The Ayodhya turmoil had left a deep scar on India’s secular fabric and widened the communal divide. Such was the impact of the tremor that its aftershocks are still being felt. The country cannot afford to revive the old wounds and relive the horrors of the past. Any move that has the potential to rake up the past wounds must be avoided. The revival of the controversy over Gyanvapi Mosque near Kashi Vishwanath Temple raises such fears. The mosque lies right next to the temple. The Varanasi District Court’s order, directing the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to undertake a survey to determine if the mosque had been “superimposed” after demolishing the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, is a disquieting development. It may well set the tone for a sequel to the Ayodhya dispute with all the combustible ingredients—contested history, faith and politics. The order comes as a rude jolt to all those who believed that the unanimous, five-judge Supreme Court judgment on the Ayodhya dispute would bring permanent closure to all other divisive temple-mosque controversies in India. The country has already suffered enough in the wake of bloodshed over the demolition of the 16th century Babri Masjid in 1992. The Ramjanambhoomi movement has changed the political landscape of the country forever. The country needs to exorcise the ghosts of the past in order to secure a better future. History and its perceived wrongs should not be used to oppress the present or the future.
At a time when the country is trying to forget the bitter past and move on, following the final verdict of the apex court on Ayodhya in 2019, the Varanasi civil judge’s order can provide a handle for Hindutva organisations to rake up emotions and keep the pot boiling till the run-up to the next general elections. In order to avoid repeating the costly mistakes of the past, it is extremely important to adhere to the provisions of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, passed against the backdrop of the Ramjanambhoomi movement. The law stipulates that all places of worship in the country will remain as they were on August 15, 1947, and the cases seeking conversion of a place of worship to that of another religion or faith “shall abate”’. The Ayodhya dispute alone was exempted from the Act as it was already before the courts. This law must be followed in letter and spirit and all political parties and religious groups must move on from the past and desist from raking up disputes over places of worship. Revisiting the medieval wars in 21st century India will be an invitation to disaster. It will hold the future of the coming generations to ransom.
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