Ayodhya: Will the Dust Ever Settle?
Pictured above, the destruction of the Babri Masjid.
Images of young men, clad in saffron, laying siege to Babri Masjid and bringing down its domes would go on to become the most iconic images of post-demolition age. Such images would continue to haunt our collective conscience in perpetuity. Even as the Supreme Court has initiated what is believed to be the last lap of the judicial saga of Ram Janmabhoomi dispute, the question is that even though a legal settlement might be reached, but will the dust ever settle? Twenty-five years after the demolition and seven years after the Allahabad High Court judgement, the question is that have we come too far for a closure?
First reported violence around the Babri Masjid occurred over a century ago, but the highly dramatic Ram Mandir movement only started in the 1980s when Vishwa Hindu Parishad decided to launch the campaign to build Ram Mandir in 1982. The movement was initially a dud because of the reign of Indira Gandhi and the more pressing issues concerning Punjab. It was only after Indira, under the prime ministership of Rajeev Gandhi, that the issue rose to prominence.
Post-Indira Congress would go on to shed its earlier Hindu party image and the Shah Bano case presented it as a party that proactively sought minorities. The minority appeasement by Congress and proactive campaigning by Hindutva groups further took the Hindus in the majority away from Congress and into the folds of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bharatiya Janata Party, which would use the political miscalculations by Congress to their advantage. Lal Krishna Advani’s Ram Rath Yatra would further project Bharatiya Janata Party and allied groups as saviours of the Hindu cause and give new dimensions to Hindutva.
All the actions of Congress and its allies proved to contribute towards the success of grand plan of the political rise of Hindutva in India and consolidation of Hindus into the folds of groups on the right that had hitherto only been politically marginal.
In a major prelude to the events of 1992, the siege of Ayodhya in 1990 and the firing on kar-sevaks further created a series of events that the Hindutva groups used to their advantage. The cumulative effects of last many years of aggressive campaigning were that the BJP secured an unprecedented 120 seats in Lok Sabha and formed government in Uttar Pradesh.
With the rise of Hindutva forces, a cataclysmic event was just around the corner and it was not the question of ‘what’ or ‘if’, but of ‘when’.
Thousands of kar-sevaks arrive at Ayodhya with the singular devotion to the cause of Lord Ram. Even though their devotion was centred on Ram, they had come there with a variety of aims. While some had come to perform puja at the site, some had come with a singular aim of bringing down the mosque, and what happened on 6th of December thus has multiple narratives.
6 December 1992
6 December 1992 changed the course of Indian politics. The day polarised the Indian polity on an unprecedented scale and everything that has since happened, particularly in the state of Uttar Pradesh, the heart of the entire episode, has had bearings of that day. There is no justification for what happened that day and there is no forgiveness for those responsible for the act. It was a failure on the state's part to curb the mob. The state failed at every step. This is what happens when mob takes over the country. We have seen mob's resurgence lately as well and that is why the recent rise of Hindutva scares many.
Seetha Parthasarathy, the senior journalist who covered the demolition for Sunday Mail from Ayodhya, wrote that there was a festive atmosphere in Ayodhya on 6 December 1992. She wrote that while a faction, of sadhus and RSS volunteers, genuinely seemed to be there for the puja and tried to handle the mob, the large swathes of kar-sevaks were there with the singular aim to bring down the mosque. She further writes that while LK Advani appealed the mob to leave the Mazjid compound, the mob did not pay any heed. The likes of Sadhvi Rithambara and Uma Bharti gave inflammatory speeches, writes Seetha. This behaviour of Advani, as Seetha writes, is in contrast to the popular narrative where Advani is often said to be congratulating and distributing sweets as they watched the sea of saffron bringing down the mosque. There are other narratives that talk of Advani telling journalists to eat something sweet rather than looking at the destruction all around them.
Twenty-five years later, these narratives matter little. What matters is that a mob of thousands of communally roused kar-sevaks brought down Babri Masjid and the Indian state quietly watched it.
6 December 2017 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the demolition and even as the Supreme Court has now initiated what is believed to be the last lap of the judicial saga of Ram Janmabhoomi dispute, the question is that even though a legal settlement might be reached, but will the dust ever settle? Twenty-five years after the demolition and seven years after the Allahabad High Court judgement, have we come too far for a closure?
Twenty-Five Years Later
Ram is central to the faith of millions across the world and Ayodhya is central to Ram's story and the story of Ram Mandir is a story with many shades. Excavations, archaeological studies, and historical debates have been going over for decades and while archaeology established the presence of a temple-like structure beneath the now-demolished mosque, a large section of Indian intelligentsia continues to be in denial. Professor Suraj Bhan was party to Babari Mosque or Rama's Birth Place? Historians Report to the Nation, submitted to the Minister of Home Affairs in 1991. Later, while being examined in court, Prof. Bhan admitted to not be an expert at all in the field that he was writing. He admitted that he did not have adequate understanding and experience of Vedas and Puranas, and also that he was not an art historian, or a historian at all, or an expert in architecture, and that he had no prior professional experience in studying the construction of mosques. The professor had earlier stated in no uncertain terms that the ‘massive structure’ excavated on the site was a Sultanate-era mosque, and not a temple-like structure, a claim that lost all validity after the professor’s later examination in court.
Professor Suraj Bhan was not the only one who was lambasted by the Allahabad High Court. The High Court, criticising their professionalism, noted that expert witnesses had failed to prove their points through research and they were further not able to challenge Archaeological Survey of India’s findings in a rational manner. The list of such expert witnesses includes other names as well, such as Suvira Jaiswal, a former student of Prof. RS Sharma, Prof. Suraj Bhan’s co-author of the report.
Some of the biggest names in the Indian academia have long been at the forefront of the anti-Mandir activism. While they continue to be at the forefront, much of their activism remains mere rhetoric and does not stand scrutiny. After all these years, one wonders what their activism has achieved. It has certainly not stood scrutiny of the court. The only thing it has managed to do is to keep the issue burning, and close doors of reconciliation.
Just as the demolition of Majzid is a heinous act, the baseless rhetoric presented by the bunch of intellectuals defaming Ram and his saga is heinous as well, because they have, over the years, done the exact same thing that they have accused the Hindutva groups of – weaving a historical narrative to suit their imagination, making their narrative a medium for a political end.
While the extremists on the right are responsible for the demolition, the intellectuals on the left also share the responsibility for failures of attempts at reconciliation or closure of the saga. It is because of such extremists on both sides of the spectrum that a mandir and mazjid could not stand together in Ayodhya and it is because of such extremists on both sides of the spectrum that the mandir and mazjid would never be together in Ayodhya.
The Allahabad High Court had seven years ago awarded equal share of land to all parties and the saga could have been concluded back then but the parties wasted that opportunity to rest the matter and the appeal in the Supreme Court put the case in an indefinite loop. While the court has now decided to take up the matter, there is no guarantee that it would be settled.
The question, however, still remains. Even as the apex court might someday settle the dispute, but will the dust ever settle? Only time will tell.
(The writer is 18 years old and from Meerut. Madhur says, “Though I was not even born when the Masjid was brought down, growing up in the criminally charged atmosphere of Meerut, I have experienced bearings of that day throughout the eighteen years of my life and the attached piece is a result of the many questions that have long rocked my conscience about the entire episode and the critical understanding that I am acquiring as an undergraduate student of history and political science at University of Delhi.”)