Any politically conscious person who grew up in the 80s and 90s had a brush with the Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi feud that changed the course of Indian secularism.

As a person who chose to become a journalist in the pre-Google era, it was obvious to me that the feud, along with other contentious issues like the Shah Bano case and the Bofors scandal, would become intertwined with my professional duties eventually.

It happened when I started covering depositions to the Justice MS Liberhan Ayodhya Commission of Inquiry. Without getting into the legal exercise and orders, it is pertinent to share some experiences and anecdotes about people who have been forgotten in the Babri timeline, since a Hindutva mob with state backing demolished the mosque.

The first person who comes to mind is Mohammed Aslam Bhure, who was perhaps the first petitioner in the Babri case when public interest litigation was filed in his name in 1991. Before the internet one was always left wondering who this Bhure person was, whose name was referred to at least a dozen times a day during the Commission hearings.

A reporter’s first guess was that Bhure must have been a very learned fellow, or maybe a lawyer, or a very influential man in his community. One never saw or heard of him outside the Commission court in the Vigyan Bhawan Annexe in Delhi. One didn’t even know whether he was dead or living.

It was only some months down the line that reporters came to know Bhure was actually a junk dealer residing in Old Delhi, who ran his business from a shop adjacent to an educational institute very close to Connaught Place. I fixed up an interview with him at his shop the very next day.

During the meeting he disclosed that he personally had nothing to do with the Babri case, but had been a keen observer of the developments. “I have been a leader of street vendors who sell their wares on the pavements near the Jama Masjid, and have been a frequent visitor to various courts in connection with their harassment.

“It was in the Delhi High Court that a Hindu lawyer who had been helping us, and was otherwise very passionate about the Babri case, told me he wanted to file a case in my name and I agreed,” Bhure said.

Almost a decade later he died, reportedly of shock, over the verdict delivered by the Allahabad High Court in 2010 partitioning the disputed site.

Another man needs mentioning for his contribution in bringing out several facts during his penetrative questioning of some of the top politicians of the time. This was Yusuf Muchhala, the lawyer representing the All Indian Muslim Personal Law Board.

For those of us who were present during the Commission hearings, it was a treat to watch this otherwise polite man tear into the stories that the politicians were trying to spin in their depositions. Muchhala minced no words to show them their place before the law and the Constitution of India.

One can recall the manner in which he reminded PV Narasimha Rao that he was sitting before the Commission as a witness and not as prime minister. This happened after Rao had very skilfully spun a web of words to avoid answering the all important question: what prevented him from implementing Article 356 in Uttar Pradesh, when it was apparent that the mob marching towards Ayodhya was bent on demolishing the mosque?

Muchhala also put some really penetrating questions to the protagonist of the Ram Janambhoomi movement, who would later become home minister and deputy prime minister, Lal Krishna Advani. Advani was quizzed about the loss of lives during his Rath Yatra of 1990, and also immediately after the demolition of the Babri Mosque on December 6, 1992.

Much later after the hearings were over, Advani went over to Muchhala and said he appreciated his concern for his community, but added that the role of forces responsible for the plight of the Muslim community must also be taken into account.

Muchhala told him very politely but firmly that he was no voter or supporter of the Hindutva parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena, but was a firm believer in the Indian Constitution and the values enshrined in it, so he took Atal Behari Vajpayee to be his prime minister and Advani as his home minister and deputy prime minister.

One also recalls the Chandigarh-based Anupam Gupta who was counsel for the Commission for a long time before parting ways in 2007, reportedly over differences with Justice Liberhan on how the latter looked at the roles played by Advani and his BJP associate Murli Manohar Joshi in the events leading to the demolition of the mosque.

Gupta was again very incisive when it came to questioning Advani, first on a two-part article he had written after the demolition saying it was the saddest day of his life, and later on Advani deliberating on length over Samuel Huntington’s thesis of a ‘clash of civilisations’.

It was late afternoon in June 2001 that the otherwise composed and patient Advani lost his cool during his deposition, when he was grilled by Gupta on the views of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru with regard to the renovation of the Somnath Temple.

Another memorable moment was when Justice Liberhan got annoyed over the attitude of BJP leader Vinay Katiyar, and told him the Commission would order his arrest if he did not mend his ways. Katiyar had questioned the legitimacy of the Commission, saying that since there was no complaint from the deity Ram Lalla, there was no need to set up a Commission to probe the matter.

Two politicians who were the most matter of fact in their approach, and clear on how the secular ethos of the nation had been compromised by the criminal demolition of the mosque, were former prime minister VP Singh and former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu.

Singh told this reporter on the sidelines of his deposition that the BJP had found a ‘polling agent’ in Lord Ram, who was to be called on the eve of every poll. His prophecy has stood true till date.