THE ancient town of Ayodhya, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, has been known for its rich diversity of religious denominations, predominantly Hinduism and Islam. For centuries Hindus and Muslims lived in peace and harmony in this town where, in the year 1528, Mughal King Barber built a mosque, which later came to be known as Babri Masjid.
Though there was no dispute of any kind for more than two centuries, controversy was sparked off when a small minority of Hindus started to claim that this mosque was built on the spot where the Hindu deity Ram was born. The controversy resulted in the first religious violence almost three and half centuries later, in 1853. In view of the sensitive nature of the issue, six years later, in 1859, the British colonial rulers erected a fence to separate places of worship for Muslims and Hindus. Under this arrangement Muslims were allowed to use the inner court for their prayers while the outer court was allocated to Hindus.
This situation continued for almost a century until 1949, when some Hindus secretly placed idols of Lord Rama inside the mosque triggering off strong protest from the Muslims. Both Muslims and Hindus filed civil suits, but in a move to appease the Hindus, and antagonise the Muslims and deprive them of their rights, the government declared the mosque premises a disputed area and sealed the gates.
Thus, the Congress government at that time was responsible for sowing the seeds for future conflict between the two major communities. In doing so it added insult to the Muslims who had already been prevented from praying in the mosque. The District Judge ordered, in 1986, that the gates of the mosque be opened to allow Hindus to worship. In protest, the Muslims set up the Babri Masjid Action Committee to fight for their rights.
Without waiting for the court verdict, a small minority of Hindus, who do not represent the large majority of moderate and peace loving Hindus, began to politicise the issue and continued to whip up anti-Muslim feelings, raising communal tension between the two communities. The Hindu extremist party, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) founded in 1964 by a group of senior leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), formed a committee in 1984, and started spearheading a nationwide campaign to build a Ram Temple in the premises of Babri Masjid.
This insidious campaign was later led by long time RSS leader Lal Krishna Advani, who became leader of the Bahratiya Janata Party (BJP) – earlier known as the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, established in 1951 as a political wing of the RSS to counter rising public revulsion after the venerated father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, was assassinated by a RSS member. Known for its divisive and destructive policies, the RSS openly believes that national unity and progress could be achieved in India only when the country is ‘purged’ of non-Hindus, or, when members of other communities, especially Muslims, subordinate themselves ‘willingly’ to ‘Hindu superiority’.
It was L. K. Advani who first brought the Babri Masjid issue to the forefront of the BJP’s strategy and politicised it to achieve power. His extremely dangerous ‘rath yatra’ (chariot journey) crusade against Indian Muslims whipped up religious sentiment, polarised society, generated passions and stirred Hindus and Muslims with pernicious results.
Meanwhile, the VHP, with its anti-Muslim slogans, further inflamed communal tensions, antagonised the Muslims further and aggravated the already explosive situation, when they also stepped up their own campaign in 1989 to lay the foundations for the Ram Temple on land adjacent to the mosque. This time, its cadres partially damaged the mosque. In 1991, the BJP came to power in Uttar Pradesh, raising the confidence of Hindu nationalists and facilitating their sinister move to destroy the mosque.
On 6 December 1992, RSS cadres gathered in the Babri mosque premises on the premise of conducting a religious ceremony marking the laying of the first bricks for constructing a Ram temple – on the site they believe was the birth place of the deity Rama.
According to the Indian media, Advani, who was at the site, together with other BJP, VHP and RSS leaders, instigated the organised mob, though he had given a commitment to the Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao that there would be no disturbances and the Babri Masjid would not be touched. The RSS too had given a similar commitment not to touch the mosque and to restrict construction to a religious ceremony symbolising the laying of the first bricks.
But they had their own hidden agendas to demolish the mosque for which, as reported later, they had brought in experts under the guise of activists. Despite all these assurances, the RSS, BJP, VHP and Sangh Parivar, youths wearing yellow headbands, began to rush into the place where the ceremony was to be held and started attacking television crews, knocking down and trampling their equipment while wave after wave of slogan shouting Hindus surged towards the mosque. Then began their mass assault on the Babri Majid which they razed to the ground in a very professional manner, contrary to the impression that it was bought down by a mob. Groups of jubilant RSS supporters paraded through the narrow lanes chanting obscene slogans against Muslims.
An army of civilian and paramilitary police sent there especially to prevent any untoward incidents were present, but were under strict instructions not to interfere or open fire on the violent vandals. What more official encouragement did the mobs need to commit this dastardly crime destroying the secular image of this ancient country of its diverse culture and rich heritage?
The congress government in the centre, headed by then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao didn’t take any precautionary measure to protect the Babri Masjid or to prevent the outbreak of communal violence. Instead, the government’s leniency encouraged the mob to go ahead with the ceremony knowing very well the explosive nature of the situation and the devastating potential consequences. As expected, the Hindu mob brought down the mosque to create new realities. All that the Narasimha Rao’s Congress Government did after the disgraceful demolition of the Masjid was to seek the Supreme Court’s advisory opinion through a Presidential reference.
The demolition of the Masjid triggered off nationwide religious riots between Hindus and the country’s Muslim minority, killing, according to official sources, more than 3,000, who were mainly Muslims although the exact number killed countrywide, some estimated at several hundred thousands, will never be known. After all, those spelling out the official figures were the very same people behind the carnage. Muslim-owned houses and business establishments too were destroyed as part of the overall RSS strategy to destroy the economic base of Muslims in India. The bloodshed was the most serious threat to India’s secular identity since independence in 1947.
Explaining the conspiracy, Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande said in April 2001, that the demolition was a pre-meditated and well-planned exercise carried out by experts who knew “structural engineering” – apparent from the fact that the domes of the mosque fell from the base. While Nirmala Deshpande had gone into the logistics of the demolition, others referred to the meeting at which the blueprint of the act was prepared by the BJP leadership.
At a secret meeting at the residence of BJP’s Uttar Pradesh unit chief Vinay Katiyar, on 5 December 1992, attended by Advani, the plan was finalised to bring down the mosque. Mahant Ram Narain Das, who was the priest of the makeshift Ram temple in 1992, disclosed that: “during the crucial meeting on the eve of the demolition at the Ram Katha Sanghralaya, adjacent to the disputed site in Ayodhya, Advani, Uma Bharati and others gave fiery speeches to instigate kar sevaks to pull down the mosque.
The conspiracy angle was further highlighted when Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh said that BJP and VHP leaders were lying when they said that they had no idea about what was going to happen on 6 December 1992. Kalyan Singh, as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, who was in charge of the security arrangements on that day said ‘that a deep-rooted conspiracy had been hatched by the BJP leadership to demolish the Babri Mosque’.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) charge-sheet set before the Rae Bareli court stated that L. K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharati, Vinay Katiyar, and VHP leaders Ashok Singhal, Giriraj Kishore, Vishnu Hari Dalmia and Sadhvi Ritambara delivered inflammatory speeches at Ayodhya prior to the demolition of the Babri Masjid which incited kar sevaks to demolish the mosque.
But in its judgment, the Rae Bareli court ruled that Advani, who initiated the temple movement as a consequence of which the Babri Masjid was demolished, would not be tried but the seven remaining defendants facing charges of inciting a Hindu mob to demolish the mosque, spreading hatred against Muslims and communal frenzy leading to rioting, killing and destruction.
The judgment went against the weight of the entire evidence and violated the law as declared by the Supreme Court. It also raised questions as to how the Magistrate separated the case against Advani from the rest, even though the charges and the evidence against them were almost similar.
Some legal experts described the court proceedings as a complete eye wash while one lawyer said ‘Advani will have to examine his conscience and ask whether it is fair that those who followed him should be charged while he should get off scot free’. The lawyers were stunned at the double standards of the court order as the general perception was that Advani, as deputy Prime Minister and Union Home Minister misused the government machinery to gain relief.
Speaking out against the leadership, kar sevaks who participated in the mosque demolition said that they were incited by the BJP and VHP netas. Describing the judgment as a gross miscarriage of justice, the Indian media in general which, unlike the biased Western media, courageously highlighted the injustice, said it was no “honourable acquittal”.
Advani has been a Hindu fascist since his early days in Karachi where he was born, and was a RSS organiser during the partition of India in 1947 before moving into Rajasthan. In 1951, he became the Jana Sangh secretary in Delhi and was later elected President of the Jana Sangh after which he joined the BJP. Even as India’s deputy Prime Minister, he attended the RSS-BJP meeting to finalise the campaign to build the Ram temple. While under house arrest after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, Advani contributed two articles to ‘The first brick’, the booklet which the BJP has printed on the Ram temple. Accusing them of inciting communal violence and citing a CBI report the Congress Party, demanded the resignation of then Home Minster L. K. Advani, Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi and Sports Minister Uma Bharti. But rejecting the opposition demand, then Prime Minister Vajpayee said “these three ministers were there in Ayodhya not to demolish the mosque, but to express their protest and try to stop the crowd”.
Describing Vajpayee’s exoneration of these minister as an “insult to… the rule of law”, Congress spokesman Anand Sharma said that “this comment of Vajpayee was unfortunate, shocking and condemnable”. Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee said, “Vajpayee and his BJP have a hidden agenda which they have been pressing with all along”.
The BJP, which came to power only on the Ram temple issue, tried to remain in power too only on this issue, and, shedding his secular and moderate masks Vajpayee told a VHP meeting in New York, during his official visit to the US, that ‘when the time comes, that is when they get the majority in the parliament, that the BJP would implement its Hindutva agenda’.
During the subsequent general elections, Vajpayee hoisted the Ram temple issue to the top of the party’s priority list when he told a rally in Ayodhya that “we have come to you to seek another term of five years. There are many unfinished tasks… among them is the task of building a magnificent Ram temple on the site of Ram’s birth in Ayodhya. There are only two ways in which this can happen: a court verdict in favour of the temple or a consensus based on mutual goodwill and cooperation. Efforts are on to solve the problem, but more time is needed. The government needs another term for solving the issue”.
Vajpayee reiterated his backing to build a Ram Temple on the ruins of Babri Masjid, when he said in the corridors of the Parliament as Prime Minister that “the campaign to construct a Ram temple in Ayodhya, on the ruins of the Babri Masjid stemmed from ‘national sentiments’ and an expression of national feeling. The task in Ayodhya remains unfinished”
Accusing Narasimha Rao’s Congress government of being equally responsible for the destruction of Babri Masjid, the activists of Samajwadi Party burnt effigies of BJP leaders Kalyan Singh, Advanai, Uma Bharathi, Murasli Manohar Joshi and Congress leader Narasimha Rao.
Taking a dig at the Congress party for not being interested in finding a solution to the issue, then BJP President Bangaru Laxman asked “who opened the lock of the disputed structure at Ayodhya? Who performed shilanyas and who built the makeshift temple there?”
Meanwhile Yousuf Muchala, counsel for victims of the communal riots in the aftermath of the demolition of Ayodhya mosque said, “it is not just the BJP or Sena who were responsible for the series of incidents that took place, but even the Congress governments, both at the centre and the state, were equally responsible. He reminded them that Narasimha Rao promised to build a mosque at the same site. In fact, deposed before the Justice M. S. Liberhan Commission of Inquiry in New Delhi, Narasimha Rao affirmed that the demolished structure was a mosque when he said, “What else could it be? Was it a dwelling house? When the Government of Uttar Pradesh says that namaz (prayers) was going on there until 1949, irrespective of the date, what else could it be but a mosque?”
What crimes have the Muslims in India committed to deserve this punishment? In the worst ever communal frenzy after the partition of the country, Muslims were simply slaughtered and sacrificed for the political gains of a few Hindu fanatics tarnishing the image and feelings of the large majority of Hindus who love to live in peace and harmony with Muslims.
When the then Narasimha Rao’s government failed to prevent the demolition of Babri Masjid, several questions started to plague Muslim minds – whom to trust and how long to live in the midst of a communally charged environment.
People in and around Ayodhya, both Hindus and Muslims are fed up with the continuous tension in the town each time the VHP or BJP decides to make the temple an issue and launch a nationwide campaign for constructing a Ram temple. How long could these Hindu fanatics mislead the nation for their own benefit?