A landmark verdict
It was a laudable judgment of the Supreme Court which upheld the right of Indian Muslims to inherit the property that their fathers and forefathers had left behind before migrating to Pakistan.
I went to town to say that no other country could have delivered such a landmark verdict to prove India’s secular credentials. It was another nail driven in the coffin of communalism.
It made sense that those Muslims who did not leave the country and had retained Indian citizenship through thick and thin should be the rightful owners of the property which belonged to their family. Still the properties remained vested in the custodian, under the tag of ‘enemy property’ even when the owner who had migrated had died.Yet, it took 32 years for M.A.M. Khan, who is a distinguished son of the soil and once a UP assembly member, to establish the simple truth, his right to the property after the death of his father Raja Mahmudabad. The court rectified the wrong. He had never left the country and had retained his Indian nationality all along. In 1981, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s cabinet decided to return properties to all such Muslims who had never left Indian shores. But the decision could not be implemented because of political wrangling.
The same elements, the communal fringe in the Congress party and the BJP, came to the fore when the Supreme Court upheld the judgment by the Bombay High Court that Khan and his mother Rani Kaniz Abdi (since diseased) continued to reside in India as Indian citizens. The Supreme Court also bemoaned the wrong done by those who were in “the possession of property illegally and in a high-handed manner for 32 years.”
Had the petition been from an ordinary Muslim, not M.A.M. Khan, the son of Raja Mahmudabad, the treasurer of the Muslim League before Partition, the judgment would have probably gone unnoticed. But he was a mote in the eyes of communalists because Khan had stayed on in India and had stuck to his proud position of Indian nationality. He had to be chastised.
The Indian government brought before the last session of parliament a bill to extinguish the rights of Indian Muslims to inherit property even after the deaths of their fathers in Pakistan or abroad. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saw through the game to deny the right to Indian Muslims to inherit what their forefathers had left behind. And he acted. The fact that the families had migrated to Pakistan did not mean that their children too had become Pakistani nationals. Since the bill required some time to become an act, an ordinance was issued for the same purpose. But the prime minister’s intervention allowed the ordinance to lapse so that the right of Indian Muslims was not usurped by the custodian.
However, the problems of Khan and other Indian Muslims have not ended. Prejudiced politicians and the ‘interested’ bureaucracy do not want to release the properties on the ground that the bill would come in the next session of parliament or subsequently. What the officials, probably encouraged by some politicians, are doing amounts to contempt of court.
But in a country where there is a selective implementation of rules and regulations, the contempt proceedings of the court mean little. Even if they are started, the authorities take them in their stride. Khan and Muslims like him are made to run from pillar to post and are at the mercy of the same people who withheld the implementation of the Supreme Court judgment in 2005. They are determined not to allow the properties going back to their rightful owners.
My worry in the whole matter is over the communal angle which had pushed justice and fair play to the background. Such examples evoke a feeling among the Muslim community that when it comes to recognising their legitimate demands, an unexplainable bias takes over. This means that even the claim to establish a secular society remains on paper after 63 years of independence.
It is not only the denial of employment to a Muslim or the refusal to rent him a house, it is something more — the entrenched prejudice which expresses itself too often and too blatantly. The fact is that the India has not been able to establish a secular polity which the freedom fighters and the Nehru era had promised. A democratic country, taking rapid strides in the economic field, is yet to imbibe respect for the rule of law.
This is the reason why there has been so much uncertainty and fear over the judgment on the title suit of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi site. The number of cabinet meetings that the Manmohan Singh government held before the verdict showed that despite all the precautions the government took, it lacked conviction in its ability to enforce the judgment. This is the case of all reports and judgments touching upon controversial subjects, particularly those which relate to communal matters.
The statements by the RSS and BJP leaders, less inflammatory than before, were expected to be one-sided. But their agenda is clear and purpose too well known. They think that the Hindus, a majority in the country, have the right to expect the minorities to bow to their wishes. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has no compunction in saying that the Muslims should voluntarily give up their claim to the disputed Babri Masjid site to prove their credentials to Hindus. How can such a statement go unchallenged?
L.K. Advani is once again going to speak from Somnath, the place from where he took a rath yatra to collect money which remains unaccounted for and more so to incite the Hindus. Hundreds of Muslims died in the wake of Advani’s yatra. Congress president Sonia Gandhi has coined apt words for them, mout ka saudagar (merchants of death). Fortunately, the response of the Muslim extremists has been less provocative, although their counterparts across the border are as shrill and furious as before.
The Raja of Mahmudabad is a victim of bias which is taking the toll on many people in the country. However exasperated and personally hurt, he must go on and see that the Indian Muslims who did not go to Pakistan do not have to wear the cross of Partition all their life.
Jaswant Singh, the BJP leader who has refurbished his liberal instincts, has rightly appealed to the BJP to move on and not remain stuck in the Middle Ages. But his plea has not evoked any attention. The RSS militant wing, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, has collected sadhus at Ayodhya, where the demolished Babri Masjid stood. All these things tell upon India’s pluralism which is becoming more and more elusive.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi.