The Supreme Court verdict of November 9th on the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute case, resolved unanimously in favor of the Hindu parties, has deservedly come in for much criticism by Muslims, liberals, and many others who remain anguished over the diminishing prospects of secularism and the future of the Republic. It remains unnecessary to recapitulate everything that may be found wanting or contradictory in the court’s judgment, though some aspects of the ruling will surely continue to puzzle those who have more than a rudimentary understanding of the issues at the heart of the dispute. Just how did the Supreme Court, for example, arrive at the view that “on a balance of probabilities, the evidence in respect of the possessory claim of the Hindus to the composite whole of the disputed property stands on a better footing than the evidence adduced by the Muslims” (paragraph 800)? The reasoning here seems to be perfunctory, to say the least: since the Court admits that Muslims did offer worship from 1857 until 1949, it must have some account of what purpose the Babri Masjid served for the 300 years preceding 1857. It doesn’t.
(First of a long series that will continue through the year on the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi.)
The subject of Gandhi’s “religion” has never been more important than at present when Hindu nationalism is sharply ascendant and Hindu pride is being championed as a necessary form of the reawakening of a long subjugated people. The contemporary Hindu nationalist narrative also feeds on other propositions, among them the conceit that Hinduism is the world’s oldest religion, the view that Hinduism is uniquely tolerant, the apprehension that Hinduism’s tolerance has historically rendered it vulnerable to more aggressive faiths, and the twin conviction that Indian civilization is fundamentally Hindu in its roots and that secularism is alien to India.