Twenty-five years later the Supreme Court has ordered LK Advani and others to face trial now for the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. Conspiracy theorists are having a field day. Meanwhile, asking a few millennials about what they knew about the Rath Yatra to Ayodhya movement, I got blank faces. Beyond the bare bone facts, they had no idea. Not their fault. We are hopeless at contemporary history. A Google search brought out veritably nothing.
The Liberhan Commission took 17 years with 48 extensions and cost the country Rs 8 crores. It held 68 people responsible for the demolition. The report charged that Uma Bharti, Govindacharya, Kalyan Singh and Shanker Singh Vaghela were primarily responsible for the destruction of the mosque and the report said that they could have prevented the assault. The report held Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi intellectually and ideologically responsible for the mosque’s destruction.
The obvious question is: how did a Congress-led government allow the demolition when it would hurt their Muslim vote bank? There are facts the Congress party deliberately avoids, clearly because it could cost them Muslim votes. They have shown Hindutva leanings that they would rather not dwell on. Jawaharlal Nehru’s government rebuilt the Somnath temple in 1951. Although Nehru was not in the least interested in rebuilding it, he was under pressure from other Congress leaders. The President of India at that time Dr Rajendra Prasad laid the foundation stone. The temple was rebuilt with government funds from the Ministry of Works and Housing.
In 1986, Rajiv Gandhi, advised by Arun Nehru, got UP Chief Minister Bir Bahadur Singh to open the locks to the disputed structure. Hindus gained access. In 1989, it was Rajiv Gandhi who permitted the shilanyas ceremony, when the first stone of the planned temple was put in place. When Advani started the Rath Yatra in October 1990, the Janata Dal was in power. But the kar seva was not completed because of Advani’s arrest and the firing on kar sevaks in Ayodhya.
Narasimha Rao was prime minister in a coalition government when the Ayodhya movement restarted. His position was precarious. Kalyan Singh was the chief minister of UP at the time (and held culpable in the report). How could this have happened under the Congress party? His party depended on the Muslim vote. It is an undisputed fact that the prime minister went quiet and was unavailable for 48 hours during the crucial period of the demolition and after. The Liberhan Commission should have questioned him. But, it was Rao, by an order from the Home Ministry, who had appointed MS Liberhan. In journalistic circles, (and I have no proof of this) it was discussed that Rao had been assured by the VHP: “Aap yeh honay doh, aap ki kursi hum thaam kay rakhenge (Let this happen, your seat is assured)”.
Singh (BJP) the UP Chief Minister from June 1991, had vowed a temple would be constructed in Ayodhya. In October 1991, his government acquired 2.27 acres around Babri Masjid, ostensibly to “promote tourism”. Ten feet of reinforced cement for the foundation was laid for the proposed temple in July 1992, with Singh calling it a platform to sing bhajans. With the scheduled kar sewa on December 6, 1992, Singh gave an affidavit to the Supreme Court that as Chief Minister he would not allow any damage to Babri Masjid. Rao assured the Congress party that Singh had given his word that he would not allow the demolition. After the destruction, in the evening of December 6, Singh resigned. Rao was heavily criticised by the Congress Party for trusting Kalyan Singh. Whispers of a deal began to circulate.
The first question Justice MS Liberhan should have raised was: what was Rao doing at that time? There was no mention of his role.
But, a Commission of Inquiry has only the power to file a report. It can only point to the guilty. It cannot take any action against them. That is for the government in power to carry out. Although the report was presented in June 2009, when Manmohan Singh was prime minister, no action was taken against anyone.
The second big question that the Liberhan report ignored was: How could such a large, solid structure be brought down with just a few pick axes, shovels and ropes that the kar sevaks had in their hands? If this was considered a crime, isn’t an investigation on the means used to commit such a crime crucial to the report?
As can be seen in the footage, the domes just collapsed with no one standing on top of them. Minutes earlier, kar sevaks could be seen on top of the dome, with axes, shovels and ropes. At a particular moment, VHP leader Ashok Singhal gave the signal and men with yellow headbands started pushing everyone else out, including men with orange headbands, journalists and random kar sevaks. This was apparently the moment that the Masjid was to be brought down. They wanted no evidence on how it was destroyed.
Advani, Joshi and Bharti were in a small, dingy room called the Control Room. It had a terrace and they had climbed up to watch. When the domes collapsed, Bharti and Joshi were seen hugging each other and many others, including Manoj Raghuvanshi, our Newstrack reporter. Raghuvanshi ran towards the Control Room and asked to meet Advani. He was told that Advani was in no condition to meet anyone. Apparently, he was upset. He had not expected it to actually happen.
It is my deduction and it’s only an assessment, the VHP used Advani as the poster boy for Hindutva, for the rousing speeches and the Rath Yatra. I believe the details and logistics on how the Masjid was to be brought down were kept secret from Advani. Perhaps, it will be called my naïveté but sometimes reasons for human behaviour are just inexplicable. I believe Advani believed in whipping up Hindutva passions. He did not imagine the Masjid would actually come crashing down.
Advani was arrested on December 8, from his Pandara Road residence. This was the statement he gave before being taken away.
In the Supreme Court Order given by Pinaki Chandra Ghose and RF Nariman on April 19, 2017: “From the above discussion this conclusion is drawn that in the present case the criminal conspiracy of felling down of the disputed structure of Ram Janmabhoomi/Babri Masjid was commenced by the accused from 1990 and it was completed on 06.12.1992 Sri Lal Krishan Advani and others at different times and at different places made schemes of criminal conspiracy of demolishing the above disputed structure.” The order pointed out: “on the basis of statements and reports of various journalists: the kar sewaks could not demolish the dome from above, they were demolishing the walls from below and Vinay Katiyar and Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Ashok Singhal made exhortations many a time that all persons should get down from the dome as it was on the point of falling down. It is the statement of PW-145 Ms Latika Gupta that Sri Advani had made this declaration that the C.R.P.F. could come anytime and hence all should go and block the road to prevent it from coming.”
It was a clean demolition. No crews were called in to clear the debris. In complete discipline, kar sevaks picked up bricks and stones and carried them out. By next morning, it was a clean site with no visible evidence of the Masjid or the demolition.
The third question the Liberhan Commission did not investigate was: How could the police and security forces not control the crowds and prevent the destruction? Why was there no investigation of whether there was collusion between those who brought the structure down and those who could have prevented it?
Officials seemed nonchalant about any potential violence.
At a signal given the plan began to unfold as designated kar sevaks with yellow headbands started pushing other kar sevaks out of the area.
Ashok Singhal was at the forefront of carrying out the plan.
When the police force refused to obey orders from their seniors to stop the kar sevaks, was it a staged plan or a genuine mutiny by Hindu security forces? Who ordered the police the file out of the area and leave it to the kar sevaks?
At the same point, it was clear that it had been decided that there should be no record on how the structure was brought down. Journalists were beaten up, cameras smashed and they were violently pushed out.
The next day, journalists held their own press conference about the violence they had suffered. One can’t help but think, would that happen today?
At the press conference held by BJP leaders, journalists vociferously and fearlessly accused them of the violence they had instigated against the press. What a different world it was when the media could stand up to people in power.
Let’s step back a bit. Advani started the Rath Yatra from Somnath, Gujarat on September 25, 1990. Somnath was chosen for its symbolism because it was one of the temples repeatedly demolished by Muslim invaders said to have been rebuilt 17 times. Advani wanted the message to go out that since the Somnath temple was rebuilt after being destroyed by Muslims, the pre-existing temple that existed before Babri Masjid should be rebuilt. Scholars have debated the existence of the Ram temple at that site for decades and what facts you choose seem to stem from your own beliefs. Narendra Modi stood on the Rath with Advani since he was the organiser. He organised the Yatra, not the demolition.
The Rath Yatra entered Delhi on October 14, 1990. Advani then took a train journey to Mughalsarai, which is at the border of Uttar Pradesh. Advani took the Rath from there through Bihar. There was a competition between the Chief Minister of Bihar Laloo Prasad Yadav and the Chief Minister of UP Mulayam Singh Yadav, (both of the Janata Dal party) on who would stop the Rath and arrest Advani. Whoever stopped the Rath would collect Muslim votes. Laloo Yadav got the opportunity first since Advani was in his state and arrested him around 6:00 am on October 22, 1990, in Samastipur. Laloo told our reporter Raghuvanshi, “Humne unko uddankattola mein dal kar Dhunka bhej diya hai”.
The Rath Yatra continued with other leaders. You will ask when Advani started the Yatra in October 1990, why did it take so long for the actual demolition to take place that happened in 1992? The logistics of orchestrating a Yatra is not a simple thing. It requires a huge amount of preparation for the Yatra to gather supporters and organise rallies on the route. A critical mass is to be achieved for it to become an influencer of big outcomes. Other leaders were arrested. Rajmata Scindia was arrested in Chitrakoot.
Going by all the people we interviewed and access to exclusive footage, the following narrative is not unreasonable. Mulayam Singh had reassured the Muslim community that the Rath Yatra would fall flat and no destruction would be allowed. On October 30, the kar sevaks made another attempt to get into Ayodhya.
This time arrangements had been made. The police colluded and the kar sevaks were allowed to inch their way in but not without the drama of tear gas. The kar sevaks threw stones at the police, who were retreating gradually. They actually ended up escorting them to the Ayodhya site under the guise of fighting them back. The kar sevaks were on top of rooftops as well pelting stones. When the police used tear gas, the kar sevaks would stop. But the police retreated more and allowed the kar sevaks to advance. Ashok Singhal arrived in disguise with kar sevaks on the other side of the Saryu River. When they started crossing the bridge into Ayodhya they were lathicharged by the police and were driven back. Somewhere between 16-18 kar sevaks had been killed by police firing.
Mulayam Singh did not want the demolition. It would cost him Muslim votes. How then was this happening? Shrish Chandra Dixit was seen talking to some police constables who were guarding the shrine area. (Dixit was a police officer who had joined the VHP in 1984 and was a BJP MP from Varanasi from 1991. He was arrested in 1990 for his involvement in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.) The gates to the Masjid were suddenly opened and the kar sewaks poured into the area.
It was a well-coordinated plan. The police, bureaucrats, politicians worked together. The kar sevaks were the window dressing. How much did each leader know of the details of the implementation? I believe it was information given on a need to know basis. Not all of them had all the details.
The timing and reason about why this case has been resurrected has given rise to all kinds theories and speculation. The theory that this was done to neutralise Advani’s aspirations to be appointed President of India seems weak. Modi does not have to neutralise or justify his choice for President. What this order does accomplish is that the BJP will not have to confront the issue of actually constructing the Ram temple in place of the Masjid. But it will keep the issue simmering gently for two years with all those charged playing martyrs for the cause of Hindutva. The Supreme Court has ordered the Sessions Court to deliver the judgment within a period of two years. Just in time for the next national election.
The author can be contacted on Twitter @madhutrehan