From Menander to Lord Meghnad Desai : The Struggle for Ayodhya

via Dr. Vijaya Rajiva published on April 29, 2011

The irony of an atheist/materialist holding forth on matters concerning a religious site such as Ayodhya cannot be lost on anyone, least of all Hindus. Indian born naturalized British citizen Lord Meghnad Desai is well known to the elite of India. He describes himself as an atheist.

Along with fellow travellers leftist N.Ram , editor-in-chief of The Hindu,A.G. Noorani, and sundry luminaries of the atheist-materialist tradition, Lord Meghnad assembled for a seminar   on Inter Faith Harmony organized by the Indian Harmony Foundation. The seminar was held in New Delhi and was reported in The Hindu, April 24,2011. The topic for discussion was  ‘Living in Harmony : towards resolution of the Ayodhya issue’.

The ostensible purpose of this gathering was to float the idea of an interfaith centre at the site of the Ramajanmabhoomi, the birth place of Lord Rama, and considered sacred to the Hindus for several millennia. Menander the Indo Bactrian-Greek king of 150 B.C is said to have attacked Ayodhya and since then the birthplace of Rama has been the site of many bloody conquests by invaders and the most famous (infamous !) being that of  Babur from  Central Asia and whose general Mir Baki destroyed the Rama temple under the specific orders of Babur in 1528 and built a mosque there. This last point has been disputed, but Hindus believe that it is Baki who demolished the Hindu temple. The Archeological Survey of India has confirmed that there are ruins of a Hindu temple below the Babri Masjid, the mosque built by Baki .

Taking these and many other factors into account the the three member bench composed of two Hindus and one Muslim of the Allahabad High Court  handed down
the judgment in September of 2010 that the exact spot of the birthplace of Rama would go to the Hindus, while the other areas would be divided between  the Hindu and Muslim litigants. The matter is now with the Supreme Court.

Since 150 B.C. the Hindus have defended the Ayodhya site and this has  been as dramatic as the attacks by invaders and foreign elements.  The many battles waged by Hindu kings and the many thousands of Hindu lives lost in these attempts to regain Ayodhya are the stuff of Hindu history and  the Hindu devotion to their god. Perhaps, as significant are the living testaments of architectural monuments (temples) and the literary creations and devotional movements that have immortalized the name of Rama, the most famous being the epic Ramayana.

The last most recent attempt by Hindus has been the destruction of the roof of the Babri masjid in 1992 by Hindu kar sevaks who had grown impatient with the long legal battle that was being waged to recover Ayodhya for the Hindus. This is a controversial topic, and pages have been written about the legality of the attack on the Babri  and with some accounts using the word ‘criminal’. Presumably, since the gaining of independence and the Indian Constitution, such events as those that happened in earlier centuries could no longer be tolerated.

It is in this context that a self professed atheist-materialist and his fellow travellers sought  
to throw in their ten cents worth of intervention. The obiter dicta they have issued on the Allahabad High Court judgment border on the  ludicrous because nothing new was said that was not already said about the legalities of the issue, especially after the Allahabad High Court judgment of September 2010 which divided the land of the  Rama temple and its vicinity between the various litigants. N. Ram pontificated on the legalities of the judgment, although this issue was discussed threadbare in the immediate aftermath of the judgment. Most of these amateurish opinions about the ‘legality’ of the judgment were just that, amateurish.

What was new at the seminar were the pronouncements of Lord Meghnad. He made two important statements (at least they seemed important to him). Whether the Hindus of India will accept them or not is equally important, but let us , for the time being try to understand his reasoning. Lord Meghnad’s position was somewhat different from the arguments put forth by N.Ram  et al regarding the political nature of the dispute, the legalities and so on, all of which had been repeated ad nauseam earlier on for sometime now. Their protestations themselves seem  highly politicized and orchestrated, to any observer.

Meghnad Desai struck a new note. He argued two things : (1) no community has the right to claim the Ayodhya site as their own , (2) the past is past and we must look to the future.

His first argument is based on the idea that in a multi faith democracy like India, it is irrelevant for either the Hindus or the Muslims to claim the site as their own. The Muslim claim is that the mosque and its site has been theirs since 1528, even though it was not actually always used for worship.  Quite obviously, the counter Hindu claim is that the Rama temple is even more ancient than the mosque, and that the birthplace of Rama had been hallowed by ancient Hindu tradition, long, long before the birth of Islam in the seventh century of the Christian era.Historically, this makes sense.

It is here that Meghnad Desai intervenes to say that in today’s India no community can lay claim to the site exclusively, whatever the historical antecedents. And in continuation of this he points to the future of India. In essence, he is saying : forget the past, let’s move to the future.

This bit of wisdom comes easily to Lord Meghnad because he is,unlike some of his fellow travelers, a pragmatic person. Not for him the ideological blinkers worn by the Left. And since he is an atheist the religious dimension is also of no consideration to him. But it must be pointed out to Lord Meghnad that since man does not live by bread alone, as the history of the Hindu defence of Ayodhya shows (the historical record is that of thousands of Hindu lives being lost), the question inevitably arises as to what is missing in the Meghnad narrative.

For Hindus all of India is sacred land, but especially sacred is the birthplace of an avatar. The avatar is indeed the divine manifesting itself in a particular spot and the temple is consecrated to the sanctity of the place. This belief does not exist in Islam.

Is such a belief worth struggling for ? To an atheist-materialist this seems absurd, beyond belief . They cannot relate to the depths of devotion  of a people to what they consider sacred spaces ? And   the advocates of the India Harmony project  are bent on imposing their own dogma onto others ?  For indeed it is a dogma. Readers must be reminded that the Left has always been influenced by their own version of dogma in regards to religion, and in the Indian context, towards Hinduism. The political dimensions are also evident. They soft pedal the issue of religion when it comes to the monotheistic faiths in India, such as Islam and Christianity, but they are devoutly opposed to Hinduism !

Here the influence of Karl Marx is all pervasive. That world historical figure who critiqued capitalism did not hesitate to describe British rule in India as a positive factor. While rebuking Britain for exploiting India economically, he also added that for all its iniquities, Britain played a progressive role in India, where Man who should be the master of Nature, fell on his knees before Hanuman the monkey and Sabala the cow (British Rule in India, 1853).

This was Marx’s version of humanism, a very limited humanism which saw Man as the measure of all things. He borrowed this idea from the Greek sophist philosopher Protagoras.

The Left, as well as Lord Meghnad  then , have an agenda, although it is couched in somewhat opaque terms such as multi faith etc. Hindus are not going to buy this. For them Ayodhya has always been a sacred place, the birthplace of the avatar.

And indeed, there is no need for them to fall on their knees before the new gods of neo colonialism ! They can hold on to their own gods.

The correct solution has already been proposed both by the BJP and more especially by Dr. Subramania Swamy of the Janata Party. A mosque can be built for the Muslims across the river Sarayu.

In Muslim lands such as Saudi Arabia mosques are known to be moved to make way for roads. And since the Babri was built by an invader,the present writer believes that is  all the more reason to move it away and build a new mosque, an indigenous one for the Muslims of India. Hindu syncretism is alive and well but to push beyond a point is not only unjust and unfair, it may also be unwise. Some progressive Muslims have indeed expressed the view that Ayodhya is sacred to Hindus as Mecca is to Muslims and it makes good sense  not to make an issue out of the Babri mosque.

The present writer believes that this is probably the most reasonable solution. The inter faith solution by the atheist-materialist camp appears to be politically motivated, especially since it has been spearheaded by non believers. India is indelibly Hindu and to impose a dogmatic solution on the population is itself unthinkable. Hindus are being asked to give up a sacred site to fulfill the dreams of a group of atheist-materialists ! Menander used the force of arms. They are using the questionable logic of their reasoning to hoodwink the  Hindus.

(The writer taught Political Philosophy at a Canadian university. Her academic training has been in Philosophy, Political Science, Political Economy and History).

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