A hysterical campaign

Published : Aug 18, 2001 00:00 IST

How, in the post-demolition phase, the Shiv Sena used its party newspaper Saamna to spread disinformation and incite violence in Mumbai.

The first part of this series (Frontline, August 3, 2001) dealt with the official apathy which greeted repeated Intelligence Bureau warnings of violence breaking out as a consequence of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

The second part (Frontline, August 17, 2001) studied the Mumbai Police's covert monitoring of the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party in the build-up to the demolition. Notings by the Mumbai Police's Special Branch suggest that the Sena, in fact, played second fiddle to the Sangh Parivar.

Now, no one can stop the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. An ocean of millions of Ram devotees is surging to Lord Ram's Ayodhya. Our brave Shiv Sainiks are also joining in.

- 'Towards Ayodhya' in Saamna, December 5, 1992.

AS with most things to do with the Shiv Sena, there was a considerable gap between its polemic on the Babri Masjid and its real involvement in the campaign to demolish the mosque, and the act of demolition itself. After the demolition, however, it moved rapidly to cash in on the event. The Sena's eyes were fixed firmly on coming to power in Maharashtra.

On December 5, 1992, the Sena-run newspaper Saamna carried a rambling editorial defence of the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign, claiming that the "construction of the temple is the building of our nation". Much of the text was dedicated to attacking Muslims. "Even after giving Muslims their half of the nation," the editorial argued, "they are still acting with audacity. This is a shame to this country." "How much are we to indulge Muslims?" it asked. "Those who burned the Constitution of this country after the Shah Bano case - the Imam Shahabuddin (sic.) and his progeny - have gone to the courts in the Ram Mandir dispute." A favourable decision from the Supreme Court, the editorial concluded, was unlikely. The only option was to "raise the entire organised power of the nation" behind the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

Saamna proclaimed the Sena's commitment to the movement the same day, reporting that party cadre led by Moreshwar Save, a Member of Parliament, had left for Ayodhya by the Ganga Jamuna Express the previous morning. The Sena group was fairly small. Save was accompanied by Ramdeo Pawar of the Aurangabad Shiv Sena, Ramchandra Khatri, the Haryana Sena chief, Mohan Paliwal, the Madhya Pradesh Sena chief, Jaybhagwan Goyal from New Delhi, Pawan Kumar Gupta from Punjab, and Pawan Pande, the sole Sena MLA in Uttar Pradesh.

The group was to arrive in Ayodhya on December 5, and Saamna made no claim that they were accompanied by a large number of cadre. On December 6 Saamna reported the departure of former Chief Minister Manohar Joshi, along with second-rung leaders like Ganesh Naik, Nandu Satam, Sudhir Joshi, Madhukar Sarpotdar and Datta Nalwade. This group reached Ayodhya only after the Masjid was brought down.

Nothing in Saamna's December 6 reportage suggests that it expected the Babri Masjid to be brought down during the course of the day. The timing of the departure of Joshi's group too suggests that Sena chief Bal Thackeray believed that the confrontation at Ayodhya would be protracted, designed to extract the largest possible amount of political mileage for the Hindu Right. The December 5 editorial did, of course, say that Thackeray had ordered his "staunch Hindu Shiv Sainiks to come back with victory in the battle for the temple, without making any boasts". But eyewitness accounts substantiate the proposition that the Sena did not believe anything dramatic would happen on December 6.

"I didn't see Save or any other Sena leader in Ayodhya that morning," recalls Maharashtra Times journalist Pratap Asbe, who had reason to be looking out for Sena leaders. "Joshi showed up the next day, but only briefly. There were hardly any people with him."

'Hundreds of temples in Pakistan and Bangladesh razed', read Saamna's headline on December 8. Its editorial that day, the first after the demolition, made no claim that Sena cadre had carried out the outrage. Instead, it focussed on supposed Muslim aggression in and around Mumbai. "Mosques in the entire country, including Mumbai," the editorial read, "have become arsenals. The Muslim bastis (slums) in Mumbai and Maharashtra, which have come up as mini-Pakistans, are wailing for the Babri Masjid, blocking roads and attacking Hindu temples. Why should we tolerate this?" "Muslims who have come out on the streets and are creating havoc with violence and committing sacrilege against Hindu deities and temples are traitors," Saamna continued. "They have no religion, God or nation, and no culture either. Although they have lived here for generations, they are now committing incest with their mother."

The Sena's claims of attacks on temples in Mumbai were far from true. A scrutiny of the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry's report shows that not a single temple had been attacked. There had been a handful of incidents of what the Commission described as "private fire", but these did not claim any life or even cause injury. The Sena's intent was, clearly, to cash in on the climate of hatred generated by the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign and build support for its impending pogrom against the city's Muslims. The Hindu consolidation thus brought about was to serve an unconcealed political agenda. "The government for the past 45 years," Saamna's December 8 editorial proclaimed, "pandered to Muslims and gave second-class treatment to the Hindus. There was an explosion against this in Ayodhya. The demolition of the Babri Masjid is the misfortune of the Congress, and the good fortune of the Hindus."

It was only on January 10, well into the second phase of the Mumbai riots, that the Sena appears to have gathered the courage to claim responsibility for the demolition. Saamna Executive Editor Sanjay Raut responded that day to the present Union Minister Pramod Mahajan's claims that the demolition had been carried out by agents provocateurs in the pay of Congress(I) heavyweight Sharad Pawar. "To say that Pawar's men demolished Babri (Masjid) is an insult to the martyrs of Ayodhya," he wrote.

Raut cited the Uttar Pradesh-based Hindi newspaper Amar Ujala, later censured by the Press Council of India for its communally-biased reportage, as saying that despite requests from the Ram Janmabhoomi trust president Mahant Ramachandradas Paramhans, Save and the "armed kar sevaks" with him did not give up their determination to "act in Sena style". Raut proceeded to cite another local newspaper as saying that the first hammer blow on the Masjid's dome was by a Sena member. "Once the Shiv Sainiks from Vidarbha and Pune attacked the mosque," Raut quoted the newspaper as saying, "kar sevaks from other areas of the country also joined in the attack."

Such claims are highly specious if read against the fact that it took Saamna over a month to make them, as well as Pratap Asbe's independent testimony and the Special Branch documents. What had happened in a month's time to embolden the Shiv Sena to such a degree? The second phase of the Mumbai riots began on January 6, 1993, four days before Raut's ravings. For reasons it alone may understand, the Maharashtra government has not submitted to the Liberhan Commission the articles published in Saamna during this period. Many of them are highly inflammatory, calling brazenly for Hindu mob attacks against Muslims. Others target Muslim police officers, who were perceived as obstacles to the Sena's communal campaign. Frontline had published excerpts from several of these articles in August 2000 after Thackeray's arrest (Frontline, August 18, 2000).

Consider the Saamna editorial of January 11, 1993, written a day after Raut's claim of responsibility for the demolition. Headlined 'Burning pyres', the editorial claimed that "Hindus have been burned alive in Jogeshwari, and that is why they have taken to the streets. Dawood Ibrahim's man (Assistant Commissioner of Police) A.A. Khan has tried to shoot these people. There is no justice, for fanatic traitors go scot-free while the terrorist Khan fires at Hindus. The people and the police have been fired at from mosques with Pakistani weapons."

"The Muslims in India are behaving as if they are Pakistani citizens," the editorial continued. "It is as if there are two countries within this one. Hindus, open your eyes and see what is going on! Your funeral pyres are burning." Another January 14 editorial was even more explicit. "Our tolerance has limits. All this was started by the traitors," it said. "The Hindus went back four steps and then displayed their strength. That's when the traitors put up white flags on their armed strongholds. Why should we die without fighting? And at the hands of traitors like (police officers) Khan and Ghafoor?"

By mid-January Saamna was actively engaged in guiding the course of violence. A January 21 article recorded activities by the Sthaniya Lokadhikar Samiti (Local People's Rights Committee), the Shiv Sena's labour wing. "The whole of Behrampada reverberated to a Maha Aarti performed at the Ganesh Temple this afternoon," the article read. "The Sthaniya Lokadhikar Samiti announced that Behrampada (a Muslim ghetto) would henceforth be called Rampada." The article also quoted a local activist of the Samiti, Bamanrao Mahadik, as saying: "Pull out all the Bangladeshis and Pakistanis from Behrampada. They are the ones who are ruining our country. It is time to send these green hordes back to their country."

Thackeray's own tone became increasingly hysterical. On January 23, he authored an editorial titled 'Keep the fires burning'. "I have nurtured a new, fiery generation of Hindus in the form of the Shiv Sena, and Saamna has been instrumental in this task," Mumbai's would-be Fuhrer wrote. "Hindus woke up in Hindustan after December 6 (1992), and it is time we all burned like a torch. Anti-national traitors should be burned to ashes in this flame".

Some 20 criminal cases were filed against Saamna and Thackeray for their role in the riots of 1992-1993. Prosecution for sanction was granted in only six cases, and in 1996 the BJP-Sena alliance government led by Manohar Joshi withdrew all but two of them. Two First Information Reports - No. 420 of 1993 and No. 459 of 1993 - charged Thackeray and Raut with inciting communal hatred and seeking to spread disaffection among police personnel. These two cases, for reasons which no one has quite explained, escaped Joshi's effort to protect the Sena boss.

In July 2000 the Democratic Front government dug out the files from the inner recesses of the Maharashtra Home Department, and arrested Thackeray. The charges against him were, however, thrown out by the Chief Judicial Magistrate who heard the case. The State government's appeal against the lower court's controversial decision is still pending in the Bombay High Court.

Will the Justice Liberhan Commission find the time to reopen investigations into the communal pogrom in Mumbai? As things stand, such a wide-ranging initiative seems unlikely. For one, the Commission is confronted with an enormous mass of primary evidence on the demolition of the Babri Masjid, leaving it little time or opportunity to address the violence which the event provoked. It has, so far, shown little interest in figures peripheral to the event, such as Thackeray.

The Maharashtra government, on its part, has made little effort to engage the Commission's interest. The fact that only an incomplete set of the relevant Saamna articles has been made over to the Commission, along with patchy intelligence and police records, seems to show that Maharashtra's bureaucratic establishment is less than enthused by the prospect of a judicial review of its conduct a decade ago.

But no further investigation is needed to launch action against the Shiv Sena, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party. What is needed is political will. As the documents published by Frontline have made clear, the evidence is on record, neatly organised in official files.

Even Justice B.N. Srikrishna's investigation into the Mumbai riots added little to what was already known about the pogrom of 1992-1993. Evidence even Justice Srikrishna chose not to address is available, including amateur radio operators' recordings of Mumbai Police personnel using anti-Muslim language in their wireless transmissions and organising attacks against the community in several neighbourhoods.

The Democratic Front now in power in Maharashtra has shown more willingness to act than any of its predecessors. One recent signal has been the prosecution of former Joint Commissioner of Police Ramdeo Tyagi, charged with the murder of nine unarmed Muslims at the Suleiman Bakery in Dongri.

It will take a lot more than the prosecution of some individual policemen, though, to address the issue. Nothing other than action against the communal fascist architects of the carnage will heal the scars of 1992-1993.

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