The following article was originally published in The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy website on December 6, 2017.
The very first thing that we—a small group of journalists, hailing from Kerala—heard that morning as we stepped out of Hotel Tirupati in Faizabad was the “azan” from a nearby mosque. It was the call for the first namaz of the morning around 5 a.m. and I immediately remembered the references to prayers that Mohammed Yunus Siddiqui, a leader of the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC), made on the preceding evening. Bhai is baar woh log zaroor masjid thod denge. Hum ko bachhane koi nahi hoga. Hum sirf dua kar sakthe hain ki kal kaa din shanthi se guzre (Brother, they will certainly bring down the masjid this time. There will be nobody to save us. We can only pray that tomorrow passes off peacefully). Among the several BMAC leaders in the town, Siddiqui was undoubtedly considered to be the most affable and jovial. He was a study in contrast to Mohammed Hashim Ansari, the original litigant in the Babri Masjid dispute case, who was prone to emotional and volatile outbursts. But on the evening of December 5, we did not see the normally cheery and benign Siddiqui Saab. In his place was a man whose countenance reflected only anguish and apprehension. The attempt by some of us to assure him by saying that things will be alright in due course was met with a smile, but one loaded with a completely uncharacteristic sadness. “This is a process of marginalisation of Muslims that began in Ayodhya in 1949, when the idols of Ram, Sita and Lakshman were surreptitiously installed inside the masjid in the dead of night. I know it in my bones that this ongoing process will reach new levels of persecution with the kar seva this time.” Siddiqui was proved right barely 24 hours later.
A few hours before the meeting with Siddiqui, I used the “personal advantage” I had acquired as a journalist covering Ayodhya for over six years, and managed to enter the “War Room” for the December 6 kar seva operating under the leadership of Vinay Katiyar, the then chief of Bajrang Dal, the self-designated militant youth wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar. Acharya Giriraj Kishore, senior leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) was with Katiyar then. Asked how things were proceeding, Katiyar told me that everything was moving according to plan and almost exactly as he had told me privately in the last week of November. What he had told me in sotto voce then was that a thorough engineering study of the masjid had been completed and that special squads had been assembled and trained in order to bring down all the three domes in a matter of hours. He had also added, rather proudly, that some of these special teams were “suicide squads” and would not even hesitate to lay down their lives to fulfil the task assigned to them.
Around the period Katiyar was making these claims, VHP leader Swami Chinmayanand had given an assurance to the Supreme Court that the December 6 kar seva would be peaceful and would comprise mainly of bhajans and kirtans. Kalyan Singh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, had also given a similar undertaking at the meeting of the National Integration Council (NIC). What Katiyar was saying was that these solemn assurance given even before constitutional bodies would be bypassed. “Is there a power and constitutional authority bigger than Lord Ram?” Katiyar had asked rhetorically when pointed out that the implementation of the demolition plan as delineated by him would compromise the positions of leaders such as Kalyan Singh, who had assumed office affirming allegiance to the Constitution.
On the basis of this input, my report for the Frontline issue dated December 5 had begun with the following question: “How far can one believe the words of the Hindutva combine?” This was with reference to the assurance given by Kalyan Singh and Chinmayanand. The copy, written on November 28, had also reported on the preparedness of the Sangh Parivar demolition teams, including the formulation of special and “even” suicide squads. There was additional information that made me bold to write on these lines. This was what I had gathered from military intelligence sources about their assumption on the developments in Ayodhya in the last week of November. They had reported that the number of kar sevaks was mounting day by day and the security wherewithal at the disposal of the forces would be found wanting in controlling the situation if the crowd turned aggressive. I also had come to know that this report had reached the office of the then Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao.
Notwithstanding this concrete information from the Faizabad unit of military intelligence to the Union government, the physical demolition of the Babri Masjid happened before our eyes, symbolising also the wrecking of constitutional assurances given to the Supreme Court and the NIC. Although Katiyar had given an inkling of the action plan, when it unravelled before our eyes the demolition was devastating emotionally and intellectually. Indian Express staffer Rakesh Sinha and our group were watching the violent proceedings from the Manas Bhawan top floor and as the first dome fell around 2:55 in the afternoon, Sinha, unable to show his emotional tumult in any other way, wrote on a piece paper and passed it on to me. “I, as an Indian, am torn asunder by this vulgar brutality. As a Hindu, I can never live down the shame of this barbarism.”
By then, the barbarism had manifested itself as physical attacks on journalists, especially camera persons, and anybody who was creating visual evidence of the demolition of the masjid and the havoc unleashed by the kar sevaks were assaulted mercilessly. Women journalists such as Ruchira Gupta, Suman and Sajeda Momein were also brutally assaulted. Ruchira Gupta would later reveal that she extricated herself from the clutches of kar sevaks somehow and reached the special dais set up in the precincts for leaders such as Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Ashok Singhal and Uma Bharati with the request that Advani appeal to the kar sevaks to stop the assault on the media. The then “Hindu hridaya samrat” replied, Ruchira Gupta reported, that he would not be able to attend to such personal inconveniences on a day when such a historic event was happening. However, around 3:15 pm, after the fall of second dome, Advani was heard exhorting the kar sevaks to block all entry points to the temple town, obviously to prevent any action by the security forces.
But later events proved that Advani’s exhortation was not really necessary. The forces that were present at the site did nothing to stop the demolition of the masjid and stayed inactive not only until the last dome was brought down around 4:50 p.m. but even when the kar sevaks were cordoning off the area with their own fences, building a temporary structure and placing the Ram-Sita-Lakshman idols there. In fact, a substantial security movement towards the town started only the next day, around the evening of December 7. By this time, the Narasimha Rao government had come to an understanding with the Sangh Parivar that the kar sevaks would be escorted out peacefully, in special trains and buses. Through the night of December 7 and the day of December 8, kar sevaks left Ayodhya shouting the slogan, yeh tho sirf janki hain, ab kaashi, mathura baaki hain (This is only the trailer, now Kashi and Mathura are our targets). By the time this “peaceful evacuation” took place, the kar sevaks had attacked and torched around 100 Muslim houses in Ayodhya, forcing the residents to take shelter in the Sri Ram Janmabhoomi police station. Indeed, Siddiqui’s fears expressed on December 5 about aggravation of the marginalisation and persecution of the Muslims of Ayodhya were proved right, incident after bloody incident.
The sequence of events as they unravelled from the last week of November to the demolition and after signified not just the story of this tragic persecution and marginalisation of Muslim minorities but also the growing political, social and cultural hegemony of the Sangh Parivar-led Hindutva forces. The manner in which the media were assaulted and women journalists were molested and gender-shamed were well in keeping with the Hindutva worldview. In fact, on December 9, three days after the demolition, Mahant Ramachandra Paramahans, then president of the Sri Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas (the VHP-controlled trust to oversee the construction of the Ayodhya Ram Mandir), underscored this hegemony angle blatantly, yet figuratively. As a group of journalists went to see him at Digamber Akhara, his headquarters in Ayodhya that afternoon, he was playing the dice game of Bhag-Bakhri with his disciples. Lifting his head from the game, his first comment to journalists was: “ Is khel mein bakri jeeth sakthi hain. Lekin asli sansar mein kar saktha hain kya ?” (The goat can win in this game, can it in real life?).
In later years, until his passing on in 2003, Paramams would return to this metaphor as well as the “trailer slogan” raised by the departing kar sevaks as a consummate encapsulation of Hindutva politics and its goal, Hindu Rashtra. Elaborating the idea before friends and the media during long interactions, Paramahans would point out that the crux of Hindutva politics was to unleash the political tiger embedded in the demographic advantage that Hindus have in India, that is Bharat, and convert that into political, social and cultural hegemony. A year later, when I went back to Digamber Akhara, the Sangh Parivar and its political outfit, the BJP, had not made the substantive political gains they had expected from the demolition across Uttar Pradesh or India. The very first Assembly election after the demolition had witnessed the BJP being overtaken by the Dalit-Other Backward Classes (OBC) sociopolitical alliance formed by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (S.P.).
Questioned on this reverse, Paramahans was of the view that the unleashing of the Hindutva political tiger was a “work in progress” ( kaam jaari hain ) and that the Sangh Parivar had to work long and systematically to wrest geographical, social and cultural control of even the temple town. “When the VHP first started focussing on Ayodhya as an important organisational destination in the early 1970s, Ayodhya was projected as a twin town of Faizabad and its hallmark was so-called secularism. But we have changed that in a matter of two decades. Sometimes through the method of step-by-step functioning and sometimes employing a flurry of fast-forward movements. These included enhancing our geographical space in the town by bringing more and more religious institutions under our banner, either by buying their property or by persuading them to ally with us. There were also mobilisations, campaigns, kar sevas, and, finally, the demolition. But this is work in progress. The identity and supremacy have to be strengthened further and we are working on that. In fact, before reaching this point of success, too, we have gone through several operational levels characterised by success, partial successes, partial failures and major reverses. But the net result is that the project has moved on.” He would often come back to this explanation and add that the advancement of the larger Hindutva political plank in the country would also follow the same path.
Looking back at the past 25 years in the context of the happenings of November-December 1992 as well as the expositions of Sangh Parivar leaders such as Paramahans, it is evident that the Hindutva project has moved over the past 25 years building on the sectarian milestone created by the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Its political power is redoubtable with power, with massive majorities, at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh, the State in which Ayodhya and Faizabad are located. The aggressive manoeuvres it is unleashing for social hegemony is reflected in the restrictions that it is forcefully advancing in areas as diverse as freedom of expression to food habits of people, and in the creation of the climate for the brutal killing of those like Gauri Lankesh, Govind Pansare, Dabholkar, Muhammed Akhlaq and Hafiz Junaid. The domination of the cultural space is reflected in the arbitrary renaming and denial of exhibition rights to movies such as Sexy Durga and Nude . Indeed, the milestone of the communal and fascist politics of December 6, 1992, has acquired gargantuan proportions in the 25 years since it showed its frightful face.