The 6th of December 1992- the day that changed the course of the history of the Indian nation forever and is forever etched in the memory of those living. 29 years have passed since the mosque in Ayodhya was demolished by ‘kar sevaks’ who claimed that an ancient Ram temple stood at the same site. However, BJP along with Right-wing activists have succeeded to lay the foundation stone for the construction of the Grand Rama Temple after a 29-year long struggle.
Let us look at the timeline offering an idea of the events that led to the demolition of the mosque in Ayodhya.
Rise of Babri:
In 1528, the Babri Masjid was built in Ayodhya (The city where the god Ram was born) by Mir Baqi, the courtier of the Mughal emperor, Babur upon the instructions of the latter. While the three-domed mosque was housed in an inner compound, the outer compound contained smaller buildings, including two Hindu structures of worship.
However, after the claims of Sunni Muslims in 1855 that the temple of Hanumangarhi in Ayodhya is built on the site of a destroyed mosque, the British administration in 1859 erects a fence around Babri Masjid, as the belief that the mosque is the birthplace of Ram gains currency. Hindus are allowed to worship in the outer court.
The dispute begins:
There are records of religious violence since at least the nineteenth century, as the local Hindu groups claimed that the mosque was built above the remains of a temple commemorating the birthplace of Ram. In 1885, the dispute entered the courts, when a priest named Mahant Raghubir Das’s filed a plea demanding that a temple be built in the outer courtyard, adjacent to the Babri mosque. In 1949, soon after Indian Independence, idols were secretly installed inside the mosque by Hindus. The Congress-run administration, citing the possibility of riots, did not remove the idols, and a pujari was allowed to enter the compound and pray as per the orders by a local judge. The mosque came under lock and key.
Ram Janmabhoomi movement:
The ‘Ram Janmabhoomi’ movement was gathering steam after several suits were being filed by the Nirmohi Akhara, headed by Mahant Bhaskar Das and the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board asking for permission to pray. While the Congress was encashing votes through a rainbow coalition of upper-caste Hindus, Muslims and Dalits, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Janata Dal, by the 1980s gained the trust of the state’s 18 per cent Muslims. Then, BJP entered the picture. The newly formed
Bharatiya Janata Party campaigned on Hindu victimhood from centuries of Muslim domination that eventually helped the party to encash votes from Hindus. Nothing could have worked better than Babri Masjid demolition to strengthen the party.
BJP’s campaign to build Ram Temple:
In 1984, the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) along with BJP, flagged off a movement to demolish the mosque and build a temple in its place. L.K. Advani, the new political player of Bharatiya Janata Party, became the de facto leader of the campaign. Despite Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Shriram-Janaki rath yatra from Sitamarhi in Bihar to Delhi and six similar yatras in Uttar Pradesh, BJP managed to win only two seats out of 541 in the Lok Sabha polls in 1984.
Given the fact that Rajiv catered to both Muslims and Hindu in a bid to protect his electoral majority, Congress lost power in UP in 1989, with the state’s Muslims voting for Mulayam Singh Yadav. In the national elections held at the same time, Rajiv was dethroned, and the BJP’s tally jumped from two seats to eighty-five.
L K Advani’s Rath Yatra:
On September 25, 1990, Advani started his Rath Yatra from Somnath, Gujarat to gather support for the Ram temple. The Rath Yatra gave BJP the identity of a strong Hindu party with solid support from the middle class. During the Yatra, his oratory skills were at its best and people in large numbers came to listen to Advani. On October 23, Advani was arrested in Bihar’s Samastipur. Under the orders of the then Bihar CM, Lalu Prasad Yadav, he was placed under preventive detention.
Read more: Lal Krishna Advani: Rebel with a cause
In October 1990, when Hindu activists attempted to take over the mosque, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who was surviving only because of Muslim appeasement, ordered the police to open fire. Following his orders, sixteen activists were killed, and the mosque remained standing. Mulayam swore, ‘Yahan parinda bhi par nahin maar sakta.’
However, the firing might have protected the mosque, but Mulayam had lost Hindus’ trust. A year later in 1991, BJP swept the state winning more than half of the seats. Kalyan Singh who was a backward-caste leader involved in the Ayodhya agitation became the new chief minister. The BJP also managed to perform well and encash a good number of votes in the national elections.
P V Narasimha Rao’s role:
The BJP’s victory in the UP-state elections troubled Narasimha Rao. He wanted both religious groups to negotiate and build a temple near the mosque while leaving the mosque intact. But the BJP and its allies wanted the temple built atop the destroyed mosque, not near it. Almost immediately after Singh’s swearing-in ceremony as chief minister in June 1991, the UP government acquired 2.77 acres of land around Babri Masjid. That October, it began demolishing ancient structures on the acquired
land. It was only when the Supreme Court stepped in that the demolition stopped.
Wasting no time, Rao began deliberations with leaders of the BJP and other groups who were pushing for the construction of a temple in Ayodhya. Unlike many other Congress leaders, Rao was a Hindu-secularist. In between September and November 1991, Rao ensured that Hindu and Muslim groups met around ninety times. At the same time, Rao engaged with BJP leaders, Advani and Vajpayee who repeatedly assured him that the disputed structure could stay.
A wily politician himself, Narasimha Rao, also sought to loop in Supreme Court to see if the Central government could take control over disputed land, but the Supreme Court chose to believe Kalyan Singh when he swore to protect the disputed structure. At the same time, Rao asked his officials to come up with contingency plans to take control over the site by force if the need arose.
Newspapers began reporting in July 1992 that “Though the main Babri mosque was unharmed, the BJP had resumed construction in the outer compound.” Witnessing the direct violation of Supreme Court order, on 9 July 1992, twenty Congress MPs—including Mani Shankar Aiyar and Prithviraj Chavan wrote a letter to Rao asking him to take ‘all necessary steps to protect the masjid by preventing construction, by taking physical possession of the masjid and the premises, and by deploying the Army to that area if necessary’. The construction was stopped only after the Supreme Court ordered the suspension on 23 July 1992.
Rao then asked Madhav Godbole, his home secretary, to plan how to take over the mosque. Madhav’s plan suggested that Central forces should take over Babri Masjid. He specified that
Article 356 had to be invoked and talked about the ‘Danger to security of RJB-BM’ structure for ‘a
period of a few hours when the structure would be quite vulnerable. Ground realities preclude any
a fool-proof operational plan to avoid this.’
On 30 October 1992, VHP announced that kar seva, or religious service, would be performed right next to the disputed structure on 6 December. Though VHP promised that the mosque would not be touched, the pooja meant that around 100,000 Hindu kar sevaks would be in proximity to Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992.
Fearing the demolition, Rao met the leaders of the secular parties during a meeting of the National Integration Council on 23 November 1992. The Janata Dal and communists, pushing the decision on to Rao, did not declare President’s rule justified in UP. The INC unanimously backed the prime minister in his bid to protect the mosque. Thus, Rao turned to the Supreme Court.
Since Kalyan Singh swore to protect the mosque, the Supreme Court dismissed Rao’s request for receivership. Afterwards, on 1 December 1992, Governor Reddy sent a letter recommending against Central rule. Kalyan Singh had once again checkmated Rao.
6 December 1992- the day when Babri Mosque was demolished:
It was the 6th of December 1992. Leaders of the BJP and VHP addressed a large crowd at around 11.30 a.m near the masjid in Ayodhya. The situation took a massive turn when a teenage kar sevak jumped across the boundary and vaulted on top of the mosque dome. In a short period of time, thousands of kar sevaks accompanied him who began chipping away at the domes.
A few hours later, TV cameras showed images of mobs descending on the disputed structure and razing it to the ground. BJP leaders would later claim that they were powerless to control the mobs. During the riots after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, eighteen Muslims died. Additionally, riots broke out in different parts of the country, including Mumbai, and around 2,000 people were killed.
Consequences of demolition:
In the aftermath of demolition that took place in 1992, the Centre acquired 67.703 acres of land in and around the Babri Masjid under the newly passed ‘Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act’ in 1993. Additionally, a charge sheet was filed against Advani and 19 others for provoking the demolition.
Later in 1994, the Supreme Court sentenced UP chief minister Kalyan Singh to imprisonment of one day and a fine of Rs 20,000. With the NDA government at the Centre in 2001, a special CBI court drops proceedings and conspiracy charges against the accused including Advani, M.M. Joshi, Uma Bharti, Bal Thackeray, and others.