‘The Narasimha Rao government had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court in 1994 that if it was proved that a temple did exist earlier, then the land would be handed over to the Hindus to rebuild the temple.’
The indomitable spirit of Dr Subramanian Swamy has propelled the economist-statistician-politician-activist to the forefront of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. The recent Supreme Court judgement dismissing the plea to refer to a larger Bench for review a 24-year-old verdict of Allahabad High Court that mosque is not essential to Islam, thereby removing the “last hurdle” and paving the way for final hearing of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri mosque title suit, has set the BJP MP back into frantic action. In a candid interview with The Sunday Guardian, Dr Swamy answered many awkward questions with utmost honesty. Excerpts:
Q: You are not a party to the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri mosque title suit. How did you come into the picture?
A: Originally, I was in (Bharatiya) Jan Sangh. When it was reconstituted as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), I stayed away from it because I disagreed with Vajpayee on adopting “Gandhian socialism” as the party ideology. I was the president of Janata Party when Chandrasekhar became Prime Minister. I became the Law and Commerce Minister. Then the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was at its peak and Syed Shahabuddin was our party general secretary as well as the chairman of Babri Masjid Action Committee. PM Chadrasekhar asked us to find a solution to the temple issue. That’s how I came into the picture.
Shahabuddin said that they are prepared to give up their claim to the land if it is proved that there existed a temple at the disputed site earlier and the mosque was built later. So we thought of engaging the experts of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to find out whether a temple was there at the site or not. I enjoyed a good rapport with Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leaders who were spearheading the movement. Upon my mediation, they agreed to suspend their “kar seva” programme in December 1990.
Q: So the dispute could have been resolved then?
A: I put a condition that we would give up our claim to the 40,000 temples that were destroyed by the Muslim rulers if we are handed over just three of them—Ram temple of Ayodhya, Krishna temple of Mathura and Kashi Vishwanath temple of Varanasi. But Shahabuddin did not agree to it and said they are ready to leave only the Ayodhya one as they regard Lord Ram as “Imam-e-Hind”. However, our government fell before we could do something concrete in the matter.
Later, the Narasimha Rao government came out with a White Paper on the issue in 1991.
Then I was the chairman of the Commission on Labour Standards and International Trade. Rao sent me letters seeking my active role in resolving the temple issue. But BJP and VHP had lost their interest in the issue after the mosque was demolished on 6 December 1992 as they thought that they would come to power soon. However, things did not go their way.
Q: But how did you come back to the scene?
A: When VHP leader Ashok Singhal fell seriously ill, he called me and stated very sadly that perhaps this temple issue would not be resolved in his lifetime. His apprehension was correct as the Allahabad High Court pronounced its judgement in 2010 but nothing was done in the case for the next seven and half years. So he requested me to do whatever possible in the matter. But my problem was I was not a party to the case in the lower court, so I had no locus standi in the Supreme Court.
Somehow I found out a way to enter the legal battle. It was a title suit between the Sunni Waqf Board and the Nirmohi Akhada-Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas combine fighting for the ownership of the land. But I went into appeal saying that it cannot be a mere property dispute, rather it is a matter of faith for crores of Hindus that their Lord was born at the very same place.
And our Constitution has given prominence to faith in the Preamble itself. It also comes under Article 25 of the Fundamental Rights. So I contended that it is violation of my fundamental right as I am restrained from offering prayers and worshipping my Lord at the site. The law also value fundamental rights much higher than ordinary rights like property right. So whenever there is a clash between the two, courts have always favoured fundamental right over property right.
Q: Don’t you think Muslims too have their fundamental right to offer namaz there?
A: Allahabad High Court had already pronounced that a mosque is not essential to Islam. This fact has further been established after the Supreme Court refused to refer the 24-year-old case to a larger Bench for review last week. A mosque is where they offer prayers collectively but they can do it anywhere
Q: Is it not applicable to a temple also?
A: No, it can’t be. A temple comes into being only after prana pratishta or rituals for the Lord to enter into the idol established inside it.
Q: And what about the idols installed under the roadside trees everywhere?
A: No no…they cannot be considered as temples as prana pratishta is not done there as per Aagam Shastra. Once it is done, nobody can touch it. I have won a few cases wherein the idol is stolen but was re-established after carrying out proper rituals upon its recovery, sometimes from abroad. For example, the Nataraj statue was stolen from a temple and I got it back from London and properly re-installed it there. Now, Muslims cannot say the same thing about the Ayodhya site.
Q: So what is the road ahead for you now?
A: When I went into appeal with this plea, the court said it would form a separate Bench to hear it. It disturbed the Congress people as they realised the verdict will go in my favour as they knew that faith as a fundamental right has always had an upper hand on property rights. That’s why they raked up the Ismail Faruqui case. Now that that has been set aside, my path is clear. The court had asked me to approach it after this verdict is out. So now I go back to the court and get the hearing started in my case…most probably on Monday…
Q: Are you hopeful of finally winning the case?
A: The Narasimha Rao government had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court in 1994 that if it was proved that a temple did exist earlier, then the land would be handed over to the Hindus to rebuild the temple. The Apex Court had included it in the Ismail Faruqui case and referred it back to Allahabad High Court. The HC in turn asked the ASI to find out the truth and ASI had put two distinguished historians Prof B.B. Lal and Prof K.K. Muhammed on the job. The duo carried out excavations at the site and found that there is a grand structure of a Vaishnav temple lying buried there.
Their findings are very much recorded in the judgements and I have also attached it to my application.
Interestingly, Prof Lal had carried out a similar operation in 1976 too but Indira Gandhi stopped it midway fearing a backlash after the truth was out.
Now, as per the affidavit, the Uttar Pradesh government, which has been appointed as the receiver of the land in question, has to hand it over to the Hindus. So it’s only a matter of time that the court gives a verdict in our favour and a grand temple of Lord Ram is built at the very same site…and I am very happy and content with my contribution