Chapter III. Escaping the ASI’s final conclusions

3.1. Denial encore

After all the wild claims made about their findings, the experts themselves have finally spoken. Their report confirms that the disputed site contains the foundations of a large building complex. And this time too, the religious purpose of the building can be inferred from the numerous religious artefacts found in between the pillar-bases. In a normal setting, the ASI findings should finish once and for all the campaign of history denial by the Marxists and their Muslim camp followers. But the world of Indian secularism is a fantasy-land where hard facts don’t count for much. So, a great many diehards unflinchingly reject the findings of science. We will look into what few arguments they could muster.

Predictably, the unflinching deniers were parroted by many uncomprehending foreign correspondents, e.g. the Flemish broadsheet De Standaard (26 Aug. 2003) relays an Associated Press report opening thus: “Four months of excavations could not answer the question whether there ever stood a Hindu temple underneath the mosque of Ayodhya.” In fact, the excavations did answer the question of the temple’s existence unambiguously. Perhaps the journalist didn’t express himself carefully, calling the report indecisive when he meant that the most vocal segment of public opinion was indecisive, i.e. divided. If not, it is the kind of bold-faced lie so common throughout the secularist interventions in the debate for fourteen years, but one would have hoped to see it banished from the debate by this very report. And effectively, other reporters and commentators of a less extremist temper have made concessions to the newly published conclusions of science, though they downplay them and continue their struggle against the Hindu project of a new temple.

3.2. Deflecting attention

The editorial of the Hindustan Times (“Structural flaws”, 27-8-2003) refuses to accept that any discovery worth the name was made. But it sets out first of all to deflect attention from the historical findings by emphasizing the alleged political implications over the obvious historical contents of the report.: “The ‘discovery’ of an ancient ‘structure’ underneath the demolished Babri Masjid by the Archaeological Survey of India has far more political overtones than historical or legal ones. (…) Nor does the ‘discovery’ make any difference to the various court cases, including those concerned with the title deeds of the site.”

Whether the findings have any legal implications is for the judges to decide, not for the newspaper editors.  And it is they who ordered the excavation in the first place, clearly on the assumption that the findings do make a difference to the court cases. Rajiv Dhawan, an anti-temple lawyer quoted by BBC News (Jyotsna Singh: “Experts split on Ayodhya findings”, 26-8-2003) indirectly admits the relevance of the findings to the court case: “However, Mr. Dhawan says, as the land was owned by the Sunni Waqf Board (an elected body of Muslim theologians) until 1945, the Hindus could have only moral right over the land if the existence of a temple were proven.”

But the dominant position certainly is to minimize the importance of the ASI findings. This is a general phenomenon in the whole secularist press: instead of a thorough analysis and a lively debate worthy of the importance and unequivocal verdict of the report, the page is turned as quickly as possible. This is, of course, a strong indication that the report’s findings are embarrassing for the secularists because they go against what the secularists have been saying for all these years. Like spoilt children, the secularists are used to having it all their own way, and when reality interferes, they close their eyes, shut off their ears and refuse to know. And they will lie and cheat in order to prevent others from knowing.

For anti-temple lawyers too, this same hurry to get past the archaeological findings is the favourite approach. In their case it is almost defensible, as their concern is not the truth but courtroom victory. Jyotsna Singh reports: “But although the study is expected to have far-reaching implications in moves to solve who holds claim over the site, legal experts say it cannot be taken as a conclusive evidence. ‘As far as the legal case in concerned, it is a title suit about the ownership of the land between Hindus and Muslims’, lawyer Rajiv Dhawan told the BBC. ‘The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) report cannot be taken to be conclusive. This is only part of the evidence. The report will be analysed, its authors will be cross-examined to find out whether they are right or wrong. It will be a long, drawn-out process’, he said.”

At first sight, Dhawan seems to be announcing a very thorough analysis of the findings. It is, however, sheer bluff when a lawyer pretends that his cross-examination is going to decide on the truth of archaeological findings, for how does he hope to make scientists renounce in a boisterous courtroom the conclusions they arrived at in the quiet and concentration of their study? By threatening and bullying them? To be sure, court debates are not very scientific, and a clever lawyer may well succeed in fooling the judges into believing that the scientists had it all wrong while the secular agitators were right all along. But Dhawan doesn’t intend to seriously discuss archaeology. The whole juristic point is precisely that the archaeological truth is not the point: “Mr. Dhawan said the legal case did not relate to the question of whether a temple existed on the site or not.”

Another way to deflect attention from the evidence is to dismiss the whole historical dimension of the Ayodhya dispute as an unwanted extra load imposed on everyone by history-crazy Hindu fanatics. Thus, Jyotsna Singh claims: “The existence of the temple became part of Hindu rhetoric in the dialogue process begun in 1989 between the All India Babri Mosque Committee and the hard-line Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).” This is a plain lie, which I assume she has borrowed in good faith from influential secularist sources. In reality, the existence of the medieval temple was a matter of long-standing consensus. What became part of someone’s rhetoric towards 1989 was its denial, launched by the secularists and picked up by the Muslims. As for the VHP, it didn’t base its claim on historical events (not truly in doubt anyway) but on the permanent and present status of the site as a Hindu sacred place.

By the way, note how our BBC correspondent reserves the qualification “hard-line” for the Hindu side and withholds it from the Muslim side. It’s always useful when a medium is so candid about its partisan predilections.

3.3. The interim report’s second life

The Hindustan Times editor then goes on to denounce the report as contrary to facts established earlier: “Doubts have already been cast on the findings, not least because there was no hint of such a ‘structure’ in the earlier reports on the excavation although their accuracy may be questioned. Even then, if a massive structure of the kind which has been mentioned in the final report had been located, surely reports about it would have filtered out.”

So, this is one paper which chooses the option of total denial of the findings, continuing the line taken since at least 1989. As its only argument against the veracity of the final report, it uses the media’s misrepresentation of the interim report on June 11. Reports about the structure did of course filter out, but the Hindustan Times didn't want its readers to know about it in June, and it still wouldn’t tell them about it in August.  This is really quite rich: the Hindustan Times falsely pretended that the interim report’s finding was negative, and later used the purported interim report’s negative result as a “fact” contradicting and overruling the final report’s positive findings.

The same argument has been used by the lawyers of the Muslim lobby groups, such as the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board: “’This report is totally inconsistent with the interim reports submitted earlier’, Board secretary Mohammed Abdul Rahim Quraishi (…) said in a statement.” (Hinduonnet.com, 25 Aug. 2003) As a general rule, you can predict what the secularist position on any issue will be once you know what the militant Islamist position is. From justifying terrorism to misrepresenting the Ayodhya evidence, the two are rarely very different.

3.4. Ad hominem

The Hindustan Times editor (“Structural flaws”, 27-8-2003) also questions the integrity of the archaeologists: “Insinuations have also been made about the ASI coming under political pressure. Since the first among the ruling parties at the Centre has long been insistent on the existence of a demolished temple at the disputed site, it is obvious that a government organisation would have been uncomfortably aware of the stance, although that doesn’t mean that it affected its professional judgment.”

Alex Perry in Time magazine (“Bloody Monday”, 8 Sep. 2003) quotes historian Prof. D.N. Jha to the same effect, except that the academic feels entitled to use more extreme language than a mere journalist would: “This is a totally doctored report. They’ve created this temple out of nothing.” And he is not the only one, reports Perry: “Last week, on the same day as the latest Bombay blasts, the government-run Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) lent official support to the Hindu fundamentalist cause, declaring that new excavations at Ayodhya reveal the mosque was built over an elaborate Hindu temple. Several academics scornfully dismissed this as a BJP political manoeuvre rather than a legitimate archaeological revelation. (…) To many Indian Muslims, this timely discovery is just the latest example of continuing discrimination by the Hindu majority”.

Of course, the ASI is not a “government-run” institution. Like most universities, it is supported by state funds but enjoys functional independence and academic freedom. How historical findings can constitute “discrimination” is not explained. Perhaps Perry thinks findings should be proportionately satisfying to all the contending parties? Or is only fifty-fifty non-discriminatory? No mention is made of the findings supporting the ASI’s conclusion, all the attention goes to its deniers, except: “ASI archaeologists declined to comment, saying they are forbidden to talk to the media.” That was indeed part of the deal given them by the Court. But surely Perry could have found at least one other scholar capable of defending the ASI and its excavation results?

Even if the archaeologists had wanted to manipulate the findings, one wonders how they would have been able to pull it off. They were permanently scrutinized by archaeologists and historians employed by the Muslim parties. Moreover, many of the excavators were Muslims, unlikely to be willing accomplices in a pro-Hindu manipulation. Thus, according to the Press Trust of India (11 June 2003): “There were 131 labourers including 29 Muslims engaged in the digging work today”.

Jyotsna Singh of BBC News (“Experts split on Ayodhya findings”, 26-8-2003) quotes Prof. Irfan Habib with the same allegation: “The ASI is using the same language that the VHP uses by calling the mosque a disputed structure. The ASI has said what the Hindu nationalists wanted to hear. There is a legal issue and this is a long debate. The ASI report has only confirmed the fears about the objectivity of this exercise."

This allegation against the integrity of the archaeologists is loosely made, without any evidence, on no other grounds than that their findings are to the liking of the Hindu nationalists. As if it could have been otherwise. The findings have uncovered the material remains of historical facts, and these facts were public knowledge for centuries, viz. that a Hindu temple had been forcibly replaced by a mosque. Before and after 1989, the Hindu nationalists have simply stood by this public knowledge, while the secularist lobby led the Muslims into disbelieving their own chronicles (which amply attested their pride in having performed the Islamic duty of iconoclasm at Ayodhya) and denying the facts.

Jyotsna Singh casts suspicion on those who hesitate to join in this slandering exercise by identifying them with the “Hindu hardliner” party: “Archaeologists supported by Hindu hardliners dismissed these allegations, saying the report justified their long-held observations.” In reality, at the present state of the argument, any neutral observer or judge would throw out the allegations against the archaeologists and condemn Irfan Habib and his ilk for libel. The accused is innocent until proven guilty, and no proof nor even the faintest indication has been given for foul play by the archaeologists.

Jyotsna Singh’s presentation exemplifies a more sophisticated form of secularist disinformation. A false semblance of even-handedness is created: she mentions some who uphold and some who deny the allegations against the archaeologists. But first of all, to report on a document only in the most general terms (“the report said there was indeed evidence…”: one sentence) and then devote half your space to a discussion of the archaeologists’ integrity, means you are already leaving the public with the impression that bias rather than hard evidence is the news of the day. Moreover, the two sides quoted are presented very differently.

On the pro-archaeologist side, she quotes Dr. S.P. Gupta. She tells us nothing about his status as a leading archaeologist, e.g. as former director of the Allahabad museum, and merely locates him in an ideological corner: “S.P. Gupta, of the Indian Archaeologist Society (IAS), a VHP-backed organization”. By contrast, Irfan Habib, whose support base is not at all described as “hardliner”, is introduced as simply a “professor of history at Aligarh Muslim University”. Though he collected the scholars’ team that had to save the Babri Masjid Action Committee during the government-sponsored debate in 1990-91, we are not expected to know that he is as closely involved with the Muslim lobby as Gupta is with the Hindu lobby.

Likewise, Prof. D.N. Jha’s status as a BMAC employee is left unmentioned in Time (“Bloody Monday”, 8 Sep. 2003), as is Prof. Suraj Bhan’s in the Times of India (“No evidence of temple at Ayodhya: expert”, 25 Aug. 2003). Fortunately, the Times of India did once reveal that “Shereen Ratnagar, Suraj Bhan, D. Mandal and Sita Ram Rai” constituted the “[Sunni Waqf] Board’s own team of archaeologists” (“ASI fabricating evidence: Waqf Board”, 11 June 2003). It is best to keep that in mind when you see those names cited as arguments of authority.

Now that we are at it, we may as well quote Jyotsna Singh’s report on the “Hindu” findings: “S.P. Gupta, of the Indian Archaeologist Society (IAS), a VHP-backed organisation, said: ‘The ASI report is nearly the same as our reports, because we are also archaeologists. We have seen the digging. It is a science so our observations based on scientific facts are bound to be similar.’ A colleague of Mr. Gupta, K.N. Dixit, added: ‘Our excavations in Ayodhya in 1978 proved the existence of a temple dating to the 11th century. The ASI report just pushes it back by 50 or 100 years.’ Another archaeologist, R.K. Sharma, said the motifs found ‘proved the existence of a 7th century Shiva temple’."

Gupta’s team also seems to agree with the ASI team on a point which refutes the charges of manipulative pro-Hindu bias for both of them. An archaeologist who would like to please the VHP with the desired digging results at the Rama Janmabhoomi site, would claim to find habitation down to a depth corresponding to the traditional date of Rama, viz. at least 3700 BC. Yet, the ASI reports only on finding remains of human habitation down to the level corresponding to 1300 BC. Perhaps a thick layer of soil conceals a far older and deeper layer of human remains, but the report doesn’t even hint at such a possibility. The stated result is compatible with the Western chronology of ancient India, with the “Aryan invasion” in ca. 1500 BC and Aryan heroes like Rama a little later. In that scheme of things, Krishna is moved from ca. 3130 BC to ca. 900 BC, at which rate Rama’s date should be brought down to ca. 1200 BC. But it so happens that Hindu nationalists have recently gotten rather excitedly involved in the debate over ancient history, insisting on a high chronology. That school at least should not be pleased with the ASI findings.

For this and other reasons, it is only logical, then, that some observers have dismissed the allegations against the ASI as politically motivated propaganda. Dilip Chakrabarti, lecturer in Archaeology in Cambridge University, asserts: “To cast a slur on the findings of what is undoubtedly the best and most dependable professional archaeological organization in the country is an act of pure political expediency. Whatever we can accuse the ASI of, conscious falsification of data cannot be one of them. (…) I have no doubt that they have done their duty professionally and faithfully.” (“It’s the archaeology, stupid!”, Hindustan Times, 29 Aug. 2003).

In a normal situation, the reckless accusations against the ASI team’s integrity should not go unpunished. In academe, reputation is almost everything, and personal smears by professors against fellow scholars are not treated lightly. So, unless Prof. Habib, Prof. Bhan, Prof. Jha and their followers come up with evidence to back up their allegations, they themselves stand guilty of libel and deserve to be punished accordingly, whether by their academic superiors or by the judiciary.

3.5. False explanations for Islamic iconoclasm

Let us return to the Hindustan Times editorial of August 27. The editor makes an implicit concession to reality: "The point, however, is not whether a temple has been found, but its historical relevance."  He wouldn't have written that if he had been confident that no temple had been found.  In that case, he would have focused on the truth of the matter and not hidden behind the question of its "relevance". 

Then follows an explicit concession to reality: "On this count, the ‘discovery’ adds nothing to what is already known. It is an accepted fact that Muslim invaders had demolished any number of temples..."  Which at once he tries to explain away: "... when tolerance of the faiths of others was virtually unknown."  As if a tick of the clock, viz. the arrival of the Middle Ages, could cause the widespread destruction which India suffered. Tolerance remained the rule in medieval Hinduism: for all its untouchability and other flaws, it did tolerate Syrian Christians, Parsis and Jews in its midst (who, unlike in their countries of origin, also learned to tolerate one another in India), and the lively debates between its own numerous sects rarely if ever spilled over into physical confrontations. The problem was not the age but the Islamic doctrine of iconoclasm. Unfortunately, secularists have developed a habit of staring past uncomfortable historical facts, particularly those disturbing the progressive image of any anti-Hindu group or movement or religion.

And then we are served another old lie, peddled so often in the preceding years by the secularists: "Moreover, the places of worship were regarded with suspicion since they were the meeting places of ordinary people and, hence, could facilitate the hatching of a conspiracy. So if Babur’s general, Mir Baqi, did demolish a temple and built a mosque in its place, it is not surprising.”  

But conspiracies were typically the work of those close to the ruling clique (and not of "the ordinary people", as this pop-Marxist interjection wants us to believe), which in those days meant that they were Muslims and their places of worship were mosques. Yet these mosques were never destroyed by Muslim rulers. The conspiracy gambit is one of those escape routes used by people who realize that the massive Islamic destruction of Hindu temples cannot be denied forever, but who refuse to pin any blame on Islam itself.

At any rate, in the case of the Hindustan Times editorial, the whole concession about medieval Muslim iconoclasm was only meant as a background setting for blaming the Hindus: “However, that doesn’t justify the emulation of medieval norms, as on December 6, 1992.” This is an all too predictable diversion: now that a report puts the spotlights on the demolished Hindu temple, the Indian media insist on eclipsing it behind their evergreen pet reference to “December 6, 1992”, the most glorious/shameful (cross out the wrong alternative) day in independent India’s history.

3.6. The Buddhist gambit

More or less since the beginning of the historical dispute, some secularists have felt that the denial of Islamic iconoclasm in general and of its application to Ayodhya in particular would be unsustainable. So, to weaken the Hindu position vis-à-vis the historical debt which Islam has incurred, they attributed a similar iconoclasm to Hinduism, with Buddhism as the victim. But in the present round of the Ayodhya debate, there has not been more than a vague hint at this scenario, and for good reason.

There was a little problem with this thesis, viz. the inconvenient fact that Buddhism has flourished in India for 17 centuries under almost uninterrupted non-Buddhist Hindu rule, and that many Buddhist monasteries and universities were still functioning in India at the time of the Muslim invasions. It was the Muslim conquerors who destroyed the entire Buddhist establishment of North India in just a few years following the fatal battle of Tarain (1192), where Mohammed Ghori defeated Prithviraj Chauhan to storm into the Gangetic plain. But here again, the secularists counted on their own overwhelming grip on the influential media to get away with their newly launched myth. So now, numerous people in India and abroad (most damagingly in Buddhist countries which should have been India’s natural allies) actually believe that there was a time when Hindus demolished Buddhist temples and slaughtered Buddhist monks.

From there, it was but a small step to claiming that, if the Ayodhya site had been taken by Muslims from a native Indian religion at all, the aggrieved party must have been the Buddhists, not the Hindus. Or better still, if there had been a Hindu temple at the site when the Muslim conquerors came to level it, that temple itself had forcibly replaced an earlier Buddhist building as part of the massive Hindu persecution of the poor hapless Buddhists. However, in the documentary record, there is not the slightest indication of a Buddhist presence at that particular site, even though elsewhere in Ayodhya the Buddhist presence (including that of the prominent philosophers Asanga and Vasubandhu) is well-attested. The Jains still have a number of sites in Ayodhya associated with several of their Tirthankaras, but neither Buddhist nor Jain tradition ever laid claim to the Rama Janmabhoomi site.

The material implication of anti-Buddhist iconoclasm at the site, whether Hindu or Muslim, is that distinctively Buddhist temple remains should be found below the mosque, either directly below it or underneath a layer of Hindu architecture. However, the archaeological search in the 1970s and in 1992 has not uncovered any such exclusively Buddhist artefact. And in 2003 again, nothing specifically Buddhistic has surfaced at the site.

To be sure, it is rather artificial to conceive of Buddhism as a separate tradition from Hinduism, and in their artistic conventions, the two have a lot in common. So, some artefacts could be Buddhist as well as Hindu, e.g. the new ASI report, in describing the “massive structure below the disputed site”, states that one of the architectural fragments belonging to the 12th century, is “similar to those found in Dharmachakrajina Vihara of Kumaradevi at Sarnath which belongs to the early 12th century” (quoted by Anjali Mody: “ASI report raises more questions”, The Hindu, 27 June 2003). Kumaradevi was the Buddhist wife of Govindachandra, king of Kanauj, and the remains of the building she patronized have been interpreted as those of a Buddhist monastery. But this interpretation has been disputed (as Mody recounts), and the said type of architectural fragments could not decide the matter precisely because it formed part of a pan-Indian culture in evidence in both Hindu and Buddhist buildings. By contrast, what was found at the contentious site in Ayodhya, when not part of this indistinctive pan-Indian register, was distinctively part of the non-Buddhistic traditions of Hinduism. Interestingly, in the pre-medieval layers, indications of Shiva and Devi (goddess) worship have been found, so the history of the temple site was not exclusively Vaishnava. But it was definitely not Buddhist.

So far, the Buddhist escape route has not been tried anymore after the ASI report was presented. Apparently the evidence for the site’s non-Buddhist history is just too overwhelming, and the secularists already have enough to deny.

3.7. A tactical retreat from the evidence debate

Some commentators simply accept the scientific findings. Thus, in his regular column in the Indian Express (“A tale of three cities”, 28 Aug. 2003), T.V.R. Shenoy acknowledges that the ASI report “makes it clear that a temple existed on the site dating back at least to the tenth century”.

Others hasten to assure us that they won’t let the scientific findings stand in the way of their ongoing crusade against Hindu nationalism and particularly against the project of building a new temple, but they do renounce the struggle against the scientific evidence as such. Among these, surprisingly, we meet the editorialist of the Times of India (“Temple tide: ASI report a green signal for saffron”, 27 Aug. 2003), who effectively throws in the towel as far as the historical aspect of the Ayodhya affair is concerned, for he opens thus: "Let's drop the charade."  In the next sentences, he still tries to identify the scientific findings with the VHP, he also puts the word “evidence” in quotation marks, but he never actually tries to challenge the truth of the findings anymore. 

That doesn’t mean that this war-horse of secularism is giving up the struggle, but it shifts the debate definitively to the purely judicial level: "The 'findings', of course, have no force in law", etc.  And then the editor reverts to some good old moralizing on the 1992 demolition, clearly avoiding any further focus on the evidence. For on the issue of the historical facts, he knows that his side has lost the debate for good. We must at any rate thank him for admitting that all those years of polemic against the historical consensus on the temple demolition were merely a “charade”.

The Pioneer (“What lies ahead”, 27 Aug. 2003) betrays the same attitude. It likewise acknowledges the ASI’s findings, it even rejects the allegations of bias and fabrication against the ASI, but then swiftly shifts the focus to the judicial dispute: “For, the ASI’s findings can scarcely be the sole determinant in finding light at the end of the Ayodhya tunnel.” So, it’s back to Court now with the message: “We were wrong, Your Honour, to deny the existence of the temple, but we plead you still don’t grant the Hindus the right to rebuild it.”

All very well, but we should not forget that that point could have been reached fourteen or more years ago. What the recent excavations have merely confirmed was already well-known in 1989. The only problem was the mendacious denial of the historical facts by screaming and bullying secularists. Which, in turn, emboldened the Muslim hardliners into the most intransigent position in Court, in the political arena and on the streets. Think of the riots and the waste of energy that India could have been spared if the secularists had not obstructed the course of justice (or inter-communal negotiations, or a political settlement) with their denial of the historical reality underlying the Ayodhya dispute. I venture to put forth the view that these secularists have blood on their hands.

3.8. A mosque before the mosque?

Jyotsna Singh (“Experts split on Ayodhya findings”, BBC News, 26-8-2003) reports: “Although there is no dispute that objects were recovered from the site, the interpretation is the key. Professor of history at Aligarh Muslim University, Irfan Habib, told the BBC: ‘The floors of the mosque have been declared to be a temple. Broken bricks and stones used for filling up the floor of the mosque have been declared as pillars of the temple. Glazed pottery common to Muslim architecture has been completely ignored. Flower motifs are common to Muslim architecture but the ASI has interpreted it as a Hindu pattern.’"

Of course, any dispute about the Hindu or Muslim origin of artefacts only makes sense for the time when there were Muslims in that part of India, i.e. after the Ghorid conquest in 1192, which reached Ayodhya itself in 1194. As Mohammed Ghori and his lieutenants destroyed all the temples and monasteries they came across, literally thousands of them, it is nearly impossible that a large temple overlooking a city could have survived. By contrast, it is possible that Babar did find some kind of minor makeshift Hindu temple at the site, not necessarily in a proper temple building (just as the Babri Masjid itself served as a Hindu temple in 1949-92), because Hindus often managed to wrest or negotiate concessions from Muslim rulers in times when the latter were weak and in need of Hindu goodwill. A well-known case in point is the Somnath temple in coastal Gujarat, which was destroyed, restored as a temple and destroyed again no less than eight times.

At any rate, the decisive destruction of the large medieval temple took place in 1194, not in 1528. Therefore, I for one have never had any problem with the hypothesis of a mosque and Muslim habitation at the disputed site in much of the pre-Moghul Muslim period, i.e. between 1194 and 1528.

But the ASI’s search was precisely for the Hindu temple built in the preceding period. And of this temple, they did find appropriate foundations. This hasn’t kept them from acknowledging the existence of Muslim habitation around the mosque, obviously in the centuries when the mosque was standing. But glazed ware was not the decisive evidence in this regard: though this is found in late-medieval Muslim buildings, it cannot be identified exclusively with Muslim culture.

As archaeologist Nayanjot Lahiri (“Not a treasure hunt”, Hindustan Times, 2 Sep. 2003) admits: “I am surprised that the Survey’s critics think that it is with the establishment of the Sultanate that what they call ‘Muslim’ glazed tiles and pottery came to be used”, with reference to 11-th-century pre-Sultanate counter-evidence from Multan and Tulamba. Likewise, Bulbul Roy Mishra (“Temple and the truth”, Indian Express, 6 Sep. 2003) remarks: “Habib and Bhan continue to mislead the public by contending the presence of glazed tiles, mortar and lime proves the structure beneath the Babri mosque was a Muslim one, as Hindus did not know the use of these materials. Glazed ware has been found used as early as the Kushan period. Lime and mortar were used in the Sanchi stupa, second century BC, as well as in the Gupta period.”

Moreover, apart from such objects, of which the Hindu or Muslim origin is disputable, plenty of artefacts are unambiguously Hindu. As Mishra notes: “It is not understood how Habib and Bhan ignored numerous terracotta figurines and divine sculptures suggestive of Hindu origin. Their silence in this regard is baffling.”

Irfan Habib is also counting on the readers’ forgetfulness concerning one of the central findings in the ASI report: there was a very large temple, the foundations of which far exceed the circumference of the Babri mosque. He wants us to believe that the pillar-bases were actually the floor of the Babri Masjid, but a large part of the foundations was located outside the confines of the mosque and hence cannot possibly be confused with the mosque floor, except by a highly prejudiced mind.

Along the same lines as Habib, Muslim Personal Law Board secretary Mohammed Abdul Rahim Quraishi “said a team of well-known archaeologists including Prof. Suraj Bhan had visited the site and inspected the excavated pits and was of [the] opinion that there was evidence of an earlier mosque beneath the structure of the Babri Masjid”. (“ASI ‘finds’ temple, Muslim front says no”, Hinduonnet.com, 25 Aug. 2003)

The two agree on a pre-Babri Muslim presence, but note how Quraishi’s “interpretation” of the findings is already starkly at variance with Habib’s: the latter saw no mosque underneath, while Quraishi’s employee Bhan did. This indicates the non-seriousness of at least one of these interpretations, possibly both: clutching at straws, they hurriedly fell for any interpretation as long as it could contradict the ASI reading. By contrast, the ASI team could settle for a single interpretation, just one, which also converges with S.P. Gupta’s, K.N. Dixit’s and R.K. Sharma’s reading. That’s what you get when you stay close to the empirical data rather than imposing a contrived interpretation on them.

But never mind, we gladly concede a Muslim presence, mosque and all, in the period from 1194 to 1528. In fact, this point had been made a decade ago by anti-temple historian Prof. Sushil Srivastava (The Disputed Mosque, Delhi 1991, p.90-92) as well as by pro-temple archaeologist Prof. R. Nath (The Baburi Masjid of Ayodhya, Jaipur 1991, p.18), independently from one another. They did not posit the existence of a mosque beneath the mosque, but suggested that the Babri mosque itself preceded Babar by two or three centuries, because its architectural style was more in keeping with fashions and construction skill levels known from 13th-century buildings. Also, the circumstances of Babar’s and his lieutenant Mir Baqi’s brief stay in Ayodhya, viz. in the middle of a hectic war campaign, are hardly compatible with the construction from scratch of an important building.

What is certain is that a major Hindu temple at the site was demolished by Islamic iconoclasm and replaced with a mosque symbolizing the victory of Islam over Infidelism. Of that, evidence is plentiful and of many types. But it remains an open question why the mosque was attributed to Mir Baqi and named after Babar. Anomalies in style between different parts of the building, some in Moghul and some in earlier styles, indicate repair after serious damage, reports R. Nath (The Baburi Masjid, p.11). “Mir Baqi might have had the mosque renovated and then re-dedicated to Babur”, opines Srivastava (The Disputed Mosque, p.88), leaving open the question why this was needed at all. One possibility is that in the declining years of the Lodi dynasty, Hindus had gained control of their sacred site including the mosque building, and the victorious Mir Baqi chased them from there and restored it as a mosque. In that case, he also gave some finishing touches to the mosque architecture in replacement of any Hindu elements that had come to adorn it.

But in science, one has to be able to live with provisional ignorance, which is always better than a false pretence at knowledge. So, let us drop all speculations and accept that there is still a lot we don’t know about the site’s history, particularly for the time between 1194 and 1528. Given that Prof. Harsh Narain, Dr. Arun Shourie and others have discovered attempts to conceal or alter Muslim documents confirming the temple tradition (discussed in the VHP evidence bundle, § 7.3: History vs. Casuistry, Delhi 1991, p.28-29), we cannot exclude that in some cases, similar attempts at concealment of highly informative documents have succeeded and remained undiscovered. In that case, a secret drawer in some library may contain a written testimony to the events of Hindu-Muslim interaction under the declining Sultanate, waiting to be found and clear up our ignorance. Otherwise, or until then, we will just have to live with a hole in our knowledge.

But we may at any rate accept that there are indications for a Muslim presence at the site in that very time bracket, 1194-1528. Prof. Habib and Mr. Quraishi may not realize it, but their insistence on a Muslim presence before Babar actually fits the traditional consensus and the Hindu interest better. For suppose the opposite scenario: the magnificent medieval Hindu temple had remained standing all through three centuries of harsh Muslim rule until Babar’s arrival. Given the temple’s importance and its central location in what became a provincial capital of the Muslim (Sultanate) regime, its continued presence would have been a remarkable counter-example against the consensus view of Islamic iconoclasm for that period, viz. that no Hindu temple was left standing if the Muslim rulers could help it. That the Muslim occupation of this Hindu sacred site started with the Ghorid conquest, is consistent with all we know about that conquest as an unparalleled orgy of iconoclasm.

A second reason why the pre-Moghul date of the mosque supports the Hindu position concerns the presence of Hindu temple artefacts inside the building’s walls, including an inscription describing the building as a Rama temple, which came to light during the demolition. Hindu masons who were employed in the construction, either as slaves or as paid labourers, worked remains of the demolished temple into the mosque in an apparent bid to preserve some of the site’s sanctity. But how could they do this in 1528 if the temple had been destroyed in 1192? One can think up scenarios, but it is simpler if the mosque’s construction followed more closely in time upon the temple’s demolition. This way, Habib’s and Quraishi’s insistence on a Muslim presence at the site in 1194-1528 actually adds to the credibility of the most sensational proof for the temple.

We may repeat R. Nath’s conclusion (The Baburi Masjid, p.78): “The foregoing study of the architecture and site of the Baburi Masjid has shown, unequivocally and without any doubt, that it stands on the site of a Hindu temple which originally existed in the Ramkot on the bank of the river Sarayu, and Hindu temple material has also been used in its construction.” Science has been speaking for so many years already, but some undeserving professors just refuse to listen.

3.9. Counterbalancing the findings

Internationally, the most popular approach to the unwelcome ASI findings has been to swiftly concede the essence of the report’s conclusions, then to elaborate the thesis that even this final report isn’t conclusive because it is counterbalanced by other opinions. Whence the title in the conservative Daily Telegraph: “Archaeologists fail to end Ayodhya temple site row” (26 Aug. 2003), by its Delhi correspondent Rahul Bedi, who incidentally is a collaborator of the Communist fortnightly Frontline.

The leader of this trend was predictably the BBC. Jyotsna Singh of BBC-News (“Experts split on Ayodhya findings”, 26-8-2003) claims: “A key report by Indian archaeologists on the disputed Ayodhya religious site has split not only Hindus and Muslims but experts too.” She acknowledges: “The report said there was indeed evidence of an earlier temple built beneath a 16th century mosque that was destroyed by Hindu activists in the northern city in 1992.”

So, science has spoken, but it doesn’t have the last word. For, there is a split of opinions. Firstly and predictably: “Hindus welcomed the findings while Muslims rejected the report.” As if any scientific study is ever invalidated, even partially, just because some outsider doesn’t like its conclusions. Secondly and less trivially: “Several historians opposed to the VHP's claim have questioned the validity of the ASI findings.” Then follow Irfan Habib’s comments, just discussed.

While the true fanatics led by Irfan Habib simply deny the new evidence as they have denied the old, we see the slightly more cautious secularists retreat to the next line of defence.  They use these fanatics as a counterbalance to the scientific findings, which they in turn conflate with the "Hindu hardliners", to create a semblance of even-handedness with themselves in the reasonable middle position between two fanatical parties, one of these in effect including the ASI.  This way, they can still maintain that there is no conclusive proof for the temple, as if dogmatic denials are equal in value with the scientific findings of a team of top archaeologists.

The BBC correspondent and most Western media claim that the issue remains unresolved.  But if you read on, you find that this only means that some of the long-standing evidence deniers merely keep on denying the evidence.  So yes, there are still two positions: those who stand by the evidence and those who deny it or explain it away with contrived stories.  But no fair reporter would treat those two positions, science and anti-science, as being of equal validity or equal seriousness in any other controversy.

When scientific investigations pin-pricked fond beliefs, e.g. concerning the purported Roswell UFO extraterrestrials or the Shroud of Turin (a medieval artefact believed by some to have covered Jesus), the press did report the feeble protestations of the devotees; but it never gave them equal rank with the findings of science.  It never used these opposing voices to argue that the scientific findings were less than solid and definitive.

This remains true when some of the objectors are people of academic status but whose ideological constraints are known.  Of course Soviet historians have kept on denying that the Katyn massacre was Stalin's rather than Hitler's work.  Given that they risked their lives if they took the opposite position, they would, wouldn't they?  And their supporters in the West stood by them as long as feasible.  But nobody in his right mind thought that these predictable denials by the usual suspects added any weight to the contrived case against the evidence.

Likewise, the politically motivated protests of an Irfan Habib or a Zafaryab Jilani deserve to be treated as so much sound and fury signifying nothing. Science has spoken. All responsible citizens will now repudiate the anti-scientific campaign of temple denial and allow justice to be done.

3.10. Public opinion engineering

These days, much-acclaimed characters like John Dayal, Harsh Mander and Arundhati Roy lie in waiting for communal riots and elatedly jump at them when and where they erupt. They exploit the anti-Hindu propaganda value of riots to the hilt, making up fictional stories as they go along to compensate for any defects in the true account. John Dayal is welcomed to Congressional committees in Washington DC as a crown witness to canards such as how Hindus are raping Catholic nuns in India, an allegation long refuted in a report by the Congress state government of Madhya Pradesh. Arundhati Roy goes lyrical about the torture of a Muslim politician’s two daughters by Hindus during the Gujarat riots of 2002, even when the man had only one daughter, who came forward to clarify that she happened to be in the US at the time of the “facts”. Harsh Mander has already been condemned by the Press Council of India (decision 14/106/02-03 dd. 30 June 2003, Dr. Krishen Kak vs. Times of India) for spreading false rumours about alleged Hindu atrocities in his famous column Hindustan Hamara (Times of India, 20 March 2002; incidentally a title borrowed from a poem by Mohammed Iqbal, who claimed “our India” for Islam and became the spiritual father of Pakistan).

These riot vultures do a lot of damage to India, among other reasons because they are so eagerly believed abroad. Yet they don’t interest me too much, if only because they pale in comparison with the past master of their art, the one who was already doing the same job long before these newcomers had discovered the uses of riot “reporting” in anti-Hindu hate-mongering. I mean Asghar Ali Engineer.

Since approximately the Stone Age, Engineer has been travelling to riot spots in India (butchering of minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh somehow doesn’t interest him as much) with prefabricated riot reports invariably showing the same ingredients: Hindu pre-planning, Muslim victimhood, anti-Muslim complicity of the police and some local politicians. With the “facts” of the matter fixed beforehand, the main purpose of his visits is to note down some local names in order to give his reports more credibility.

Admittedly, Engineer is of a different calibre than his followers, in the sense that he doesn’t mix his mendaciousness in the service of the hate cause with mendaciousness for self-promotion. People like Harsh Mander and Arundhati Roy easily come across as laughable because their corrupting concern for their own image-building detracts mightily from the force of their propaganda against Hinduism: Roy posturing as an environmentalist all while setting up shop in a villa in a protected forest zone, Mander taking early retirement in peacetime from the civil service but falsely claiming that he had “resigned” (which implies loss of pension rights and other privileges) as an act of protest against the Gujarat riots, etc. Engineer won’t be an impeccable human being, but at least his human defects don’t come in the way of his effectiveness as an anti-Hindu campaigner.

In the present debate, he has predictably contributed his two cents’ worth: “Archaeological excavations and temple”, Secular Perspective, 1 Sep. 2003. The text goes through most of the tactical moves discussed in the preceding sections. Engineer is not an archaeologist nor a historian, but he makes the most of newspaper reports as if these were primary and reliable sources. He is not above quoting even anonymous sources as arguments of authority.

His best source, a “senior archaeologist” who was “speaking on condition of anonymity”, has “stated categorically, ‘There is no evidence of a temple. In fact, as we go deeper, we are seeing more evidence of Islamic influence.’” Surely Mr. Engineer should know that Islam originated in 7th-century Arabia, yet at the Ayodhya site where findings date back two thousand years earlier, it only gets more Islamic as you recede deeper into the past? Could it be that under Hindu influence, Islam in India had a few previous incarnations?

Predictably, Engineer invokes the authority of “noted archaeologist” Suraj Bhan and of “historian” Irfan Habib without informing the readers about their status as long-standing servants of the Babri Masjid lobby. Yet, in his case this may be due to mere carelessness, as elsewhere he does reveal that one Supriya Verma of Panjab University “spent months in Ayodhya as an expert of the Sunni Waqf Board”. Indeed, he knows from lawyer Zafaryab Jilani that the Waqf Board has six archaeologists under contract to follow the diggings and study the conclusions at length. It just makes you wonder where the Waqf Board is getting all this money from.

But it’s good to see what Engineer quotes Habib for: “When digging was ordered, many historians like Irfan Habib had warned that excavation could not lead to a clinching evidence for the existence of a temple.” Which merely amounts to saying that those historians, knowing how the evidence would go against them, had prepared their escape from facing the facts by declaring these impossible beforehand.

As for Waqf Board emissary Supriya Verma, she makes the most of the animal bones found at different layers: “If any shrine and a temple existed, how can anyone account for the animal bones?” As per the ASI findings, the site lay in ruins several times, circumstances in which animals may have made their home in it. Is she really an archaeologists that she doesn’t know how the strangest objects accumulate at sites of interest over the millennia? Or did she mean to say that the animals indicate a Muslim rather than a Hindu presence, with mosques as sanctuary for our four-legged brethren? It seems the anti-temple experts are clutching at straws in desperation.

Like so many others, Engineer uses the counterbalancing posture, pretending that the ASI’s scientific findings are evened out by the obstinate anti-scientific protests of the usual suspects: “However, the report will be subject to different interpretations and would not go unchallenged.” Yes, just as even the most cast-iron evidence in a court case never goes unchallenged by the disfavoured party’s lawyer.

It’s also what he had heard Irfan Habib predicting: “The artefacts could be interpreted differently.” True enough, Engineer notes with satisfaction: “And this is precisely what is happening. The final report submitted by ASI seems to be highly controversial and is bound to be challenged.” Well, well, those who were predicting trouble are now exulting in the realization of their prediction. Only, everyone can see that it’s merely they themselves who are creating the predicted trouble.

Like many others, Engineer disingenuously plays off the interim report with its allegedly “negative” result against the final report: “Now we have the final report of the ASI which says that there could have been a temple-like structure below Babri Masjid. Is it not a glaring contradiction? All through the digging no definite indications of any temple-like structure were found and suddenly the final report discovers temple-like structure there.” Once more, old lies are falsely presented as facts to counter new facts.

This had been done before, viz. with B.B. Lal’s findings. Like most secularists in 1990-91, Engineer is still contrasting B.B. Lal’s public statements about his excavation results with his remark in his published ASI report summary that “the late period was devoid of any special interest”. To our crusading secularist, this means that B.B. Lal speaks with forked tongue: “But later in 1990 Lal began to claim that certain brick bases he had excavated in the seventies were meant to support pillars and thus suggested ‘the existence of a temple-like structure in the south of the Babri Masjid’.”

The true story has been explained threadbare long ago, but for poor listeners like Mr. Engineer, we may repeat that Lal’s excavation focused on the ancient period and that from the viewpoint of Ramayana studies, the medieval layer with its unmistakable temple foundations was indeed devoid of much interest. The discovery of temple remains was nothing unexpected or controversial at the time, given the consensus (still prevalent in the late 1970s) on the site’s known history of Islamic iconoclasm. Yet, after the normal bureaucratic and human-inertial delays, as the 1980s were advancing, the ASI started deliberately postponing the formal publication of Lal’s findings because secularist opinion had started mobilizing against the longstanding historical consensus. The reason for the endless procrastination must have been the same reason why the court case has been dragging on for decades: fear of getting involved in controversy, particularly one where the facts would force a stance favoured by the Hindu side. In other words, fear of being demonized by the secularist establishment with its bloodhound attitude towards dissent.

If anyone expected Mr. Engineer to be above personal attacks on the ASI experts, he’d better wake up. Taking umbrage behind two Waqf Board lawyers whom he quotes with approval, he has Abdul Mannan dismiss the report as a “saffron report”, while Zafaryab Jilani is quoted as saying: “It was prepared under political pressure.” Not meaner than what most secularist reporters have alleged, but just as unfounded. [Engineer of course does not mention, just as Irfan Habib and ‘secularist’ publications never do, that four out of the twenty authors of the ASI report itself were Muslims. Are these Muslim archaeologists also ‘saffronized’? It seems more likely that Irfan Habib is an Islamist masquerading as a Marxist. – Vishal Agarwal]

Finally, another false semblance of balance in Engineer’s text is the one between two evaluations of the report. All manner of experts and so-called experts are quoted as denouncing the excavation report, but neither the ASI team, nor other archaeologists nor even VHP-affiliated experts were called to contribute even one sentence in defence of the ASI findings. For his semblance of balance, however, Engineer had to also relay a pro-evidence voice. So he has picked one, only one, and that one is the voice of “RSS spokesman Ram Madhav”, not an expert but a political leader. This way, our spin-doctor creates the impression that on the one hand you have “the expert archaeological opinion”, which “may not give much credence to the ASI report”, while on the other hand you only have partisan Hindu nationalist opinion. When in reality, the opposite asymmetry holds good: genuine expert opinion supports the ASI report and only politically motivated secularists, whether sporting academic titles or not, denounce it.

Undeniably, Asghar Ali Engineer remains a formidable master of disinformation. This makes him an excellent representative of Indian secularism and of the anti-temple campaign in particular.

 

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