When fables narrating the history of post-Independent India are written, one disturbing tale will be about the manner in which the manipulation of a mystical being left a deep and disturbing impact on the national psyche, communalised our politics and created fissures between communities, which may take decades to bridge. It will be the dark and diabolic story of a creature, exploited by politicians to the hilt and then abandoned and left to fend for itself.
Twenty years after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, the creature called the Ramjanmabhoomi movement has all but been forgotten, particularly by the BJP that nurtured, grew and rode on it to power. Today, those who whipped up mass hysteria and provoked a vast section of the Hindu community into divisive, communal politics by playing the Ram Mandir card would rather not talk about the past. They maintain that the demolition of the Masjid by karsevaks was a spontaneous reaction of Hindus who wanted to avenge the alleged construction of the Babri mosque in 1527 by the Moghuls. And that too at the very spot where a temple stood to honour the birthplace of Lord Ram.
So can the tumultuous events on December 6 be explained as simplistically as that? Those who have followed the Mandir movement know it was carefully planned to consolidate the Hindu vote bank with the sole intent of propelling the BJP to power and making it a party representing the interests of the majority community. The demolition was also part of the plan — “a victory blow”, as the more vocal members of the Sangh parivar had then described it. That the forces of Hindutva were directly responsible for the razing of the Babri Masjid has been confirmed by Justice MS Liberhans who headed the Commission of Inquiry probing the demolition. Of course, it took him 17 long years to conclude that top BJP leaders and the saffron parivar were the key players.
But the BJP is now in denial about its role. The charioteer, LK Advani, who provided the catalyst for the movement by going across the country in a Toyota rath making fiery speeches and imploring the faithful to restore Lord Ram’s honour, now sings a different tune. “It [December 6] is the saddest day in my life,” he has told journalists. Of course, Advani should know. He was there at Ayodhya and witnessed the mosque being pulled down.
It is widely perceived that Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the liberal face of the BJP, did not approve of what transpired at Ayodhya. But an intelligence video dating back to December 5, 1992 (reported years later) records a meeting of karsevaks he addressed in Lucknow. In a speech full of innuendos he had this to say: “The Supreme Court has allowed bhajan-kirtan which cannot be performed by one man. Many people have to be present for that and you can’t sing kirtans sitting down. How long can one stand? Sharp stones are there on the ground — you can’t sit on them either. The ground has to be levelled.” Surely, Vajpayee’s speech seems to suggest he knew something was in the offing the following morning. And yet he, too, has said he was anguished by the events that unfolded.
Understandably enough, the BJP would want the nation to bury the past and, given our culture of tolerance and forgiveness, there are many who would rather not rewind to 1992. But to forget would be to ignore the fact that December 6 has left a permanent impression on all of us.
Expressions like pseudo-secularism, pandering to the minority and playing the Muslim-Hindu card have become part of our political discourse. Those who have a neutral mind and are opposed to any form of communal bias are still treated with suspicion.
It cannot also be denied that the seeds sowed by the Ramjanmabhoomi movement and several events that followed have alienated Muslims. They have become the first suspects when it comes to acts of terrorism.
Young Muslim men and women are randomly picked up and kept in custody for years till it is discovered that there is no evidence linking them to a terror strike. Those who are at the receiving end of such injustice are a bitter lot. True, the more successful from among the minority community may like to move on. Some in Gujarat have even thrown their lot in with Narendra Modi and believe that they are better off backing him rather than clinging to the memories of the 2002 riots.
Interestingly, the one party, other than the BJP, which reaped the benefits of the demolition, was the Shiv Sena. The pogrom in Mumbai against Muslims that it unleashed after the demolition and the retaliatory bomb blasts of 1993 further alienated and demonised Muslims across the country. However, that ensured that the Sena came to power in Maharashtra. But that’s another story.
Ajith Pillai is a Delhi-based journalist
The views expressed by the author are personal