Saturday, May 28, 2011

The concocted Mahatma formula for Ayodhya

Some Hindu activists claim that truth is not that important, that you have to give any particular audience the kind of narrative most likely to convince them, regardless of truth. My position is that the short-term gains from this tactic are more than offset by the damage you will incur from it in the long run. Here is one example.

Some years ago, I was attacked on the list for having mentioned the fact that in 1990, BJP general secretary Krishan Lal Sharma had proposed a "Mahatma Gandhi formula" for amicable settlement of temple disputes. He claimed that Gandhi had written in his papers Navjivan and Young India that Hindus and Muslims should give back any places of worship they had taken from one another. When I brought that apisode to the list's attention, someone challenged me to produce the evidence. But the event had taken place well before newspapers had internet archives; and my original clippings had gone into my pile where it would be too time-consuyming to look them up.

Of course, for a defender of the BJP spokesman, it would have been proper to settle the dispute for good by producing the evidence that KL Sharma had failed to provide, viz. a copy of the claimed Mahatma article.

But now, we owe it to Babri Masjid advocate AG Noorani that the documents are available. He has edited a two-volume book The Babri Masjid Question 1528-2003 with a selection of documents. On the RISA list it was falsely praised as the most complete source, when in fact it is complete only on the pro-Babri side and leaves out most (and at any rate all the strongest) pro-temple documents. But then Noorani is a lawyer, whose job it is to present and manipulate the data so as to serve his client's interests, and truth be damned. However, he is meticulous in presenting the data likely to embarrass the pro-temple side.

On p.61-65 of vol.1, we get the story on how "concocted 'Gandhi formula' for Ayodhya dispute backfires". It transpires that Sharma, whose claim was reported in the Indian media on 5 December 1990 (the article from The Statesman is reproduced), had his information from one of the propellors of the dispute, Ramgopal Pandey Sharad, involved in the "miraculous appearance" of the murti-s in the Babri Masjid in 1949. In his book Sri Ramjanmabhumi Virodhiyon ke Kala Karname (Black Deeds of the RJB opponents), Pandey claims to have written to Gandhi in Wardha about the Ayodhya dispute and received from Gandhi's secretary Mahadev Desai a letter assuring him that Gandhi would write an article on the matter in the Hindi Navjivan. He also reproduces the article, purportedly published in Navjivan on 17 July 1937, in which Gandhi acknowledges the numerous Islamic temple demolitions and advises that Hindus and Muslims voluntarily return the places of worship taken from the other.

Pandey's forgery had already been exposed by Gandhi acolyte Jivanji Desai in the Harijan Sewak of 13 July 1950. He pointed out, among other things, that the Navjivan had ceased publication in 1932 and that Mahadev Desai never signed his letters in the way "reproduced" by Pandey. I would add that Pandey's version has some mistakes against the use of the English article (the/a), very common among Hindi-provincialist Hindu activists (check the Organiser even today) whereas Gandhiji's English was up to standard.

And yet, KL Sharma went ahead and repeated Pandey's forgery, probably in good faith, having assumed that he could trust such a formidable champion of Hindu interests. So Pandey thought he was being clever with his concoction, but all he achieved was that his own followers were misinformed, not his opponents; and that one of these followers, in a high position where his failures would impact the Hindu interest in general, ended up repeating the concoction in good faith and getting rubbished as a forger and liar. A fine lesson for those Hindutva activists who think that accuracy is but a luxury for intellectuals and that lies can be a shortcut to political success.

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