It was December 6, 1992. My body was burning from fever but my mind was preoccupied with developments in faraway Ayodhya. Our correspondent had reported the night before that the kar-sevaks (volunteers) were not in a mood to return empty-handed this time.
Over the last three years, we had been watching how the tensions were being stoked in the country. At times, women were being requested to climb up on their terraces and create noise by striking a plate (thali). At other times, when the door-bell rang you found a group of young men standing at your doorstep advocating the construction of the Ram temple and requesting for a donation. Most parts of India were abuzz with red-hot discussions about the Ram temple. People from our generation, who had only heard about the struggle for Independence and the Partition, were gripped by anxiety.
During this period I discovered new facets of people I knew. During my student days in the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), I was introduced to a professor who had a habit of showering his pupils with his intellect. Calling himself progressive, he used to make sharp critiques of the caste system, communalism, dynastic politics and the diktats of the university administration. So endearing was his style that people had no option but get mesmerised. During those days when I visited BHU, I found the passage to the Singh Dwar blocked. I discovered that a procession of Ram bhakts was passing through the area. Their charged up slogans were piercing the sky it appeared. I recognised the professor vigorously shouting slogans in the crowd. Later I asked him: “Weren’t you a Leftist in the 1980s?” “I had lost my way. The temple in Ayodhya is a symbol of our pride,” he replied.
Clearly, at that juncture of time, historical points of view had assumed new layers.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav was trying to stop this wave. He said at a rally that till the time he was there, even a bird could not flap a wing in Ayodhya without his permission. But the conflict kept escalating. The situation became so bad that on October 30, a few kar-sevaks broke the police and paramilitary personnel security ring and climbed the dome of mosque. They were made to get off after many attempts. Emboldened by this their leaders announced that they would knock down the mosque on November 2 itself.
The sun on November 2 appeared like huge, fiery ball of conflict. One of my IPS friends was posted at Ayodhya that day. Many years later, when we met in Delhi he told me that the kar-sevaks had adopted an innovative strategy that day. They were hiding behind the women and the elderly who were pleading with the soldiers to let them move forward by falling at their feet. Out of respect and conditioning, the soldiers would retreat two steps and the kar-sevaks would move forward in this manner. After some time one young officer understood that they would keep advancing in this manner. They gave a formal warning to the kar-sevaks that fell on deaf ears. Left with no choice they had to use tear gas and carry out a baton charge. The situation deteriorated so much that the police had to open fire at Hanuman Garhi in Ayodhya. Fourteen people were killed in the incident.
By the time the officer returned home late at night, his wife had heard the news about the police firing. Looking at the bloodstains on her husband’s uniform she assumed her husband had ordered the firing on the kar-sevaks. For a few minutes she went into deep shock. His wife is from the administrative services and not unlettered. Clearly, the security personnel were fighting a battle at many levels.
In those tumultuous times communal riots flared up in many parts of the country. More than 2,000 people lost their lives in these riots. It appeared we had been split wide open forever. India would never be the same after the morning of December 6, 1992.
Twenty-four years after the Babri masjid demolition, I can say with a sense of relief that our apprehensions of 1992-’93 have been proved to be unfounded. At times, one is happy to be proved wrong.
This doesn’t mean that the Ayodhya issue has been resolved. Before every election, there is an attempt to draw the genie out of the bottle. It is a tradition that is on the lines of a tradition that is followed in Pune every November 15. Every year, a group of people gather around an urn. The urn contains the ashes of Nathuram Godse, who assassinated the Mahatma. His remains haven’t still been sent for immersion. The group of men believes that the immersion will happen only in the Indus river of an undivided India.
Nathuram’s younger brother Gopal Godse wrote a book where he justified the vadh (killing) of the Mahatma, saying that it was essential. He was a staunch believer in the rebuilding of an undivided India, but most people ignored him. Most people in the country are not aware of his ambition.
The good news is that the youth of the 21st century have braced themselves up for every new challenge that lies ahead. They don’t have time for such talk.
Shashi Shekhar is editor in chief, Hindustan