24 years since the victorious roar of the kar-sewaks filled the narrow lanes of Ayodhya as they struck a massive blow to the dome atop the Babri masjid, the memories of the aftermath still linger in the quietness around the disputed site.
Having divided the state along communal lines, the Mandir-Masjid issue picks up steam during each election. The demolition of the Babri masjid on December 6, 1992, was a black day in national history. Before analysing the aftermath of the event, one must understand the history.
Ayodhya, the birth place of Lord Ram, is believed to have existed in the Tretha yug of the Hindu calendar, that is, some 900,000 years ago. As per the Holy Scripture, Ramayan, the disputed spot along the Saryu river is where Lord Ram was born. In the 15th century (around 1528), Emperor Babar’s general, Mir Baqi, allegedly destroyed a Ram temple and built the Babri Masjid on the same spot. Some historians believe that for centuries, both the communities worshiped at the “mosque-temple”, Hindus outside and Muslims inside the mosque. Prior to the 19th century, no records exist about the alleged demolition of the temple and construction of the mosque.
In 1885, the Nirmohis, a Hindu sect who had their establishment at Ram Ghat and Guptar Ghat, lay their claim over the Babri Masjid. They contended that the mosque stood on the spot of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple, which was destroyed by Babar. They sought permission from the Deputy Commissioner of Faizabad to offer prayers to Ram Lalla inside what was known as the Babri Masjid. However, permission was refused and communal tension followed which led to a violent conflict. In 1886, the District Judge of Faizabad court gave his verdict and said, “It is most unfortunate that a masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus, but as that event occurred 356 years ago, it is too late now to remedy the grievance.”
In 1949, a few Hindus managed to enter the mosque and reclaimed the temple by installing idols in the inner chambers. This was soon followed by an administrative order for closure of the building for both Muslims and Hindus. A year later, in 1950 a local resident Gopal Singh Visharad filed a complaint in the civil courts requesting permission to offer prayers in the mosque where the idols were installed. The judge restrained the removal of the idols and ordered no interference with the puja. Between 1951 and 1986, things were relatively calm and the time passed without any major incidents.
Conflict was broiling on the side-lines. The Rajiv Gandhi government, keen on amassing Hindu votes ahead of the 1989 general elections, ordered unlocking of the disputed shrine. A volcanic situation emerged in the country with Hindus rejoicing and Muslims protesting the opening of locks of the Babri Masjid.
A few days before the election were to take place, Rajiv Gandhi allowed the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to perform shilanyas (laying of the foundation stone) for the Ram temple on the disputed land. What followed was the worst ever communal violence in independent India’s history till that time.
Around 800 lives were lost in the Hindi speaking belt. In the 1989 general elections, Janata Dal emerged victorious with the support of BJP and VP Singh became the Prime Minister. Soon after, VP Singh brought back the decade old Mandal Commission report and introduced the Reservation bill in 1990. Upper caste Hindus rose in revolt and the nation was aghast seeing the youth self-immolating in protest.
In this backdrop, LK Advani set out on his 10,000-km “rath yatra” to carry out the Ayodhya construction and to force the government to hand over the site to Hindus. The Yatra did not see completion as Advani and his cohorts were arrested in Bihar by the then chief minister of the state, Lalu Yadav. BJP, enraged by the act, withdrew support to the Janata Dal government. BJP aggrandized the Ram Janam Bhoomi Movement to unify all Hindus for the construction of the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya.
On 6 December 1992, the dispute took the form of a national crisis, when the Babri Masjid was demolished by kar-sewaks. The same evening, President’s rule was imposed in the state as Kalyan Singh resigned as Chief Minister. The demolition resulted in communal riots in Uttar Pradesh and in other parts of the country.
In the aftermath of the crisis, BJP suffered its worst defeat and was voted out of power in the 1993 Assembly elections. The political circles witnessed the Scheduled Caste-Muslim-OBC alliance emerge as a formidable and intimidating political force in UP. In 2010, the Allahabad High Court ruled that the site be divided in to three parts, two of which were awarded to Nirmohi Akhara and one part to Muslims, which went to Sunni Central Waqf Board of Uttar Pradesh. Later, the main litigant in Babri Masjid case, Hashim Ansari, discussed an out of court settlement with VHP, which was rejected by the latter.
Over time, the mass hysteria over the Mandir-Masjid issue has settled down but it is extremely unfortunate that a matter of faith and religion has consumed the peace and integrity of the nation. Both Hindus and Muslims have been at war for the past thirty years to reclaim the heritage.
The vote bank politics in Uttar Pradesh has been responsible for bringing the issue to the fore every five years just in time for elections. Ahead of the 2017 assembly elections in UP, the story gets a new twist. Dodging the topic of construction, yet wanting to capitalise on the Hindu sentiments, both BJP and SP are trying to outdo each other. While the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre announced plans to build a museum dedicated to the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, in Ayodhya; Uttar Pradesh CM Akhilesh Yadav gave nod for constructing an International Ramleela Theme Park in Ayodhya.
With the passage of time, the demographics have also changed. According to the electoral rolls, one-third of UP’s population was either born after 1992 or was in the 5-6 year age bracket. A recent survey conducted by Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) clearly shows the change in significance of the Mandir-Masjid issue among the young voters.
In 1996, 58 percent of Hindus said that only a temple should be built at the disputed site, while almost an equal proportion of Muslims (56 per cent) said only a mosque should be built there. From there, support for building only a temple or a mosque declined sharply in 2009. When surveyed again in 2016, about 49% on Hindus demanded that only a temple should be built at the disputed site, while 28 per cent of Muslims say only a mosque should be built.
The gap among Hindus and Muslims who support construction of both a temple as well as a mosque at the disputed site has also increased. Ram Temple does not hold as much significance for the younger generation as it did for the older. For the new generation born after the demolition of Babri Masjid, religion comes after development. Though the youth remain highly polarised, it does not support the building of the temple at the cost of breaking the integrity of the nation or through violence.
The complications of the Ramjanambhoomi – Babri Masjid dispute have gripped the whole nation in an incoherent skein of communal tension and hatred. It torments to see Ayodhya, a sacred place of worship taking on the face of a battle ground. The fire has engulfed every mind filling it with hatred for the unknown hand that hurls a stone in the name of Ram and Allah, hatred for the vile politicians who have been stoking the fire for electoral gains.
If Ram lalla were to visit his birth place today, he would be saddened by the damage caused in his name. He did not belong to one community, rather he represented the entire humanity. The seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu was kind and compassionate towards everyone. He would have scorned at the sight of social and caste divides created by man for he considered all humans to be equal. He would eat happily at a Dalit’s house as he would in his palace.
Hindus have longer connect with the site of construction as Ram Temple is older than the Muslim invasion. Before any untoward incident disturbs the delicate balance between the Hindus and Muslims, an amicable solution must be found. The karambhoomi of Hindus has seen enough bloodshed. The protagonists of both sides should come together and show solidarity for the sake of peace and harmony. 10,000 Hindus and Muslims have shown the way forward through a joint petition submitted to Faizabad Divisional Commissioner. The petition, honouring the democracy of our great nation, proposed building both a mosque and a temple at the disputed site. It is time that our politicians too start believing in Sarva Dharma Sambhav.
(The author is an activists and regular contributor to Janta Ka Reporter)