The Supreme Court’s observation on the Allahabad High Court’s Ayodhya judgment has had an unusual fallout for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. It has foiled a move by Mahant Gyan Das, head of the Akhara Parishad, to make the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindutva mascot preside over an out-of-court settlement of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute.
Mahant Gyan Das recently declared at Ayodhya that he had arrived at a settlement formula with Hashim Ansari, one of the oldest litigants of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi title suit on the Muslim side. According to this, both a temple and a mosque would be constructed on the disputed site, and the two would be separated by a huge wall.
With the blessings of Modi, Mahant Gyan Das called for a meeting of the Akhara Parishad in Ahmedabad on 15 May. By their plan, the formula would be discussed at the meeting, and then, in the presence of the Gujarat Chief Minister, Gyan Das and Hashim Ansari would formally declare their truce.
The Supreme Court’s observation, calling the Allahabad High Court’s judgment ‘strange’, has, however, led to a change of heart on the part of Hashim Ansari, who has now declined to visit Ahmedabad and play into the hands of Mahant Gyan Das and Narendra Modi.
“I am not going anywhere. I have full faith in the Supreme Court. No out-of-court settlement has taken place,” Hashim Ansari said a day after the Supreme Court started its hearing of appeals against the Allahabad High Court judgment.
Ansari’s change of heart has upset Modi’s gameplan, for whom this could have been a major step in his constant bid to change his image and gain legitimacy beyond the Hindutva vote base.
However, it’s not that the settlement formula being pushed by Mahant Gyan Das had much chance of being accepted by other contending parties. In fact, the only purpose it would have achieved would have been to offer Modi an opportunity to present himself as a man who had tried to bring about a reconciliation between the two communities rather than one complicit in the slaughter of thousands of a religious minority.
Just recently, hours after social activist Anna Hazare praised him for rural development work carried out by his government in Gujarat, he wrote back thanking him and cautioning him against being subjected to a ‘vilification’ campaign by a certain group ‘inimical’ to Gujarat.
‘Yesterday I heard about your blessings for me and my state. I fear that you will be subjected to vilification. A certain group inimical to Gujarat will not let go [of] this opportunity to malign your love, sacrifice, penance and commitment to truth. They will try to tarnish your name because you spoke well of me and my state,’ Modi wrote in an open letter to Hazare, after the activist had said that, “the way the Chief Ministers of Gujarat and Bihar have worked in their states, this should be emulated by other Chief Ministers”.
For Modi, praise such as Hazare’s is hard to come by, and he tried to make the most of it. Yet, despite his spin, the praise did more to damage Hazare than it did to help Modi. This has been a consistent problem in his bid to attain electoral respectability beyond Gujarat at a time when fresh legal trouble lies ahead for him in the wake of IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt’s affidavit that Modi had asked the police to go easy on murderous mobs at a meeting of senior state officials after the Godhra tragedy.