways: "Formerly, it is Shaikh Ali
Hazin's observation which held good: '0 shaikh! just
witness the miracle of my house of idols, which, when
desecrated or demolished, becomes the house of God'
(Bi-bin karamat-i butkhanah-i mara aiy shaikh! ki chun
kharab shawad khanah-i Khuda garded)." But now, the
Muslims could not prevent the Hindu sadhus from using
the temple hill that Aurangzeb had taken from them: "The
times have so changed that now the mosque was demo-
lished for construction of a temple (on the Hanuman
What this writer seems to say, is that b<?th the Ram
Janmabhoomi and the Hanuman Garhi, taken from the
Hindus by Babar (or Mir Baqi) and Aurangzeb respec-
tively, were more or less restored to the Hindus by the
post-Aurangzeb and pre-British rulers of Awadh, the
Shi'ite Nawabs. He even says that idols were worshipped
in the Babri Masjid, but perhaps that merely refers to the
platform in the courtyard.
Syed Shahabuddin has rejected the evidential
value of this document: "The fourth evidence is a
description in a novel. A novelist is not a historian and
ne does not expect historical exactitude from him or use a
description in a novel as historic evidence."76 And again in
his next letter: "Fasana-e Ibrat cannot by any stretch of
THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE RAM JANMABHOOMI vs. BABRI MASJIO 70
Summing up, we can explicitate dr. Narain's thesis
as follows. The original temple complex (working within
the hypothesis that it existed) was built in imitation of the
'palace' in which Ram was born. The holy of holies was
Ram's birth spot, situated in what was taken to be
Kaushalya's quarters. This was demolished and [imme-
diatly or eventually) replaced with the Babri Masjid.
Another part of the temple complex was taken to be Sita's
quarters. It was either never demolished or allowed to be
rebuilt, and it is now the Janmasthan Sita Rasoi temple, to
the North of Ram Janmabhoomi Babri Masjid. (dr. Narain
could have quoted Hans Bakker's scholarly work Ayodhya
which proposes the same hypothesis, as A.K. Chatterjee
has done, efr_infra)
It is a diferent matter that outsiders, especially the
Muslim historians who were not so well versed in the
details of the Ram story, used the terms lanmabhoomi,
Janmasthan, Sita lei Rasoi , indiscriminatlely, for the precise
spot where the Babri Masjid was built, as well as for the
entire Ramkot mound and the Janmasthan Sita Rasoi
temple (as in the next document). Dr. Narain has
challenged Syed Shahabuddin to come up with texts that
speci.fically name the present Janmasthan temple as the
tradi.tional Birthplace SpOt,7S Failing that, it is non-serious
to keep on denying the information given by both British
and"Indian Muslim sources, viz. that what Hindus for
centuries consirlered to be the birthspot, is where the Babri
Masjid was built,
The fourth document presented by dr. Narain is an
excerpt from the Fasanah-i [brat by the Urdu novelist Mirza
Rajab Ali Beg Surur, who died in 1867. He wrote: "A great
mosque was built on the spot where Sita ki Rasoi is
situated. During the regime of Babar, the Hindus had no
guts to be a match for the Muslims.The Mosque was built
- - ....
.... - .
77. Indian Express, 6.4.90.
78. Indian Express, 25.4.90.
imagination be called a work of history."n Apparently,
Syed Shahabuddin has been bluffing. Basing himself on
the information furnished by dr. Narain that the author of
this document is a novelist, he has assumed that the
document itself is a novel. But, replies dr. Narain to Syed
Shahabuddin: "He need not stretch his imagination: he
needs only to turn to the book to find that it is not a novel
(as he maintained in his earlier letter) but a historical
account of four of Awadh."78
From these four documents, dr. Harsh Narain
derives the following conclusions: 1) In their zeal to hit
Hinduism and spread-Islam, the Muslim rulers had the
knack of desecrating or demolishing Hindu temples and
erecting mosques etc. in their place. 2) There did exist a
temple called Ram Janmasthan in Ayodhya, where Ram
was believed .to have incarnated, and of ' which the
Janmasthan Sita Rasoi may have been a part. 3) In the
footsteps of the Muslim rulers who desecrated Mathura,
Vrindavan, Nalanda etc., Babar chose Ayodhya
for the spread of Islam and the replpcement of temples by
mosques, because of its importance as a holy place for
Hindus, and had the Babri Masjid erected in 1528 in
replacement of the Janmabhoomi temple. 4) The Babri
mosque was also called 'masjid-i Janmasthan' or 'masjid-i
Sita ki Rasoi' from long before 1855. 5) The Hindus had
been canying on worship at the Ram Janmabhoomi even
after the replacement of the temple by the mosque.
6) These facts are yielded by authentic Muslim records
and have not been fabricated by the much-maligned
British to 'divide and rule' .
He adds that these conclusions "are irresistable and
should clinch the issue of demolition versus non-existence
of the Ram Janmasthan temple."
79. Indian Express, 21.4.90.
BO. Indian Express, 8.3.90.
Dr. Quraishi is not impressed, and concludes his
letter by restating his view: "The story of alleged
destruction of the temple by Babar was concocted by the
Britishers and this mischievously false story is now being
propagated for some ulterior motives." He demands
pre-1819 evidence: "We cannot believe that the Hindu
community was too barren to produce a single soul
during the long period between 1528 and 1819 who could
record or narrate or who was too benumbed to lament on
destruction of the temple." .
Dr. Narain admits: "It is true that no old enough
Hindu record of .the Rama temple demolition has come to
light so .far."79 But that would only be an important fact
the Hindus normally did record such events. The fact IS
that they didn't. More than 90% of the Muslim atrocities
and acts of destruction are known to us through Muslim
sources. So dr. Narain continues: "But this is no ground for
rejection of the temple deinolition story. There is no old
Hindu record of the invasion of Alexander the Great. Does
it mean that his invasion did not take place? To tell the
truth, the Hindus of old were bad at history..."
One of the JNU historIans, K.S. Chaudhry, has also
condescended to send in a short reply.80 He contends that
d r. Narain's evidence actually reinforces the JNU
historians' claim that there are no texts from before the
19th century stating that the Babri Masjid was built on a
Hindu place of worship. Well, if he chooses to ignore what
dr. Narain has stressed, viz. that these 19th century texts
explicitly claim older texts as their source, it will be no use
for me to repeat that observation. Let us rather take a look
at fi n undisputedly older textual testimony.
Abhas Kumar Chatterjee has presented some
paragraphs from a travelogue by Joseph Tieffenthaler, an
THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
RAM lANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI , MASllO 72
RAM JANMABHOOMI vs. BABRI MASJID THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE 75
Austrian Jesuit who toured the Awadh region extensjvely
?etween 1766 and 1771.
His Latin account was pUQlished
In French translation in 1786, as Description Historique et
Geographique de ['[nde. This account is totally independent
of British sources and much older than the first British
account of the Janmabhoomi by Montgomery Martin in
Some excerpts: "The emperor Aurangzeb
destroyed the fortress called Ramkot, and built at the same
place a Mohammedan temple with three domes. Others
say that it has been built by Babar... On the left one can see
a square box elevated five inches abovE:: the ground level
covered with limestone... The Hindus call it Bedi which
means a crib. This is because here existed a house in which
[Vishnu] was born in the form of Rama... Subsequently
Aurangzeb, or according to some other people Babar,
destroyed the place in order to prevent the heathens from
practising their superstition. But they have continued to
practise their religious ceremonies in both places, knowing
this to have been the birthplace of Rama, by going around
it three times and prostrating on the ground... On the 24th
of the month of Chait [Le. the Ram Navami festival], a
great gathering of people takes place here to celebrate the
birthday of Rama and this fair is famous all over India."
This is incontrovertibly a pre-Britjsh record
claiming the Babri Masjid to have been built on the Ram
Janmabhoomi, and testifying that the Hindus conducted
worship there in the 18th century. What i'S more, just like
the novelist Surur quoted by dr. Narain, Tieffenthaler has
written that the Hindus practised puja "in both places", in
the courtyard and in the Masjid itself. .
Mr. AK. Chatterjee concludes: "The position we
come to is this. The holy Ramjanmabhoomi temple, which
once stood in Ramkot, disappears. Pillars of a destroyed
81. Indian Express, 26.3.90.
Hindu temple are used to construct a mosque under
Babar's orders in Ramkot at a spot surrounded by scores
of other shrines associated with Ram. Hindus claim all
along that this was the site of the temple. In spite of the
efforts of Moghul rulers to keep them out, they reoccupy
the site and continue to offer worship there. Great
gatherings of people continue to be held here to celebrate
Ram Navami. They defend the shrine against Muslim
attacks in violent clashes as in 1853, when 70 Muslims
making a bid to recapture the temple, are killed and are
buried in the nearby 'ganj-i- shahidan'."
This position takes the discussion an important
step further. Now, the claim is not just that the Babri
Masjid has replaced a Hindu place of worship in 1528.
After an interruption starting in 1528, it was again a
Hindu place of worship until the 1850's. The religious
policy of the Nawabs, who ruled Awadh from 1722 till
1856 (when Awadh was annexed by the British East India
Company), was rather tolerant and apparently does not
exclude such a course of events ( s e ~ also ch.1.10). It was
the British who,. imposing their government after annex-
ing Awadh in 1856 and defeating the uprising of 1857,
gave the Babri Masjid to the Muslims.
1.10. The larger picture
The JNU historians, in their famous pamphlet,
write: "The assumption that Muslim rulers were
invariably and naturally opposed to the sacred p l ~ c e s of
Hindus is not always borne out by historical evidence. The
patronage of the Muslim Nawabs was crucial for the
expansion of Ayodhya as a Hindu pilgrimage centre...
Gifts to temples and patronage of Hindu sacred centres
was an integral part of the Nawabi mode of exercise of
power. The diwan [= chief minister] of Nawab Safdarjang
built and repaired several temples in Ayodhya. Safdarjang
gave land to the Nirwana Akhara [= a martial sadhu
76 RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE 71
order] to build a temple on Hanuman hill in Ayodhya.
Asaf-ud-Daulah's diwan contributed to the building of the
temple fortress in Hanuman hill. Panda [= temple priest]
records show that Muslim officials of the Nawabi court
gave several gifts for rituals performed by Hindu priests."
Here, the JNU historians exaggerate the Nawabs'
kindness towards the Hindus a bit. Tolerant though they
were, they did not go so far as to pay for Hindu temples.
The two mentioned diwans of the Nawabs were both
Hindus, so their patronage to Hindu temples was not a
trans-religion affair. As prof. Khan has remarked: "It may
be noted that in the first two evidences the authors have
deliberately concealed the fact that both the diwans were
Hindus. [By contrast], while mentioning about the gifts by
the officials of the Nawabi court to Hindu priests (in their
third evidence), they have not forgotten to state that the
officials were Muslims. This not only amounts to
concealment of evidence but also distortion of evidence."82
Of course, the very fact that the Muslim Nawabs
employed Hindu officials, is also something. The JNU
historians have written in their original pamphlet that
"Nawabi rule depended on the collaboration of the
Kayasthas", an important Hindu caste of scribes. But the
fact remains that they have at least suggested that those
diwans who spent their money on Hindu temples and
organizations, were Muslims.
The fact that some Muslim officials, perhaps recent
converts for purely careerist reasons, paid Hindu priests
for some superstitious rituals, carries little weight. But the
central fact is that many Muslim rulers did employ
Hindus, even in positions of trust, and quite a few of them
also gave land or gifts to Hindu institutions. The JNU
historians could have quoted many instances without
having to go into distorting evidence.
82. Indian Express, 25.2.90.
The JNU pamphlet draws attention to another
thought-provoking fact relating to the Nawabs' religious
policy: "In moments of conflict between Hindus and
Muslims, the Muslims did not invariably support
Muslims. When a dispute between the Sunni Muslims and
the Naga Sadhus over a Hanumangarhi temple in
Ayodhya broke out in 1855, Wajid Ali Shah took firm and
decisive action. He appointed a tripartite investigative
committee consisting of the district official, Agha Ali
Khan, the leading Hindu landholder, Raja Mansingh, and
the British officers in charge of the [East India] Company's
forces. When the negotiated settlement failed to control
the upbuild of communal forces, Wajid Ali Shah
mobilized the support of ' Muslim leaders to bring the
situation under control, confiscated the p r o p ~ r t y of
Maulavi Amir Ali, the leader of the Muslim communal
forces, 'and finally called upon the [British] army to crush
the Sunni Muslim group led by Amir Ali. An estimated
three to four hundred Muslims were killed. This is not to
suggest that there were no conflicts between Hindus and
Muslims, but in neither case were they homogeneous
communities. There was hostility between factions and
groups within a community, as there was amity across
A lot of the debate between prof. Khan and the
JNU historians is about the question how big a role the
Shi'a/Sunni antagonism exactly played in determining the
Nawabs' rather even-handed religious policy. We will not
go into that, and settle for the general impression that it
was an important factor. Aurangzeb, the last great
Moghul, had been intolerant not only towards Hindus,
but also towards non-Sunni coreligionists. Consequently,
since his rule, Shi'ite rulers were careful in dealing ' with
these fellow Muslims. This strengthened their already
existing need to co-operate with the Hindus.
Ever since the Muslim hordes had conquered
North-India, the conquerors tried to establish stable
kingdoms. At that stage, political wisdom came more and
more in conflict with the calls of religious fervour. Those
rulers who could make a satisfying compromise with their
Hindu subjects, had better prospects for a lasting kingdom
than those who antagonized them by acts of intolerance.
Muslim rulers were in the first place rulers. Often they
were reminded of their Islamic duties by those who had
nothing else to do but be Muslims, the maulvis and imams
and sufis who lived safely under a sultan's protection. But
many times, they had good political reasons to withstand
those calls to jihad and all that. For instance, their own
brothers, sons, friends and generals, all Muslims, could be
conspiring against them, and then they had to accept help
and support from wherever they could get it, regardless of
Power realities and human realities often 'broke
through the barriers that the Quran had put between the
Muslims and the rest, and created rifts within the fold of
the faithful. So, the JNU historians are right to assert that
there was intra-religious conflict and cross-religious
amity. But the question, the larger question that forms the
background to the Ayodhya issue, is: which was the rule
and which the exception, Hindu-Muslim amity or }-lindu-
The question could be asked of other pairs of
religions. For instance, the relation between Hindus and
Parsis, or between Hindus and Jews, have hardly known
any moments of conflict. By contrast, the relation between
Christians ang Muslim has practically always been one of
conflict: from Charles Martel, the Crusades and the battle
of Manzikert, the Reconquista and Lepanto, down to the
Armenian genocide, the civil war in Nagorny-Karabach,
Sudan, Lebanon, the hounding out of the Syriac Christians
from Eastern Turkey, the pestering of
79 mE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
Christians in Egypt and other Arabic countries, etc. Now,
which of these two patterns applies to the relation
between Hindus and Muslims?
One school, which controls most of the media and
the universities (starting with JNU) in India today,
contends that essentially the conflicts that were in
evidence in the medieval period, were seldom of a purely
religious character. The class character of those conflicts
should be stressed. Between the religious communities,
the conflict factor was unimportant compared to the
mutual influence and assimilation. Their main argument is
even in conflicts, the line was never sharply between
Hmdus on the one and Muslims on the other side.
The other school claims that conflict was an
intrinsic characteristic of Hindu-Muslim relations. This
school is poorer in power positions, but richer in
arguments. They point out that, first of all, Islam is
inimical to all other religions. For instance, the above-
mentioned Parsis, or Zoroastrians, were almost completely
destroyed in Iran, and what was left over was treated as
third-class citizens, and subjected to all kinds of harass-
ment as well as downright persecution as recently as in
Or take the Jews: Muslim apologists often declare
that the treatment of the J.ews in Islamic Spain compared
favourably with reconquered Christian ' Spain. Well,
we know that they were subject to a number of disabili-
ties, on their choice of profession, and humiliating
regulatIOns (e.g. North-African Jews were forced to
take names of food as surname). We know from
the famous Jewish philosopher Maimonides that
thousands of Jews in his time had been forcibly converted
to Islam. We know that Mohammed himself expelled two
Jew!sh clans from Medina and 12d an all-out pogrom
agamst the third clan, killing hundreds. We know of the
urrent Arab-Israeli conflict, of the terror in ' which the
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO 78
Jews lived under Khomeini, and of the Islamic terrorists
throwing bombs at jewish sehool-ehildren in European
cities. It is true that some Muslim rulers accomodated (not
respected or treated as equals) Jews in the interest of the
national economy, but that was out of purely mundane
considerations. The only countries where .the Jews were
always both respected and left in peace, were India and
Or take the relations between Islam and Buddhism.
The latter has been totally destroyed by the former in
Afghanistan, Turkestan, North-India, parts of South-East-
Asia. "But ", meaning idol, comes from Buddha, and the
Buddhists with their wealth of Buddha-statues were the
idol-worshippers par excellence, so they could not apply
for any kind of mercy..Today, Buddhists are hounded out
of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in BangIa Desh, and harassed
by Kashmiri Muslims in Ladakh. In Muslim Malaysia,
Buddhists (like other try to cope with
oppression, while in Buddhist Thailand and Myanmar,
local Muslim majorities wage a struggle for secession.
So, pleading that the co-existence of Hindus and
Muslims in India was essentially a peaceful one, already
implies postulating that the Muslims gave the Hindus an
uncharacteristic, even exceptional treatment. Even before
studying one event of Indian history, we can safely. say
that the burden of proof should rest on those who take the
most improbable position, viz. that Hindus, of all
religions, were treated friendly by the Muslims
Nevertheless, we can take it upon ourselves to
furnish proof for the more probable hypothesis that
Muslims treated the Hindus the way they had treated the
idolaters of Arabia, the 'fire-worshippers' of Iran, and the
Buddhists. Indeed, this proof is abundantly available. For
now, we will look only at the one category of proof most
related to our topic: the treatment allotted to heathen
temples by the believers. We forego presenting a long,
long list of quotes from·scores of Muslim historians who
chronicled in jubiliant and unambiguous terminology the
thousandfold acts of idol-breaking, Kafir-slaughter,
swordpoint conversion, abduction of women, taking of
slaves, by which the Muslim conquerors earned their place
In every city in India, you will find some Muslim
shrines, graves, or mosques, that have visibly been built
with components of what used to be a Hindu temple. In
some cases only an expert willnotice it, but quite often the
building's prehistory is proudly displayed. In many cases,
the sculptured side of bricks has been generally turned
towards the wall's inside, not to disturb the monotheistic
peace of the worshippers, but the mosque's threshold has
been adorned with visible pieces of idols, so as to give the
faithful the pleasure of treading them underfoot.
A few years back. the Times of India published a
photograph taken after workers had accidentally moved
some bricks of the well-known Qutub Minar in Delhi, and
clearly showing remnants of Hindu sculptures. It sparked
a debate, involving the inevitable JNU historians, who
fulminated that this kind of news would fan communal
strife. But whatever ' the implications, there was no
denying the facts revealed by the photograph: the Qutub
Minar is one of the many Muslim buildings that have re-
placed Hindu buildings demolished for that purpose.
The effort to go around collecting lists of mosques
built on destroyed temples from all the cities and districts
of India (leaving out the islamized parts of the
Subcontinent) has been spared us by the historian Sita
Ram Goel. He has just published a book called
Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them (A Preliminary
Survey). In it, he presents a list of about two thousand
mosques and shrines of which the violent and idol-
breaking origin is unambiguously documented. With its
publication, the writer has announced a more complete
81 THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO 80
83. Story of Islamic Imperialism in India, Voice of India, Delhi 1982; His-
tory of Heroic Hindu Resistance to Muslim Invaders, id., 1984; Muslim Sep-
aratism, Causes and Consequences, id., 1987.
84. Sunday Observer, 4.3.90, reports the efforts by historians to prevent
Prof. Pande from becoming the new head of the Indian Council of
Historical Research, because of his "RSS connections". These under-
taking historians have never opposed his predecessor Irfan Habib, even-
though his "Studied bias and fantastic theories" and his "communal
approach in deliberately glossing over the misdeeds of one section of
medieval Indian society" have been duly exposed by K.5. Lal (ch. 24 of
Bias in Indian Historiography> and others.
survey which he is now preparing. The two thousand
cases mentioned are only the obvious ones, those which
only needed listing. Many more mosques will, upon closer
investigation, also tum out to have been built on demo-
I believe this book is a milestone in the ongoing
communalism debate. It boldly presents information
which the dominant intelligentsia had so far managed to
kind of suppress, or at least to keep out of the arena of
respectable public debate. In his earlier books about the
Muslim conquest and the Hindu resistance,83 Mr. Goel had
presented, without too much comment, a great many
instances of authentic testimony by Muslim chroniclers,
that have smashed the modern idol of 'India's long history
of Hindu-Muslim amity'. Here again, he lets the facts
speak for themselves. And as is well known, you can't
argue with the facts.
Therefore, mr. Goel's opponents, including many
columnists and academics, don't bother about arguing
over the truth of the information presented, and resort to
mudslinging and swearword-hurling ad hominem, as they
had done in the past against the great historians R.c.
Majumdar and K.M. Munshi, and more recently against
prof. G.c. Pande.
But they aim at the wrong target.
Suppose mr. Goel is indeed a "communalist", a "Hindu
chauvinist", a "petty-bourgeoiS obscurantist", and what
THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
not. that will not anyhow alter the historiographical
and archItectural facts presented by him. No matter how
hard the JNU historians deny it, the old Muslim records
and temples-turned-mosques keep on testifying with
one VOIce that the 'Muslim period' of Indian history was a
a of persecution and
relIgIOUS war, .mcluding thousandfold temple destruction.
Followmg the same pattern, in their debate on the
opinion page of Indian Express, dr. Narain presents old
records that speak for themselves, and Syed Shahabuddin
resorts to tirades ad hominem. Writes he: "The conclusions
d:awn by dr. Narain are not only untenable but reflect his
bIas and prejudice against Islam and against Muslim
rulers."8s And again: "The question whether Muslim rulers
as a rule desecrated or demolished temples and erected
mosques thereon... only reveals the sick mentality of those
who. make such sweeping allegations."86 To which dr.
Naram has replied: "He forgets that in the instant case this
sweeping .allegation has been made by Mirza Jan, Shaikh
Azmat All Kakorwi Nami and Mirza Rajab Ali Beg Surur,
and not by me. He has failed to look them in the face
squarely and make out a single point in rebuttaL" 87
.The view of Indian Muslim history as generally
barbanc and destructive is of course not new. In the past
we Europeans used to be fed stories from the Crusades
the sly and murderous Saracens. But now in this
enlIghtened age, we still have the same image of Muslims
because in the news we more often than not hear the word
"Islamic" bracketed with some word meaning "terrorist".
In the streets of not only Karachi and Tehran, but aIso
London, Bradford and Rotterdam, we have seen hordes of
people clamOUring truly barbaric demands to kill Salman
85. Indian Express, 8.3.90.
86. Indian Express, 6.4.90.
87. Indian Express, 25.4.90.
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO 82
88. History and Culture of the Indian People, vol. V, p.xv.
Rushdie. So we are not surprised to learn that the "Muslim
period" of Indian history was one of savage plunder and
persecution. And when we g<;> beyond first impressions
and sit down to study the hist.ory of Mahmud Ghaznavi,
Mohammed Chori and Aurangzeb, we find no reason for
doubting the apparently v.ery distinct feature of intoler-
ance in the foremost Muslim rulers. In the West, it is
mostly just an interested fringe that opposes this view of
Islam as intolerant, calling it "prejudiced"..
In India too, many historianS are quite confident
that the authentic sources bear out this view of Muslim
history. Thus, K.M. Munshi writes in a prestigious history
book: "In the days of Mahmud of Ghazni, in the words of
[the contemporary historian] 'Utbi, 'the blood of the
infidels flowed copiously and [conversionJ. was often the
only way of survival'. On the testimony of so liberal a
Muslim of this age as Amir Khusrau, 'the land had been
saturated with the water of the sword and the vapours of
infidelity (i.e. Hindus) had been dispersed'. Will Durant,
in his Story of Civilization, aptly says: 'The Mohammedan
conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in
history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is
that civilization is a precious thing, whose delicate
complex of order and liberty, culture and peace may at
any time be overthrown by barbarians invading from
without or multiplying within.' " 88
But today in India, quoting authentic evidence
from unsuspect Muslim sources (including mosques) testi-
fying to the consistent Muslim policy of oppression of
Kafirs and destruction of their temples, has increasingly
become a taboo. Ever since Jawaharlal Nehru imposed on
the Indian mind the notion of 'secularism', it is not
tolerated if you mention religiously motivated plunder
and oppression by Muslims. And Nehru, the godfather of
89. J. Nehru: The Discovery of India, p.235.
90. M. Habib: Sultan Mahmud of Ghaznin, first published in 1924.
TI-lE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
Indian secularism, set the trend by his example. Let's have
a look at one instance, a bold one from a m ~ n g the many,
of Nehru's attempts to write secularist history.
We know from the Muslim historian Utbi that
Mahmud Ghaznavi expressed his admiration for the vast
temple complex he found in Mathura--and then ordered
his men to destroy the whole thing. This is what Jawahar-
lal Nehru has to say on the subject: "Building interested
[MahmudJ and he was much 'impressed by the city of
Mathura near Delhi. About this he wrote: 'There are here a
thousand edifices as firm as the faith of the faithful; nor is
it likely that this city has attained its present condition but
at the expense of many millions of dinars, nor could such
another be constructed under a period of 200 years."89
That's all. Nehru describes the destroyer of Mathura as an
admirer of Mathura: how much more dishonest can you
get? And it is perhaps even more disappointing for
Nehru's admirers that he doesn't even seem to notice the
gory sarcasm in Mahmud's pre-slaughter eulogy.
On the whole, this covering-up of specific facts is
not the favourite method of the secularist (mostly Marxist)
historians to rewirte and 'de-eommunalize' Indian history.
Of course, attention is drawn away from distrurbing facts
as much as possible, especially in books for the general
public, including schoolbooks. But among historians, you
cannot escape having to face the facts of Muslim
intolerance. So, the more sophisticated approach is
to recognize the facts, and to impose a wholly new inter-
pretation on them.
The great pioneer of re-interpretation of Indian
Muslim history was no doubt Mohammed Habib, the
luminary of the so-called Aligarh school of historians. His
explanation of Mahmud's behaviour,9° extrapolated by
RAM lANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASlIO 84
91 . op. cit ., p.82.
87 TIlE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
Now it becomes clear wnat is meant by the
"tolerance which Islam inculcates": the policy of Umar, the
Second Rightly-Guided Caliph. He is the one who laid
down under what conditions certain monotheistic
unbelievers may be allowed to survive as third-elass
citizens (such as paying the jizya tax).93
More important, and blatantly wrong, is the state-
ment that "every creed" condemns the wanton destruction
of places C?f worship. Islam certainly doesn't. For some
intelligently presented lists of quotes from the Quran and
the Hadis regarding the treatment of Kafirs and their
places of worship, I refer to the relevant literature.
now, we can do with just one of the important sources of
Islamic law: the Prophet's example regarding pagan
When Mohammed conquered Mecca, he went to
the Ka'aba and destroyed idols there. He thereby
desecrated and destroyed the polytheists' place of
worship. This is one of the great founding moments of
Islam. There is no honest exegesis that can declare
Mahmud's behaviour unIslamic: he merely re-enacted
what the Prophet had done in one of his greatest
Some will argue that Mohammed broke idols,
while Mahmud stole gold. But the truth is that both men
did both t h i n g s ~ Mohammed's community to quite an
extent lived by plunder, and he (or Allah) had arranged
that one fifth of the booty would be his own share: he
lived amid stolen riches. Conversely, Mahmud did more '
than just plunder: he broke idols, or desecrated them in
3. for a fuller treatment, see A.S. Tritton : The Caliphs and their non-
Muslim Subjects, a Critical Study of the Covenant of 'Umar, Frank Cass and
0., London, 1970.
94. such as Arun Shourie : Religion in Politics, Ch. 11-15; Ram Swarup :
Understanding Islam through Hadis; Sita Ram Cool : The Calcutta Quran
Petition of Chandmal Chopra.
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASllD 86
his followers to all Muslim tyrants and plunderers, was
that Islam had nothing to do with it. Mahmud was simply
hungry for wealth, and so he plundered temples (prof.
Habib first postulates ad hoc, without a trace of proof, that
Hindus stored all their wealth in temples). If he was cru,:l,
it was because that was the Turkish temperament, because
you see, the Turks were savage horsemen who had only
just recently been brought into Islamic civilization.
In prof. Habib's own words: "It was impossible that
the Indian temples should not sooner or later tempt some-
one strong and unscrupulous enough for 0 the impious
deed. Nor was it expected that a man of Mahmud's
character would allow the tolerance which Islam incul-
cates to restrain him from taking possession of the
gold.. .when the Indians themselves had simplified his
work by concentrating the wealth of the country in a few
places." 91 So, it was not because of but rather in spite of
Islam, that Mahmud Ghaznavi destroyed idol-temples!
For those who frown when they hear about "the
tolerance which Islam inculcates", prof. Habib explains:
"Islam sanctioned neither the vandalism nor the plunder-
ing motives of the invader. No principle of the Shariat
justifies the uncalled for attack on Hindu princes who had
done Mahmud and his subjects no harm. The wanton
destruction of places of worship is condemned by the law
of every creed. And yet Islam, though it was not an
inspiring motive could be used as an a posteriori justifica-
tion for what was done. So the precepts of the Quran were
misinterpreted or ignored and the tolerant policy of the
Second Caliph was cast aside in order that. Mahmud and
his myrmidons may be able to plunder Hindu temples
with a clear and untroubled conscience."92
perverse ways, such as by hanging a sacred cow's tongue
by a thread from an idol's neck. He definitely busied him-
self with disturbing the idolatrous practices, as the
Prophet had done. There is really no difference between
Mohammed in Mecca and Mahmud in the Somnath
temple or in Mathura, except that Mohammed wasn't
chased back out. .
One fails to see prof. Habib's logic where he says
that the Quranic precepts could not be motive before the
crime, but could be a justification afterwards. Quranic
verses can be used as a justification precisely because they
can be shown to contain a divine injunction, i.e. a motive.
To mention one example out of many, Allah commands:
"Assemble those who did wrong together with their
wives, and what they used to worship instead of Allah,
and lead them to the path of hell. " (Quran, 37.22-23).
Islamic conquerors have spontaneously taken that as an
injunction to fight Kafirs and destroy their temples,
whether humble or gold-laden. If they didn't, clerics
would put such verses under their noses and exhort them
to do their Islamic duty. Whether this application of the
Quranic teachings was a "misinterpretation", as prof.
Habib contends, can perhaps best be decided from the
example of the Prophet himself, who hardly ever rested
, Moreover, prof. Habib's attempt to save Islam by
sacrificing Mahmud's fame as .a great Muslim (rather than
a vile plunderer), does not deny that the Quran can be
used as a justification (though "not a motive") for
oppression and plunder. He essentially contends that
Islam is good but Mahmud used it in a bad way. But that
is precisely the point: regardless of whether Mahmud was
a Muslim at heart or just a plunderer who justified himself
~ s i ~ ~ I s ~ a m , at any rate Islam lends itself to being used as a
JustificatIOn for plunder and oppression.
That is not the case for every religion: prof. Habib
and his followers will not find a single injunction to
idol-breaking, slave-taking or kafir-slaughter in the entire
corpus of Buddhist scripture. If a Buddhist ruler wanted to
go plundering, he had to find his justification elsewhere.
So even if such a Buddhist tyrant would match Mahmud
in barbarism, the former would do so in spite of his
religion, while the latter did so in accordance with his.
Our judgments of the two men would be the same, but
our judgments of their respective religions would be
Of course, not all Muslims were Ghaznavis, Ghoris
or Aurangzebs. Many ruelrs thought it more profitable to
make compromise with the non-Muslims. Some few
modern intellectuals like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad
interpreted the cruetiy out of Scripture, giving new
meanings to terms like .Kufr and Jihad (just like the
Talmudic interpretation had transcended Jahweh's cruel
injunctions against the peoples that stood in the way of the
chosen Hebrew people). And at the village level,' many
born Muslims would join in Hindu festivals and keep to
many Hindu customs, while their Hindu neighbours also
adopted Musim elements. At that level, the difference in
religious practice was little more than a change of idol
names, similar to the difference between Hindu sects.
But that healthy and natural assimilation process
took place because they were human beings, and only in
spite of their being Muslims: the professional Muslims, the
imams and maulvis, were horrified at this impure Islam,
and did everything in their power to separate the Muslim
villagers from the Hindus and to strengthen their commit-
ment to pure Islam (this effort to islamize the Muslims is
called the tabligh movement).
On the whole, in a rough generalization from the
facts of Indian history, we can say that commitment to
89 THE HISTORIANS' DEBATE
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID 88
Islam is inversely proportional to tolerance for other
This fundamental question regarding the nature of
the different religions and their political histories urgently
calls for deeper study. For now, we will limit ourselves to
the information immediately relevant to the Babri Masjid
issue: the Babri Masjid is just one out of thousands of still-
existing Muslim buildings that have replaced Hindu
temples as part of a violent campaign of Islamization
which the more faithful of India's Muslim rulers have
· "" .- ...
RAM lANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASlID
2. Political implications
I propose the following conclusions to the
historians' debate. From many indications we may
confidently infer that Mir Baqi built the Babri Masjid on an
existing Hindu place of worship. Whether that worship
took place in a temple or in the open air, we do not know
for sure. That it was already considered as being Ram's
birthplace, is most probable. Whether it really was the
birthplace of a Ram, we do not know. The
tradition that this was Ram's birthplace, may have been
created in about the 14th century, or it may have been
older but somehow remained unattested so far.
At least this much must be admitted: the spot on
which the Babri Masjid now stands, has been a prominent
sacred place to a large number of Hindus for centuries. A
solution that disregards this fact, cannot be considered a
2.1. The proposed solutions
From 1986 onwards, the Vishva Hindu Parishad
(VHP) and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal [= 'the
Hanuman team', Hanuman the mOhkey-god being a man
of action and Ram's devout helper], have stepped up their
campaign for official recognition of the site as a Hindu
sacred place, and more concretely for the construction of a
Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir on the spot of the present
Babri Masjid. The Masjid would have to be moved to
another site, the way the Abu Simbel temple in Egypt was
moved out of the way of the Aswan Dam. That India has
the technology for this operation, was recently proven
when the 800-years-old Kudavelli Sangameshwara temple
in Mehboobnagar (Andhra Pradesh) was taken apart and
rebuilt at 600 metres from the original site to save it from
This demand for restoring the Hindu
character of the place is supported at the political level by
the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Shiv Sena and the
Interestingly, several Shia Muslim leaders have
- agreed to this plan. Asghar Ali Abbas, General Secretary
of the All-Indian Shia Political Conference has said: "We
are in favour of restoring It to the Hindus because it
belongs to them. We woqld be satistied with a mosque
built from the debris of the eXisting structure, to which the
Hindus have already given their consent."96 Iqbal Ahmed,
a Muslim member of UP state executive of the 'Hindu
communalist' BJP, declared: "Ram was our ancestor and
construction of Ram Mandir is the moral responsibility as
much of Muslims as of Hindus." And the president of the
Indian Muslim Youth Congress (IMYC) has, in May 90,
urged the government to hand the Babri Masjid to the
Hindus by means of legislation, arguing that this would
go a long way in bringing Hindus and Muslims closer
together. He also protested against the fact that the UP
government counted among its members an office-bearer
of the "communalist" Babri Masjid Action Committee,
Labour minister Mohammed Azam Khan.
Such cases of Muslims supporting the Hindu
demands do probably not represent Muslim majority
opinion, but at least· they show that here, as often, the
militant communal leaders are not the undisputed
representatives of their community.
Alternatively, people have proposed that the new
temple incorporate Jhe present structure. Architects have
put their imagination to work in order to produce a plan
that meaningfully integrates the existing structure with a
95. Times of India, 28.1.90.
96. Surya India, 8 /90, p.23.
97. Indian Express, 10.5.90.
93 POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS
big new Ram temple built over it.
Nowadays there are
more Hindu temples that incorporate smaller separate
places of worship, e.g. the new Ravidas temple at
Varanasi's Rajghat has small Mvslim, Christian, Buddhist
and Sikh shrines on the four corners of its roof.
Some peace-loving Hindus (including Sikhs, Jains
and Buddhists) have agreed that a temple should be built,
but without moving the Babri Masjid, or at any rate
without excluding the Muslims from the temple. A
mosque should be integrated into the temple. The Dalai
Lama, shortly after getting the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize,
proposed that Hindus and Muslims alternately use which-
ever building will be standing on the spot. It would be a
unique situation: taking turns to offer puja or namaz
in the same building.
However, to the Babri Masjid campaigners, all
such compromise proposals are futile. How could a
Muslim see his mosque defiled by the presence of idols
and idol-worshippers? So they demand that the building
simply be given back to the Muslims and re-employed as a
mosque. The biggest concession they are willing to make,
is that a Ram temple be constructed next to it. This
position has been supported by the Muslim communal
parties, including The All-India Muslim League, the
Jama'at-i Islami, and Syed Shahabuddin's Insaf Party, as
well as the radical low-caste Bahujan Samaj Party.
Many vocal 'secularists', however, feel that this
problem can only be solved if it is taken out of the hands
of the 'communal forces', meaning the religions. Most
columnists and academics who have spoken out,
including the JNU historians, have demanded that the
entire place be handed over to the Archaeological
Department, and declared a national monument, at which
98. e.g. Raja Aederi : An Architectural Solution, in Indian Express,
RAM lANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASlIO .
any denomination of worship should be forbidden. This
demand is supported by the Communist Parties.
JNU conclude their reply to
Khan s reply to theIr pamphlet with this statement:
Fmally, we would repeat what we have said often
enough the destruction or conversion of places
of ":o.rshIp, If and. :Vhen they occurred in the past, were
specIfIc to the polItIcal .culture of those times. We reject
atte.mpt at recreatmg that political culture today,
IrrespectIve of the historical evidence."99
The C.ong:ess and the Janata DM have never really
made up theIr mmds, and take an opportunistic attitude.
The Congress-I's defeat in the 1989 elections is partly
attributed to its clumsy attempts to woo both Hindus and
Muslims on this issue. In the same period, the Janata Dal
has tilted towards the Babri Masjid side, while
forgmg a close alliance with the influential Imam Bukhari
of Delhi's Jama Masjid. On the other hand, V.P. Singh had
declared in 1987 that he was for the conversion into a
national Many of these parties' leading
membe.rs have taken sides, mostly on the
neutralIst, otherwISe on the Babri Masjid side, but hardly
openly in favour of the VHP plans for the construc-
tIon of a Ram Several Babri Masjid compaigners
on the vIctonous Janata Dal ticket in 1989 got port-
folIos m the national as well as in the Uttar Pradesh state
governments. Dau Dayal Khanna is one Congress leader
who fully supports the Hindu cause, he co-founded the
Ram fanmabhoomi Mukti Yajna Samiti (Ram's Birthplace
Liberation Sacrifice-ritual Committee).
Many people, including those who don't feel like
sides, as well as those who want to de-politicize the
say that status-quo should be preserved until the
JudICIal apparatus speaks its final verdict in the long-
99. Indian Express / 1.4.90.
100, quoted by Pankaj Pachauri in India Today / 15.12.89.
95 POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS
pending court case concerning the ownership of the
However, Hindu activists contend that this issue
cannot be decided by a law courf. The 'crime' that is being
'corrected' by the construction of a Ram temple, took place
before the present laws and the present republic were in
existence. Moreover, the present laws have no provisions
on the restoring of important Hindu places of pilgrimage.
They deal with this case as if it is just over a piece of real
estate, disregarding that which is really at stake in the
mind of the contenders. Their case was strengthened
when on November 7/ 1989/ the three-judge bench of
Allahabad High Court, called to clarify which plots
precisely were under dispute, observed that "it is doubtful
that some of the questions involved ,in the suit are soluble
by judicial process".100
Another sensible argument is that the juridical
status of the Babri Masjid compound has been decided by
Muslim and British rulers, who did not care about Hindu
rights and interests. Every conqueror creates a juridical
edifice (starting with treaties with collaborating petty
rulers) that retro-actively ' justifies his conquests. Every
'liberation movement' in the world has to confront not
only a power-structure, but also a juridical structure that
legitimizes the power-structure. So the chances are that a
judicial solution can only amount to a confirmation of the
situation created by force in 1528. As so often, justice
would be brute force's hostage.
On the other hand, within the framework of Hindu ,
law, the Hindus have a legal case. In Hindu law, a god can
be the owner of a temple dedicated to him. So, Ram was
robbed of his lawful property in 1528/ and is now claiming
it back. That is to say/ those who claim it for Ram, if they
win, can only use it as Ram's property, i.e. as a place of
RAM lANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASlIO
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID
POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS 97
Ram worship. In the words of dr Gupta· "In H· d La
h d · . .. In U w,
t e IS a person; it can own land with full legal rights.
The vedl or the place called 'Ramjanmasthana' had th
title over the land around it. Since it preceded
bUIldIng of the mosque.,.it had the full ownership of the
Some people of the religio-political
controversy say that lItIgatIon IS not the way that this .
pro?l.em that .is not covered by any law with
realItIes of thIS type of dispute in mind. They call f
Ie . I t' I or new
gIS a IOn to sett e this problem once and for all. .
The Babri Masjid campaigners have always
demanded the enactment. of a law guaranteeing the status
of p.laces of worshIp as on August 15; 1947. The
VIShva Parishad has demanded the enactment of a
law declanng Ram ]anmabhoomi in Ayodhya Krishna
in Mathura, and Kashi Vish;anath in
to be Hindu monuments, and ordering the
MuslIms to vacate the latter two (presently occupied by
mosques) and to renounce their claims on Ram
. Compromise-minded Hindus propose something
ill status quo as since February 1, 1986, when
the Babz: was .opened for Hindu worship, thereby
theIr claIm on Krishna ]anmabhoomi and
VIshvanath, though these places are equal in rank
Ram Some of them use the demand
lIberatIOn of.all three places only as a bargaining chip
In order to obtaIn at least the recognition of the Hindu
status of Ram ]anmabhoomi.
Such an arrangement would have to come about
not through legislation, but through an
between representative religious leaders. The Hindu
leaders would then solemnly pledge to leave it at that, and
101. MantJum, 2 / 90, p.18.
not to demand any further temple liberations. But how
stable would such an arrangement be? When the Sikhs
obtained the carving out of a Sikh-majOrity state in Panjab,
as a kind of reward for their valiant defence of India
against Pakistan in 1965, they also solemnly pledged not
to come up with any further demands, ,and we know what
happened after that.
In this case, such an arrangement would seem to be
viable only if all three places (still a minority of less than
0.02% of all the palces of worship listed by mr. Goel as
taken by the Muslims) are given to the Hindus, because
otherwise the activist basis may well disown the commit-
ment made by the leaders. Then again, the good-will that
would be created by an unhampered construction of the
Ram ]anmabhoomi, might well the steam out of the
demands concerning Mathura and Kashi. At any rate, the
Hindu population would not ever support a demand for
full restoration of all the thousands of places which the
Muslims took from the Hindus.
Rather than asking which course of action is
justified on the basis of history and the law, one might ask
which course of action is conducive to more communal
harmony in the future. The activists in both communities
predict the worst for their own community if they don't
have their way on the Ayodhya controversy. Says Uttar
Pradesh Babri Masjid Action Committee convenor
Zafaryab ]ilani: "The Babri Masjid surely is not our Mecca,
but if we lose this mosque to Hindus, the already
oppressed minority community will lose whatever little
reason they have to be the citizens of this country." That
statement is construed by some Hindus as a threat with
disloyalty to the Indian state. On the Hindu side, the
Uttar Predesh VHP president S.c. Dixit says: "If we lose
something as important to the Hinqu faith as the Ram
Janmabhoomi to the Muslims, it would mean that the days
RAM ]ANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MAS]ID
POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS 99
are numbered for the majority community in this
We leave the last word on this question, including
a sensible prediction, to noted journalist Girilal Jain: "Syed
Shahabuddin is on record as having said that the Muslims
are afraid that if they compromise on the Ram
Janmabhoomi/Babri mosque issue, the Hi.ndus will
demand similar 'compromises in Mathura and Banaras,
and possibly many other places. This is an imaginary fear
because the general mass of the Hindus will not go along
with such compaigns if the present dispute is settled
amicably. But it is virtually certain that such demands will
arise and such campaigns will develop if the dispute in
Ayodhya continues to simmer." In other words: If the
are adamant on the Babri Masjid, they are truly
the herrs of Babar, and will evoke enmity and demands for
undoing the past by restoring more temples; but if they
are accomodating on this one occasion, they break with
their barbaric past, and Hindus will gladly reminding
them of that past.
2.2. Similar cases
The already mentioned cases of the Krishna
Janmasthan in Mathura and the Rashi Vishvanath (Shiva)
temple are different from the Ram Janmabhoomi case. In
these two .cases, the disputed place is not already being
used by Hmdus, but still contains a flourishing mosque.
three are very important places of pilgrimage,
the central temples dedicated to the three main Hindu
symbols, the Vishnu incarnations Ram and Krishna and
Shiva. All three have never really been abandoned.. by
Hindus, who always sought to take them back or, when
that wasn't possible, agreed to some humiliating
compromise that would at lea$t allow them somehow not
102. both quoted fn India Todily-, 30.11.88.
to interrupt their worship. In Mathura and Varanasi, such
a compromise is still in effect.
The first known temple on the now-disputed spot
in Mathura was built by the Shaka king Shodas in the first
century Be. Some five centuries later, a new temple was
built by Chandragupta Vikramaditya. It was destroyed by
Mahmud Ghaznavi in 1017 AD. In 1150, Maharaja Vijay
Pal built a new temple, which was destroyed by Sikander
Lodi. Again a temple was built by Raja Bir Singh Dev of
Orchha in 1613. It was destroyed by Aurangzeb in 1669,
who had an Idgah (festival-prayer assembly ground)
constructed on part of the site. Soon after Aurangzeb's
death, the Hindrl Marathas conquered this region, and
they sold this piece of land to the Hindu Rai Patni Mal,
whose descendants have owned the land for more than
two centuries. In 1940, this family won a decade-long
litigation against local Muslims who claimed the land.
Soon after, they donated it to the. aged political Hindu
leader Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, who had a temple
built adjacent to the Idgah. Since his death in 1946, the
place has been managed by the Krishna Janmabhoomi
Trust . All this time, however, the Idgah continued to be
used as a Muslim place of worship. Neither the owners
nor the people of Mathura have demanded its conversion
into a temple.
Only recently tension has mounted, with the
Hindus accusing the Muslims of offering namaz there
every day to assert their hold over the .place, while an
Idgah is normally only used on the festivals of Id (end of
Ramzan) and Bakr Id (sacrifice feast), but the Muslims
claim they have alway prayed there every day. Neverthe-
103. source: interview on 8.1.1990 with prof. Anand Krishna (retired
Dean of Arts Faculty, BHU), whose father Rai Krishna Das (founder of
the Bharat Kala Bhavan art museum) won the court case.
I I _"
104. the story of the three places under consideration is summatized
quite well in Surya India, 8 / 1989.
101 POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS
Hindu Brigade kept them in custody till after the
festival was over.
To sum up, the situation in Mathura and Kashi is
quite different from that in Ayodhya. That is why many
people who do support the Ram Janmabhoomi liberation
movement think it would be wrong to make any uncalled-
for fuss about Krishna Janmasthan and Kashi Vishvanath.
A temple case which has been referred to very
often in the Ram Janmabhoomi debate, is the Somnath
temple in Prabhas Patan (Saurashtra, Gujarat).10S It was an
ancient and famous Shiva temple, when Mahmud
Ghaznavi came to destroy it in 1026. It was rebuilt and
rff!.estroyed several times, until Aurangzeb's governor
Mohammed Azam carried out the emperor's orders "to
destroy the temple of Somnath beyond possibility of
repairs"l in 1706. A small mosque was built in its place.
In 1947, Prabas Patan was.part of the princedom of
Junagarh. .The Nawab of Junagarh intended to accede to
Pakistan. . The populatbn rose in revolt and set up a
counter-government headed by Shri Samaldas Gandhi.
When the Samaldas government got control of most of the
state, the Nawab fled to IJakistan.
On November 9, 1947, Union Home Minister
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel visited Prabhas Patan. He
declared that, now that Junagarh had acceded to India, the
first government of free India would reconstruct the
Somnath temple, and re-install the jyotirling idol (which
would make the difference between a neo-an"tique
building and a living temple). Then also, proposals were
made to impose the status quo and to declare the ruins a
protected monument. Sardar Patel replied: "The Hindu
sentiment in regard to this temple is both strong and
widespread. In· the present conditions, it is unlikely that
105. as in BJP president L.K. Advani's article, A Tale of Two Temples,
published in the booklet containing the BJP stand on the Ram
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID
less, so far both Hindus and Muslims have taken pride in
the peaceful co-existence they have established in
The first mention of the Kashi Vishvanath temple
in Varanasi refers to its reconstruction by Hari Chandra in
the 11th century A. D. In 1194 all the temples of Varanasi
were detroyed by Shahab-ud-din Mohammed Ghori.
Shortly after that, his lieutenant Qutub-ud-din Aibak was
driven out and temple reconstruction started. But he came
back and leve1l8d the Kashi Vishvanath once more. After
his death, the temple was rebuilt once again. In 1351 it was
destroyed again by Ferozshah Tughlaq, who erected a
mosque on its debris. In the 16th century, Akbar allowed
building a small temple at the back of the mosque, but it
a century later by Aurangzeb. So today, the
Gyanvapi mosque is standing on the original
Vlshnanath spot, and a few dozen metres to its left is the
small but intensely visited 'golden temple', the make-do
Kashi Vishvanath. .
On the BHU campus, there is a new Vishvanath
temple built by the industrial Birla family, after what is
presumed to be the gound plan of the original Kashi
Vishvanath. It seems that the successive Vishvanath
temples were not all built on exactly the same place, for
there is another temple in the centre of Varanasi called the
Adi (original) Vishvanath: it is of course not 'original', i.e.
from before the destructions by the Muslims, but it might
point to the original site.
In February 1990, shortly before the festival of
Shivaratri, a so far unknown group called the 'Hindu
Brigade' announced it would install a Shivalingam in the
Gyanvapi mosque. The VHP immediately disowned and
this plan. The police arrested 8 people of this
. ,*"' __
- - - ~
103 POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS
control of the mahant and the government of India. The
mahant painted and dressed the Buddha statue in the
newly-built shrine like a Hindu deity.
In 1890 the famous Asia-lover Edwin Arnold
appealed to the government to hand the site to the
Buddhists. A wealthy young man from Sri Lanka, who
became known as Dharmapala, initiated a ' movement to
that end, culminating in the foundation of the Mahabodhi '
Society in 1891. That year, the mahant promised him a
piece of land. In the autumn, an international Buddhist
conference was held, and the British administration now
realized the international importance of the disputed spot.
They pressured the mahant not to give or sell any land to
the Buddhists. But someone else came forward to lease a
plot of land nearby for building a Buddhist rest-house.
In 1892, Arnold went to Japan and pleaded there
for support to 'liberate' the temple. The mahant died, and
his successor, Krishna Dayal Giri, was hostile to the
Buddhists. The next year already, he had hired thugs beat
up the monks that were staying in the rest-house.
Dharmapala failed to raise the money to buy the
leased plqt. There was a quarrel when ·the Buddhists
wanted td install a Japanese Buddha image. When this
was finally done, in 1895, the mahant's men forcibly
removed it. A court case was started, which became
known as the Bodh Gaya Temple case. The mahant's men
were convicted, but they appealed and were acquitted by
the Calcutta High Court. The Buddha statue was installed
in the Burmese monastery. The government rejected the
mahant's plea to remove it.
In 1901 and 1902, the Japanese rev. Tensin Okakura
came to negotiate with the mahant, together w i ~ h Swami
Vivekananda and Surendranath Tagore. The talks failed,
mainly because the mahant was under pressure from the
British, who were very displeased at this Japanese inter-
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO 102
sentiment will be satisfi€d by mere restoration of the
temple or by prolonging its life. The restoration of tne idol
would be a point of honour and sentiment with the Hindu
When Sardar Patel reported the reconstruction
plan to Mahatma Gandhi, the Mahatma blessed the
initiative. Upon his suggestion, Sadar Patel refrained from
using state funds and raised the money from the public.
No "Aurangzebi Masjid Action Committee" was set up to
prevent the replacement of the mosque with the
reconstructed Hindu temple. The reconstruction was
supervised by dr. K.M. Munshi, a pnion minister. In spite
of Nehru's misgivings, the Prana Pratishtha Puja (inaugural
invocation of the deity) was performed by the first
President of India, Rajendra Prasad.
There is another famous case of a dispute over a
temple, and this one was solved amicably by the contend-
ing religious traditions: the Bodh Gaya temple,
commemorating the Buddha's enlightenment.
The temple was abandoned 'but still standing,
though damaged and half covered, when in 1590 the
Shaiva sannyasin Gossain Gamandi Giri set up a
monastery on a terrain just next to the temple, to which he
paid no attention. The present mahant (temple-managing
priest) is his successor. '.
In 1874 Mindon M i n ~ king of Burma, sent an
embassy with gifts for the Bodhi Tree, a sapling of the tree
under which the Buddha reached enlightenment. The
mahant agreed to the king's wish to re-establish Bodh
Gaya as a Buddhist centre of worship. In 1877, repair was
started and a monastery built 80 yards from the temple.
But then the Anglo-Burmese war broke out, the king's
men left India, and the place came' under the shared
106. the full story is told in Dipak K. Barua : Buddha Gaya Temple and its
History, published by this temple's management committee in 1981.
In 1906, the mahant filed a case to expel the monks
and the idol from the Burmese rest-house. The court
ordered ejection. Among those who supported
Dharmapala against the mahant's demand,. was
In 1922, Dharmapala found sympathy in the Bihar
Hindu Sabha and in the Indian National Congress. They
launched a reconciliation committee led by Rajendra
Prasad (who was later to become the first Indian
president). In 1924 it reached an agreement, stipulating
that both Hindus and Buddhists would have freedom of
worship at the site, and that the be
entrusted to a mixed committee. But the fIrst pomt was
by some of the Buddhist spokesmen. .
In 1935, the year in which Dharmapala dIed,
Hindu Mahasabha set up a committee under Bhal
Parmananda, that did come up with a satisfactory
solution, along the same lines as the 1924 compromise. But
the implementation of the agreement was thwarted by the
Shankaracharya of PurL .
In 1949, the Bihar Legislative Assembly passed the
Bodh Gaya Temple Act, essentially the Prasad .
plan. The management committee would consIst of four
Hindus (one of them the mahant) and four Buddhists,
with the District Magistrate as chairman. The mahant .
a suit to declare the Act invalid, but he only obtamed
some delay. On May 28, 1953, at 5:30 a.m., the Bodh Gaya
temple management was ceremonially handed over to the
. In this history, we see British machinations and the
mahant's personal interest forestall an agreement that was
in the making ever since the mahant's wel-
comed the Burmese king's proposal to re-establIsh Bodh
Gaya as a Buddhist centre. A few religious leaders exerted
a negative influence, but on the whole, t.here was a .strong
drive for an amicable solution on both SIdes. What IS very
2.3. Hin4uism better than Islam?
.historians have tried to paint a picture
of ancient In4i8n history as one of 'Buddhist revolution'
against 'Brahminical tyranny', later annihilated by the
'Brahminical reaction'. They have tried to show that the
relation between 'Hinduism' and other traditions in the
pre-Muslim periOd was as inimical and destructive as the
confrontation with Islam.
A typical statement is made by dr. Zaheer Hasan
(K.R. College, Mathura): "It is the movement of history.
When the Brahmanas had power, they suppressed all
other people. Then the Buddhists came, and they crushed
the Brahmanas. When the Brahmanas returned to power,
they uprooted the Buddhist and the Jain faiths from the
105 POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS
remarkable, the positive role of the Hindu Mahasabha, a
Hindu 'communalist' political party, which is currently
very adamant in its stand on the Ram Janmabhoomi. Why
this big difference between the Bodh Gaya case and the
Ram Janmabhoomi affair?
The first reason is that Buddhists and Hindus are
really two branches of the same tree. Politically aware
Hindus reject the very expression 'Hindus and Buddhists',
and 'define Hinduism in such a way as to encompass not
only Veerashaivism and Sikhism, but also Jainisrn and
Buddhism. In'" fact, such is also the legal definition in the
Constitution of India, where it decides to whom 'Hindu
Law' is applicable (as opposed to Muslim, Christian and
Parsi Law). In modern Hindu temples like the Birla
temples, you will find signboards saying that "this temple
is open to all Hindus, including Arya Samajists,
Buddhists, Jains, Lingayats, Sikhs".
The reason is that Hindus and Buddhists
do not have any profound grievances against each other
(as both have against Islam), At least, that is what they
themselves used to think.
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MA$JID
106 RAM lANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASlID
POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS 107
land of their birth. And then the Muslims came, and
destroyed Hindu idols and temples."IO?
Strictly speaking, it is beyOIld the purview of this
study to demonstrate that this / s rank nonsense, politically
motivated propaganda based on less than a handful of
highly interpreted and selectively read pieces of non-
contemporary testimony of doubtful veracity. But then
again, the argument that Hindus only got from the Mus-
lims what they had given to others, has become so wide-
spread, and is used so persistently in the Ram Janmab-
hoomi debate, that we have to deal with it.
If only mr. Hasan and all the other Nehruvians
would come up with some specific pieces of evidence,
then at least we could investigate them and seriously
decide what conclusions we can draw from them. Unfor-
tunately, while the slogan is repeated often enough, its
evidential basis reveals itself only to those who do a good
deal of searching through the secularist literature., There,
we find that the entire edifice of the secularist version of
pre-Muslim history, as having been equally intolerant as
the Muslim period, is based on hardly 4 or 5 cases, as com-
pared with thousands of proofs of Muslim intolerance and
destruction. Let's have a look at this evidence.
The most important one is a story related in the
Kashmiri Buddhist book Vibhasha, of the 2nd century AD,
and re-told ever more colourfully in later works, starting
with the Ashokavadan, a Sri Lankan book of the 3rd or 4th
century A.D. The latter says that Pushyamitra Shunga,
who overthrew the Buddhist Mauryas in around 187 B.C.,
offered 100 golden dinars for every Buddhist monk's head.
The former is less gory, but does say that he burnt Sutras
and Stupas and monks. This which is 3
centuries younger than the facts it pur ports to describe, is
not confirmed by any independent source. Strictly
107. Surya Inditl , 8 /90,- p.l8.
contemporary sources including Patanjali's grammar, the
Mahabhashya (which does give information about
Pushyamitra, who appears as an older contemporary of
the grammarian), don't mention anything of the sort.
In assessing the value of this tradition, it may be
relevant to know that .both of the cited versions contain
some miracle episodes. What is more important, it is very
hard to reconcile them with the fact that the famous
Buddhist stupas and monasteries of Bharhut and Sancni
were built not far from Pushyamitra's capital Vidisha, so
Buddhism flourished under his very nose. The great
historian of Buddism, Etienne Lamotte, describing these
traditions, says about Pushyamitra: "It is certain that he
showed no favour to the Buddhists" but it is not cert'atn
that he persecuted them."I08 And even! "To judge ·from the
documents, Pushyamitra must be acquitted through lack
of proof. Nevertheless, as was remarked by;H. Kern,.. .it is
possible that, in some localiti,es, there may have been
pillages of monasteries, perhaps with the tacit permission
of the governors."I09
Kalidas', (5th century AD), the literary jewel in the
Gupta crown, has written about . Pushyamitra in his
Malavikagnimitra, but doesn't mention any persecution.
Suppose that the persecution had really taken place. Then
Kalidas' silence about it would still reveal a fundamental
difference with the persecution by the Muslims: while the
latter glorified acts of persecution as an actualization of
the faith, the Hindus didn't. Even if the persecution had
taken place, Hindus did not consider it a meritorious act
of piety, to be sung and emulated. Even if it happened, it
was an isolated case, ideologically uncalled-for.
I am willing to concede that where there is smoke,
there must be fire. Some bad luck must have befallen the
108. History of Inditln Buddhism [Institut Orientalisle, Louvain-la-
Neuve, 1988 (1958)1, p.388.
109. id., p.392.
Buddhists after the fall of the pro-Buddhist Mauryas. But
if this misfortune was due to Pushyamitra's actions,
It would still not be a systematic 'Brahminical reaction'
against Buddhism: this story of persecution only refers to
there is no similar account referring to any of
hIS dynastIc successors or later dynasties that may have
been contemporary with the cited reports.
:So, people who have built the theory
(spannIng a hIstory of '14 centuries, from the fall of the
Mauryas in 187 Be till the extermination of Indian
Buddhism in 1194 AD) of the fanatical and violent
reaction' against the 'Buddhist revolution' on
and very lonely tradition, are really bad or
Of course, there may have been a 'reaction' in the
sense of ideological and propagandistic competition. But
is an entirely d!fferent matter from persecution by
HIndu rulers. The Gupta kings, under whose rule the
'Brahminical reaction' is said to have culminated made
big endowments to Buddhist universities, which,' again,
flourished under their very noses.
The next piece of evidence is the story of Shashank,
Bengali king of Shaiva persuasion who conquered Bihar
In the 7th century AD. Hsii an Tsang, and nobody else,
relates that Shashank persecuted the Buddhists and cut
down the Bodhi Tree (a thousand years earlier, Ashok's
wife had already tried to kill the tree because her husband
spent too much time there). Hsii an Tsang was in the city
that had been Shashank's capital, a few years after
He relates he stayed in a monastery,
RaktamnttIka VIhara (archaeologists have found a seal
bearing that name). Apparently, monks had survived the
alleged persecution in big numbers. In fact, Hsii an Tsang
only makes a general allegation of persecution: he doesn't
for instance, that the monastery in which ile ',vas
staying, had been destroyed and then re-established. It
110. History and Culture of the Indian People, vo1.3 : The Classical Age,
111. The comparison between Harsha and Mahmud is actually made
by Romila Thapar (Communalism and the Writing of Indian History, p.15-
16), and argues that both seemingly plundered only for wealth.
109 POLITICAL . IMPLICATIONS
should also be remarked that Harsha, Hsiian Tsang's
patron at the time, was himself also a Shaiva.
On the whole, this is a weak testimony, again at
best referring to an isolated case, hardly an indictment
against Shaivism or Hinduism as such. As R.c. Majumdar
writes: "These...stories of persecution of ,Buddhism cannot
be accepted as true without independent testimony.
Besides, the flourishing condition of Buddhism in the
capital city of Shashank, as described by Hsii an Tsang, is
hardly compatible with the view that he was a religious
bigot and a cruel persecutor of Buddhism."l1O Even if the
allegation of Shashank's intolerance is true, it is still com-
pletely incomparable with the Muslim extermination of
Buddhism. Mohammed Ghori didn't stop at symbolical
acts like cutting an old tree,
A third piece of evidence is the Rajatarangini
("Waves of dynasties") by Kalhan, one of the very few
Hindu history-books, containing a passage about king
Harsha of Kashmir (12th century). He plundered temples,
both Hindu and Buddhist, because he could use the metals.
He spared only 4 temples in his kingdom. It is already
clear that this is not a case of 'Hindu persecutes Buddhist'.
Here at least the only explanation that fits the facts, is the
one that secularist historians try to give to Mahmud
Ghaznavi's behaviour" :he didn't care for the idols, but
went for the gold.
There is no known case of a Muslim
ruler who plundered both mosques and temples. If
Mahmud had acted like Harsha, he would have stayed
home in Ghazni and plundered the mosques there.
Since Nehruvians hold Kalhan's chronicle up as
important evidence, let us take a close look. After the
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASjlD
of this plundering, Kalhan remarks:
Prompted by the Turks in his employ, he acted like a
Turk." So, at least it is testimony of something: of the then
already well-established reputation of the Muslims as
No stories are mentioned of Buddhist ' violence
(perhaps by the powerful Mauryas) against Hinduism. So
the entire period of 17 centuries of Hindu-Buddhist co-
we have 3 stories (actually, only 2 that count) of
vIOleIlt clash between Hindus and Buddhists.
The next piece of evidence concerns not the
Buddhists but the Jains, and their experience with an 11 th
century Pandya king of Madurai (Tamil Nadu). A Shaiva
book says that he persecuted the Jains. It says that without
applause, and it also relates something that is
systematically omitted by those who want to build a case
'persecution by thk Hindus': earlier, he had been a Jain
hImself, and had the Shaivas until he fell in
with Shaiva princess. She brought her Shaiva guru
mto the palace, and the king soon converted to Shaivism.
After that, he continued his idiosyncratic behaviour and
persecuted his ex-brethren. '
. There is no reason to doubt that the story is
true. B.u.t it that even an extremely
non-VIOlent tradItIon lIke Jamism (and a fortiori the
moderate ones like Hinduism) can count violently
.people among its followers. It certainly doesn't
_make JamIsm nor Shaivism into intolerant ideologies.
The final example I prefer to quote in its full
of a typical secularist argumentation: JNU
hIStOrIan Harbans Mukhia's contribution to Communalism
and Writing of Indian History. He writes that "the
demolItIOn of temples in enemy-territory was symbolic of
by the sultan. Incidentally, many Hindu rulers
also dId the same with temples in enemy-territory long
before Muslims had emerged as a political challenge to
112. Communalism and the Writing of Indian History, p.34.
111 POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS
these kingdoms. Subhatavarman, the Paramara ruler
(1193-1210 AD), attacked Cujarat and plundered a large
of Jain temples at Dabhoi and Cambay. Harsha,
ruler of Kashmir [efr. supra],..plundered all the temples in
his territory barring four in order to replenish his
He does not give any other example. This means
that in order to prove his point that "many Hindu rulers"
plundered temples "long before the Muslims had
emerged", he names two kings of. the 12th century, when
the Muslims had more than emerged. Harsha employed
Muslim ' 11¥rcenaries (an occasion for spying which
Harsha's successors would regret), and Subhatavarman
had to deal with Qutub-ud-Din Aibak, Mohammed
Just when Subhatavarman .started his rule, many
thousands of temples in North-India were being destroyed
by Chori and Aibak. It is not impossible that the trend
they set was followed by one, just one, Hindu ruler. I do
not know what grounds Subhatavarman had for singling
out Jain temples (if at all he did), perhaps it was because
Jains were often quick to collaborate with the Muslim
conquerors. Jains were mostly merchants, a class that
<Contrary to rulers and brahmins) wouldn't lose that much
from the change of regime.
At any rate, if the story is true, that makes for 2
attested cases of violent clash between Hindus and Jains,
in 3 millennia of co-existence. Considering the vicious and
violent elements in human nature, that is not bad at all.
A different kind of argument that can be brought
up in favour of the theory that Hindus did to Buddhists
and Jains what Muslims did to Hindus, concerns the fact
that quite a few converted temples are known: ex-
Buddhist, now Hindu, etc. Remark first of all, no cases of
RAM lANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASlIO
destroyed temples have been mentioned, only converted
ones. As for the converted ones, this is not difficult to
explain without recourse to any conflict hypothesis.
Firstly, in a free society there are waves and trends,
ups and down in the popularity of ideologies. It is possible
that, often through the impact of single charismatic
personalities, an entire town or community gets more
interested in this or that new teaching, and loses interest in
that other teaching of which is no inspiring pro-
ponent around anymore. And then gradually a new idol
comes centre-stage in the local temple, which finds itself
from, say, essentially Jain into predominantly
ValShnava. In Muslim countries, this is quite rare: once a
mosque, always a mosque.
Secondly, temples are mostly built by rich people:
the rulers and the merchant class. This is still true today,
the best example being the Marwari merchant : it is
one of the most active' sponsors of religious activities and
In more than one (insl,1,1ding their
ascehc lifestyle) they resemble the Jains. The merchant
class is traditionally also very mobile. Again, this ' still
counts for the Marwaris, whom you find far from their
native Rajasthant in Calcutta or Madras.
Now the so-called heterodox schools, Le.
Buddhism and Jainism, flourished mostly among the
temple-building classes, i.e. the rulers and, even more, the
merchant class: It was not at all uncommon that when
they settled somewhere, ,they built, say, a Jain temple, and
when they moved on, left it to whomever could use it
say, as a Buddhist temple. This non-violent
hon should be accepted as long as no positive proof of
forcible conversion of the concerned temples is given.
. The hypothesis of peaceful co-existence, induding
peaceful trading of temples, is corroborated by
the eXIStence of temple-complexes in which each of the
different traditions had their own shrines, side by side,
113. Varahamihira: Brihatsamhita, ch.59, translatiOf\ published as ap-
pendix A to Jitendra Nath Banerjea : The Development of Hindu Iconogra-
phy [Munshiram Manhorlal, Delhi 1985 (1956)]
114. Brihatsamhita ch.57, published with translation in op. cit., appenpix
113 POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS
often sponsored by one and the same merchant family or
king. The complexes of Ajanta and Ellora are among the
famous examples of this positive tolerance.
That this symbiosis was not accidental, but rather
an application of an established doctrine of Sarva-dharma-
samabhava (compatibilityIco-existence of all religions), is
shown by classical treatises on religious practice and
temple-building like the Brihatsamhita (6th century A.D.),
which treat of the temples of each of the traditions on the ,
same footing. For instance, on the installation of the idol, it
says: "Images of Vishnu, Surya, Shiva, Matriganas,
Brahma, Buddha and the Jinas should be installed by a
Bhagavata, a Maga, a Pashupata, one well-versed [in
Shakti-worship], a Veda-knowing Brahmin, a Shakya and
a Digambar Jain respectively."113 Buddhism and Jaipism
rank as equals in the list, together with Shaivism,
Vaishnavism etc. And Buddha is iconographically
deseribed together with Shiva,and the rest.
Among the many other proofs of symbiosis
between 'Hinduism' and Buddhism, I might mention one
that also has another link with our topic: the Buddhist
Ramayana. Even before Valmiki, there were already a
number of Ram legends, which have contributed to
Valrniki's classical version of the Ram epic. Several of
these stories are known to us through Buddhist sources.
Hinduism and Buddhism are not two separate and
opposing religions, or belief systems, the one 'believing' in
Ram, the other one consequently rejecting Ram. In fact,
Ram and the Buddha were scions of the same renowned
royal family, the Ikshvakus. The Buddhists refer to this
linea&e of the Shakya clan with great prid.e.
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID
115. Nehru sometimes talked positively about Hinduism, but that was
in the context of interviews about abstract philosophical Hinduism.
\yhen it came to controversial religio-political issues, he was always on
the anti-Hindu side. '
To sum up, the allegation that Hindus did to
Buddhists and Jains what Muslims did to Hindus, is quite
baseless. Firstly, there is an almost complete lack of similar
facts. A few isolated events of Hindu-Buddhist or Hindu-
Jain violence do not compare with the systematic and
large-scale oppression and destruction that characterized
the Muslim period of Indian history.
Secondly, there is a complete lack of rationale for
campaigns of temple destruction in the case of Hinduism,
Jainism and Buddhism. Whereas many Muslim rulers and
historians add elements of scriptural justification to their
reports of temple destruction and other acts of fanaticism,
such ideological ' rationale for even the few cases of
fanatical confrontation between the native religions of
India has not been offered by any of the ancient writers,
nor has it been discovered by any modem historian.
Nevertheless, this religious conflict model of
ancient history has been given wide currency ever since
Jawaharlal Nehru made Buddhism the unofficial state
religion of India. He glorified Ashok, beCause he believed
Ashok actively promoted Buddhism (in fact, Ashok's
edicts only say he promoted Dharma, which can
mean several things) and therefore must have opposed
Hinduism; he did not .notice that such lack of impartiality
would have been a very bad case of clericalism, quite
different from his own professed ideal of secularism. At
any rate, Nehru tried to emulate his Ashok: he opposed
Hinduism and promoted Buddhism.
Nehru favoured Buddhism for two reasons. The
first is that, with some rewriting of history, it could be
used as a wedge against Hinduism. Nehru had some
116. see his essays 'Who were the Shudras ?' and 'The Untouchables' to-
gether re-published as vol.7 of Dr. BabaStlheb Ambedkar : Writings and
Sp«ches. I regret having to comment that Ambedkar was great at law
and social reform, but very poor at history.
admiration for Hindu philosophy, but despised Hindu
society and hated the politically organized Hindu
'communalists'. He saw in Buddhism and actual
H i n d u i s n ~ two opposing conceptions of humanity and
In Nehruvian (i.e. Indian Marxist plus 'nationalist
Muslim') historiography, as well as in B.R. Ambedkar's
version of history,116 this view was 'radicalized' and they
became opposing classes : the Buddhists became the
masses, the Brahmins an oppressive elite. In reality, it had
been rather the opposite, in. spite of the elitist outlook of
the Brahmin caste: the stem rationalism and asceticism of
Buddhism appealed more to the social elites, while the
Brahminical ritualism remained popular with the com-
mon people. Buddhism was an urban movement, brah-
minism dominated the far more populous countryside.
The Buddhists were at no time more than a few percent of
the Indian population.
With a typically Marxist preference for
explanations b)' conflict, Nehruvians have claimed
Buddhism as a revolutionary movement that has
continually confronted Brahmin injustice and
obscurantism until its final defeat in the late 12th century
(at the hands of a third party, the Muslims). They have
refused to see the deep philosophical consonance and kin-
ship of the two traQitions.
Nehru's second reason for promoting Buddhism
was that Buddhism looked like an appealing ' motif to
underpin the idea of Asian unity, which he envisioned as
having himself, the leader of Buddha's homeland, in the
starring role. He put the 24-spoked wheel, commonly
associated with Ashok, in the Indian flag, thinking it was a
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID 114
116 RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS
Budhhist symbol (actually, both the wheel and the num-
ber 24, 3S sacred symbols, pre-date Buddha). He used the
Buddhist tenninology of Panch Shee1 ("the five precepts":
nonstealing, truthfulness, chastity, non-violence,
non-acquisition) for his "Five Principles of Peaceful Co-
However, the vain and hollow nature of his vision
became undeniable when he used (and contaminated) that
phrase, Panch Shee1, in a treaty with China over Tibet, in
which he sacrificed not only India's strategic interests, but
also the freedom and independence of Buddhist Tibet. The
socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia remarked in
parliament that Nehru's 'peaceful co-existence' was based
on the rape of small countries that had the misfortune of
lying between big countries that felt like peacefully co-
existening. Another vehement critic of Nehru's sell-out_
Tibet policy was the Scheduled Castes leader B.R.
Ambedkar, who was to convert lakhs of followers to
Buddhism in 1956. Nehru's visio'nary balloon of a
co-operating Buddhist-leaning Asia was pin-pricked for
good when the Chinese invaded India in 1962.
But the re-interpretation which the Nehruvians, as
well as Ambedkar, have given to India's pre-Muslim
history, haS- "Since been broadcast by anti-Hindu
propagandists of the Christian, Muslim and Marxist
variety. It has become commonplace to assert completely
unhistorical theories, 'all built- on top of the hypothesis of
continual Brahmin-Buddhist conflict, e.g. that the masses
of Shudras (low-castes, currently 46% of ,India's'
population) and Harijans (ex-untouchables, 15%) were all
'forcibly converted' from Buddhism by the 'Brahminical
reaction'. Writes Christian propagandist Vishal Mangal-
wadi: "Those of us 'Shudras', whose forefathers were
117. There are really only 3 or 4 principles in the list, but with some re-
of the same, he made 5 out of them in order to fit the expres-
sion Panch Sheel. I '
Buddhists but were later made Shudras by the sword of
Brahamanism, have sound historical reasons for opposing
Brahma.nical revivalism."118 This sweeping allegation,
vast masses of people over a long period of
IndIan hIstOry, has not a single fact of history as its basis.
. Similarly, the JNU historians imply that ancient
HIndus used to demolish Buddhist and Jain temples, and
equate their fictional Hindu temple-destruction with
temple-destruction, when they write: "It is wholly
rrrelevant today how a mosque was built, whether with
or not, as indeed it would be wholly
rrrelevant to HIndus whether in the past their temples
were built with materials from Buddhist or Jain
structures. "119 .
As we have seen in the Bodh Gaya case, Hindus do
think that the origin of a temple may be 'relevant', and are
willing to restore to the important ones among
.the sacred places whIch Buddhism in its decline had
abandoned. But more importantly, the JNU historians
not a single case of a Buddhist temple
VIOlently demolIshed by Hindus and then re-built as a
Hindu temple. It is certain that Hindus are willing to
restore such a temple to the Buddhists, when and where
they ask for it, but so far no such case has been indicated.
JNU allegation is based on nothing but
theIr own polItIcal compulsions. ,
It is my considered opinion that such shameless
distortion of history is an ideological cornerstone of an all-
to, is what 'islamizing'
or lIberatIng or evangelIZIng IndIa amounts to, isn't it?).
If blatant lies can be spread on the wings of the
authonty of professors of leading state universities, I think
Hindu activists have a point when they clamour that
"Hinduism is under siege".
118. Muslim India, 1/ 90, p.22.
11-7. Times of India, 23.12.89.
. RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS
The Nehruvian Hindu-baiters should be reminded
that even Nehru himself, for all his bias, never denied that
the co-existence of Brahminism and Buddhism-had been
perhaps a competitive but essentially a peaceful one: "It is
clear that there was no widespread or violent
extermination of Buddhism · in India...Even when
Buddhism was at its height in India, Hinduism was
widely prevalent. Buddhism died a natural death i.n
or rather it was a fading out and a transformation mto
something else... Its philosophy was entirely in line with
previous Indian thought and of .the
Vedanta (the Upanishads)... BrahmmISm and Buddhism
acted and reacted on each other, and in spite of their
dialectical conflicts or because of them, approached nearer
to each other, both in the realm of philosophy and that of
Anq. if we go beyond historical arguments, and
look at the related events of very recent times, we notice
that in the Sri Lankan civil war 'in the 1980's religion was
not an issue at all. While the ethnic divide between Tamils
and Singhalas roughly coincided with the Hindu-Buddhist
divide, no temples were singled out for attack, let alone
people being forcibly converted or other such acts of
fanaticism. Compare that with the conflict
Armenians and Azeris, in which the religious antagonism
strongly reinforces the ethnic rivalry, and it shou!d
clear that the relation between Hinduism and Buddhism is
totally different from that between Islam and other
''This isn't really Hindu"
Many columnists and politicians have
that the combative stand which the VHP and other Hmdu
organizations and individuals have taken on the Ram
120. The Discavery ofJndia, p.179.
issue, is contrary to the true spirit of
HmduISm. In general, they maintain that true Hinduism
implies tolerance, adaptability, opi:m-mindedness and
Before we go into the truth-value of this argument
it may be useful to take a separate look at the reasons wh;
people .come up with it. Who are these defenders of 'real
Take the, case of veteran Congress politician
Kamlapathi Tripathi, a Brahmin from Varanasi,
apparently a real Hindu, who never comes out without a
tilak on his forehead. He has said that the replacement of
the Babri Masjid with a Ram Janmabhoorrii Mandir
"would sound the death-knell for the ancient Indian
tradition of religious tolerance" and that "I will not allow
such a sin to happen in my lifetime". He has e¥en declared
if the VHP would start the digging before laying the
first stone of the new Ram temple, he would put his neck
under the spade. Of course, when the VHP did lay the first
stone on November 9, 1989, he didn't show up.
Chandan Mitra writesin an article, Rallying Round
Rama :121 "[Ram Janmabhoomi campaigner, Lok Sabha
member for the Hindu Mahasabha] Mahant Avaidya-
nath's ve:r:sion of Hinduism conflicts with other
established and legitimate versions. Take, for instance, the
case of Pandit Kamlapathi Tripathi ... Is the venerable
Pandit a lesser Hindu than Mahant Avaidyanath?" (The
'venerability' of the Pandit refers to his age; as a politician
he has the less venerable reputation of being a school
model of the decline of Congress values from liberation
struggle to corruption and nepotism.)
Purushottam Agarwal writes in the same vein :
"Those threatening bloodshed over Ram Janmabhoomi
121. Times of India, 9.2.1990.
.-- • ,_, I
JI • ...., _
122. Times of India, 11.10.1989.
123. Indian Express, 14.2.1990.
124. Surya India, 8 / 89.
125. Times of India, 23.12.89.
126. Muslim India, 1 / 1990.
have neither any regard for Ram nor any concern for the
true character of Hindu religiosity."122
Ram Chandra Gandhi also thinks it would be an
injustice to true Hinduism to pursue the Ram Janmab-
hoomi demand: "Justice, not tolerance, demands leaving
the Babri Masjid well alone in Ayodhya. Justice to
Another, rather unexpected defender of 'real
Hinduism' is Bipan Chandra, one of the Marxist JNU
historians. He comments: "It is an irony that Hindu
communalists are attacking the very values that make
Hindus feel proud of their religion. These values are -
flexibility of mind and approach and tolerance towards
different views, religions and cultures."124
In a joint reply to a letter by the pro-Hindu
journalist K.R. Malkani, the JNU historians reject
Malkani's sympathy for the Ram Janmabhoomi cause as a
narrow-minded kind of Hinduism: "Mr. Malkani accuses
us of failing to understandand and appreciate the Hindu
view point. To us this viewpoint is better represented by
the openness of the Upanishads rather than by the wor-
ship of bricks."125
In this choir we also find Jyoti Basu, the Commu-
nist Chief Minister of West Bengal: "I doubt if Rama
would have felt happy at what is being done in his name,
if he were alive today."
And Vishal Mangalwadi, the Christian polemist
and deciared enemy of Hindu religion and philosophy
(including the 'real' variety), somehow expects 'real'
Hindus to take advice from him:
"The real enemies of
the religious Hindus are the political Hindus."
. The same thing has been said by just about every
edItor and centrist politician. However, the test of the
genUineness of their concern for 'real Hinduism' was close
In the. first of 1990, the Hindus massively
fled Mushm-maJonty state of Kashmir. They had been
terronzed, and the public address systems on mosques
loudly called on them to quit and to make way for an
mdependent and Islamic Kashmir. It is not certain that
they will ever be able to go back. In that case, Muslim
has put an end to a millennia-old presence
of Hmdus m Kashmir, under our very eyes - an event
unmatched since the partition. Now the victims of this
Islamic are the most shy, accomodating Hindus,
who have hed low for generations, never to offend the
Muslim majority. They have suffered a lot of humiliation
in silence: certainly they are a secularist's model of what a
Hindu should be.
Now when this living culture of 'real Hinduism'
was being destroyed by Islamic terrorism, not one of these
vocal defenders of 'real Hinduism' has spoken out. Those
have written on Kashmir have done everything
m theIr power to blur the issue, to invent socio-economical
dimensions to the problem of Kashmiri secessionism and
to dra.w attention away from the only cause of this
secesslOmsm and of the secessionists' anti-Hindu terrorism
: Muslim communalism.
In all the English-language papers and magazines,
I have two editorials devoted to the plight of the
Kashmm Hmdus. Not one of all those publicists who are
so concerned for 'real Hinduism' has spent a column on
Kashmiri Hindus, even while it is undisputably as
Hmdus that have been hounded out. Of course they
may have wntten about the matter in their diaries but at
in which they 'real
HmdUlsm agaInst Hmdu communalism' they have not
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID
alright to defend yourself with means commensurate to
the seriousness of the aggression. The mainstream Hindu
view of nonviolence is quite realistic.
The same thing counts for controversy in general :
Hinduism doesn't require giving up your rights, doesn't
exclude standing up to claim.what is yours. Even with his
extremist version of non-violence and passivity, Mahatma
Gandhi is not on record as saying that your should forego
your rights. You should work to obtain what is rightfully
yours: which he did for India's independence. So, the real
issue is : can a real Hindu, for the sake of his religion,
militate for a worldly claim, even while Hinduism is
directed to sOul-eulture and preaches renunciation?
What the 'real Hinduism' school wants, is that
Hindus forsake one of their sacred places since centuries,
simply because someone opposes their using it (of course,
if Muslims weren't opposing the Hindu claim, there
would be no issue). That may be a legitimate view, but
there is no way to ground it in Hindu tradition,to portray
it as 'real Hinduism'. Either the Hindus have no right to
Janmabhoomi, and then decisive reasons should be given
why they haven't. Or they have a right, and then there is
nothing un-Hindu about claiming what is theirs.
The only un-Hindu thing about it, is that for
centuries Hindus have been powerless, subdued,
demoralized. In Muslim stereotype, Hindus are cowards.
And today, it is still some people's opinion that only a
submissive Hindu is a good Hindu. But cowardliness is
not Hindu tradition. The Bhagavad-Gita, the book which
the Mahatma always carried with him, is precisely the
report of the discussion between Arjun who brings up
pacifist and pseudo-wise reasons for renouncing the
struggle, and Krishna who explains that it is his duty to
fight, that he doesn't have the right to let those who count
on him down. When it is time for militancy, you must be
militant. You should not create unnecessary contlict and
128. Patanajali : Yoga Sutra, 1:2-4.
violence, but you must do what is called for, to defend
your rights and those of your community.
There is nothing un-Hindu about militancy. If Jyoti
Basu doubts whether Ram would be all that happy with
the Janmabhoomi campaigners' militancy, I would like to
remind him that Ram was a warrior himself.
There may be a more fundamental reason, though,
why Hindus shouldn't claim that piece of land with that
uninteresting building on it. The reason is, that a mere
geographical location or a mere building isn't worth the
fuss. Here again, Gandhi's authority is invoked: wouldn't
Gandhi have said that in this case the wisest party is the
one that gives in, that only a fool would cling to such
dispensable things? While in practice, once the dispute
has become a test of strength, it is hard to argue that the
dispute isn't worth pursuing, at least we in our armchairs
should give a fair answer to the question : from the view-
point of Hindu doctrine, is it worth claiming a piece of
land just because it is assumed to be Ram's birthplace?
The core of Hinduism is a psychological discipline,
called yoga. Its aim is to dis-identify the conscious Self
from its objects (sense-impressions and thoughts), so that
it stops forgetting itself, and rests in itself.
of Hindus don't practise yoga, but that yoga is the highest
human achievement, is a matter of consensus among
Mahavira, Buddha, Shankara, Guru Nanak, and all their
followers, regardless of the philosophies and specific types
of practice to which they adhere. The simplest people
venerate yogis and do puja in places where yogiS
have practised. The belief that yoga is the highest and
most worthwile human achievement, is the distinctive
characteristic of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism in the broad
sense), opposing it to the Semitic religions.
125 POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO 124
Now, yoga is a matter of consciousness, and has
nothing to do with geographical lOCations and 'sacred
places'. At that level, there is absolutely no reason to
pursue a futile, matt,er like the Ram Janmabhoomi. At that
level, the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics are at best
of metaphors,. parables of the real struggle, the
mner struggle against illusion and self-forgetfulness.
However, there are several more popular and more
outward components or layers to Hinduism. The first one
only counts for mainstream HindUism, less so for Sikhism,
Jainism. and. Buddhism. It a layer of out-and-out
m the form of 'nature worship', pilgrimages
to nvers and mountains, sun worship, and, to some extent,
astrology. Its temple-building is that many
temples have an onentatIon and a location determined by
of nature, as the direction of the sunrays on
day,. tellunc energy configurations, or a specific
pOSItIon relatIve to certain mountains and rivers. Similar
elements of 'sacred geography' and cosmic orientation
you find in the pyramids, Stonehenge, and man;
other sacred places of the heathens (many of them later
christianized or islamized).
. In this age of ecology and respect for Mother Earth,
heathen element of nature-worship is not as backward
as It once seemed:
, In this category is also the worship of Bharat Mata,
Mother India, who is a piece of nature as well as an idea,
but who was nE;!vertheless glorified as the indivisible
homeland of Dharma by as sophisticated a philosopher as
Shankara, when he founded his four abbeys in the four
comers of the country. The temple to Bharat Mata in
Varanasi was inaugurated by none other than Mahatma
P: of Hinduism, equally present in
each of Its vanetIes, IS the worship of the spiritual precep-
tors and founders 0t the ..different schools and traditions.
Most of ,the great figures of Hinduism have a place
specially devoted to them. Very often, their chief sanctu-
ary is built on the spot where they were born, or where
they are thought to have reached Enlightenment. Thus, in
Varanasi you have a temple of Ravidas, on his birthplace;
one of Kabir, where he was found as a child, left behind by
his unknown parents; one of Tulsidas, where he had lived
and written; one of the 23rd Jain Tirthankara, Parshva-
nath, where he was born. In Lumbini, where Buddha was
born, emperor Ashok put up a monument, and other
important places in Buddha's life are still sacred places for
his followers, chiefly Bodh Gaya and Samath. In Ayodhya,
there was a Janmabhoomi temple for each of the Jain
Tirthankaras born there. Sikhs go on pilgrimage to the
birthplace of Guru Nanak, even now that it is in Pakistan;
to the place where Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded by
Aurangzeb, now a Gurudwara in Delhi, etc.
This type of sacred spot, the commemorative place
of pilgrimage, is also widely found in popular Christianity
and Islam, although strictly speaking, it is heterodox. You
cannot go on pilgrimage to the Omnipresent (as none
other than Djenghis Khan argued against Muslim
preachers), because it is right here. Those things you can
go visit, are not the Omnipresent, and attaching
any importance to them is idolatry.
A third layer of religiosity is the worship of time-
less gods, like Shiva and Ganesh. Even in strictly atheist
traditions like Buddhism, this element tends to creep in, in
the form of the Bodhisattva cult. This type of worship is
not really linked to specific places, except by time-
honoured custom, so we need not deal with it here.
However, if mosques are dedicated to the Omnipresent,
then they too aren't bound to any specific place.
Syed Shahabuddin has been arguing, against the
proposal of moving the Babri Masjid, that to Muslims not
the building but the place is sacred, therefore the Babri
. f.,. -.-
RAM ]ANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MAS]ID POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS 127
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID
POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS 129
Masjid spot cannot in eternity be deprived of its mosque
Now, that is simply one of those convenient
assertions w.hich mr. Shahabuddin continues to make up
pour fes besoms de fa cause. There are no grounds in Islam
why a place of worship cannot be moved (although there
certainly grounds for not replacing a mosque with an
Idol temple). A mosque is simply an assembly-hall for the
faithful. Except for the sacred places in Arabia, attaching
sacredness to the piece of land on which a mosque stands
or'has stood, is un-Islamic.
. In Hinduism, on the other hand, there are places
WhICh are sacred, and to which people persistently return
even after temples or monuments on them have been
destroyed. This is not the deepest layer of Hinduism, but it
is incontrovertibly a historical part of it. One may debate
over whether saint-worship, idol-worship, and temple-
building existed in the Vedic age, whether hero-worship is
Dravidian contribution, whether idol-worship originated
In unorthodox forms of Buddhism, and more such
academic matters of interest; but it is undeniable that
worshipping a saint or avatar in a temple at his Janma-
bhoomi has been a firmly established tradition in every
brand of Hinduism for centuries. Therefore, claiming the
Ram Janmabhoomi because it is a traditional sacred place
of Hinduism, is not un-Hindu at all.
. ' . retort: alright, the claim may be
hIStOrIcally JUStIfIed. But the situation as it is, is now
by. time. If we want to undo all the wrongs of
hIStory, there IS no end to it. Especially such broadminded
people as the Hindus consider themselves to be should be
able to let go of something that otherwise only creates bad
That is right. Hindus should be unattached, they
should be able to let go of worldly things such as pieces of
129. reported in Times of India, 16.9.89.
land and constructions of stone. In that spirit, someone
who is being robbed, but who is unattached, will not feel
affected by the loss he incurs. And yet, even such an
un- attached person would be very wrong to allow the
robbers to take those things to which he is not attached. It
would be very bad for public order, and ultimately for the
robbers themselves, if respect for people's property is not
enforced. In the Janmabhoomi case too, regardless of one's
personal attachment or spirituality, it stands to reason that
justice must be done.
In practice, the Hindus are explicitly not
demanding that all the wrongs wrought by the Muslims
be undone. They demand a symbolical Wiedergutmachung
amounting to one or at most three temples. Regardless of
what the specific doctrines of 'real Hinduism' are, any
religion would demand that much of respect for its sacred
places. There is nothing narrow-minded about demanding
2.5 The insecure minorities
Apart from religious reasons, Hindus cite a good
political reason for not letting the Muslims get away with
refusing even one instance of symbolical compensation for
the destruction they wrought. Just after the first stone of
the future Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir had been laid on
November 9, 1989, Girilal Jain wrote: "If the ideological
claptrap is cut out, as it should be, it would be obvious
that the shifanyas (foundation-laying ceremony) of the
proposed Sri Rama temple in Ayodhya last Thursday is
possibly the most significant development in the history of
independent India.... The initiative now, as in the forties,
lies principally with the Muslims. In the final analysis,
they decided.... that the country would De partitioned; no
attempt at rewriting history can cover up this truth. In the
final analysis, they will now decide whethei we will move
into the future as a reasonably united people ... or as a
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID
POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS 131
deeply divided people 'ready to cut each other's throats at
the slightest provocation. . . In a fundamental sense the
. . '
lSsues are sImple. They are (a) whether the proposed Sri
Rama temple is to become a symbol of Hindu-Muslim
amity, or of deep discord; and (b) whether or not the ...
Hindu search for self-respect is to develop along anti-
In the heat of the conflict, people tend to forget that
the problem would be completely solved if the Muslim
just accepted the Hindu claim. And people (includ-
mg each of the above mentioned guardians of ' real Hindu-
ism') to ask. the Muslim leaders if at all it is 'really
MuslIm to reclaIm an abandoned third-rank mosque
standing on a spot sacred to the Hindus.
. Giri411 Jain states that "one point can be made
straIghtaway. The Muslims should recognize that the
status quo ante [as when it was a real mosque] cannot be
restored; issue cannot be settled by [judicial] means;
that frustratIon of the move to build a Sri Rama temple
would open a festering sore in the hearts of millions of
Hindus; that they cannot afford the luxury of
mflIctmg a second defeat on the Hindus (the first one
being in 1947)..."
Aggressors always tell their victims to be "reason-
able", and to give in to the aggressors' demands. Here,
they demand. from the Hindus that they give up the Ram
Janmabhooml, so as to make it a national monument, or a
Babri Masjid. They repeat with words what Babar did with
Muslim communalists, supported by the
communIsts, forced the Partition on the Hindus. Imme-
diately after the Partition, the Muslims left behind in India
lied low. for a while, but increasingly, and again with
commUnIst support, their pre-Partition attitude re-
130. Sunday Mail, 12.9.89
emerged, and now Muslim communalist politicians can
dictate quite a bit of the political agenda in India.
While the Indian Constitution specifically declares
that legislation should aim at the gradual establishment of
a common Civil Code, replacing the separate religion
based law systems, the Muslim minority of not even 12%
06% according to some ,Muslim leaders) could make the
Rajiv government overrule a Supreme Court decision
which gave a Muslim divorced woman the right to
alimony. All those Hindus on the Congress-I benches
thought: if the Muslims want to live in the Middle Ages,
let them" But in fact, they have given in to the Muslim
communalist 'two nation theory', the idea that Muslims
are a separate nation that is 'entitled to s'eparate laws -
while the rejection of that theory is a cornerstone of the
Another success of the Muslim lobby in recent
years has been the recognition of Urdu as a second state
language in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (the next target being
Andhra Pradesh). We will not deal with the justifications
given for this language policy, but merely observe that
more and more Hindus feel that the Muslim minority
can always get what it wants, and that its demands
increasingly resemble the Muslim League demands before
independence. Once more, but so far only marginally, the
ominous demand for separate Muslim electorates has been
voiced. And as a step in that direction, Muslims have
demanded, and sometimes even obtained, the re-drawing
of constituency borders to create Muslim majority
In common Hindu perception, the Muslim minor-
ity in India is politically privileged, while the Hindu
minority in Pakistan has been virtually exterminated, and
in BangIa Desh it is gradually being squeezed out. It is
perfectly reasonable that Hindus see this as an injustice.
And it is very fortunate that no 'Hindu communalist'
132 RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO
POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS 133
leader is demanding reciprocity: treat the Muslims the
way they treat minorities. All that they demand is: "Justice
for all, appeasement of none."
That formula means, a stop to the special priviliges
of .the minorities: equal rights to set up and manage
schools (now 'minority institutions' have a special status),
equal rights to manage temples (now the government in-
terferes with Hindu temples, ·but wouldn't dare to with
mosques), replacement of the 'Minorities Commission'
with a 'Human Rights Commission' (since people belong-
ing to the 'majority comunity' may have 'grievances' as
well), and the replacement of the religion-based personal
law systems with a common, modem Civil Code.
The standard argument of Muslim spokesmen
against the abolition of these special rights is, that the
Muslims feel 'insecure' and threatened in their identity.
Not that any of them has protested with the Sudanese
leader Numeiry when he imposed the Shari'a indiscrimi-
nately on all his subjects, of whom a large minority are not
Muslims. In Muslim countries, there are no considerations
of the 'security' and 'identity' of the minorities, let alone
privileges. But in India, they want to protect their identity
with a special status.
The Babri Masjid has become a symbolic spearhead
in the struggle of Muslim assertiveness against assimil-
ation; or from another viewpoint, of Muslim chauvinism
against national integration. Muslim leaders have threat-
ened dire consequences if they don't get their Masjid, but
they also have played the poor victim, pleading that
Muslims will feel even more "insecure" if this precious
mosque is taken away from them. They declare that if the
Babri Masjid domino falls, then there will be no stop to the
encroachment on the minority's rights by the majority
But as Girilal Jain, quoted above, has argued, the
fear that if you give the Hindus one finger, they will take
the entire hand, is unwarranted. The present animus
among Hindus against Muslims is based solely on the
perception that Muslims are still at their old game, that
they still want a superior status for themselves, that they
are still working for world conquest. If the Muslims would
make a concession (just one would already be a revolu-
tion), they would become just one among the. many
religions that have flourished in India. History is witness
that minority religions have survived in India unharmed
for many centuries.
The fear that Hindus will start doing to Muslims as
Muslims have done to them, is based on a projection of the
characteristics of aggressive religions on all other
religions. When people sloppily speak of "Hindu funda-
mentalism", they infer from the very word that these must
be a Hindu kind of Khomeinis, who want to impose a
theocratic state with no room for unbelievers. But in fact,
both theocracy and religious intolerance are completely
alien to Hinduism, and even the centuries of confrontation
with Islam were not enough to make these concepts take
root among the Hindus (except lately among the Sikhs, to
Muslim spokesmen say they fear that any
concession to Hindu communalism will only encourage
the abandonment of secularism and the creation of 'Hindu
Rashtra' (Hindu state). Indeed, when the first stone of the
planned Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir was laid, on Novem-
ber 9, 1989, some RSS (Rashtriya Swayasevak Sangh, a
Hindu activist mass organization) people called it the
Foundation-stone of Hindu Rashtra. The impact of the
Ram Janmabhoomi campaign has been such that even
Rajiv Gandhi declared, on November 6, 1989, in a Faiza-
bad election speech, that his aim was the creation of Ram
Rajya. Well, isn't that proof enough that Hindus prepare
for a theorcratic one-religion state?
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID
POLITICAL 1MPLICATIONS 135
First of all, it is a bit incongruous for Muslims to
start defending secularism. When Muslim c.ountries pr?-
tested against the Ram c.am.palgn, .they sal?
that India has to live up to Its seculanstldeals. Why thIS
concern for secularism, when they themselves refuse to
create secular state in their own countries? The answer is
given by the fundan:'entalist
"No religious entity IS more anxIOUS and to
see Bharat really multi-religious than MuslIms, the sole
reason being that in a plural alone . can
aspire to maintain their identity and theIr ldeol.ogy
to others." (emphasis added)131So, there must be
as long as Muslims are a minority, but t.hey are. m
power they declare the Islamic state. ThIS IS m keepmg
with the Prophet's example, who had said conciliating
things like "Unto you your religion, unto me when
he was weak, but crushed the infidels once he became
powerful. While I agree that Muslim.villagers are
erally tolerant and don't mmd pluralISm, the MuslIm
communal leaders sound very false they start
advocating secularism against a perceived threat of theo-
As for Ram Rajya, it simply means Dharma Ralya,
rule of righteousness. It is in no way sectarian, and
term was used by the great secularist Mahatma Gandh.l.
To quote from an unsuspect source, the Roman
Father Premananda (Sanskrit name as part of the Church s
indigenization policy): "All Ram's subjects were equal.
They were free from fear of any kind. All the four castes
bathed at the same ghat. Each caste performed its duty
faithfully. People lived as the Vedas enjoined on them.
They loved one another and were honest ... There was no
need for magistrates to punish criminals for there was no
crime. The staff (symbol of the power to punish) was used
131. in its weekly, Radiance, 23.2.86.
only by wandering sannyasins as a symbol of self-disci-
pline . .. Ayodhya, the seat of king Ram, excelled all other
places in beauty and prosperity ... In Ram Rajya, not only
human beings but every creature was happy and
Ram Rajya is more a matter of mentality than of
structures : "Tulsidas [writer of the Hindi Ramayana, Ram
Charit Manas] does not place all -his hopes for an ideal
society on a set of laws or structures to contain evil and
promote good. Neither does he believe that abundance of
matetial goods cap/make man happy. It is bhakti,
to the supreme source of good, Paramatman [the cosmic
Self], that makes people good in themselves and good to
others."133 I don't know if Rajiv was aware of that when he
made his election speech, but he certainly wasn't prom-
ising a state either.
In this connection, mention should be made of the
Ramayana TV serial, which was showing on Doordarshan
during part of the time of the Janmabhoomi campaigns.
Many vocal secularists and Muslim organizations have
demanded the ban on this 'communal' serial. This demand
in the name of secularism was ridiculous: in .all the
secular states of the West, religious films are freely show-
ing, without anyhow endangering the secular character of
the state. The Ramayana is not a belief system, but a story
involving universal human values. Says Ramanand Sagar,
the producer of the serial: "The serial Ramayana is in no
way communal... Lord Rama is more an embodiment of
truth and duty than being a god." He also said that the
serial had endeared itself to people of all faiths, which is
correct and very disquieting to Muslim preachers with
their de-hinduizing tabligh campaigns among the Muslim
populace. And he explained that misinterpretation of the
132. Ram Chilrit Manas, p.113-114.
133. id., p.llS.
136 RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID
word 'secular' was responsible for the rumours that the
serial is 'communal' quoting Nehru to the effect that
secularism doesn't mean atheism.
As for the more ominous-sounding Hindu Rashtra,
it will take a longer study than this one to grasp this
concept in its fullness, but at least all its proponents agree
that it is not a theocratic, much less a one-religion state.
In the kingdoms of .Shivaji and of Ranjit Singh, founded
after bitter struggle against Muslim rulers, the only limita-
tions on .the Muslims' freedom of religion were the
prohibition of cow-slaughter ·and, sometimes, of the
public call to prayer in so far it contained the intolerant
battle-cry "There is no godhead except Allah", a public
insult to all other cults, which can be allowed as a matter
of individual free speech, but which must be contained
from becoming institutionalized.
It should also be made clear that even this hann-
less .concept of Hindu Rashtra is not advocated by
the main 'Hindu communalist' party, the BJP, precisely
because the declaration of India as a Hindu state is "only"
a largely symbolic issue. In Anglican England, there is full
freedom of religion; and nobody bothered to protest when
in recent peace talks, it was decided to declare Buddhism
the state religion of post-eommunist Cambodia.
So there is no Hindu Khomeini anywhere in sight.
What the Hindus derr:and of the Muslims is merely that
they give up their pretence of having a God-given right to
lord it over-the unbelievers, and that at least in their public
actions, they accept that they are just human beings like
the rest of us. The Babri Masjid is an excellent occasion
for the Muslims to show some distancing from their
traditional boundless self-righteousness.
134. Kanpur, 1.1.89.
135. e.g. Balraj Madhok : Riltionale of the Hindu State (Indian Book Gal-
lery, Delhi 1982); c.P. Bhishikar : Concept of the Rashtra, part 5 of Pandit
Deendayal Upadhyaya : Idology and Perception (Suruchi Prakashan, Delhi
On the other hand, if the Muslims have their way
and their Babri Masjid, the perception that the Hindus are
second-class citizens in their own country, ruled by a
Muslim minority regime, would be very much
strengthened. And that would be very, very bad for
Hindu-Muslim relations. The Muslims have been getting
one concession after another, but what concession have
they ever made? This imbalance in the relations between
Muslims and others has not gone unnoticed, and it
continues to breed bitterness.
If the Hindus don't give in on this issue, that
would break the pattern of Hindus complying with
Muslim intransigence, as they did in agreei1}g to the Parti-
tion and many other Muslim demands, from the special
status of Kashmir down to the ban on The Satanic Verses.
That is exactly what Hindu leaders expect as the
hopeful outcome of this unfortunate controversy: setting a
new pattern of humane co-existence of different religions
(sarva-dharma-samabhava). An amicable bilateral decision to
leave the Ram Janmabhoomi to 'the Hindus would teach
the Hindus that even the wounds of centuries can be
healed. It would teach the Muslims that they cannot
continue to regard their own third-rank abandoned build-
ings as more sacred than other people's places of pil-
grimage. It would make the Muslims face their . own
history, and teach them that they too have to respect
For an effective secular polity, it is essential that
people start to take some distance from' medieval claims of
haVing God on their side. It is beyond dispute that Hindus
have made many concessions to the Muslims. Before there
can be equality, Hindus feel it is necessary that some
concessions come from the Muslim side as well. I believe
the Hindus are right in saying that it is time for the Mus-
lims to show that they are not above doing what they
never tire of demanding from others.
138 RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO
To conclude, I want to cite one more relevant con-
Hindus quote a very simple non-religious na-
tionalist reason why in the Indian Republic, Ram should
prevail upon Babar: Ram was an Indian, Babar an invader.
3. The Ram JanmabhoomiJ
Babri Masjid's recent history
3.1. History before 1857
Before we look at certified recent history of the
Ram Janmabhoomi Babri Masjid, let us hear the Hindu
version of what happened under Moghul rule. In the
chapter on the historians' debate, we didn't get to hear
that, because the Hindu version was a priori deemed
Musa Ashikan was a Muslim religio.us seeker, who
also took lessons from a Hindu yogi, in the Ram
Janmabhoomi temple complex in Ayodhya. But this case
of 'composite culture.' didn't kill the Muslim in him. Oh the
contrary, when he heard of Babar's advance upon Awadh,
he expressed his desire to convert this place of which he
,had felt the extraordinary power, into a mosque.
When Mir Baqi attacked the Ram Janmabhoomi
temple complex in 1528, the Hindus offered for
seventeen days. Even when MirBaqi finally entered the
temple, the priest Shyamanand and family tried to
prevent him trom .approaching 1hJil' sqoctuary,' but they
were killed. In t.he sanctuary, Mir · Baqi to his surprise
fGUli<i ne- .
. ImIJlediately after' the Babri Masjid was built, Pan-
dit Ramqeen and Raja Mahtab Singh organized an offen-
sive against the Moghul forces. Mir was taken by
but prevailed in the end. Later, Raja Ranvijay
Singh of Hansvar fought a lO-day battle agai,nst the
Moghuls, but he was defeated. Rani Jairaj Kumari waged a
136. related by Radhey Shyam : Babar I p.458.
137. related by A. Shani and Mahipal Singh, Surya India, 8 / 90, p.19.
guerilla war and won many skirmishes, but she could
never consolidate her gains, and she died on the battle-
field, together with her guru Meheshwarananda. Another
of the latter's disciples, Swami Balramchari, led 20' cam-
paigns against the local Moghul forces, captured the Babri
Masjid several times, but couldn't maintain his hold.
Akbar allowed a small temple to 'be built in the
precincts of the mosque. Under Jahangir and Shahjahan
the peaceful co-existence continued, but Aurangzeb
demolished the temple and barred Hindus from entering
the area. After that, Moghul power faded and was
replaced by the Nawabs in Awadh. They were indulgent '
towards the Hindu demands.
At the fag end of Nawabi rule, Hindu-Muslim
relations deteriorated, fighting took place, and the British
intervened and used this trouble as one of their pretexts to
annex Awadh in 1856. But during the uprising of 1857, the
erstwhile Nawab promised the Hindus the entire Ram
Janmabhoomi area. Unfortunately, that agreement never
materialized because the British won, and they gave the
Masjid to the Muslims. So much for the Hindu tradition
concerning the Babri Masjid's history.
The Nawabs ("princes") succeeded the Moghuls as
the dominant rulers in North-India in 1722. Under the first
Nawab, Saadat Khan (1722-39), Ayodhya was the flour-
ishing capital of the new expanding state. His successor
Safdarjang (1739-54) moved the seat of government to the
newly built neighbouring town of Faizabad. Later in that
century, the throne was moved to Lucknow.
It seems that Hindu life in Ayodhya was thriving
during most of the Nawabi period. One factor that
explains this, is no doubt the presence of Hindus in the
138. Van der Veer names specifically the Srivastava Kayasth and the
Saksena Kayasth subcastes. More details in his Gods on Earth, p.37-39.
139. id., p.38.
Nawabi administration, as mentioned in ch.1.10.
the armed forces had a strong Hindu presence, viz. the
Naga Sadhus, a martial Shaiva sect.
A conjecture that might add to the explanation, is
that this two-stage provincialization of Ayodhya led to a
decline in Muslim population, since many Muslims would
have been in government employment. And it is probable
that the Islamic pressure on Ayodhya was weakened, in
the sense that the pressure which Muslim court clerics
tended to exert on Muslim rulers to keep heathenism in
check, would concern more what happened under their
noses, than what happened in ,a provincial town. Van der
Veer considers this factor of less importance than the
Hindu Diwans' influence, but it may have been decisive
on an occasion or twO.
Under the last Nawab, Wajid Ali Shah (1847-56),
Sunni leaders asserted themselves against the Shia rulers.
In 1855, Sunni leader Ghulam Hussain claimed that there
had been a mosque in Hanumangarhi temple hill, and
demanded it back. The Muslims gathered in the Babri
Masjid and threatened the Naga Sadhus (elsewhere
referred to as Bairagis, renunciates) with an attack on
Hanumangarhi. The battle that followed, was won by the
Sadhus. Some 70 Muslims were killed and buried just near
In the description of HR. Neville : "The desecra-
tion of the most sacred spot in the city caused great
bitterness between Hindus and Mussalmans. On many
occasions the feeling led to bloodshed, and in 1855 an
open fight occurrred, the Mussalmans occupying the
Janmasthan in force and thence making a desperate
attempt on the Hanuman Garhi. They charged up the
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID 140
142 RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO
RECENT HISTORY 143
steps of the temple, but were driven back with consider-
able loss. The Hindus then made a counter-attack and
stormed the Janmasthan at the gate of which 75 Mussal-
mans were buried, the spot being known as the Ganj
Shaheedan or the martyrs' resting place."140
The. British tried to calm the population and
organized a three-party investigation. The Sunni claim
was found to be unjustified, but the Sunni preachers called
on ·their followers to start a jihad against the Sadhus.
Maulvi Amir-ud-din, alias Amir Ali, led an army to
Ayodhya, which the British army stopped at the Nawab's
Soon after that, in February 1856, the British
annexed Awadh. They put a railing around the Babri
Masjid, and separated the Muslim worshippers, who got
the Masjid, from the Hindu worshippers, who had no
choice but to do their puja outside.
3.2. The judicial debate
The first attempt in modem times to have a Hindu
temple built on the controversial spot took place in
January 1885. Mahant Raghubar Ram made a plea before
the Sub-judge of Faizabad, to obtain permission to build a
temple on the spot just outside the Babri Masjid where the
Hindus had been allowed for long to worship idols
installed on a platform. The plea was rejected by the Sub-
judge in Febrary 1885, "since it is so close to the existing
masjid". It was also rejected by the District Judge in March
This ·is how the British Judge col. F.E.A. Chamier _
assessed the case : "It is most unfortunate that a· MasJid
should have been built on land specially -held sacred by
the Hindus, but as that occurred 356' years ago, it is ,too
140. Faizabad District Gazetteer, 1905, p.168, quoted by A.K. Chaterjee in
Indian Express, 2.5.90.
late to remedy the grievance."141 And this statement by the
judicial commissioner shows that his verdict was based
essentially on other considerations than the historical dis-
pute: "There is nothing on record to show that the plaintiff
[Le. the priest] is in any sense the proprietor of the land."142
In 1912 and 1934, riots took place over the mosque.
The 1934 riot, sparked by a cow-slaughter on the Muslim
Bakr-Id festival,143 claimed many lives,144 and the mosque
was damaged during an attack by the Hindus. The
government paid for repairs, but imposed a punitive tax
on the Hindus of Ayodhya.
Until 1936, the Babri Masjid was being used as a
mosque by the local Muslim community. In those days,
many Muslims migrated to nearby Faizabad for economi-
cal reasons, and the Muslim presence in Ayodhya was
diminishing. The family that was in charge of the mosque,
was found to be corrupt, and was deposed without being
replaced. Other sources say that the mosque went out of
use because people were found murdered inside the
mosque, and the local Muslims considered the place too
defiled and impure for use as a prayer-hall.
Subsequently, the Commissioner of Waqfs (Le.
mosque management trusts) set up an enquiry into the
ownership of the p r o p ~ r t y , which was eventually declated
a Sunni mosque in Marc;h 1946. Therefore, the provincial
Sunni Waqf Board has been one of the parties to the later
141. dated 18.3.1886, Civil Appeal no.27of 1885, District Court, Faizabad.
142. quoted in India Today, 15.12.89.
143. as mentioned by dr. B.R. Ambedkar, in Pakistan or the Partition of
144. "Hundreds of Muslims seem to have been massacred", according to
Van der Veer, op. cit., pAO; 'Thousands of Hindus were slaughtered"
according to A. Sahni and Mahipal Singh in Surya India, 8 / 90. p.19.
145. Pankaj Pachauri (India Today, 15:12.89) puts it differently : "A civil
judge decreed the mosque is a Waqf property shared by both Sunnis and
hias." (emphasis added). This distinction may be important given the
more accomodating position of the Shia leaders.
146. letter to Hindustan Times, 21.12.89.
147. in the case Gopal Singh Visharad versus Zahur Ahmad et al.; quoted in
the BJP resolution on the RamJanmabhoomi issue, Palampur, 11.6.89.
148. e.g. Pankaj Pachauri in his 'Countdown to the Shilanyas', in Indill
It is disputed whether after 1936 the mosque was,
if not regularly, at least occasionally used for offering
1ramaz. Some people deny it, but Babri Masjid campaigner
Syed Shahabuddin claims to have witnesses who them-
selves have participated in namaz at -the Babri Masjid in
the 194Os. That the mosque was not being totally aban-
doned in 1936 is certainly plausible. On the other hand
the complete abandonment and negligence of mosques is
not unusual in Ayodhya. KC. Kulish, editor of Rajasthan
Patrika , quotes "administrartive officials of Faizabad" as
saying that in Ayodhya "there are 26 masjids of which just
half are in use for offering Namaz. The rest are in bad
At any rate, on March 23, 1951, the Civil Judge at
Faizabad observed that "at least from 1936 onwards the
Muslims have neither used the site as a mosque nor
offered prayers there, and that the Hindus have been
perfonning their Pooja etc. on the disputed site".147 I. guess
we can consider that as the official version: the Babri
Masjid was not effectively used as .a mosque since 1936. In
spite of that, many 'secularist' papers, in their historical
surveys of the controversy, systematically omit this
In December 1949 several hunderds of Ram de-
votees held a fortnight-long session of kirian (chanting) in
front of the building. Finally, during the night of Decem-
ber 22, 1949, Hindu idols "miraculously appeared" in the
building. In Muslim terms,the mosque was "desecrated"
by these uninvited pagan inhabitants.
149. India Magazine, 2 /90, p.60 ff.
The Nehru government took over the disputed
property and declared the matter sub judice. It did not
remove the idols, but had the gate locked. Nevertheless,
worshippers could offer puja from the outside. The Ram
Janmabhoomi Seva Committee obtained pennission to
worship the idols once a year on the anniversary of the
idols' "appearance". A group of Hindu .activ.ists started
akhand kirian (uninterrupted (relay) chantIng), Intended to
go on until the Ram Janmabhoomi is completely
After the idols were installed in the Babn MasJId,
the building was put under padlocks by administrative
order, on the grounds that communal harmony was in
danger if entry were pennitted to either Hindus or
Muslims. According to Gyanendra Pandey,149 the
authorities thereby acquiesced in an illegal situation, .since
the idols had been installed illegally: "The police guard on
duty could either do nothIng, or to do to
prevent this illegal act. The then DIStrIct MagIstrate and
his personal assistant (both Hindus) may have had. a hand
in this acquiescence. II). any event, both were retired. for
their openly pro-Hindu stance in the course of the nots
It seems that the idols weren't removed only
because the District Magistrate, KKK Nair, refused to do
so when the Commissioner of Faizabad, Shyam Sundarlal
Dar, ordered him to. Nair's ground for refusing was, that
removing the idols would rekindle communal passions.
When he and his assistent Gurudatt Singh were forced to
retire, his decision not to remove the idols was not
reversed. On the contrary, the aforementioned decision of
the Faizabad Civil Judge in 1951 sanctioned the status quo,
confirming the same court's 'order of January 19, 1950
(on a suit filed by Gopal Singh Visharad seeking un-
restricted right to worship), that had stated: "The parties
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID 144
150. Civil Appeal no. 6/1986.
151 . India Magazine, 2 /90, p.72.
are hereby restrained by means of termporary injunction
to refrain from removing the idol in question from the site
in dispute and from interfering with puja etc. as at present
carried on." The status quo order was again confirmed by
the Allahabad High court on April 26, 1955.
In December 1961, the Sunni Waqf Board moved
the court demanding possession of the Masjid and the
graveyard adjoining it. This claim has not been decided at
the time of writing, and today it is only one of several
claims pending before the court.
On February 1, 1986, the padt'ocks wen:; removed
by order of the Faizabad District Judge, KM. Pandey,
accepting the plea of advocate Umesh Chandra Pandey.
The judge referred to the 1951 order and directed that ,as
"for the last 35 years Hindus [have had] unrestricted right
ot worship" at the place, the locks put on the two gates on
grounds of law and order be removed. ISO He argued that
he had been assured by the District Magistrate that
locking the gates was no longer necessary either for the
preservation of law and order or for "the protection of the
idols". Doordarshan (India's national T.V. station)
cameras were present when, within hours of the verdict,
the gates were opened.
According to Gyanendra Pandey, the government
acquiesced in a verdict that meant "protection of this
illegal encroachment", as a part of its policy of appeasing
communalism: "It was the Hindu part of an electoral quid
pro quo in which the Muslims had been 'rewarded' ~ i t h
the infamous Muslim Women's Protection Act. "lSI (By
voting this Act, the Congress-I government gave in to the
Muslim fundamentalist demand to overrule the Supreme
Court verdict that a divorced Muslim woman should be
paid alimony by her ex-husband)
This Faizabad verdict concerned practical meas-
ures of law and order. It did not decide the more basic
issue of the ownership of the property, which has been
pending in the courts for decades, and at the time of
writing is still sub judice.'
On August 14, 1989, the Allahabad High C o ~ r t
clubbed ·together the cases concerning the Janmabhoomil
Masjid, already five in number. It issued an interim
directive to maintain the status quo about the disputed
propterty pending a final judgement: "The parties to the
suit shall . . . not change the nature of the property in
question." By then, the parties to the suit included the
Sunni Waqf Board, the UP State Government, Ram
Janmabhoomi Nyas represented by Ashok Singhal and
Deoki Nandan Agarwal, VHP leaders, and various
Muslim and Hindu religious personnel, including a
representative of the nearby Ninnohi Akhara (a martial
abbey) and an individual Shia claimant. "
The BMCC said it would abide by the Allahabad
High Court verdict. It has also reminded the public that
the 1951 Faizabad Court order contained an injunction to
maintain the status quo, meaning that the idols should
not be removed, but also that the structure should
not be demolished. The All-India Babri Masjid Action
Committtee (see ch.3.3) prefers adjudication by a special
three member bench consisting of South-Indians who are
neither Hindu nor Muslim.
The VHP leadership signect an accord with Home
Minister Buta Singh on September 27, 1989, promising that
it would "abide by the directive of the Lucknow Bench of
AllahalJad High Court given on 14.8.89 to the effect that
the parties to the suit shall ... not change the nature of the
property in question and ensure that the peace and
communal harmony are maintained". But it has also
reiterated its well-known position that this is fundamen-
147 RECENT HISTORY
RAM ]ANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MAS]ID 146
148 RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO
RECENT HISTORY 149
tally not a matter which can be decided by the judicial
But what is exactly the disputed property ? There
is first of all the Masjid itself: it is beyond dispute that it is
disputed. In front of the Masjid there two more
not at all rectangular in shape. To the nght (when facmg
the Masjid) is an undisputed area, in the judicial docu-
ments called Plot no. 578. To the left is a wedge-shaped
plot, known as Plot no. 586. Part of it is close.r to
Masjid than Plot no. 578, part of it is on the far sIde of It.
The Sunni Waqf Board has claimed all of Plot no. 586,
arguing that it has been used as a
that makes all of it disputed, and subject to a JudIcIal
The VHP has always unambiguously stated that It
intended to build the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir on the
undisputedly disputed area where the Masjid stands, as
well as on part of the land in front of it. The Congress-I
government had hoped that at least the ceremonial
Foundation-laying would take place on some of the un-
disputed land in front of the Masjid. While one religious
leader, Swami Swaroopanand, the Shankaracharya of
Dwarka, declared that the only right place for the
Shilanyas was inside the Masjid, on September 27 the VHP
agreed to have the Foundation ceremony at about 60
metres away from the Babri Masjid's gate. That way,
options were still open: perhaps a temple could be bUIlt
that would not displace the Masjid, so that temple and
mosque would stand side by side. No matter what exactly
the long-term outcome ' would be, at any rate no one
would have definitely lost by election day, Novermber 26.
That was the government's calculation, but there
was one problem. The Shilanyas spot was still in area
claimed by the Sunni Waqf Board, Plot no. IS
part of the big Mandir/ Masjid debate, but JUd.lcially IS
tl\eiobject of the same legal dispute. Therefore, If the HIgh
Court has used the terms 'disputed' or 'in question' in the
technical-juridical sense (as one would expect in a Court
ruling), the prohibition on changing the status-quo also
applies to the Shilanyas spot. .
For the VHP, having the Shilanyas on disputed
land, only a few meters away from the undisputed plot
which would seem to be just as fit for the purpose, was a
strange strategic risk, or maybe carelessness. But for the
government, it was a crucial blow to its face-saving policy
of not offending the Muslims, nor the Hindus, nor the law
of the land, until the elections were over. In fact, it turned
out that the government had pressured Ram Gopal Dass,
the owner of undisputed plot no. 578, to invite the VHP to
conduct Shilanyas on his land, and that the VHP had at
first agreed. At any rate, on November 2, the Bajrang Dal
presented the government with an accomplished fact by
hoisting a saffron flag on disputed Plot no. 586.
On November 6, the UP State Government asked
the Allahabad High Court to clarify which areas exactly
were in dispute. In its application, the Government
expreSSly assumed that the spot marked for Shilanyas
on disputed land: "The district authorities have adVIsed
the VHP that their actions in hoisting the flag and
barricading the land are in clear violation of this court's
interim order dated August 14, 1989."
On Novermber 7 the Allahabad High Court gave
its clarification. The four-page order issued by the three-
judge bench clarified that their status quo order concerned
all the plots brought up in the Sunni Waqf Board suit,
including Plot no. 586. The wording, however, was in
some places a bit complicated: "Our injunction should be
read to be operating to these plots, more specifically
described by letters ABCD, which is included in the larger
boundary described by letters EFGH in the site plan
attached to the [Waqf Board's] plaint."
152. much of this survey of the judicial dimension of theJanmabhoomi /
Masjid- ·affair is adapted from the the Indian Press, especially India Today,
31.1tJ:S9.and 15.12.89, and Sunday Mail, 19.11.89.
153. India Today, 15.12.90.
Government and the UP State Government passed from
Congress-I into Janata Dal hands, the new government
including its Muslim Home Minister, rather than
condenming its predecessor, confirmed the latter's inter-
pretation, and reiterated that the Shilanyas spot was not
on disputed land.
Moreover, the judges, who gave the clarification
knowing fully well that the question concerned the
Shilanyas spot, have not explicitly declared that spot was
in the disputed area. On the contrary, where they
mentioned Plot no. 586, they did not add anything
affirmative, like "in its entirety", but they qualified it
restrictively : ". . . Plot number 586, in so far included
within the boundary described by letters EFGH in the site
plan." (emphasis added) This left open the possibility that
part of the plot is not disputed. It seems to me that it was
not so much the govrnment that forced its interpretation
on the clarification, but that it was the judges themselves
who made their statement a bit vague. .
3.3 The Ram Janmabhoomi and Habri Masjid
In April 1984, the VHP-sponsored Dharm Sansad,
a gathering of all kinds of sadhus and Hindu religious
leaders, launched a movement to 'liberate' the Ram
Janmabhoomi. It is alleged that the VHP, a kind of
ideological front organization of the RSS (which in itself is
more action - oriented), had not publicly raised this issue
in the two decades that it had been in existence. However,
in April 1978 it had already raised the issue at a
meeting in Delhi, and inside the organization, the idea had
been around since the very first session in 1966.
In June 1984, The Ram ]anmabhoomi Mulcti Yajna
Samiti (Committee for the Ram Birthplace Liberation
Ritual) was formed. In October 1984, it organized a mass
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO
The site plan was a notional plan, i.e. it showed the
different plots as rectangles (with letters ABCD etc. in the
comers), not true to shape. The order's final conclusion
read: "We clarify that the order dated August 14, 1989,
was in respect of the entire property mentioned in the suit,
including plot number 586, in so far included within the
boundary described by the letters EFGH in the site
The government could not admit that it was
allowing the 5hilanyas to take place on disputed land,
which would mean complicity in an act of contempt of
Court. 50 it interpreted the clarification as not meaning
that the 5hilanyas spot was on disputed land. The ?tate's
Advocate-General 5.5. Bhatnagar argued that, going by
the scale on the map, the 5hilanyas spot fell outside the
map. Commentator PankaJ Pachauri interprets his
reasoning as follows: "He thus mtroduced.a new element:
since the notional map was rectangualr, the property in
dispute too was rectangular - something never mentioned
in court. By superimposing the notional sketch on the
disputed area, he formulated an interpretation to bail out
. Another explanation offered on behalf of the
government was that since the adjacent Plot no. 578 was
not disputed, the part of Plot 586 on the far side of Plot no.
578 was a fortiori also undisputed: as if disputedness
diminishes proportionally to the distance from the Masjid.
The secularist press spoke with one voice in
condemning the government for its distorted reading of
the Court clarification. But we shouldn't get carried away
by that one voice. When only a few weeks later, the Union
RECENT HISTORY 153
152 RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID
manifestation, the Ram ]anmabhoomi Mulcti Yajna, and
made the controversy a national issue.
In 1985, the VHP organised the Ram-Janaki Ra-
thyatra, the Ram-Sita processions, in which the deities
were shown as being behind bars.
In February 1986, the Faizabad District Judge
ordered opening of the building for· Hindu worship. In
March, Muslim leaders set up the Babri Masjid Co-
ordination Committee (BMCC). It immediately organized
a nation-wide Muslim "mourning".
In March 1987, three lakh Muslims gathered at the
Boat Club in Delhi to demand the handover of the Babri
Masjid. In April, Hindus gathered in Ayodhya to pledge
full liberation of the Ram Janmabhoomi. .
In 1988, the BMCC issued calls for marches on
Ayodhya, planned for August 12 and <?etober 14,
times it cancelled them. But not without somethmg m
return. In fact, it is quite probable that the second march
was announced with the cancellation in mind, just to
frighten the government into some concessions. The VHP
had announced a five-day Sri Ram Maha Yajna in the heart
of Ayodhya, starting on October 11. a VHP
Samiti supporters gathered and remamed on guard till
October 15, to prevent the BMCC-planned march on
Ayodhya announced for October 14. Knowing very well
that the government would willingly make some
concessions to avert such a massive confrontation, BMCC
spokesman Syed Shahabuddin went to talk with Prime
Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
The outcome of the talks was that the BMCC
march was called off, and also something else, something
the world would hear of. Apart from some cheap
promises and other minor gestures, the government
agreed at once to ban a book freshly published in England:
The Satanic Verses, written by a British writer born in
Bombay, Salman Rushdie. Not that mr. Gandhi needed a
lot of convincing to ban the book: in his earlier book, Mid-
night's Children, Rushdie had sharply criticized Rajiv's
mother Indira, so the family had an account to settle with
this Salman Rushdie. But it came in handy that this
banning could also pacify Syed Shahabuddin and his
Soon after that, the Babri Masjid Co-ordination
Committee split. The deals that Shahabuddin made with
the government were construed by other Muslim leaders
as a sell-out. During a meeting in Shahabuddin's
residence, a quarrel ended with Shahabuddin showing
some colleagues the door. He went as far as expulsing
Syed Abdullah Bukhari, the imam of the Jama Masjid in
Delhi (after Moghul fashion, still called the Shahi (royal)
Imam). On November 26, the dissidents held their own
separate Babri Masjid convention.
It is widely believed that it was more a clash of
egos than a political difference. The Shahi Imam would
have felt sidelined by Shahabuddin, who was emerging as
the leading spokesman for Muslim causes. And
Shahabuddin was also described as a difficult man to
work with ("Who does he think he is? Shah-in-
.5hahabuddin ?")154 At any rate, the was calculated to
do most harm to Shahabuddin's political career. By"
depriving ' him of clerical suport, Imam Bukhari made a
serious bite into Shahabuddin's standing among the
As for the political part of the quarrel, the
dissidents on the one hand felt that Shahabuddin was
sacrificing Muslim interests, and not getting any major
concessions. Zafaryab Jilani, convenor of the
Uttar Pradesh Babri Masjid Action Committee said
Shahabuddin was being fooled by the government: "By
154. Shah-i"-Shah, "Kingof Kings", was the title of many Persian rulers,
Including the late Shah Reza Pahlevi.
155. statements quoted in Probe India, 1 /90.
156. for an excellent study of the logic of communalist out-bidding, see
Arun Shourie: Secularism - Real and Counterfeit, published as ch.ll of his
Religion in Politics.
157. KumbhMela isa religious festival which takes placein Prayag, at the
confluence of Ganga and Yamuna when Jupitar is in sidereal Taurus, and
the sun is in sidereal Capricon and Aquarius (=Kumbh), Le. every 12 years
in January-February. Crores of people go there.
prolonging the negotiations, the government wants to
keep the issue pending till the next elections." But on the
other hand, they said he was fomenting communal tension
to consolidate his political standing. Ahmad Bukhari, the
Shahi Imam's son, declared: "We are against those who
create an atmosphere of hatred to keep their political shop
running." To an outsider, however, it would seem that at
least this time, Shahabuddin had lowered the communal
tension by calling off the Ayodhya march, no matter what
his motives were. And he called "the dissidents "funda-
It is just not true that the split in the Committee
was a split between moderates and extremists. And the
very fact of the split was a new factor that would probably
exacerbate the situation, because if communalist groups
have to compete, they usually compete in radicalism, not
But so far, the two Babri Masjid action
committees, the BMCC and the new All-India Babri
Masjid Action Committee (AIBMAC), have not really
done anything harmful that a single committee would not
have done just as well.
In February 1989, at the Kumbh Mela
(Allahabad), the biggest gathering of people so far in
world history, a Maha Sant Sammelan ("Great Saints' Con-
ference") was.held, and it decided to construct a temple in
Ayodhya. In May, another Sant Sammelan in Haridwar
laid down the construction schedule: the Shilanyas cere··
mony would take place on November 9, 1989.
155 RECENT HISTORY
In June 1989, the Communist Party of India took
out a peace march in Ayodhya. Also in June, an alternative
Hindu Sammelan, sponsored by the Congress Party,
took place in Chitrakoot. There, Swami Swaropanand,
Shankaracharya of Dwarka, vehemently criticized the
VHP and its Shilanyas plan, though for a different kind of
reason: they were going to do it on an astrologically
inauspicious time. In July, the .Bajrang Dal gathered in
Ayodhya and pledged to lay down their lives for the Ram
On September 30, the VHP started with Shila Puja,
consecration of temple bricks, in all villages of India with
over 2000 inhabitants, altogether in about two lakh
villages. Shila Puja was also performed in Indian commu-
nities abroad, as well as in other countries where the
Ramayana is popular, such as Indonesia and Cambodia.
The bricks were brought in procession to Ayodhya, where
they were stored in temples. Some bricks from foreign
countries were proudly put on display: from Botswana,
Holland, Guyana, Canada, etc. The Left and the Muslim
parties called on the central government to ban the Shila
Pujas. The CPI (M) government in West Bengal banned the
processions, but would (and could) not ban the Shila
Pujas. Chief Minister Jyoti Basu declared: "If anybody
wants to worship bricks, he is free to do it at home, but we
won't allow it in public places at the cost of communal
Girilal Jain commented on the Shila Puja cam-
paign: "The idea of organizing Shila Puja (consecration of
bricks) through the length and breadth of India, with
special emphasis on North India where Bhagwan Rama is
the supreme reigning deity, was a stroke of genius. Only
Lokmanya Tilak's move to convert Ganesh worship on
Ganesh Chaturthi into a public occasion [of anti-colonial
nationalism] and Mahatma Gandhi's talk of Rama Rajya
can match it. It did not, on the one hand, involve violation
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJIO 154
158. Sunday Mail, 12.11 .89
of the laws of the land, and on the other, it assured a kind
of Hindu mobilization which would otherwise have been
Girilal Jain added to this observation some sharp
criticism of his colleagues, journalists and intellectuals,
whose only 'solution' to this 'catastrophe' of nationwide
'communalism' was of the unimaginative and sinister vari-
ety : suppressing this popular wave with the law and or-
der machinery. Such an authoritarian approach would
have led to many Tian-An-Men scenes, and moreover, it
wouldn't have worked: "I find it difficult to determine,
even for theoretical purposes, the stage at which the
government could have effectively intervened to stop the
programme. In facti I have the horrible feeling that the
advocates of official intervention have learnt nothing from
the failure of all Communist governments, especially the
Soviet government, at suppression.
"Unlike the great pandits of modernity and
secularism who have hauled Rajiv Gandhi over the coals
for his decision not to use ·the machinery of the mighty
Indian state to suppress the VHP and fight what they call
Hindu 'chauvinism, fanaticism and bigotry', I believe that
he acted correctly and indeed wisely, when he refused to
deny millions of Hindus their constitutional right to or-
ganize pujas and take out processions so long as they did
not engage in violence and disturb public peace."
However, one problem with ' the Shila processions
has been that they have sparked riots in several places. It
is a matter of academic debate in how far the processions
made a difference: in the last years, communal rioting has
been intense in North India even without the Shila Pujas/
and shortly before elections there is usually a peak in
communal riots. Still, in some cases, the processions were
the actual occasion for rioting.
One of these riots was one of the worst since inde-
pendence/ and took place in Bhagalpur, Bihar. A Ram
Shila procession was moving through the city, and
stopped at a crossroads for some deliberations between
the organizers and the law and order personnel about a
change of rotite. Bombs were thrown at the procession
from inside a Muslim college. Shots were fired and a
violent free-for-all followed. This is the classical scenario
of a Hindu-Muslim riot. Less classical was what happened
the following days, after the bricks had moved on:
revenge parties were taken out to neighbouring Muslim
villages and killed many helpless innocent people.
Estimates of the total number of victims vary between 200
There have been all kinds of theories about what
exactly had happened: a Hindu show of strength, Muslim
infiltrators from BangIa Desh, goondas hired by this or that
politician, economical rivalry between Hindu and Muslim
craftsmen that had been settled in the guise of a
communal riot (massive amounts of weaving equipment
were destroyed). There is little doubt that if not the out-
break/ at least the outrageous dimensions of the Bhagalpur
riots were due to conscious intervention by a politician,
combined with guilty neglect by the (Congress ruled)
state. It has often been alleged that the Congress Party
wilfully fomented communal violence in order to frighten
the Muslims into voting for the .'secular' Congress-I. In
goonda-infested Bihar, human lives are very cheap in the
alculations of even established politicians. In this case
also, some indications to this effect were cited, but no
politician was definitely found out. As a TV commentator
aid: "We have seen the hand. Now we need to see the
There is of course no justification for the Hindu
part of the bloodshed, but it should be stressed that by all
, ccounts, the riot started with an attack on the procession.
157 RECENT HISTORY RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID 156
AJ,so, the Hindu part of the violence took place mostly af-
ter the cars with the bricks had moved on to Ayodhya,
and by people beyond the organizers' control. Of course,
the organizers should have taken it upon themselves to
calm down their fellow Hindus, even the antisocial ele-
ments among them, and should have gone out of their
way to take the urgent calming and healing steps that the
administration (by all accounts) criminally neglected.
Those who want to discredit the Ram
Janmabhoomi campaign, say that the processions have
"created violence". No, they have encountered violence,
and that is a radically different matter. It has been said
that people in the procession shouted provocative slogans,
but that is not an excuse. Firstly, you can answer slogans
with slogans (give tit for tat, as it were), instead of with
physical violence. And secondly, bombs are not something
you pick up from the street in reaction to "Slogans. You
have made and brought them beforehand, knowing fully
well what to do with them.
There is no doubt that the violence was wrought
by people who primitively opposed "the Ram Shila
procession, but was engineerded by more sophisticated
people who wanted to destroy communal harmony and or
discredit the whole Ram Janmabhoomi campaign. Even a
glance at the "Cui prodest ?" (who benefits ?) aspect of the
Bhagalpur massacre would reveal that much. The
engineer of the riot must be grinning to see how the
'secularist' journalists are playing into his hand with their
The VHP had every reason not let their Ram show
degenerate into a bloodbath. Those in the press who have
tried to make the Ram processionists the culprit, are not
even logical. They are literally the same people who in all
seriousness have accused the Hindu refugees from
159. as was done by Pankaj Pachauri in India Today, 31.3.90.
160. A Requiem for Norms, editorial on 22.11.89.
Kashmir of "creating a communal crisis".159 They are the
same ones who blamed (and forced to resign) the Indian
governor Jagrnohan when Maulvi Farooq, the 'moderte'
pro-independence preacher in Kashmir, got killed by his
'militant' friends, etc.
On November 9, the Shilanyas took place peace-
fully. Much to the chagrin of the 'secularist' commentators,
the Hindu organizations and the army had no problem to
keep the peace on Ram's big day. Of course, a lot of secu-
rity personnel and equipment had been deployed.
Another factor of peace was certainly that Hindus all over
the country were holding their breath, and were conscious
of the iIpportance of a good atmosphere so as not to mar
the big event. The Times of India blamed "the confusion
that surrounded developments on that day" for the
absence of the loudly predicted violence on Shilanyas
At 9:15 a.m., Mahant Avaidyanath, president of the
Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Yajna Samiti, raised the pickaxe
to start the digging. Cameras were present, and all the
high-priests took care to be filmed in the act of digging for
Ram Rajya. Thousands of activist Hindus stood around
The first stone was laid by a Harijan, in order to
show that Hinduism has broken with its past of casteism
(critics wondered if the positions of honour and profit in
the temple management would also be given to Harijans).
For indeed, this was intended to be not just the foundation
stone of a temple, but of the new Hindu society. .
The complete Shilanyas ceremony lasted till noon
of the next day. It was left at thpt, for the time being. After
discussions with the government, the further construction
was delayed till February. For now, it had been a great
159 RECENT HISTORY RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID 158
161. English translation published in Arun Shourie etel :Hindu Temples:
What Happened to Them, appendix.
and untainted success. The BJP congratulated the VHP
with the orderly conduct of the ceremony, but the
Congress-I government claimed the honour for itself: It
counted that it was making Hindus happy by allowmg
the Shilanyas, and Muslims by forestalling the actual
construction. But, as it turned out, Congress had rather
antagonized both communities, losing Hindus to the BJP
and Muslims to V.P. Singh's Janata Dal.
Official spokesmen of Pakistan, BangIa Desh, Saudi
Arabia and Iran condemned the Shilanyas. Many papers
in those countries had reported "the demolition of a
mosque". Benazir Bhutto expressed her "deep. concern".
Muslim mobs in BangIa Desh also expressed theIr concern
by attacking more than 200 Hindu of w?rship as
well as many private houses and busmesses,
of them on fire. The number of Hindus killed or mJured is
not known, but a list of the incidents has been published
by the Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council in Dhaka:
Incidents of Communal Repression in BangIa
on the Pretext of Babri Masjid/Ram Janmabhoomz Sztuatzon In
It goes like this: "1) On November 11, 1989, the four
hundred-year-old historic Kali temple at Chinishpur
looted and set on fire. 2) On the same day the ShlVa
temple of Brahmanadi was looted and set on fire... 20) ?n
Novermber 10, 1989, the Ramakrishna Mission in the CIty
of Moulavi Bazar was attacked and burnt down . .. 30) In
Magura Sadar Upajilla . .. armed attacks were made,
Ranjit Roy and Jagadish Roy were killed ... 53) On
November 14, 1989, in .. . Lakshmipuf District, some 36
houses, shops and businesses belonging to the
communities were attacked, looted and set on fire, and
women were raped and rendered destitute. Besides these,
some 11 temples were attacked and destroyed by setting
on fi re .. . 72) Temples and shops and businesses in the
city of Pabna were attacked and looted... " The BangIa
Desh government has agreed to repair a dozen of the
Rajiv Gandhi's Congress Party lost the 1989
Lok Sabha elections, owing chiefly to the charges of cor-
ruption, of utter failure in handling the secessionist
problem in Panjab and Kashmir, of active. or passive
responsibility in communal riots, and of bunglmg the Ram
Janmabhoomil Babri Masjid affair. The National Front,
consisting at the Lok Sabha level almost exclusively of its
JD component (the others being regional parties of Assam,
Panjab, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu), formed a
minority government, supported by an odd couple of
opposition blocks: the vehemently 'secularist' Communist
parties, CPI and CPM, and the outspoken Hindu parties,
BJP and Shiv Sena.
After the dirty last years of Congress rule, the new
government led by V.P. Singh got a lot of goodwill to start
with. In the Ayodhya affair too, people eXIJ-eCted V.P.
Singh to come up with an amicable solution. The VHP had
announced the beginning of the actual temple construc-
tion for February 8, 1990, less than three weeks before the
Vidhan Sabha (state parliaments) elections. But a few days
before the scheduled date, the VHP leadership' had,a ·talk
with the Prime Minister. After the meeting .they an-
nounced, much to the dismay of their own followers, that
they would give him four months to work out an amicable
Speculations have it that caste considerations
played a role in this decision to postpone the temple
construction. Both V.P. Singh (an erstwhile raja) and
Janmabhoomi campaign leader Mahant Avaidyanath are
kshatriyas, and the Mahant would have given the Prime
Minister more time out of caste solidarity. Others say the
161 RECENT HISTORY
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID 160
VHP was pressured by its most important friend among
the political parties, the BJP. At least as important was the
Prime Minister's rhetoric of not endangering national
unity at a time of crisis (in
On March 8, 1990, the VHP ran into trouble,.when
the papers wrote that there had been financial malversa-
tions involving the 8.29 crore Rupees (some three times
the projected amount needed for the temple construction)
collected by the VHP. The VHP was said to have "eaten
into its corpus", which is incompatible with its fiscal status
as a charitable trust. A notice to this effect was served to
VHP by a junior Income Tax officer, but was withdrawn
by the Directorate of Income Tax, which declared: "It has
been found that the notice issued by a Deputy Director...
calling upon the VHP to furnish its return of income for
the assessment year 1990-91 is not in accordance with the
law." Whether this was a final clearing of the VHP's name
or a bureaucratic trick to evade confrontation, is a matter
of dispute. Some say that the withdrawl shows the
political clout of the VHP, others that the very notice to the
VHP, which was immediately and undeontologically
leaked to the press, just proves that politically motivated
civil servants, in connivance with the press, are trying to
embarrass the VHP. On the whole, it is improbable that
the VHP, regardless of what one may think of its ideology,
would indulge in double dealings for crass financial gain:
apart from its vocal commitment to a moral revival, it
knows very well that with its high profile, it is being
watched by its enemies for fatal mistakes.
One of the people who joined the chorus and '
accused the VHP of financial crimes, was Swami
Swaroopanand Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of Dwarka.
He would say just anything to attack the VHP. He was all
for the Shilanyas, but not at the VHP's chosen time and
place. He would conduct a second Shilanyas inside the
Babri Masjid on May 7, 1990, i.e., with the sun in the
3.4 Ram ]anrnabhoomi and the elections
On October 6, 1984, the VHP issued a declaration
saying that "lack of collective thinking for the protection of
Hindu interests and the absence of the realization of one's
duty in the Hindus is the main cause of the miserable and
disgraceful condition of Hindu society". Consequently, the
VHP called on all Hindus to vote, in the upcoming Lok
Sabha elections, for candidates who would endorse and
champion a list of five Hindu demands. One of the
demands was: 'To pass an Act to return to Hindu Samaj
[= society] the original places of Rama Janmabhoomi, Sri
Krishna Janmabhoomi and Kashi Vishvanath temple."
Northern hemisphere. However, a week ,before that, he
and eleven followers were arrested on the orders of UP
Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav ("Despite my
great regard for the Shankaracharya, I had to take the
unpleasant decision. . . "). The central government
congratulated him on this bold move. The VHP, the other
Shankaracharyas, and other prominents protested against
the arrest, but did not for that support the Swami
Swaroopanand's initiative. From Chunar Fort where he
was held, the Shankaracharya called on his followers to go
ahead with the second Shilanyas on May 7. However, the
prevented the ceremony and arrested 150 people.
Soon after, the Shankaracharya was released.
With all that, the four months that the VHP had
given to V.P. Singh to find an amicable solution, were
almost past, and the great hesitater had not come up with
anything. There had been an initiative by a Jain Muni to
mediate and bring about an agreement between the
religious leaders, thus relieving the politicians of this
difficult task, but it had failed. So, with the end of the
four-month term in sight, the VHP announced a session
for mid-June at which the next steps would be decided.
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID 162
165 RECENT HISTORY
162. Surjit S. Bhalla in Sunday, 11.3.90.
parties, the Shiy Sena and the Hindu Mahasabha, also
bagging 3 and 1 respectively.
It·seems that the Hindu parties have
benefited from· a .surge in Hindu political awareness,
in which the Shila Pujas have certainly played a role. At
the same time, many of their voters seem to have been
disappointed with the Congress-I policy of "appeasement"
of the .Muslims, also called "minorityism". ,The question is
how many supporters of the Ram Janmabhoomi cause
have, because of other considerations and loyalties, voted
for the other parties.
A poll published in Sunday magazine suggests that,
contrary to what one would expect if one believes journal-
istic stereotypes, the 'communal' voter is attracted in
roughly equal measure to BJP, JD, and Congress-I. The
'communal' voter was defined as one who, elsewhere in
the questionnaire, showed preference for building the
.Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir right where the Babri Masjid
now stands. Of these respondents, 29% identified with the
Congress, . 27% with the JD, and 28% with the BJP. "In
other words, the results resoundingly confirm what has
beep known to most non-Congress analysts, i.e. the
communal voter sees all the three major parties as equal
vehicles for fulfilling his communal dreams."162
Parties have accused each other of communalism,
the main of course being the BJP. It may be pointed
out that the Janata Dal has brought Babri Masjid campaign
leaders into the Lok Sabha and the governments, and that
Imam Bukllari has called on the Muslims to vote for the
JD. In the case of Congress, the claims to secularism by its
spokesmen like M.J. Akbar are contradicted by many facts.
In the last state elections in 'Mizoram, Congress declared
itself the champion of the Christian community there. It
was behind the rise of the Sikh extremist Bhindranwale. It
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASjIO 164
Soon after that, mrs. Indira Gandhi was killed bv
her Sikh bodyguards, and attention was pulled away from
the Ayodhya controversy. Several thousands of Sikhs
were massacred in Delhi by goondas belonging to or
hired by the Congress Party as was alleged. By contrast,
workers of the "Hindu communalist" BJP saved many
Sikhs' lives (as was admitted even- by anti-Hindu inte-
llectuals like Khushwant Singh).
Still, it was not the BJP but the Congress-I that got
a landslide victory in the 1984 elections. This does not
mean that the "Hindu vote bank" which the VHP was
trying to create, had not materialized. To an extent, it had.
But those people who cared about Hindu demands like
the Ram Janmabhoomi, had as much faith in the Congress-
I as in the BJP. This was partly due to the perdeved threat
to India's unity, against which the Congress-I as the only
all-India party seemed the best guarantee; and partly to
the fact that many activist .Hindus, including the leader-
ship of the Hindu mass organization RSS, sympathized
With Indira because of her championing Hindu demands
in -the 1983 state elections in Jammu and Kashmir. This
support from the activist Hindu voters, in turn, is part of
the reason why the Congres.s-I government did nothing to
stop the Janmabhoomi campaign when it gained nation-
wide momentum in 1989.
A lot has been written about the effect of the Shi-
lanyas on the Lok Sabha elections of late 1989 (the trends
of which were confirmed in the Vidhan Sabha elections of
early 1990). The results of those elections are well -
known: the Congress lost its comfortable majority, but
remained the single largest party and did well in the
South; the JD became a credible alternative and were in a
position to form a minority government; the communist
parties did well; the spectacular winner was tile BJP,
which jumped from 2 to 88 seats, with the other Hindu
163. Fiftylakhs rupees havebeensanctioned for flooringonlyof.theJama
Masjid at Delhi which, accordingto the Archaelogical Survey, is nota.pro-
tected. monument entitiled. to receive government grants. On the other
hand, a sum of only one crore has been sanctioned. for more thfmone lakh
refugees from Kashmir.
had a big hand in the Sikh after Indira's murder.
It had used Arun Covil, ,the actor who played Ram in the
Ramayana TV serial, as a vote attractor in the Allahabad
by-elections (he declared that JD had also asl,<ed him, but
that Congress was his personal preference). And
communal tension was strongest in Congress-ruled states.
The Muslim vote in North-India has clearly
swung from the Congress-I to the JD. Political stientists as
well as politicians have always considered the Muslim
community as a solid vote bank. Recently, academics have
expressed doubts about the solidity of this "Muslim vote
bank", but politicians still work with it. There is no doubt
that the Shahi Imam's call to Muslims to vote down Con-
gress and to support V.P. Singh has influenced the election
results. The Imam didn't have to do it for love: in March
1990, the JD government agreed to pay for repairs on the
Imam's Jama Masjid in Delhi, when everybody knows that
he could get the money from the Arab countries.
these are things politicians do as a matter of alliance
'Secularists' claimed the election result as a victory.
A point in their favour is that the district which
the Ram Janmabhoomi / Babri Masjid voted a CPI candI-
date into the Lok Sabha, when the CPI had campaigned on
an anti-communal platform. Also, M.J. Akbar, the
'secularist Muslim', had against Syed
in Kishanganj , Bihar, and Syed Shahabuddm had WIth-
drawn because of (many commentators say: under the
pretext of) formal problems With his candidacy papers.
Syed Shahabuddin then fought the elections from
13 ngalore, but lost. On the Hindu activist side, by
ontrast, several Janmabhoomi campaigners won a seat.
Among them was, surprisingly, a Hindu Mahasabha
andidate, the only one of that party who was elected:
Mahant Avaidyanath, who had led the Shilanyas
It is quite certain that the VHP effort to make Hin-
duism into a politically conscious unity, has met with
considerable success. It is equally certain that the Ram
Janmabhoomi campaign has been instrumental in this
development. The question is whether the VHP will prove
right in predicting: "Make no mistake. We will build a
Hindu Rashtra and we have taken a start on November 9,
167 RE ENT HISTORY
RAM jANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASjIO 166
Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (Ali
Abul Kalam Azad, . Maulana, 89
Advani, L.K., lOIn
Agarwal, Deoki Nandan, VHP
Agarwal, Purushottam, on 'real
Hinduism', 119-20 .
Ahmad Bukhari, son of Imam
Akbar, M.]., 'Secularist Muslim',
Akbar, Mughal emperor, 42, 45,
57, 100, 140
Aligarh School of Historians, 85
All India Muslim League, 93
All India Shia Conference, su-
pports the Hindu claim, 92
Allah, 87, 88
Allahabad High Court, 95, 146,
Ambedkar, B.R., 115,116
Amir Ali Amethawi, 7, 64, 77,
Amir Khusrau, 84
Anand Krishna, (ProL), 99n
Anti-Hindu propagandists (Chris-
tian, Muslim, Marxist) and their
shameless story of continuous
Hindu-Buddhist conflict in pre-
Muslim India, 116-17
Arnold, Edwin, 103
Ashghar Ali Abbas, Shia Muslim
Avaidyanath, Mahant, 119, 159,
Aurangzeb, Mughal emperor, 53,
71, 74, 77, 84, 99, 100, 127, 140
Awadh Nawabs, 71, 72, 75-76,77,
Ayodhya, 1, 3, 4, 9, 10, 15, 16, 21,
24-26, 27, 29, 30, 31-32, 33, 37,
50, 51, 72; archaeology of, 23-
24, 29-30; Birthplace tradition
at, 59, 60, 61; Buddhist testi-
mony about, 25, 33; Jain tradi-
tion in, 18-22, 33, 40'
Babar, 1, 2, 4, 8, 29, 37, 41, 47, 50,
52, 53, 54, 55, 57, 71, 72, 73, 74,
75, 130, 138, 139; his testament
to Humayun is a forgery., 45-46;
his demolition of Jain temples
at Ayodhya, Jain statues at
Urwah and Hindu temples in
general at Chanderi, 42, 48, 49
Babri Masjid, 1, 4, 41, 42, 142-44;
an abandoned mosque, 144; as
per Muslim sources, 6,8,51,60,
61, 64-65, 67-69, 70-71, 72;
archaeology of, 10, 57, 58;
date of construction, 1, 8, 52, 65,
69-71; F.E.A. Chamier on, 145-
46; Hindu tradition about,
139-40; Joseph Tieffenthaler on,
9, 10, 74; Montgomery Martin
on, 10, pillars from Jain
temples, 42; William Finch on,
Babri Masjid Action Committee
' (BMAC), 92, 97, 147, 153, 154
Babri Masjid Coordination Com-
mittee (BMCC), 5, 147, 152, 153;
nature of split in, 154
Bahujan Samaj Party, 93
Bajrang Dal, 91, 149, 155
kker, Hans, 70
nerjee, SK, on Babar, 47
ngla Desh, 80, 131, 157; destruc-
tion of Hindu temples in, 160-61
o su, Jyoti, Communist Chief
Minister of West Bengal, 125,
155; on 'real Hinduism', 120
Bhagalpur riots, 157-58
Bhai Parmananda, Hindu Maha-
sabha leader, 104
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), 92,
lOIn, 136, 144n, 160, 161, 162,
Bhutto, Benazir, 160
Bidwai, Praful, 3
Bipan Chandra, JNU historian, 3,
38; on 'real Hinguism', 120
60dh Gaya Buddhist Temple,
restoration of, 102-04
Brahmanical reaction, theory of,
Brahmanism, 115, 117
British machinations theory,
untenability of, 63-64, 72, 140,
Buddha, 125, 127
Buddhism, 89, 105, 114, 117, 126,
127; Muslim tfeatment of, 80;
Marxist view of, 115
Buta Singh, Home Minister in
Rajiv Gandhi Government, 147
Chamier, F.E.A., the British hand
over Ramjanmabhoomi to Mus-
lims on political grounds, 142-
Chanderi, Hindu temples demol-
ished at, 49
Chatterjee, A.K., 9, 70, 73-75
Choudhry, K.5., 73
Communist Parties, 94, 155, 161,
'Composite culture', a case of, 139
Congress Party, 94, 119, 151,155,
'157, 160, 161, 164, 165-66
Dalai Lama, 93
Defenders of 'real Hinduism',
. 119-22, 124, 130
Destruction of Hinduism, ideol-
ogies devoted to, 117
Dixit, S.c., VHP leader, 97
Djenghis (Changiz) Khan, on
Muslim preachers, 127
Durant, Will, on Muslim conquest
of India, 84
Fakhr}lddin Ali Ahmad Memorial
Committee, suppresses a hist-
orical document, 7
Falsity of Muslim fears about
Hindu aggression, 133-34
Ferozshah Tughlaq, Sultan, 100
Finch, William, 10
Gandhi, Indira, 153, 164
Gandhi, Mahatma, 102, 122, 123,
124, 125, 126, 134, 155
Gandhi, Rajiv, 133, 135, 152, 153,
Gandhi, Ram Chandra, on 'real
Gael, Sita Ram, 81, 82, 87n, 97
Gopal, Sarvapalli, JNU historian, 3
Gupta, S.P. (Dr.), 10, 25-26, 27, 29,
51, 57, 58, 59, 96
Gyanvapi mosque at Varanasi, 57,
Habib, Irfan, 82n
Habib, Mohammed (Prof.), 85-86,
Hakim Sayyid Abdul Hai,
Hanuman Garhi, 7, 64, 71, 76, 77,
RAM JANMABHOOM! VS. BABRI MAsnD 170
Harsh Narain (Dr.), 5, 7, 60, 64,
65-66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 72, 73, 83
Heathenism in Hinduism, 126
Hindu-baiters, Nehruvian, 117-18
'Hindu fundamentalism', 133
Hindu Mahasabha, 92, 104, lOS,
119, 128, 165, 167
Hindu-Muslim relations, 137
Hindu Rashtra, concept of, 133,
Hinduism, 110, 114, 122, 124, 125,
126, 127, 128, 133, 159
Hindus and Jews, 78, 80
Hindus and Parsis, 78
Hindus in the Muslim mind, 124
. Hsuan Tsang, 23, 26, 39, 40, 108,
Humayun, Mughal emperor, 44-
Ibn Taymmiyah, on how jihad
restores lands to the Muslims, 6
Idgah at Mathura, 99
Imam Bukhari, Syed Abdullah,
94, 153, 154, 165, 166
India Todily, IOn
Indian Muslim Youth Congress
(lMYC), supports the Hindu
Indian National Congress, 104
Indian (Nehruvian) Secularism,
7, 45. 84-85; character of the
Muslim Concern for, 134- .
Iqbal Ahmad, 92
Iqbal, Muhammad, all lands be-
long to the MusliJ'lls, 6
Islam, 43, 44, 45, !l9, 72, 79, 86, 87-
88, 89-90, 105, 117, 118; place
of mosque in, 127-128
Islamic iconoclasm, 87-88, 114
Islamic glorification of religious
Islamic Law, regarding land
owned by the infidels, 6
Islamic terrorism, 80, 83-84; in
Jahangir, Mughal emperor, 42,140
Jain, Cirilal, 13, 98, 129-30, 132-33,
Jainism, lOS, 110, 114, 123, 126
Jamaat-i-Islami-Hind, 93, 134
Janata Dal, 94, lSI, 160, 161, 164,
Jews, Muslim treatment of, 79-80
Jihad, 6, 43-44, 49, 64, 142
JNU (Marxist, Nehruvian,
Secularist, Stalinist) historians,
3, 4, 9, 10, 11-12, 13-14, IS, 16,
17, 18, 24-25, 26, 30-31, 32-33,
36, 37, 51-52, 53-54, 58, 59, 63,
73, 75-76, 77, 78, 79, 81, 83, 85,
93,94, 105, 106, 108, 109,110-11,
lIS, 116, 117, 118; stage retreat
6, 27, 53, 55; on 'real Hindu-
Ka'aba at Mekka, 87; a pagan
temple converted. into a mos-
Kalidas, Sanskrit poet, about
Ayodhya, 26, 32
Kanauj, temples demolished at, 50
Kashi Vishwanath at Varanasi, 97
98, 100-01, 163
Kashmir, secessionism in, 1, 121-
Kashmiri Hindus, test case for
defenders of 'reai· Hinduism',
Khan, A.R. (Prof.), 11, 13, 15-1b,
18, 24, 27, 29, 53, 56, 58, 76, 77,
hanna, Dau Dayal, Congress
Khomeini, 80, 133
Khushwant Singh, 164
Kosambi, D.o., Marxist historian
on Yugas, 16
Krishna D,as, Rai, 99n
Krishna Janmabhoomi at Mathura
96,97, 98-100, 101, 163
Kulish, K.C., on Babri Masjid, 144
Lal, B.B. <prof.), archaeology of
Ayodhya, 10, 23, 29
Lal, K.S. (Prof.), 82n
Lamote, Etienne, historian of
Buddhism, 107 .
Lohia, Ram Manohar, on Nehru's
Panch Sheel, 116
Mahavira, Jain Tirthankara, 125
Mahmud Chaznavi, 64, 84, 85, 86,
Maimonides, Jewish philosopher,
on forcible conversion of Jews
in Muslim Spain, 79
Majumdar, R.c. (Prof.), 82, 109
Makhdum Shah Zuran Chori,
destroys a Jain temple at
Malaviya, Madan Mohan, 99
Malkani, K.R., 120
Mangalwadi, Vishal, Christian
propagandist, 116-17, on 'real
Martin, Montgomery, 10, 74
Marxism in India, elitist .character
Mathura, 85, 88
Mir Baqi, 41, 42, 47, 50, 51, 52,
54, 61, 71, 91, 139
Mirza Jan, 64, 83
Mirza Rajab Ali Beg ,Surur, 7'0-71,
Mitra, Chandan, on 'real Hindu-
Mohammed, prophet, 87, 88,
134; his treatment of Jews, 79
Mohammed Azam Khan, 92
Mohammed Chori, 50, 51, 59,
84, 100, 109, 111
Mosques, legitimate and illegiti-
mate, 5-6; too many of them
stand on the sites of deliberately
demolished Hindu temples, :;
Mukhia, Harbans, JNU historian,
Munshi, K.M. (Dr.), 82, 84, 102
Musa Ashiqan, 42, 57, 61, 65, 67,
Muslim aggression, character of,
130, 131, 132, 133
Muslim call to public prayers,
character of, 136
Muslim chauvinism, 112, 132-33
Muslim countries, 132, 134, 160
Muslim historians, 81, 84, 85
Muslim intransigence, 93, 130-
Muslim League (pre-partition),
Muslim-Marxist alliance, 130-31
Muslim period of Indian history,
Muslim vote-bank, 166
Muslims in India, a privileged
Myth of Hindu-Muslim amity, 82,
Nair, K.K.K, 145
Nanak, Curu, 43, 125, 127; on
Nehru, Jawaharlal, 84, 85, 102,
114-15, 116, 118, 136, 145; why
he Buddhism, 115-16
RAM JANMABHOOMI VS. BABRI MASJID
Neville, H.R., on Hindu-Muslim
fight at Ayodhya in 1855, 141-42
Non-violence, Indian doctrine of,
Pachauri, Pankat 143n, 144n, 150.
Padgaonkar, Dilip, Hindu-baiter,
Palam, Babar's mosque at, 50
Panch Sheel, Nehru's contamina-
tion of, 116
Pandey, G.c. (Prof.), 82
Pandey, Gyanendra, secularist
. journalist, 145, 146
Panipat, Babar's mosque at, 50
Parshvanath, Jain Tirthankara, 127
Patel, Sardar Vallabhbhai, 101-02
Peaceful co-existence of Hindu
sects, 113·14; Nehru on, 117
Persecution of Buddhists and
Jains by Hindus, unfounded
stories about, 106-10, 111-12
Pilakhana, Babar's mosque at, 50
Prasad, Maheshwari (Prof.), 30
Premananda, Catholic Father, on
Ram Rajya, 134
Quraishi, Muhammad Abdul
Rahim, 60, 61, 62, 63, 65, 66, 73
Quran, 78, 86; on jihad, 43-44; on
Qutub-ud-din Aibak, Sultan, 100,
Qutub Minar, 81
Radhey Shyam (Dr.), 46, 47, 48
Rajendra Prasad, first President
of independent India, 102, 104
Ram cult, 4, 26-27, 28, 29, 33
Ram Janmabhoomi at Ayodhya,
history of, 139-42. Hindu-Mus-
lim fights on, 143
Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Yajna
Samiti,94, lSI-52, 159
Ram Janmabhoomi $eva Committ
Ram Janmabhoomi Temple demo-
lition tradition, 4, 6, 9, 61, 65, 67,
Ram Rajya, concept of, 28, 133,
Ram Swarup, 87n
Ramayan TV serial, character of,
Ramkot, 66-67, 69, 74-75
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
(RSS), 82n, 133, lSI, 164
Ravidas, Sant, 127
Rohtak, Babar's two mosques at,
Rushdie, Salman, 83-84, 153-54
Sagar, Ramanand, producer of
the Ramayan TV serial, 135
Sambhal, Babar's (?) mosque at,
Sayyid Salar Masud Ghazi, 64
Secularists, 3, 9, 44, 64, 85, 93-94,
106, 110, 121, 135, 144, 150-51,
156, 157, 158-59, 166 .
Shah Jahan, Mughal emperor, 140
Shahabuddin, Syed, 5, 12, 58, 59,
63, 65, 67, 70, 71-72, 83, 93, 98,
127, 128, 144, 152, 153, 154, 166;
stages retreat, 6, 9; on Indian
Shaikh Ali Hazin, 71
Shaikh Azmat Ali Kakorawi
Shankar (acharya), 125, 126
Sharma, Sri Ram (Prof.), 48, 49
Shila Puja, 155-56, 157, 165; no
provocation for Hindu-Muslim
Shiv Sena, 92. 161, 165
hourie, Arun, 7, 8, 87n, 154n
Sikandar Lodi, Sultan, 99
ikhism, lOS, 127
ingh, V.P., 94, 160, 161, 162, 163,
Singhal, Ashok, VHP leader, 147
Sirsa, Babar's mosque at, 50
Skand Gupta Vikramaditya,
Gupta emperor, 21, 22, 26, 27,
29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 35, 36, 37, 40
Somanath, 88; restoration of, 101-
SoniI!'at, Babar's mosque at, 50
Spoiled children of Allah, 136
Srivastava, Sushil (Prof.), 59
Surinder Kaur (Mrs.), 37, 40, 41,
42, 43, 45, 46, 48, 50, 51, 58
Sushil Kumar, Muni Acharya,123,
Swaroopananda, Swami, 148, ISS,
Tabligh, movement for islamizing
the Muslims, 89
Tagore, Rabindranath, 104
Tagore, Surendranath, 103
Tariq, conqueror of Spain, 6
Tegh Bahadur, Guru, 127
Temples turned into mosques,
81-82. 83, 90, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101
Thapar, Romila, 3, 38, 109n
Tieffenthaler, Joseph, 9, 10, 53, 57,
Tilak, Lokmanya, 155
Times 'of India, in its secularist
role, 3, 13-14, 159
Tripathi, Kamlapathi, the 'real
Hindu', 119, 122
Tulsidas, Goswami, 28, 56, 127,
Umar, the second rightly-guided
Urwah, Babar destroys Jain sculp-
tures at, 42-43, 48
Valmiki, 4, 14, IS, 16, 17, 23, 25,
Van der Veer, Peter, 30-31, 34, 36,
61, 141, 143n
Varanasi, temples destroyed at,
50; Gyanvapi mosque at, 57, 100
Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), 2,
5, 91, 94, 96, 97, 100, 117, 118,
119,122,147,148,149, lSI, 152,
ISS, 156, 158, 160, 161, 162, 163,
Vivekananda, Swami, 103
Western Orientalists, 14-15
What Hindus expect from Mus-
Wheeler, Tolboys, 39
Yadav, Mulayam Singh, secularist
Chief Minister of Uttar Pr"ldesh,
Yukteswar, Swami, Sri, on Yugas,
Yoga, the core of Hinduism and
the highest Hindu achieve-
Zafaryab Jilani, Muslim activist,
Zaheer Hasan, (Dr.), lOS, 106
Zaki Kakorawi, Muslim historian,
Zoroastrians, Muslim treatment
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