Editorial: An Indian court’s decision on Wednesday to acquit Hindu nationalist leaders in the Babri Mosque case for lack of evidence is one of those verdicts that surprises and does not surprise at the same time. It doesn’t surprise at all because India has taken a very visible turn towards right-wing extremism since the destruction of the said mosque 28 years ago and the trend has intensified to envelop all major institutions under the Modi administration. Yet there was still the faint hope that the custodians of the law would stand their ground especially in light of all the evidence that was on display for everybody to see on national television when the mosque was being brought down. Alas it was the fact that the bench found precisely the evidence not compelling enough that drove the final nail in the coffin of any hope that the judiciary, at least, would be able to take refuge behind the black-and-white of the law while everything around it got pushed towards the extreme right. That at least one of the acquitted, after duly thanking the court, also bragged about demolishing the mosque is proof if any were still required that the biggest blot on Indian democracy now taints its judiciary as well.
The Pakistani Foreign Office has rightly condemned the acquittal as “shameful” and reminded everybody that the “Hindutva-inspired Indian judiciary miserably failed to deliver justice again.” Since the demolition of the mosque triggered communal violence that left thousands of people dead, and also energised the process of a so-called Hindu renaissance that propelled Narendra Modi to power, the Pakistani side is justified in claiming that “if there was a semblance of justice in the so-called largest ‘democracy’, the individuals who had boasted of the criminal act publically could not have been set free.” Truth be told, this is just one more in a long list of incidents that prove how deeply anti-Muslim bias has become entrenched in the pillars of the Indian state. Now Islamabad has no choice but to expose it at every turn. That is why it was not surprising that the Foreign Office’s official statement also mentioned Delhi’s other efforts to disenfranchise Muslims, including the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). That the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was able to come back to power last year with such a thumping majority, primarily because of its predominantly pro-Hindutva agenda since it had little else going for it at the time, gives a good indication of just how difficult life is about to become for Indian Muslims.
The opposition Congress party has taken the bold step of declaring the verdict of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) special court “against the constitutional spirit,” even though the odd Congress MP that previously even suggested that no good Hindu would want a temple to be built on somebody else’s place of worship was hounded by the government and the media to no end; something that didn’t exactly encourage others to make similar statements. Congress can now once again claim that it still stands for the kind of secularism that has long been unique to India in that it never implied rejection of religion, as the dictionary would perhaps describe the word, but rather an acceptance of all religions, at least as official policy. It is very important for the only opposition party with a national footprint to take such a stand because India is in serious danger of being overrun by a fascist ideology that is not even subscribed to by the majority of the country’s population.
Rather than celebrate this verdict as some sort of victory, the BJP and all its allies and friends should think carefully about just how much it is in their interest to push the country’s Muslims against the wall like this. After the Supreme Court handed over the Babri Mosque premises to Hindu parties responsible for its destruction for the building of a Ram Mandir last year, the acquittal now of some of the leaders involved has added a lot of insult to a very deep injury. And now that they have lost all faith in the legal system, how are they supposed to pursue their rights?
Rather than continue to make a bad situation much worse, the Indian government should learn from one of history’s enduring lessons that pushing a segment of the population too far only forces them to push back, which is ultimately hardly ever in the favour of the one to push first.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2020