Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat has struck a conciliatory note by saying that the RSS will not participate in any movement to claim disputed religious sites. Against the backdrop of the Gyanvapi mosque case, Bhagwat said the feuding communities must try to arrive at a solution through parleys, and if a case reaches the courts, their verdict must be accepted by all. Claims of a Shivling being found in the Gyanvapi premises in Varanasi may have pushed the narrative of one community and fanned passions, but Bhagwat advised against looking for Shivlings under masjids. He even sought to mend bridges, saying the past was not given effect by today’s Muslims or Hindus. Given the growing polarisation across religious and ideological lines, the costs of which are becoming more evident as the economy struggles, Bhagwat’s realpolitik is welcome, and must become the compass for aggressive Hindutva activists.
The ruling BJP, days before Bhagwat’s speech, had said it will abide by the court verdict in the Gyanvapi issue; party president JP Nadda had stressed that the “court and Constitution will decide on it and the BJP will follow it in letter and spirit”. The proof of the pudding will, of course, be in the eating—whether outfits, political and religious, toe Bhagwat’s line needs to be seen. The track record isn’t encouraging. This is not the first time that Bhagwat has downplayed religious divides. He has said many times earlier too that the Hindu culture expresses itself in diverse forms, but some groups are trying to spread hatred in society by creating insecurity among people. But such remarks have in the past drawn the ire of the Hindu Right.
Even if the BJP and other Sangh parivar outfits stay away, slogans like “Ayodhya, Kashi (Varanasi) bhavya mandir nirmaan jaari hai, Mathura ki taiyaari hai” (grand temples are being built in Ayodhya and Kashi, and the preparation is on for Mathura) seem to resonate with many ‘fringe’ outfits. On the heels of the Gyanvapi matter, a district court in Uttar Pradesh allowed a lawsuit seeking the removal of the Shahi Idgah mosque in Mathura, claiming that it was built on the birth-site of the Hindu god Krishna. The court admitted the petition following the Allahabad High Court ordering it on May 12 to dispose of all cases pertaining to the dispute within four months. The HC order came during the hearing of a petition by a member of an outfit called Narayani Sena. Bear in mind, of the total of nine Krishna Janmabhoomi petitions pending at the Mathura court, one was filed by a member of Narayani Sena while another was filed by a member of the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha. Keeping this in context, it is hard to feel assured about hardliners refraining from going after other disputed sites or even honouring court verdicts against their contention.
Bhagwat’s strong endorsement of the sanctity of the courts and the Constitution should also prompt a look at the role of the courts in such matters. In the Gyanvapi case, court orders so far make it seem like there is a reluctance to take a strong stance in favour of the Places of Worship Act 1991. This, though, is not the only such example. There have been reports about the court’s disinclination to uphold the 1991 law in matters such as that of the Bababudan dargah in Karnataka. Unless the political class, their foot soldiers, and the courts draw the right lessons from what Bhagwat has said, it will be difficult to see calm waters.