Diplomat-turned-politician Syed Shahabuddin is one of the hardliners in the All India Muslim Personal Law Board's 41-member working committee.
Born in 1935 in Ranchi, Shahabuddin resigned from the Indian Foreign Service to plunge into politics. The former Lok Sabha member from Kishinganj in Bihar was in the forefront of Muslim mobilisation during the Shah Bano case and was one of the most vocal Muslim leaders during the Babri Masjid campaign. Since then, closely linked with the legal and political battle to win the Babri Masjid case, he hopes the masjid will be rebuilt on the land where it once stood.
Shahabuddin heads the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, one of the Muslim groups in the AIMPLB. He is a member of the Muslim Law Board's Babri Masjid Committee. A lawyer, he spends most of his time compiling Muslim India, a monthly, and writing press releases, newsletters and bulletins for Mushawarat in his congested office in south Delhi's Muslim dominated Okhla neighbourhood.
He spoke to Ehtasham Khan on the Kanchi Shankaracharya's offer to mediate on the Ayodhya controversy and other issues.
What went wrong in the negotiations with the Shankaracharya?
Firstly, there was no negotiation. At no stage was there any negotiation across the table between the Shankaracharya and the Muslim Personal Law Board. What we had was just two letters, dated June 16 and July 1.The July 1 letter almost cancelled the proposal of June 16 and the entire approach was on one point -- donate the land for the sake of national good, for the sake of the community and for peace and amity which had an element of threat.
That you donate or else…
stop the proceedings and accept our settlement. The court may or may not accept the plea. But the out-of-court settlement has to be endorsed by the court.
Secondly, an out-of court settlement has to be placed before the court by the parties to the case. Shahabuddin or the Shankaracharya are not party to the case. Even the Muslim Personal Law Board is not party to the case. Similarly, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is not a party to the case.
An out-of-court settlement between the RSS and AIMPLB does not give them the authority. It only provides a way that if there is any consensus they can go to court. These organisations have certain limits.
I had long discussions with my friends in the VHP. But negotiation is a different matter. Negotiation is always between authorised parties. Nobody is coming to the core issue. The core issue in the entire case is the site of the mosque. The target has always been the site. First they (the Hindu groups) tried to give a price for that. Then they demolished the mosque thinking that Muslims would be discouraged and give away the site.
But the theological theory is that the structure is not the masjid. The site is the masjid. The structure can be built and rebuilt. Even the holiest of holy Kabah has been built several times. So Muslims are today fighting for the retention or restoration of the site of the Babri Masjid.