Mumbai (AsiaNews) – India is waiting with trepidation a ruling over a small piece of land (120 by 105 feet) where the old Babri Masjid (mosque) stood until it was torn down on 6 December 1992 and replaced by a small makeshift Hindu temple. In 1991, confessional violence left a trail of blood across the region. AsiaNews spoke to Ashish Shelar, a lawyer and rising leader in the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). A member of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), he rules out new violence.
“We will ensure peace and calm, irrespective of the verdict. If the verdict is in our favour, we will celebrate in moderation; if not, we will appeal. There is absolutely no question of protests or violence. Our [country] is a democracy and we work and operate within the framework of the democracy,” he explained. “As an elected member of the Administration and also as the BJP group leader, I am committed to maintaining the integrity and unity of the nation.”
According to the Rāmcharitmānas (Lake of the Deeds of Rām), a text much loved by Hindus, Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh) was the birthplace of the god Rām who is considered the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu. Here, in 1528, Mir Baqi, on orders of Babur (1483-1530), founder of the Mughal dynasty in India, built the Babri Masjid, on the ruins, it is claimed, of a Hindu temple that was demolished for that purpose. Since then, the site has been a cause of disagreement between the two religions.
In 1990, the Viśva Hindu Pariṣad (VHP or World Hindu Congress) and the BJP organised a special pilgrimage to Ayodhya to coincide with a Hindu festivity on 30 October. The march made its way through a number of states, disrupting law and order. When the procession reached Ayodhya, people circumambulated (Parikramā) around the mosque. As tensions rose and pilgrims clashed with police, extremists launched an assault on the mosque but failed to tear it down.
Between September and November, almost 600 people died as a result of clashes. In July 1992, the VHP choose 6 December for another ceremony. At 6 am of that day, after political leaders spoke, extremist groups attacked the mosque. Between 3 pm and 5 pm, the three domes of the mosque collapsed under the eyes of the cameras, without police lifting a finger. Overnight, a makeshift temple was built.
The following day, the central government disbanded the four BJP-led state governments and arrested BJP and VHP leaders, holding them for a few days. It also banned radical Hindu and Muslim groups.
In the violence that ensued (6 to 13 December), about 1,200 people were killed. Between December 1992 and January, Mumbai was the scene of major clashes that left about 2,000 people dead, mostly Muslims.
For Ashish Shelar, “it is true that there are a lot of sentiments attached to the Ram Janmbhoomi temple,” but whatever happens, “everything that we do is to be done through constitutional means,” democratically and in the courts.
“The new young BJP leadership is oriented towards progress and development,” he added. We want better education and a higher standard of living for everyone, even for the marginalised”.
Inside the party, “We have discussed the Ayodhya verdict in a series of meetings, and the decision is unanimous. If the verdict is not in our favour, we will appeal”.
For the young BJP leader, problems do exist. “We have learnt from our mistakes. Now we have risen above a religious agenda and our focus in on development and progress.”
“Violence is not the way out,” he noted. “There is no evidence that religious issues have ever been resolved with violence. We political leaders have a responsibility: we must protect our people and guarantee law and order as well as [social] peace.”
Mr Shelar is active in a number of local citizen issues, speaking on behalf of the voiceless and defending citizens’ rights. At Christmas, he organised Christmas carols, which attracted more than 4,000 people. Muslim entertainers were included in the programme.
According to the Babri Masjid Action Committee and other Muslim groups, the demolition of the mosque was illegal, and Muslims were violently expelled from the site.
Irrespective of the beliefs and commitment of leaders like Shelar, everyone is waiting for the court ruling with trepidation because, on both sides of the issue, extremist fringe groups are waiting to turn to violence in the name of religion.