It should have taken 60 minutes — 30 minutes to watch the footage from Newstrack, the old video magazine, and 30 minutes to write the report. Newstrack’s December 1992 edition gave a minute-by-minute account of what happened in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992. And yet, M.S. Liberhan took 17 years to come up with what he came up with.
Mritinjoy Jha along with his team were in Ayodhya from November 23, 1992. Thousands of pumped-up, slogan-shouting people were pouring in, carrying pick-axes and other equipment. Manoj Raghuvanshi, with another Newstrack team, had pulled the story together. In his voice-over, Raghuvanshi spoke about “a chief minister who spoke from both sides of his mouth — promising the Supreme Court that no construction would take place on the disputed site — and a prime minister who trusted everybody, including his central forces sent ostensibly to defend the masjid”.
The recordings captured Hindu leaders, including Tyagi Maharaj and Acharya Dharmendra, exhorting the crowd that the masjid must be destroyed and a temple built. Uma Bharti in her speech made three crucial points by demanding answers from the crowd: “Will you restrain yourselves when the leaders ask you to? Will you maintain peace and observe rules? Will you obey your leaders?’” The crowd bellowed a yes. But did the BJP really believe that it could control the kar sevaks, the RSS volunteers, the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad after its own passion-rousing rath yatra?
Rehearsals of demolition teams practising with ropes, pick-axes and boulders were recorded by Newstrack. The images included Bajrang Dal leader Ramesh Pratap in khaki shorts ‘directing’ with a whistle.
Each time they pulled down a ‘practice boulder’, there were cheers. Bajrang Dal president Vinay Katiyar stated on camera, “I have never formulated any strategy keeping the Supreme Court in mind.” At the Marg Darshak Mandal meeting on December 5, 1992, VHP president Ashok Singhal responded to Newstrack’s query on whether he would obey the Supreme Court order to maintain the status quo: “Nonsense! We have nothing to do with courts. We are unaffected by the court order.”
The disputed area was cordoned off and only sadhus and journalists were allowed in. Around 11.00 am on December 6, BJP leaders Murli Manohar Joshi, L.K. Advani and the VHP’s Ashok Singhal were seen walking into the area. Ayodhya District Magistrate R.N. Srivastava smugly told the Newstrack team: “We have made full arrangements,” adding excitedly, “There is a lot of enthusiasm in the public.” Any fear of anything happening? “No fear,” Srivastava replied. Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) D.B. Rai maintained that “peace and calm will prevail”. Srivastava, along with other senior bureaucrats, then settled down on a terrace to observe the demolition. Tea was served as they watched the proceedings.
As the mob started to demolish the cordoned-off area of the Babri Masjid, there was a clear divide between the general crowd and the hardcore kar sevaks. After being given a cue, the kar sevaks started assaulting journalists, breaking cameras and most journalists made a run for it. Newstrack’s sound recordist Ashok Bhanot hid tapes under a charpai in a nearby house. Another team carried on shooting.
The hardcore kar sevaks wearing yellow head-bands then started weeding out the general crowd (wearing orange head-bands) and only those trained and part of the demolition plan entered the area of the masjid. Singhal was seen shoving people himself. There was confusion among the faithful about why they were being thrown out. Those who resisted were beaten up. There was a specific plan with assigned roles for the demolition. Any ‘freelance’ help was not welcome.
“Watch this. The single-most crucial development that led to the destruction of the disputed structure — at this point there was no direct threat to the shrine and certainly no threat to the police — for some unknown reason: these troops suddenly lined up and filed out of the shrine area,” says Raghuvanshi in the voice-over of the footage. “Was this direct collusion? Were they ordered to leave and if so, by whom? There was no tear gas. No rubber bullets. No lathi charge. No firing. There was no attempt whatsoever to even try to defend the shrine.”
As sadhus blew conch-shells and kar sevaks scaled the barricades to the masjid with pick-axes, ropes and shovels, a small contingent of police stood just below the bureaucrats’ terrace. A police rebellion was caught on camera. As the demolition began, a frantic-looking SSP D.B. Rai ordered his troops to stop the demolition. The police force shuffled nervously, refusing to move even as Rai shouted at them. The bureaucrats kept sipping on their tea. Cameraman Bharat Raj realised then that the action to capture was not confined to the destruction of the masjid, but also the inaction around it.
The Censor Board banned the Newstrack tape. We appealed to the Appellate Tribunal in Bombay. Justice B. Lentin passed an order that stated, “Not only should this tape be allowed, it should be compulsory viewing for every citizen of India.” Doordarshan showed nothing.
We had 36 tapes of 20 minutes each, which totalled 12 hours. I was furious with Raghuvanshi for wasting so much tape on a 30-minute story. M.S. Liberhan asked Newstrack to hand over the tapes. I refused to hand over 12 hours of original tape and we gave him the edited story.
In the 17 years that Liberhan took to write his report, the BJP was in power for six years and the Congress for ten. One can presume that all the 48 extensions were given to Liberhan by both these parties, since the Congress and the BJP were in power for 16 out of the 17 years. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the tabling of the report did not suit either party.
Here’s the simple conclusion: both parties were responsible for the destruction of the Babri Masjid.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ordered an inquiry into the leaking of the Liberhan report. This is the wrong inquiry to order. Journalists were simply doing their job to get the contents of the Liberhan report to the public. There should be an inquiry into who gave Liberhan 48 extensions and took Indian citizens for a Rs 8 crore ride.
Madhu Trehan produced and anchored Newstrack, a video magazine, from 1988 to 1995.
The views expressed by the author are personal