The testimony in court on oath in the name of Sri Rama by Anju Gupta IPS who was then posted in Ayodhya, and in charge of L.K. Advani’s personal security, when the Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992, should clear once for all any doubts about who was involved in the shameful act of vandalism. She still remains to be cross-examined, but it can be assumed that what she has said is the truth. There can now be no doubt that L.K. Advani was the prime mover of the campaign to rouse Hindu communal frenzy across the country and succeeded in doing so by his Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya.
He made an inflammatory speech from the podium facing the ancient mosque emphasising over and over again that a Ram Mandir would be built at the very spot where the Masjid stood. He watched the destruction and when the last dome went down, celebrated its collapse embracing others on the dais and during celebration a peda was popped in his mouth. In his autobiography he mentions the jubilant crowds greeting him on the way back to Delhi and exulting sab safaaya kar diyaa — swept away all of it. With what face can he now say that it was the ‘saddest day of his life’? But with Advani you never can be sure what he says and what he does. How right Mani Shankar Aiyer is in saying “He is the only alligator I know who sheds crocodile tears”. More than anything else he has torn apart the secular fabric of India so painfully woven by men like Bapu Gandhi, Nehru and Maulana Azad. History will never forgive him.
It pains me to hear educated, well-meaning people say that while Muslims destroyed so many Hindu temples, why should there be so much hue and cry over the demolition of one mosque. My answer is that demolition of places of worship of any religion was not one-sided. I quote what Banda Bairagi, better known as Banda Bahadur, did in Sirhind soon after the assassination of the last guru Gobind Singh in 1708. He raided the whole of Sirhind destroying mosques and dargahs that came his way. A Punjabi couplet records: Marhee Maseet dhah kay kar dey maidana. Na koee turk rahey, na mussalmaanaa (Destroy every mosque and dargah, level them to the ground. Leave no Turk alive, nor any Mussalmaan).
When we gained independence in 1947, we decided to forget our past full of communal strife and build a new India where different communities would live in harmony. We succeeded in doing so under three Prime Ministers — Nehru, Shastri and Indira Gandhi. The process of binding together could have gone on but for the ill-conceived conspiracy to destroy the Babri Masjid. Perpetrators should have known the consequences that would follow. The very next day Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras (for good reasons Muslims lump Hindu and Sikhs together) were attacked and many destroyed from Bangladesh to Pakistan to England. And the communal atmosphere in India poisoned as if forever. Isn’t it time we punished those who did it and we resume our quest for communal goodwill.
My grand-daughter Naina Dayal who recently got a doctorate from the Jawahar Lal Nehru University for her thesis on the Ramayana tells me that there are dozens of versions of the epic and we are not sure when exactly they were written. One was by Valmiki. We also do not know who Valmiki was and when he lived; it could be between 3 B.C. to the 4 A.D. However, whatever doubts there may be about its genesis or the authorship, there can be no doubt that it is the only epic in the world which lives in the minds of Hindus wherever they may be. For them Shri Rama is the personification of God (as it is for Sikhs as well). Sita is the Mother Goddess, Lakshmana the example of what a younger brother should be and Hanuman, the power of Bajrang Bali, the devoted caretaker of the divine family. Ravana is the incarnation of the Devil. Aryans, who have questioned these assumptions, have been severely censured. Aubrey Menon’s Ramayana Retold is to this day banned in India (that is one reason I made it a point to read it).
The latest version of the epic story of miracles is by Ram Varma. A Haryana cadre IAS officer, who rose to become its Chief Secretary. For the last 10 years he has been composing his own version of the epic. Before He was God: Ramayana Reconsidered, Recreated, (Rupa) illustrated by colour paintings by his daughter Vandana Sehgal was launched on Ram Navami and was a near sell-out on the very first day.
Varma has adopted the traditional way of our ancient poets of dividing the text into 12 chapters, according to Vikrami calendar — baramasi: one set of episodes for every month. The first is devoted to the family background. The chapter following deals with Rama, Sita and Lakshmana going into exile for 14 years and their adventures in forests of Central India. It is followed by Sita’s abduction, invasions of Lanka by Hanuman and his monkey brigades. Rama slaying Ravana and Human setting fire to his citadel. The last chapter deals with their triumphant return to Ayodhya and Sita’s self-immolation on doubts cast on her chastity. I found the text highly readable without anything that a sane person would find offensive. But I have no idea how fundoos will take this retelling of Ramayana.
The views expressed are personal