Ayodhya: City of Faith, City of Discord, published by Aleph Book Company is the first comprehensive biography of a sleepy city in northern India, which has been a place of reverence for many faiths for millennia, but has also been a place of violence, bloodshed and ill-will.
Ayodhya lodged itself permanently in the national consciousness with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. The destruction of the mosque was the climax of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement that has been at the heart of Indian politics for a quarter century since the BJP first campaigned on the promise of building a Ram temple at the site of the mosque.
Author Valay Singh tells the complex story of a city holy to many faithsHinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Jainism. Through a comparative analysis of the various versions of the Ramayana in which it features, author goes back almost 3,300 years in time to when Ayodhya is first mentioned. He then traces its history showing its transformation from being an insignificant outpost to a place sought out by kings, fakirs, renouncers and reformers. He looks at the propagation of an aggressive Hindu cultural and religious consciousness in the city that was exacerbated during the period in which the East India Company became a military power in north India in the eighteenth century.
His book seeks to bring together the disparate events and developments after Indias Independence in 1947 that were responsible for launching Ayodhya to centre stage in Indian politics and the political imagination. The book goes deep into the violent years leading up to the demolition of the mosque and its aftermath through which the right wing gained decisive ground in electoral politics.
Valay Singh in an exclusive interview with the Kashmir Observer responded to slew of unanswered questions on the most sensitive topic which has permanently communalized the polity of India.
KO- Muslims in India are deeply anxious that a legal dispute with religious overtones should not be allowed to influence the outcome of the next general elections. Hindu Right Wing believes it has a lot to gain with a speedy verdict that will, irrespective of its outcome, act as a catalyst for the consolidation of Hindu votes. Your take?
Valay Singh: With the BJPs own allies speaking out against it, it looks unlikely that the govt will go the ordinance route. The anxiety of Muslims is fair and understandable, however, despite the recent VHP rallies, it remains unclear if Ayodhya can mobilise Hindus the way it did in the 1990s.
KO- There is a perception that the Ayodhya verdict has profound political implications and can even shake the very foundations of India. Do you agree?
Valay Singh: Perhaps that’s why the case has been pending for the last several decades. Muslim parties are ready to accept the Court’s verdict, and so are the Hindu parties. After all it is a land dispute. It is organisations like the VHP (who are not parties to the main title suit) that have made the issue into something much larger and political.
KO- Do you think a final judicial verdict either way will not bring us a solution and will only exacerbate existing fissures in a multicultural society?
Valay Singh: I am hopeful that the Supreme Court’s verdict, whenever it comes, will pave the way for closure. On the other hand, the verdict alone is not sufficient for creating an atmosphere of harmony. Communal forces work 24 hours a day 365 days in a year, it is time secular-minded people started doing the same.
KO- The absence of historical proof about the existence of Ram Mandir beneath Babri Masjid will count little in what is essentially a matter of faith. More so, when it is also now such a politically lucrative issue.
Valay Singh: It is a land dispute but over time the place has come to be identified as Ram Janambhoomi. Political mileage is going to be extracted in the future as well. I am sure the Court is mindful of all these things and will decide accordingly.
KO- How did Babur come to build a mosque at Ayodhya. What were the circumstances like at the time?
Valay Singh: Firstly, this is a region which is replete with history. Even before Babur, other dynasties have ruled the region. It is believed that Babur got the mosque constructed because there were inscriptions inside the Babri Masjid that said so. However, some have argued that the inscriptions were installed at a later date, and the mosque was constructed during Aurangzeb’s reign. Others argue that the mosque was built over an existing mosque. In the Baburnama the pages pertaining to his time spent in Awadh are missing and no where else is there a mention of a mosque at Ram Janambhoomi in Ayodhya. There are other Babri masjids in Delhi’s Palam village as well as in Panipat though.
KO. If historicity of Ram is moot, how did he come to become a central figure in Hindu faith? What were the historical forces that drove it?
Valay Singh: Historicity of Ram worship in Ayodhya is an intriguing subject and more work needs to be done on it. I have dealt with development of Ayodhya as a place of Ram worship in the book, and it essentially mirrors the growth of Vaishnavism in other parts of north India.
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