What was long feared seems to be coming true. After the votaries of the Ram Mandir at the disputed site in Ayodhya have had their way, attempts to re-open the mosque-temple controversies in Mathura and Varanasi are now on. The other day, a junior magistrate in Mathura threw out an application to examine whether the mosque in question stood over what was a historic temple, saying that the petitioner lacked locus. But the relief that hugely emotive issues which threaten to open afresh old wounds of a corrosive communal nature would remain in check was short-lived.
Last week, a civil court in Varanasi ordered the Archaeological Survey of India to survey the Gyanvapi mosque in order to find out whether it stood on the ruins of a Hindu temple. It seems that even the judge was unaware of the law passed by Parliament following the Ram temple campaign which specifically prohibited reopening of disputes over the status of religious places as they existed at the time of Independence. In other words, the Narasimha Rao government, taken by surprise by the events of December 6, 1992, sought to legally bury the simmering controversies about the disputed religious sites in the other two towns in UP considered holy by the majority community.
Yet, the advent of the Modi government and the judicial clearance for the construction of the Ram temple at the very site where the controversial Babri mosque had stood till 1992 seemed to have encouraged the votaries of Hindutva to try and repeat the success in Mathura and Varanasi. We can understand their eagerness to reopen the old and simmering wounds of our Mughal past but why would a junior judge go along with such a bid is rather puzzling. Unless of course unknown to anyone certain forces keen to obliterate the 'shame of subjugation by the Mughal invaders' are once again at work.
What is no less surprising is that the Varanasi civil judge went ahead and gave the controversial order despite the Allahabad High Court having reserved its order on the very maintainability of such an application. At the very least, the Varanasi judge ought to have waited for the Allahabad High Court order on the maintainability of the application. Regardless of the legalities involved in the matter, what worries us is the potentially divisive nature of the dispute. Once the Varanasi Mandir-Masjid dispute is thrashed about publicly, and protagonists on both sides begin to joust in courts and in the political arena, it will be natural for the two communities to be sucked into the dispute.
As it is, public atmosphere is polarised on religious grounds, what with extremists on both sides fuelling popular emotions. The on-going polls in Assam and West Bengal bear witness to the deep undercurrents of religious extremism rending society apart. Voices of goodwill and moderation on both sides are drowned out in the shrill noises leaders of the two communities make against each other, diverting the 'aam aadmi' from the more urgent concerns about 'dal-roti-kapda-aur-makaan'. We hope against hope that before the Gyanvapi mosque blows up into a national crisis, saner counsels can prevail to nip the trouble in the bud. Otherwise, instead of nation-building and 'vikas' we will waste our time and energies in peripheral issues.