Saturday, July 23, 2022

The Eminent Historians' guilt

(This is a never-published reaction to an article about archaeologist KK Muhammed correctly allotting the blame for the Ayodhya affair to the Eminent Historians; presumably KA Antony's "Left historians prevented resolution of Babri Masjid dispute, says KK Muhammed, former ASI regional head", First Post, 21 January 2016.) Last week a few marginal media reported that archaeologist KK Muhammad had a startling revelation on the responsability for the Ayodhya controversy and all its concomitent bloodshed. Young people may not know what the affair, in the years around 1990, was all about. So, briefly, Hindus had wanted to build proper temple architecture on one of their sacred sites, the Rama Janmabhumi or "Rama's birthplace". So far, the most natural thing in the world. However, a mosque had been built in forcible replacement of the temple that had anciently adorned the site: the Babri Masjid. Not that this should have been a problem, because the structure was already in use as a temple, and the site was of no importance to the Muslims. Unlike millions of Hindus, Muslims never go on pilgrimage there. So, Rajiv Gandhi's Congress government was manoeuvring towards a compromise allotting the site definitively to the Hindus all while giving some goodies to the Muslim leadership. This was not too principled, just pragmatic ("horse-trading"), but it had the merit of letting nature take its unimpeded course and allowing a Hindu shrine on a Hindu place of pilgrimage. And especially: it was bloodless. Unfortunately, this non-violent formula was thwarted. An unexpected factor came in between. It stimulated and hardened Muslim resistance and especially, it made politicians hesitant to move forward on Ayodhya. Though the contentious site had no special value for the Muslims, it suddenly became the Mecca of another influential community: the secularists. Not that they would go on pilgrimage there, they never move too far from their posh cocktail parties. But they made it the touchstone of secularism's resistance against "aggressive Hindu fundamentalism". As a weapon against Hinduism, and as a way to whip up Muslim emotion, they proposed the allegation that the Hindu claimants of the site had been using false history. They insisted that there had never been a temple at the site, and that what the Hindus targeted for replacement with a proper temple was an innocent mosque, now symbol of India's "composite culture". Then already, it was known from written testimonies (Muslim and European) and from BB Lal's partial excavations at the site that a major temple had existed at the site. Moreover, until the 1980s, the forcible replacement of the temple by the mosque had been a matter of consensus, as when a 19th-century judge ruled that of course a temple had been destroyed, but that after centuries it was too late to remedy this condition. The British rulers favoured an uneventful status-quo, but agreed that there had been a temple, as did the local Muslims during the trial. It is allowed for historians to question a consensus provided they have new evidence, which here they failed to produce. In a statement of 1989, JNU's "eminent historians", turned an unchallenged consensus among all parties into a mere "Hindutva claim". After that, the Indian mainstream politicians did not dare to go against the judgment of these authorities. The international media and India-watchers were also taken in and shared the hatred of these ugly Hindu history-falsifiers. Only, the Court-ordered excavations of 2003 have fully vindicated the old consensus: of course the temple remains were found underneath the mosque. Moreover, the eminences asked to witness in Court had to confess their incompetence one after another (as documented by Meenakshi Jain: Rama and Ayodhya, 2013): they had never been to the site, they had never studied any archaeology, etc. Abroad this news has hardly been reported, and experts who know it make sure that no conclusions are drawn from it. But for twenty years, the false and disproven narrative of the eminent historians has reigned supreme. No one has bothered to set the record straight. It is symptomatic for the power equation in India and in Indology that this is a repeating pattern. Thus, the identification of the Vedic Saraswati with the Ghaggar in Haryana had first been proposed in 1855, had been a consensus among scholars since then, but has recently been ridiculed by secularist academics and their foreign dupes as a "Hindutva concoction". For close observers, this news was not surprising. I had spoken on it in passing in my paper "The three Ayodya debates" (St-Petersburg 2011, available online), and in an interview with India First (8 Jan. 2016: "... the secular intelligentsia felt so self-confident that they could blow this issue out of all proportion. They could reasonably have taken the position that a temple was indeed demolished to make way for a mosque but that we should let bygones be bygones. Instead, they went out of their way to deny facts of history. Rajiv Gandhi thought he could settle this dispute with some Congressite horse-trading: give the Hindus their toy in Ayodhya and the Muslims some other goodies, that will keep everyone happy. But this solution became unfeasible when many academics construed this contention as a holy war for a front line symbol of secularism." But easy dismissals that are sure to be tried against me. They will be harder when the allegation comes from an on-site archaeologist, moreover a Muslim. The media had allotted an enormous weight to the Ayodhya affair: "Secularism in danger", "India on the brink" and similar headlines were daily fare. When the Babri Masjid was demolished by impatient Hindu youngsters on 6 December 1992, the Times of India titled its editorial: "A requiem for norms", no less. Given all the drama and moralistic bombast with which they used to surround this controversy, one would have expected their eagerness to report KK Muhammad's eyewitness account. But no, they were extremely sparing in their coverage, reluctant to face an unpleasant fact: the guilt of their heroes, the "eminent historians".
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