Babri Masjid revisited

In his latest book, a former Union Home Secretary analyses the blame game in the Ayodhya dispute over the years and shows how major institutions of governance failed to resolve it.

Published : Sep 25, 2019 07:00 IST

MADHAV GODBOLE was Union Home Secretary before and during the demolition of the Babri Masjid. His earlier book, Unfinished Innings, published in 1996, records how Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao behaved all through the crisis. Godbole took voluntary retirement from the Indian Administrative Service in March 1993. Living in Pune, he has since devoted himself to producing books of quality. This passage in Unfinished Innings explains his civilised outlook.

“I visited Ayodhya on 29 December 1992 in connection with the proposed acquisition of land and to review the law and order arrangements in the light of the earlier decision to permit darshan. Unlike other visitors from Delhi in the past who took darshan at Ram Lalla temple and offered puja there, I did not do so, nor did I accept any prasad. Though a devout person myself, I believe that one’s religion is a personal matter. In any case, I had enough of Ayodhya and sincerely believed that God could not reside in that temple, the construction of which was associated with so much deceit and wanton violence.”

His research is remarkable. He has perused thousands of pages of the records of commissions of inquiry. This book is a sequel to the earlier one. Its object is clearly stated. “The effort here is to analyse the blame game over the years, how major institutions of governance failed in resolving the dispute in the years preceding the destruction of the Masjid, and how increasingly critical it is to find an amicable solution to the ‘Masjid Janmasthan’ (Masjid birthplace, as it is called in the old records) conundrum.”

The judiciary ranks first in the list of institutions that failed the nation, the Supreme Court being foremost among them.

Narasimha Rao was a closet Hindutvaite as his record in Hyderabad and as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh proves. He lacked character, besides. This was of a piece with the outlook of his party, the Congress. “The Hinduisation of India is in no small measure due to the changed colours also of the Congress party, the inheritor of the Mahatma Gandhi-Nehru legacy, and the other so-called secular political parties such as the Trinamool Congress, Socialist Party, Janata Dal among others. Mandir-hopping, performance of pujas and aaratis, Rahul Gandhi proudly declaring that he is a sacred-thread wearing Brahmin, and prominent leaders like Digvijaya Singh, the most rabidly secular face of the Congress Party, indulging in Hindu rituals, homas or havans (paying offerings to Fire God) along with sadhus, has brought home the new public image of the Hinduised Indian polity. This wholesale religious conversion of politics in India would have been unthinkable a few years ago.”

When Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in May 2014, he found the ground well prepared for his ventures to paint India in saffron. The Economist of September 14, 2019, carries this report for the world to know.

“Scientists complain, too, that state funding bodies seem increasingly driven by ideology. A particular focus, since the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power in 2014, has been on promoting ancient Indian science and medicine. One recent three-year, government-funded hospital study explored the effects of Vedic chants on brain-trauma victims. This included consultation with an authority on ‘medical astrology’ who incorporated horoscope data in the chants, undertook purification rituals with holy Ganges water and performed special prayers. The results of the study have yet to be published.

“Scientists also describe mounting pressure to propose work on gomutra (cow’s urine) or panchagavya (a mixture of milk, yogurt, clarified butter, urine and dung), so as to win funding from a recently created government board tasked with ‘validating’ the beneficial qualities of all things bovine. ‘These ideas are based on absolutely unscientific methodology and scripture,’ complains a researcher who declined to be named, fearing funding cuts. ‘But my department needs equipment and lab facilities for our real research, and we can’t get funds without doing this stuff.’ A newly created National Cow Commission has pledged to fund up to 60% of start-up capital for businesses that commercialise panchagavya .”

The book contains a fair and comprehensive account of negotiations to settle the issue. As early as on November 4, 1992, the author submitted a contingency plan to the Cabinet Secretary, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Senior Adviser to the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the Prime Minister. It emphasised that in order for the Central paramilitary forces to successfully take over the Babri Masjid and the surrounding area to ensure its security, timing and the element of surprise were of the essence. It underlined that action would have to be taken well before the proposed date for commencement of kar seva so as to avoid the presence of large numbers of kar sevaks and huge crowds at the time of the action. The actual intervention of the forces would also have to take place before the commencement of the Parliament session on November 24, 1992. Imposition of President’s Rule under Article 356 would be necessary before the Central forces commenced their action. Central forces reached Faizabad on November 25. Godbole makes mincemeat of Narasimha Rao’s false excuses in the latter’s book Ayodhya . L.K. Advani receives the same treatment.

This brings us to the Supreme Court’s contributions. Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah showed tender concern for the health of the kar sevaks who had held the Babri Masjid hostage. “But far more troubling is the manner in which the Supreme Court dealt with the issue in day-to-day hearings held from 20 November to 6 December 1992, leading up to the demolition of the Masjid. First, was it proper for the highest court in the land to take a hand in dealing with such an explosive political issue at all? Should it not have left the issue to be handled by the executive at the highest level?”

Nearly three decades after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the contempt case against Kalyan Singh and others is still pending. “There seems to be a curse that anything which concerns Babri Masjid and Ram Janmabhoomi will not be decided by the courts till eternity, and this includes cases relating to the court’s own contempt.”

The book contains studies on a host of questions, constitutional and administrative, for example, deployment of the Army in aid of civil powers and the law on lynching. Godbole hits the nail squarely on the head when he writes: “But, when the chips are down, there is no getting away from the fact that, shorn of everything else, and in spite of the pleadings of the Hindu community, what is before the apex court is a land title dispute . And as far as I can see, based on evidence, decision in the suit would have inevitably gone in favour of the Muslims, except for the outer courtyard around the mosque in which the Ram Chabutra and Sita-ki-Rasoi were located . But, clearly, such a verdict would not have been acceptable to a section of the majority community. We have seen the storm which erupted over the Supreme Court decision in the Shah Bano case in the mid 1980s and the Sabrimala case in 2018. In the first case, a conservative section of the Muslim community was involved, while in the second a section of Hindus felt aggrieved. Thus, there are limits even to the writ of the highest court in the land, where religious issues are involved. Therefore, it is best that an amicable solution to the Babri dispute is found outside the precincts of the courts of law.”

But the BJP had declared at the outset in its Palampur resolution in 1989 that (a) a judicial verdict was not acceptable and (b) this was a matter of faith, not a suit on title to land.

In the beginning, from 1951 onwards, the civil suits on both sides proceeded as suits on title. In Ismail Farooqui’s case, all the five judges on the Supreme Court bench concurred and therefore rejected the President’s Reference for its advisory opinion on the issue whether a temple existed on the site prior to the construction of the mosque. But flouting this unanimous verdict of the Supreme Court, the Special Bench of the Allahabad High Court ordered that the site be dug up to ascertain whether a temple had existed earlier.

The question asked was “whether a Hindu temple or any Hindu religious structure existed prior to the construction of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid (including the premises of the inner and outer courtyards of such structure) in the area on which the structure stood”.

Justice J.S. Verma pointed out: “The rival claims to the disputed area which were to be adjudicated in the pending suits can no longer be determined therein as a result of the abatement of the suits. This also results in extinction of the several defences raised by the Muslim community, including that of adverse possession of the disputed area for over 400 years since construction of the mosque there in A.D. 1528 by Mir Baqi.”

The Supreme Court could and, indeed, should have rejected this subversion of the judicial process in limine , at the very outset, and proceeded to rule on the title following its own earlier ruling. The issue then would have narrowed down, to the discomfiture of the Hindutva brigade. One is disturbed that the court did not choose to do so.

Two documents

For there are two incontrovertible and unquestioned documents that give the lie to its case. One is a first information report dated December 23, 1949, filed by Constable Mata Prasad that reads thus:

“That at about 9 in the morning when I reached Janmabhoomi I came to know that a group of 50 to 60 persons have entered the Babri Masjid by breaking open the locks of the compound and also by scaling the walls and staircases and placed an idol of Shri Bhagwan in it and scribbled sketches of Sita, Ramji etc. in saffron and yellow colours on the inner and outer walls of it. That Hans Raj [Constable No.70] stopped them [from doing so] but they did not care. The PAC [Provincial Armed Constabulary] guards present there were called for help. But by then the people have already entered the mosque. Senior district officials visited the site and got into action. Later on, a mob of five to six thousand people gathered and tried to enter into the mosque raising religious slogans and kirtans. But due to proper arrangement, nothing happened. Committers of crime ( Mujriman-e-Waqe ) Ram Das, Shukla Das, Sudarshan Das with 50 to 60 persons, names not known, have desecrated ( naapaak kiya hai ) the mosque by trespassing the mosque through rioting and placing idol in it. Officers-on-duty and many other people have seen it. So the case has been checked. It is found correct.”

Thus was a mosque of nearly 400 years converted into a temple. Since then, attempts have been made to legitimise the crime by giving it the tattered cloak of a failed judiciary.

The other is a written statement filed by none other than the State of Uttar Pradesh in 1950 through its Deputy Commissioner, Faizabad, J.N. Ugra. It reads: “Para 12: That the property in suit is known as Babri Mosque and it has for a long period been in use as a mosque for the purpose of worship by the Muslims. It had not been in use as a temple of Shri Rama Chandraji. Para 13: That on the night of the 22nd December 1949 the idols of Shri Rama Chandraji were surreptitiously and wrongly put inside it.”

Restoration of the land to Muslims will be a fair, just and honest verdict, but it will not be acceptable to “the majority community”. Speaking of “appeasement”, surely this section of the people should not be appeased either. There is a precedent. An English judge adjourned sine diea cause celebre because it had aroused deep feelings.

The author’s solution deserves to be quoted in extenso . “For I am, however, of the firm view that the Muslims’ intense feeling of hurt and injustice, due to the destruction of the place of their worship in secular India, can only be alleviated by giving them a portion of the land on which the Babri Masjid stood . I am sure a large number of Hindus, a silent majority, have been shocked and distressed by the demolition of a place of worship and would like to make amends for it. The basic principle of secularism is equal respect for all religions. Looking also to the experience of destruction and damage to some churches in the country, a law must be enacted to repair, reconstruct and rebuild, at government expense, any places of worship destroyed in communal violence.

“Keeping in view the equally strong feelings of the Hindus about the site being Ram Janmabhoomi, I would suggest that the Ram Chabutra, in which puja (worship) was being carried out by Hindus since a long time, Sita-ki-Rasoi and the adjacent land be given for construction of Ram temple. It will be recalled that Home Minister Buta Singh had held a meeting with the representatives of the Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Yagya Samiti (RJBMYS) on 1 September 1988 in which it was stated by the RJBMYS that ‘the Chabutra’ which is taken as a birthplace of Lord Ram and is contiguous to the mosque could not have been there in isolation. It must have been a part of a big temple, a portion of which was subsequently converted into a mosque” (page 33).

It should be noted that on December 6, 1992, the Ram Chabutra was also demolished along with the Masjid.

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