Ayodhya controversy: Modi’s lust for power will cost India dearly if government shows disdain to Supreme Court

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India’s next general election is less than six months away.  As expected, Ram Mandir in Ayodhya has come back to occupy the headlines of Indian media. The BJP under Narendra Modi had come to power with a majority of its own in Lok Sabha in 2014 by promising a Hindutva version of development for the country. Modi has been successful in promoting the Hindutva agenda but has failed miserably on the development front.

Ayodhya

India’s macro-economy is precarious, banks are bankrupt, oil prices are all time high, value of rupee is all-time low, farmers are struggling to survive, black money from abroad has not been brought back rather cronies with the black money have moved abroad and there are no jobs for country’s aspiring youths. The so-called Gujarat Model of 2014 has not only lost all its charm, but it has also even become a joke.

Not only has Modi failed to bring in the promised development but he has also caused a disaster on the national security front. India had never become so lonely in the world as it has been now. Not a single neighboring country is with India now. They all have gone to China’s camp. China-Pakistan Axis is regularly threatening India’s border. Longtime friend Russia is now more of a friend of Pakistan than of India. India’s only hope is mercurial Donald Trump, whom no one in the world trusts. So, the so-called nationalist Modi government’s national security success has been only limited to flying large national flags at the border posts and big cities. Politically canny Narendra Modi knows very well that he has nothing to show on economic development and national security fronts that will get him votes to win the 2019 election.

The only thing Modi Saheb and his Amit Shah have delivered in the last 4 1/2 years of their rule is forcing Hindutva ideology on a secular India. The country is deeply divided. Creating a myth of minority appeasement to criticise the Congress Party, the Narendra Modi led BJP government has blatantly pursued a majority appeasement policy. Rules and norms are being regularly thrown aside in the name of honouring Hindu sentiments. Supreme Court orders are being openly flouted in the name of protecting Hindu traditions. The lynching of minorities and Dalits seem to have become India’s pastime. Life of a cow has become more precious than the life of a Muslim in India. The only successes Modi regime has achieved since May 2014 is that it has demonised Muslims and destroyed the dignity of Dalits and at the same time, has revived a powerful notion of Hindu supremacy in the country. To reap the electoral benefit of its Hindutva promotion policy, Modi-Shah duo under the guidance of the RSS has now brought back the highly contentious Ram Mandir issue again to nation’s political discourse and possibly to policy-making.

Modi government has been in power for 54 months, but it had refrained from taking any positive step to finding a solution to this highly contentious issue. The Allahabad High Court Verdict of 2010 asks for an equal division of the disputed 2.77 acres of land among three parties: The Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla. Last week, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court declined the request of an urgent hearing by the UP government and has fixed its hearing on the appeals of the Allahabad High Court verdict in the first week of January 2019.

While the legal process is moving in its usual pace in the highest court of the country, the Sangh Parivar has generated a chorus of demands to bypass the legal process and to bring an Ordinance or legislation to pave the path for the starting the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya just before the next general election. For the Modi regime, passing a legislation in both Houses of the Parliament will not be possible due to lack of its strength in the Rajya Sabha.

Hindutva groups have come out in unison in their demand for an early Ordinance. Even BJP’s estranged ally Shiv Sena has joined this demand. In spite of the opposition from the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and the Congress Party, the Modi government seems to be gearing up for bypassing the judicial process and to use its executive power for a Ram Mandir rerun prior to the general election. Several outfits of the Sangh Parivar including the BJP and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) have justified the possible promulgation of an Ordinance on the pretext that they can’t wait forever for a court judgment. Even the Chief Minister of UP, Yogi Adityanath is openly criticising Supreme Court’s refusal for an early hearing and is blatantly pushing for a case in support of an ordinance before the Lok Sabha poll: “Timely Justice is the best one. Justice delayed, at times, means injustice.”

Is the delay in getting a decision on a case sufficient enough reason to subvert the country’s legal process? India has one of the world’s lowest ratio of judges to the population in the world and more than 27 million cases are waiting to be decided in the Indian courts. The country’s Supreme Court has even more than 60,000 cases to decide. The long delay has become part of the Indian justice system. So, it is nothing unusual in the delay in hearing of the Ayodhya land dispute case. The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court had only started hearing of this case in April 2002. When the Indian judicial system has not managed to give a final verdict on a criminal case like the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid, it does not make any logical sense to complain about the delay over the decision on a civil land dispute case. Countrywide communal riots triggered by the Babri Masjid demolition had killed hundreds of people.

The barbaric demolition of Babri Masjid is also a highly sentimental issue for Indian Muslims. Its legal closure is no way less important than the legal closure of the Ayodhya land dispute. If anyone, it is the minority Muslims of India, not majority Hindus who have the reasons to complain about judicial apathy and discrimination. Indian judicial system has failed to deliver justice to India’s Muslims from 2002 killings in Gujarat to 2015 mass violence against them in Muzaffarnagar. The families of the 350 innocent Muslims, who were massacred in 1987 in UP’s Hashimpura by the Provincial Armed Constabulary have finally received a partial justice only by the Supreme Court last week.  While Hindutva terror groups are having a free run in the country, a large number of Muslim youths have been kept behind bars after being wrongly arrested in terror cases. The prison share percentage of Muslims is over 20 percent, while they constitute only 14.2 percent of India’s total population. In this context, it is absolutely farcical that Hindutva groups are trying to bypass the judicial process in the pretext of projecting as a victim of delayed justice.

Considering Narendra Modi’s disdain for institutional norms and democratic decencies, it is very likely that he will try his best to override the judicial process on Ayodhya land dispute case in the name of honouring majority Hindu sentiments. His lust for power will fail to see the massive negative implications of his politically motivated action. It will not only be an attack against the constitutionally prescribed separation of power among the executive, legislative and the judiciary of the country, but this will also push Muslims to further margins of Indian citizenship. The world is not the same anymore for an Indian Muslim as it was in 1992. India might end of paying a very heavy price in Modi’s quest to retain the power by appeasing the Hindu majority and further alienating 180 millions of its Muslims.

(The writer is professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden.)

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