The four ‘eminent’ historians have been exposed for peddling not facts but their opinions disguised as facts, one would expect the pro-mosque lobby to retreat
A few days ago, while hearing the Ayodhya dispute, the five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court hearing the matter dismissed a report of Left-leaning historians which the Sunni Waqf Board cited to fortify its arguments. The court said, “At the highest, this report can be taken as an opinion.” It’s strange that the Board relied on a material that had earlier been emphatically rejected by the Allahabad High Court for nearly the same reason that the apex court gave.
The desperation of the Board was evident after a senior lawyer of the stature of Rajeev Dhavan depended on this piece of opinion as ‘evidence’ to demonstrate that no temple had existed prior to the Babri mosque being built on the disputed spot. It also shows that the Waqf Board had run out of legal material to stake its claim.
On May 13, 1991, four historians — RS Sharma, M Athar Ali, DN Jha and Suraj Bhan — wrote a letter to the then Union Minister of Home Affairs, attaching their report titled, ‘Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid: A Historians’ Report to the Nation’. These historians had earlier participated in unsuccessful negotiations to resolve the matter, on behalf of the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC). They had carped that the government had initiated talks with representatives of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the BMAC with a view to examine the merits of the case in the legal and historical framework. They claimed that the government was behaving like an umpire to decide on legal and historical issues and, therefore, they had decided to submit their report to set the record straight.
More humiliation was in store. The court observed that the person who wrote an introduction to the book and justified the opinion expressed by the author Mandal in the book had himself “not gone into field archaeology”.
The four historians then proceeded to offer their opinion camouflaged as evidence. They first contended that there was no evidence of the existence of a temple and that the VHP had failed to demonstrate such an existence. They added that the opposite party had not been able to cite any passage from ancient texts to back their claim and that the Skanda Purana, which was the only text it had quoted, was full of interpolations and hardly authoritative in deciding on the existence of a temple.
But when the historians were confronted with the findings — black stone pillars with decorated motifs that are a part of temple architecture across the country — they resorted to fantastic conspiracy theories. The BMAC historians said that the pillars were not in situ, but could have been transported from elsewhere “to decorate” the Babri Masjid. In effect, they rejected the claims of another reputed historian, BB Lal, who had found the pillar bases during excavations in close vicinity of the demolished mosque.
This attempt at obfuscating the findings gained ground after Sharma published his findings in the form of a booklet in 1992, titled, ‘Ram Janmabhumi Ayodhya: New Archaeological Discoveries’. The photographs have been preserved in the photo-archives section of the Archaeological Survey of India’s Excavation Branch. One professor, who seems to share the Left historians’ view, visited Lal and expressed a desire to see the field drawings of the pillars; he had been to the Ayodhya site and had physically verified the pillars. He was told that the drawings were available in the ASI office and he was free to view them. However, later, the historian gave a statement to the media that while the pillars did exist, they belonged to a cow-shed!
Such funny interpretations did not end there. Yet another historian, apparently holding a brief for the Gang of Four, said that pillar bases were actually walls. He drew a black line connecting the pillar bass to prove the existence of a ‘wall’!
Meanwhile, the BMAC historians continued with their propaganda. At a Press conference in 1992, after the BMAC and the VHP had examined Lal’s findings and the excavated material, the four historians stated that no fragment of a stone temple had been found in the excavated trench. Unable to deny the pillar bases, they offered the claim that these were “ordinary pillared structure”. They also dismissed the fourteen black stone pillars found inside the mosque, on the ground that they were not “load-supporting pillars but only decorative pieces”. In other words, the pillars had not supported any temple structure, and thus they were neither “religious nor monumental”.
These historians conveniently forgot to mention that fresh excavations at the site had revealed a sculptural panel depicting the Dashavatars and a terracotta figurine of the Varaha incarnation of Lord Vishnu. In itself, as another professor, KV Raman, who considered Professor’s Lal findings significant, said, this was a clear indication that a Vaishnavite temple did exist at the spot the Babri mosque came up.
The extent of misinformation engaged in by the Left historians would do their lobby proud. D Mandal, a pro- Babri historian, wrote a book, ‘Ayodhya: Archaeology After Demolition’, in which he dismissed the pillar bases as remnant portions of walls of different structural phases, and said that no “pillared building” had been raised. He was examined by the Allahabad High Court during the hearing of the case — the eventual outcome of which was challenged by all parties concerned, leading the matter to reach the Supreme Court. In the court, Mandal confessed that he had based his conclusions in the book “chiefly” on the photographs Professor Lal had taken. Not only did the court ridicule him for writing an entire book on the basis of some photographs he had seen and “analysing the beliefs” of people on this fragile ground, but it also questioned his status as an expert witness. Pointing out that he was a card-holding member of the communist party, and did not possess a doctorate, the court concluded that Mandal’s opinion is “short for the requirement under Section 45 of the Evidence Act 1872. In short, Mandal stood disqualified as a witness whose opinion could be taken on record.
More humiliation was in store. The court observed that the person who wrote an introduction to the book and justified the opinion expressed by the author Mandal in the book had himself “not gone into field archaeology”. The Introduction writer, Shireen Bhatnagar, sheepishly admitted that she had not done any digging and excavation “on my own”, that she had based her thoughts on the sole photograph provided by Lal, and that some of the sketches which formed part of the Introduction were “hypothetical”.
Now that the four ‘eminent’ historians have been exposed for peddling not facts but their opinions disguised as facts, one would expect the pro-mosque lobby to retreat. But it will not. The final word now rests with the apex court, which is expected to deliver its verdict in a couple of months’ time.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.