~By Rashme Sehgal
Ayodhya remains a sleepy, small town with its over 6000 temples, matts and akharas. The drains here continue to overflow and there has been no attempt in the last 25 years to install any kind of public sewerage system with most of the city drains overflowing their muck into the tepid flowing Saryu river. No attempt has been made to control the monkey population which has also seen a quantum jump as the forests around this town have practically disappeared.
The time frame in this city is also vastly different even from its neighbouring, bustling Faizabad. The younger generation, mainly students, express their unhappiness at the tensions caused by the demolition of the Babri Masjid and want a peaceful resolution to what they feel is a dispute which has ‘gone on for too long’.
These were the words of a nineteen-year-old jean-clad college-going student in Ayodhya who said on condition of anonymity, “We must look towards the future. We cannot keep harping back to the past.”
She is right. Many of the protagonists who had been demanding a Ram temple be built at the site of the Babri Masjid including VHP leaders Ashok Singhal are dead as is Ram Chandra Das, the white-haired Mahant of Digambar Akhara. The fate of thousands of kar sewaks against whom the UP police had registered cases of causing injury to a place of public worship cannot be found and there is little possibility of them being cross-questioned by the Supreme Court.
Speaking to a cross-section of the descendants of some of the key protagonists in this dispute, it comes as no surprise that they continue to hold strong positions for or against the construction of the mosque/temple.
On December 22 1949, the idols placed on the outer courtyard of the Babri Masjid were picked up and placed under the central dome. This was done by a local priest Abhiram Das, the then local district magistrate KK Nair and an Ayodhya resident Guru Dutt. Government records claim the priest had seen` a beautiful child bathed in divine light’ appear before him and this had triggered him and the others to take such a step.
The next move was made by Mahant Ramchandra Das, the chief of the Ram Janambhomi Nyas who in 1950, demanded he be allowed to pray before these installed idols. The Nirmohi Akhara also sought similar permission from the courts claiming they had been holding prayers before the Ram Lalla idols from 1949.
The present Mahant of this Nirmohi Akhara Mahant Dinendra Das feels too many political groups have stepped in and muddied the water. It was this interference that had resulted in the pulling down of the mosque. He is of the view that if were allowed to talk directly to members of the Central Waqf Board, this contentious issue would have been resolved much earlier.
Das’ jibe is directed especially at Triloki Nath Pandey of the VHP who became a party to this case back in 1989 by claiming he was ` the best friend of Ram Lalla.’ Not only does Pandey see himself as being the spokesperson of Ram Lalla but he is opposed to any partition of this land especially since he quotes from the Allahabad High Court order of 2010. ` The fact is that the Archaeological Survey of India had informed the High Court that they have evidence that a temple was located under the mosque,’ said Pandey.
On the Muslim side, battle lines have also moved to the second generation. Both Iqbal Ansari and Mohammad Umar have picked up the staff of their fathers who were the original litigants in this complex case and both express apprehension that they are fighting an uphill task especially since the UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath has gone public that he will get the temple built in record time.
Iqbal Ansari has said he has put his faith in the Supreme Court as they are the upholders of the Constitution and he is confident they will give an unbiased judgement in this case.
The manner in which events unfolded on the fateful morning of December 6 1992 continues to confirm that a great deal of prior planning went into the bringing down of the mosque. A large group of journalists had gathered at the terrace of the Manas Bhawan directly facing the Babri Masjid. There was a huge contingent of UP police both around the Babri Masjid, the adjacent Sita ki Rasoi and also on the terrace of Manas Bhawan. At around 9am, a large group of goons arrived on the roof top of Manas Bhawan and to the horror of us journalists, began beating up photographers and destroying their cameras. The cops watched on without coming to the assistance of a single photographer.
Obviously emboldened by this step, the “Operation Babri Masjid Destruction” swung into action with large groups of kar sewaks ready to oblige.
Two days prior to this event, a large posse of journalists, BJP and VHP politicians had travelled down to Lucknow from New Delhi on the Shatabadi Express from where these teams hopped on to taxis to make their way to Faizabad. There was some suspicion even then that something was amiss but the smokescreen that the Ram Janambhoomi key players would agree to a division of the disputed land had the press confused. In a press conference held on December 5, the late Ashok Singhal and hinted at some kind of ` action’ the following day but no one in their wildest dreams had anticipated the action implied scaling the wall of the masjid and bringing it down.
Most journalists were busy wondering about the kind of division that would take allow both temple and masjid to co-exist. The journalists being beaten up should have been a forewarning for indeed at 12pm, a kar sewak scaled the wall followed by hundreds of others carrying pick axes, hammers, rods and shovels. What unfolded was nothing short of a Greek tragedy because before our horrified eyes, by 1.55pm, the first dome had come down. By 5pm, the main dome had been broken.
By then the desultory sun had set on this cold, wintry day. Fires could be seen as homes of Muslims were being torched. Some homes had been torched as early as 1 pm. We subsequently learnt that communal riots had broken out by 3pm and that some Muslims had lost their lives in these riots.
Most journalists were by then intent on making their way back to the Faizabad telegraph office in order to file their stories. That was no easy job as some gun shots were heard enroute in all this chaos.
There was not a single Congress politician to be seen during this day long destruction spree even though the Narasimha Rao government was in power at the centre. In retrospect, all one can say is that it was a high level conspiracy because not a single cop of the hundreds of cops huddled both inside and outside the neighbouring Sita ki Rasoi raised their fingers to stop the kar sewaks. The Rapid Action Force was brought in to control the situation only the next morning by which time a makeshift temple had already come up at the disputed site and prayers continue to be held there morn and night to this day.
The Liberhan Commission set up to probe this destruction held 68 people guilty of demolition. The High Court on September 20 2010, in its judgement gave two parts of the disputed land to the Hindus and one part to the Muslim side. This again say all three parties go into appeal against this verdict to the Supreme Court which they did in 2011.
Even as the Supreme Court has agreed to put off hearings of this case to February 2018, the horror of that day lingers to this day. Today while there is a huge contingent of cops that has been pressed into a statewide alert and the Rapid Action Force and the Provincial Armed Constabulary stage marches across the cities of Ayodhya and Faizabad, some Hindus believe the time to build a temple has finally arrived. Or so the chief minister would have us believe as huge slabs of stones and wood that are being brought here to complete the hundreds of carved columns that will hold this temple upright. Yogi Adityanath believes the temple completion will be the high point of his tenure. It is to be seen whether the Supreme Court will put a spoke in his grandiose plan.