There are many popular images of the Babri Masjid-Ram Temple dispute, which have been surviving in public debates for the last three decades. In the initial phase, the dispute was understood as a fundamentalist and polemical demand of a few religious fanatics, which, it was hoped and in fact strongly believed, would be inevitably rejected by the secular people of India.1 The Meerut riots of 1987 and rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as an important political force affected these perceptions quite significantly, though the binaries of base-superstructure/traditional-modern/ communal-secular continued to determine the ways in which this dispute was analysed. Finally, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, the dispute turned into an ideological struggle between, what is often called secularisms and Hindu communalism. These changing images of the dispute, very intriguingly, hide the independent and multiple Muslim political responses to this question. In fact, the relationship between the Babri Masjid case and the positions of Muslim political groups on wakf properties, particularly on protected historical mosques was not at all considered. As a result, the Babri Masjid dispute is either conceptualised as a challenge to Indian secularism or as a symbol of aggressive Hindu politics. Focusing upon the Muslim political responses

1 I am referring here to the public debates and academic discussions in the late 1980s which were dominated by a particular kind of ‘secular’ interpretation of religious politics. Bipan Chandra, for instance, writes: ‘Communalism is not yet the dominant mode of thought of the Indian people . . . Even where the communalists have come to power, even where during the last forty years the communal parties have won elections, they know that even the people who have voted for them have not yet imbibed communal ideology on a significant scale; the Indian people are still secular’ (1990: 44).