On December 6, 1992, as the Babri Masjid was falling, eye witnesses saw L.K. Advani - who was present on the occasion - getting increasingly agitated and emotional. Eventually, when it was clear that it was too late to halt the demolition, other party leaders, among them Pramod Mahajan, took Advani back to the guest house where he was staying.
Why was he so distraught, they asked. “What have they done?” he exclaimed. “They have destroyed my movement.”
So that’s what he was so upset about.
A little later, Advani decided to go public. He wrote an article for the edit page of The Telegraph in which he said that the day of the demolition was “the saddest day of my life”.
I was intrigued by his sorrow and read the article closely. It turned out that the reason he was so sad was because the BJP’s reputation for discipline had been damaged. Until then, said Advani, the Sangh parivar had been noted for its discipline. Now, that discipline lay in tatters.
Seventeen years later, people respond to that article in different ways. Advani’s apologists use it to indicate that he was always a moderate sort of fellow. Others make the reasonable point that he was only sad about the damage to the Sangh parivar. There was not one word of apology for the demolition which in many ways was the logical culmination of the rath yatra he had undertaken.
But we miss the real point: Advani was wrong. The demolition did not leave the parivar’s reputation for discipline in tatters. Far from it.
Let’s go back to what really happened on December 6. When BJP leaders tell us that the masjid was demolished by a spontaneous outpouring of public emotion, they are knowingly telling lies. You cannot bring down a huge structure and then construct a makeshift temple on the same spot with your bare hands or on the basis of public anger. You need a plan and you need implements.
On December 6, eye witnesses and video cameramen saw a band of men in yellow bandanas advancing determinedly towards the temple. They had rappelling ropes that allowed them to climb to the top and possessed spades, shovels and other implements with which they broke the masjid’s walls.
The BJP’s government in UP — then headed by Kalyan Singh — had promised the courts and the Centre that its policemen would ensure that no implements or weapons of any kind were allowed near the Babri masjid. We know from photographic evidence that either Kalyan Singh and his policemen were so inept that kar sevaks were able to smuggle construction tools into the area under their eyes or — and this is more likely — that Kalyan Singh simply lied and that his policemen looked the other way when implements arrived.
Within minutes of the men in yellow bandanas approaching the masjid, another group of kar sevaks targeted journalists and cameramen. The BJP would claim later that this too was an example of spontaneous anger. In fact, it was a well- coordinated operation to prevent any photographs of the actual demolition being taken. By the time the demolition was well under way, the vast majority of journalists had fled for their lives.
Who were these men in yellow bandanas? I was editor of Sunday at the time and my deputy Rajiv Bagchi (now editor of the HT’s Calcutta edition) was in Ayodhya. Rajiv wrote about drills at which Sangh parivar members practised using ropes to reach the top of a building and rehearsed the demolition. In the HT a few days ago, Vijay Jung Thapa recalled being taken to see a similar exercise.
Clearly all that stuff about spontaneous anger was nonsense. This demolition was planned down to the tiniest detail (including the assaults on journalists to prevent us from photographing the men who carried it out) and executed with military precision. After they had broken the masjid, the kar sevaks actually built a makeshift temple on the spot. Nobody can spontaneously generate cement from anger. Obviously the kar sevaks had brought everything required for the operation to the site.
CBI officers investigating the demolition came and spoke to such journalists as Rajiv Bagchi. I remember handing over photographs from the Sunday library that showed Kalyan Singh’s policemen helping kar sevaks cross the so-called police barriers.
I believed that one way or the other the Centre’s investigative agencies would crack the mystery of who it was that actually brought down the Babri masjid. I believed that they would uncover the conspiracy and identify the conspirators.
I was wrong. Nobody has been identified.
Then, I believed that Justice Liberhan who spent Rs 9 crore of taxpayers’ money and took 17 years to inquire into the demolition would tell us who the men in the yellow bandanas were and explain how the operation had been undertaken.
No such luck. The Liberhan report is a poorly written version of the kind of agitated editorials we were all writing in the week after the demolition. I’m sure the judge has enjoyed his 17 years at government expense. But we have a right to ask for our money back given the nonsense he has produced at the end of these 17 years.
Why does it matter? Well, it matters because undertakings given to the highest court in the land were willfully broken. Because an ancient building (mosque, mandir, domed structure, call it what you want) was brought down by religious terrorists. Because several thousand people died in the riots that followed. And because the demolition was a matter of shame for our country.
And yet, we are no wiser today than we were 17 years ago. We know no details of the operation that brought down the Babri masjid.
That’s why I think Advani was wrong when he said that the Sangh parivar’s reputation for discipline had taken a knocking.
In fact, it was the parivar’s discipline that ensured that the demolition took place with such precision. And it is the
parivar’s discipline that has guaranteed that 17 years later, not one of those who brought down the Babri masjid has opened his mouth to tell us what really happened.
In any other political party, the operation would have been a mess. The demolition would never have been successfully executed. The men who conducted the operation would have fallen out and defected to other parties. The whole story would have tumbled out, bit by bit.
Not so with the Sangh parivar. It demolishes its masjids. And it keeps its secrets.
I don’t wish to make too much of Advani’s pious hand-rubbing or his crocodile tears. But the furore about the demolition should serve to remind us that no matter how reasonable BJP leaders may seem on television, at the heart of the parivar, there lurks a nasty fascist core.
These are the religious soldiers who brought down the Babri masjid. Seventeen years later, we still don’t know who they are. And they lurk in the shadows, waiting for another opportunity.
The views expressed by the author are personal