A day after the Vishwa Hindu Parishad held its mega Dharam Sansad at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi on Sunday, the densely populated Muslim neighbourhoods surrounding the venue bustled as usual. On Sunday, though, the police had cordoned off the entire area and most residents chose to stay indoors to avoid possible confrontations with the Hindutva supporters who had come for the rally.
Many residents said that the powerful loudspeakers used at the rally made it impossible for them to ignore the communally charged speeches made by the Hindutva leaders who addressed the crowds. But they emphasised that they would not be provoked by such intimidation. “The roots of evil forces are weak and we believe everything happens as per God’s will,” said Atiq Hussain, 78, a fruit seller near Turkman Gate in Old Delhi. “We believe in the Supreme Court and that it will ensure a peaceful resolution of the Babri Masjid dispute. The younger lot of Muslims is educated and these tactics of intimidation will no longer work on them.”
The rally had been called to press the Narendra Modi government to bring legislation to facilitate the construction of a Ram temple in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya town. The mosque that stood on the site had been demolised by Hindutva mobs on December 6, 1992. They claimed that the four-century-old Babri Masjid stood on the exact spot on which Ram had been born. In their speeches in Delhi on Sunday, Hindutva leaders – including Suresh Joshi, executive head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Rithambhara and Hansdayal Maharaj – declared that the “patience of Hindus” was wearing thin. If Parliament and Supreme Court did not resolve the dispute soon, devotees of Ram would march towards Ayodhya and start constructing the temple, they warned.
Atiq Hussain claimed that some people from the rally tried to enter the residential area but the police did not let them. “Had they been allowed in, there could have been some commotion. Nothing more,” he added. “We know this is all being done to hide the failures of this government.”
Mohammed Salimuddin, a grocer, echoed the sentiment. The poor are suffering because of demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax, the Modi government’s flagship economic measures, he said. “The economy is in the doldrums and since this government has nothing to show, they are trying to raise this Ram temple issue,” Salimuddin said. “Have you ever wondered why they raise this issue closer to elections?”
It was a common refrain among Muslims across Old Delhi: the demand for a Ram temple has been renewed because the Sangh Parivar fears losing the 2019 general election.
Mohammad Sajid, a florist near Jama Masjid, claimed the BJP is “getting desperate because their popularity, particularly among the poor, has hit rock bottom”. “They are trying to intimidate us, hoping we will retaliate but we will not,” he said. “This government is on its way out and Muslims are smart enough to know that any wrong move now can turn the tide. We are sending messages on WhatsApp to all our people to not get provoked.”
‘BJP is responsible for sowing distrust’
Many of the Muslims Scroll.in spoke with had watched the viral video of Hindutva workers from the rally marching outside Ramlila Maidan and chanting, “Ek dhakka aur do, Jama Masjid tod do.” Push once more and tear down Jama Masjid. The slogan echoes the Sangh Parivar’s rallying cry to destroy the Babri Masjid in December 1992: “Ek dhakka aur do, Babri Masjid tod do.”
The residents, however, said they are not worried about the safety of the historic mosque. “We trust the police and the government that no such incident can take place in Delhi,” said Mohammad Shammon, a cab driver. “We keep getting such videos from other parts of the country. There is nothing new to it. These are just rabble-rousers who want us to react, but Muslims will not fall for it. Young people like me want development. We want jobs, we want our children to get education and make a decent living.”
Shamoon claimed that since the BJP came to power, “everyone has been suffering”. “Farmers, traders, daily wage labourers, the middle class are all suffering because of the policies of this government,” he said. “All they have done in the last four years is pit Hindus against Muslims. They have nothing to boast about so they are resorting to these tactics.”
He accused the BJP of sowing deep distrust between Hindus and Muslims. “I would go to the homes of my Hindu friends to wish them on Diwali and other festivals and they would greet me on Eid,” he said. “We no longer do that and no one else but the BJP is responsible for that.”
Some Muslims said just as the minority community accepted the Supreme Court’s judgement on triple talaq, Hindutva proponents must wait for the court’s decision on the Babri Masjid dispute. “Babur was a king who built that mosque,” said an elderly Muslim man who would not give his name. “What can we do about it? We cannot change history. If we could, we would have. At least it would have stopped all the bloodshed that happened earlier and could happen again.”