Buried in the 1,000-odd pages of the humongous volume is the fascinating story of the Ayodhya dispute’s transformation from an unsung “non-event” to an orchestrated movement that finally, and inevitably, led to the destruction of the dilapidated 16th century mosque
Does the Liberhan Commission report on the December 6, 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid add substantially to our understanding of the event Justice M.S. Liberhan describes as “one of the worst abhorrent acts of religious intolerance in the history of this nation and the Hindu religion?”
A superficial reading of the report would suggest that he has merely regurgitated many of the details already known to us -- the role of the sangh parivar and its affiliates; Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh’s systematic connivance in the demolition and his unapologetic defiance of court orders; the exploitation of the issue by hardline elements in the Bharatiya Janata Party led by Lal Krishna Advani and so forth.
And yet, thanks to the painstaking documentation the judge provides -- recording the many internal meetings of the sangh parivar, the threats, warnings and speeches emanating from the saffron fold, the forewarning available in the form of previous gatherings and agitations at the Babri Masjid site, the gradual collapse of the administration, not to mention the flurry of messages from the Centre conveying its apprehensions to Kalyan Singh -- we have with us today a wealth of information that enables construction of the exact sequence of events leading up to the demolition.
Not only this. Buried in the 1,000-odd pages of the humongous volume is the fascinating story of the Ayodhya dispute’s transformation from an unsung “non-event” to an orchestrated movement that finally, and inevitably, led to the destruction of the dilapidated 16th century mosque whose survival and security became over time the touchstone of India’s secular constitutional framework.
Space constraint prevents the telling of the story in detail but even a summary should suffice. The temple town may have witnessed successive battles over the ownership of the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site in the distant past, but its recent history was relatively peaceful. Indeed, the judge notes that Ayodhya was a non-event till 1975, finding no mention in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly proceedings, or in the records of the Centre. It was not an issue even with the Jana Sangh, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue was confined to Ayodhya and limited to the parties to the legal dispute -- Mahant Ramchandra Das Paramhans and his akhara, and the Wakf Board.
The temple town stirred into action in 1980 when it became a campaign tool of the VHP, till then a non-descript rag-tag organisation that attracted little interest in Uttar Pradesh, much less nationally. In November-December 1983, the VHP issued a formal call for “liberating the temple” and simultaneously announced a programme of rath and kalash yatras. The impact of this was minimally felt, even in Ayodhya.
In April 1984, the VHP set up two executive committees, the Kendriya Marg Darshak Mandal and the Dharam Sansad, which would henceforth act as the nodal decision-making bodies for the Ayodhya issue. With the birth of the VHP’s rampaging youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, the same year, the temple campaign acquired a thuggish new face. The Dal revelled in anarchy and violence and, significantly, one of its first acts was to call for a bandh in support of opening the locks of the makeshift temple.
In March 1985, the VHP decided to raise a 50-lakh strong cadre of Ram Bhakts. Ramchandra Das Paramhans threatened to immolate himself -- the first of many such threats -- if the lock was not opened. He also declared that the movement could not succeed without political support at the national level. At this point, the RSS came fully into the picture and formally declared its support to the VHP.
With the opening of the locks on February 1, 1986 -- the judge unfortunately fails to record the role played by the Rajiv Gandhi government in this -- the stage was set for a confrontation with Muslim leaders who organised themselves into the All-India Babri Masjid Action Committee. The AIBMAC observed the opening of the locks as a “black day”. From its side, this would mark the start of a long but futile struggle to protect the Babri Masjid from its future assailants.
In January 1986, the Dharam Sansad drew up plans for an elaborate shila pujan, to protest which the AIBMAC announced a “long march.” The VHP programme gave a foretaste of the sangh’s organising capability which would grow manifold over the next three years. In February 1989, the VHP declared that the foundation stone for the construction of the temple would be laid in November of the same year. By this time, a full model of what Mr. Advani would subsequently and frequently refer to as “a resplendent temple” was ready for public viewing.
In June 1989, the BJP, till then insistent that the campaign was the VHP’s baby, jumped on the mandir bandwagon, obviously sensing the political potential it offered to a party that had been reduced to two Lok Sabha seats in the 1984 general election. In the cool environs of Palampur in Himachal Pradesh, the party resolved to not only support the movement but also participate in it, arguing that this had become necessary to counter the Congress’ anti-Hindu propaganda. The BJP also entered into a confrontation with the judiciary by disputing its jurisdiction on matters relating to the temple which, it said, symbolised the faith of Hindus.
The judge does not dwell too much on this part, but BJP watchers would know that the “historic” decision would indelibly alter the course of the country, which would now be perennially haunted by the demons of communalism. The Palampur resolution energised the BJP’s cadre and pitchforked Mr. Advani to the centre of the battle, which role he performed to perfection, coining such immortal phrases as “minority appeasement” and “pseudo-secularism,” and declaring that there were only two ways to resolve the dispute -- by a negotiated settlement or by legislation. Needless to say, both routes led to the construction of the temple.
With Mr. Advani in command, the once “non-event” metamorphosed from a semi-religious, on-again, off-again affair into a full fledged political agitation whose central objective was to polarise Hindus and Muslims and harvest votes from the division. From here on, events would gallop at break-neck speed, each milestone in the sangh calendar adducing to Mr. Advani influence and clout — he would force the Rajiv Gandhi government to acquiesce in the November 1989 shilanyas ceremony, restore the BJP’s respectability with the Janata Dal’s support, inflame passions from atop his rath yatra, unmindful of the death and destruction that came in its wake, and finally create an environment for lawlessness at Ayodhya by deliberately and repeatedly announcing from every available platform that the mandir would be built — with or without the court’s permission.
Whether or not the “loh purush (iron man)” was aware of the plan to destroy the Masjid on December 6, 1992 will never be known. Justice Liberhan himself takes the view that Mr. Advani may not have been involved in the actual decision-making. He calls him -- as also Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Murli Manohar Joshi -- a “pseudo-moderate” who became a willing tool in the hands of the RSS.
Ultimately, it is immaterial whether or not Mr. Advani was involved in the cataclysmic climax. As is clear from the elaborate evidence laid out by Mr. Justice Liberhan in his report, the kar sevaks had become a Frankenstein’s Monster created jointly by the RSS, the BJP and other parivar affiliates. The stage was irreversibly set for the “non-event” of the 1980s to turn into a tragedy of epic proportions.