In 1990, the RSS was demanding that the BJP publicly denounce the Mandal Commission report. While the party’s upper caste leaders agreed in private, they could not say it publicly lest it alienate the party’s middle castes.
The VHP was desperate to begin the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya and had announced October 30 as the appointed date. It was then that BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani came up with the perfect foil for the Mandal agitation — the kamandal politics of Hindutva. He announced a rath yatra, or chariot procession, of 10,000 kilometres passing through 10 States from Somnath to Ayodhya, between September 25 and October 30.
The air-conditioned Toyota chariot with Advani holding a bow looked straight out of the TV serial Mahabharat, aired just a few years ago, as if in anticipation of this moment. It was surrounded by trishuls and saffron bands and travelled through 600 villages in Gujarat with the assistance of none other than the 40-year-old Narendra Modi. The kind of response that Advani got, with people touching his feet and throwing coins at his chariot, surprised even A.B. Vajpayee, who was not fully in agreement with the yatra. But he conceded that it had touched a chord with people. The yatra was the biggest mass mobilisation of Hindutva forces and would catapult the BJP to political power within a few years.
Communal violence broke out in parts of north India in the wake of the yatra. On October 22, Advani reached Bihar, then under Lalu Prasad Yadav, and checked into the circuit house in Samastipur. Next morning, Advani was arrested under the National Security Act. He was flown out of the State and later allowed to go free. Hours later, Vajpayee withdrew the BJP’s support to the V.P. Singh government at the Centre. Singh eventually had to step down. In the ensuing elections, the BJP made significant gains.
The yatra, meanwhile, with 75,000 kar sevaks, had reached Ayodhya. The Janata Dal government in Uttar Pradesh, headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav, relocated 20,000 policemen to protect the Babri Masjid.
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On the appointed day, 40,000 kar sevaks gathered at the bridge leading to the old town of Ayodhya. Vajpayee had arrived the day before. The VHP had promised to hold its ceremony in the land next to the masjid, but as feared, kar sevaks scaled the Babri Masjid in an attempt to tear it down. Mulayam Singh ordered his police to fire and several kar sevaks died, but the masjid remained standing. On December 6, 1992, it did not. Sangh Parivar activists and followers illegally demolished the 16th century structure.