The Ayodhya dispute connected with Ram Janmabhoomi and Babri Masjid was the burning issue of the country. Through the media I was aware that His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was involved in the negotiations with the Hindu and the Muslim communities. So I called up and felt quite fortunate when I got permission to accompany him for three days in Delhi. Those 3 days are still crystal clear in my mind for the amount of learning and love I experienced through Sri Sri and his interactions with a wide array of people.
One day four of us in a car, with Sri Sri in the front seat were driving down the small lane leading to the office of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB). It was a tiny place with about 15 members sitting there. I was taken aback by the welcome provided there, or rather the utter lack of it. One of the members, Mr. Zaffer Zillani came forward and told us pointblank, “If you have come to talk about the Ayodhya land dispute, forget it. Even after two hours, we will be at the same place where we begin”. The tension was palpable. But Sri Sri’s smile and perseverance, without a sense of ego whatsoever, was a big lesson for me that day on how to open communication channels in spite of overwhelming odds.
Sri Sri emphasized his commitment and readiness to do anything together to bring harmony and peace among the communities. He pointed out that Ayodhya dispute was not just an issue of the Sangh Parivar or the VHP, rather, it was a people’s issue since it touches the sentiments of crores of Hindus. He said that since the Ram idol was already there, a demand for a masjid would bring up more bitterness and make the situation more explosive.
Sri Sri proposed that he would have the Hindu saints come together and express their regret for any hurt caused to the Muslim community and in turn the Muslims give the land as a bhiksha (alms), the small piece of land which has caused so much turmoil in the country. Sri Sri’s presence and his words made a shift in the whole atmosphere. In the end before leaving, he gave a hug to each one of them.
In those 3 days, I was witness to the calmness with which Sri Sri handles people, which is so heart-warming. Only once I saw him with a hint of disappointment when all the sincere effort to create a win-win situation for both communities was not being reciprocated just because of a hardnosed and dogmatic attitude of a few. In time to come, I got to know that the request for bhiksha, which was reiterated by the Shankaracharya and Pejavarshri of Uddipi, too, fell on deaf ears.
The same evening Gurudev met with the VHP people and was trying to convince them to drop the demand for Kashi and Mathura.
Here are a few excerpts of my conversation with Sri Sri:
From your level, how do you see the Personal Law Board’s refusal to accede to any compromise?
Sri Sri: I have met different members of the AIMPLB separately on various occasions. Individually they may agree to this solution but collectively they are hesitating to take a step. The common Muslim doesn’t bother at all. But for the PLB it is an ego issue, for the Hindus it is a sentimental issue.
But what about the Ayodhya land being a property of Allah in which case should the verdict be left to the Muslims or to the courts?
Sri Sri: If you truly believe and argue that the Ayodhya land is the property of Allah, then since Allah is god, he obviously belongs to everyone. In which case the Muslims can withdraw all the cases, the Hindus will directly deal with Allah. Islam anyway says that there is no one in between you and Allah. But if the court is brought in between, then whosoever the verdict goes in favor of, the winner will unfortunately be a real loser in terms of goodwill from the other community. So insisting on a court verdict only and not agreeing to settle amongst themselves is not an intelligent thing to do.
How about the many Hindus we found through surveys, who don’t care what is built there?
Sri Sri: Many intellectuals and urbanites say we will have a hospital or a peace monument there. But I tell you, emotions and sentiments are so much more stronger. For a gyani or an atheist, it doesn’t matter a lot. When a newspaper does a survey, those who reply to it fall mostly in the above category. You cannot ignore the sentiments of the rural and less educated people who can see Ram only in an idol or in a place of worship. The rural masses, constituting the vast majority of people living in India, are not adequately represented by the media or cared for their sentiments. In the hundreds of villages where our 5H work is happening, when our Yuvacharyas who go for providing health, hygiene and housing facilities, ask of the villagers what they want most; contrary to what we may think, most of them demand repairing their temples. It is there they put their faith. One has to understand the dynamics of their lives. Rural India is much more religious and sentimental. Throughout ages, people have given their lives for religion, not for science, mathematics, history or geography. For these people, the birthplace of Rama is very sacred, just as Mecca is sacred to the Muslims and Jerusalem to the Christians.
What about people who claim to be neutral?
Sri Sri: There is nothing like being neutral. Even Bhishma, Karna, etc had to choose to be on either side. Using your Viveka, intelligence, you can either be on the side of dharma or on the side of adharma. And mind you, dharma here does not mean any religion; it simply means – that which upholds the truth.
What do you say of the AIMPLB’s viewing Shankaracharya’s proposal as a veiled threat? What should be done?
Sri Sri: A true religious leader will think not just for the people of his community but also for everyone. I know Shankaracharyaji. He is not a person who would threaten anybody or even think of using threatening words. Perceiving his letter as a veiled threat or a person like the Shankaracharya himself as a threat shows an unwillingness to reach an understanding. I feel that from an uncompromising state, if you don’t want to come into an understanding, then you can squarely accuse anybody of anything. About what should be done, I think it is time we have to move away from the blame culture. We blame the communities, both the Hindu and Muslim, we blame the entire community for the job of a few, and we blame the police, the government, the media, our courts and the judicial system. We have started blaming our educationalists and historians. Now we have not even spared the Archeological Survey of India (ASI). In spite of the ASI agreeing to all the demands of the AIMPLB, like employing Muslim laborers and supervisor at the disputed site, yet discarding their report now when it is not in favor of them is a clear indication of a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose attitude.
Recently I heard Syed Shahbuddin bitterly accusing you of misleading people by your book ‘Hinduism and Islam, the common thread’, saying it is immature and unscholarly and warned the Muslims against you?
Sri Sri (smiles and says): To do that is his job! My job is to unite. I do welcome critics. I never claimed I am a scholar. ‘Hum to dhai akshar wale hai’. We must realize that there definitely exists a common thread among all religions. Putting one religion superior to other will only cause resentment. Pulling on the common thread will bring people together. Making people irreligious is not the solutions either. You have to honor religion and lift them towards spirituality where all religions meet. That is the purpose of the booklet.
I understand that the land in Ayodhya does not have much historical or religious significance to the Muslims, even then, how would the Muslims have gained mileage by donating the land to the Hindus?
Sri Sri: Many historic events from the atrocities of Aurangzeb to the sacrifices by the Sikh Gurus, Jinaah’s uncompromising attitude to the Mahatma’s plea, and the forced exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits have definitely left some scars about the Muslim community in the psyche of the people. At this juncture, when the world over, terrorism and bomb blasts have been unfortunately associated with Islam, a gift of the land would have shown the magnanimity of the Muslims and earned a lot of goodwill for the Muslim community.
But that golden opportunity of goodwill is lost. Now that the ASI findings have been made public, saying that their report is concocted indicates a lack of foresight and wisdom. In the Upanishads it is said, ‘give with faith, give without faith’, somehow you give. Sometimes you give a gift out of love for the other person. The second type of gift is when you may not give out of love but give just to make the other person happy. The third type is when you give so that you prevent a problem for yourself. A fourth type is when you give a gift because if you don’t give, you don’t keep up with your image. Giving a gift in any of these categories is good for you. In the Babri Masjid case, I told them that by not giving, you are actually aiding those that you do not favor.
5000 years ago, Duryodhana, stuck in his own ego had said “O Krishna, not even a needle-point of space will I part with without war”. Hearing the spokesman of the AIMPLB, Mohammed Rabey Nadwi proclaiming on Aajtak, “not an inch of space will we give you”, do you see a similarity with what Duryodhana had said to Krishna and a classic case of history repeating itself?
Sri Sri smiles and says: “I hope not.”
The write up is a reproduction of an old article authored by Dinesh Ghodke.