On December 6, 1992, Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was demolished and the country’s political and communal fabric significantly altered. A day short of the 25th anniversary of the event, the Supreme Court will on Tuesday commence the final hearings in the long-standing Ayodhya dispute.
According to reports, the top court will be hearing a total of 13 appeals filed against the 2010 judgment of the Allahabad High Court in four civil suits. The stakeholders in the case had moved the apex court after the Allahabad HC directed the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara, and the Lord Ram Lalla to settle for a three-way division of the disputed site.
The demolition of Babri Masjid and the deadly riots that followed remain a grim reminder in India’s history of volatile politics and the sway it has over the minds of people who are bent on the path of destruction in the name of religious resurrection.
Here’s Business Standard’s complete reportage on the dispute, the parties to it, and how it affected the nation:
Has India changed since the Babri demolition?
While a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since December 1992, when scores of Hindutva foot soldiers, purportedly egged on by some who would later be the tallest Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, demolished the medieval-era Babri Masjid, how different is today’s India?
As reported earlier, certain socio-economic trends indicate that the memories of Babri might have faded, but some of the underlying forces that galvanised thousands to demolish a mosque in Ayodhya might again be bubbling beneath a veneer of uneasy calm.
For instance, what should give Hindutva proponents more ammunition to ramp up their battalions is the fact that India’s demographic transition since Babri has been unfavourable to Hindus. In two decades preceding the Babri mosque demolition, the Hindu population grew by almost half, while Muslims grew by 62 per cent. But since 1991, the growth rate of Hindus in India has slowed down to 42 per cent. Meanwhile, the Muslim population growth has further accelerated to 70 per cent.
Besides, Muslims have shown better progress on certain socio-economic development parameters than Hindus. National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) figures show that while the labour participation rates among Hindus have marginally declined between 2001 and 2010, more Muslims than ever before are now entering the workforce. While labour participation rates include the unemployed as well, a more accurate representation of Hindu stagnation and Muslim progression would be the worker population ratios. This includes people who were not just working for a significant part of the year but also worked for at least 30 days during the year. Worker population ratio among Hindus in 2010 was at the same level as that in 2000, despite increasing significantly in 2005. Muslims, meanwhile have shown a steady growth in the same period.
Today, the BJP claims to fight its battles at the hustings on the development plank. However, the communally sensitive Ram temple issue had a significant role to play in its rise as a political force.
The year 1989 saw the first general election in which the BJP’s manifesto explicitly talked about reconstructing the Ram temple in Ayodhya. “By not allowing the rebuilding of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, on the lines of Somnath Mandir built by the Government of India in 1948, it has allowed tensions to rise, and gravely strained social harmony,” the party’s manifesto that year stated.
By 1991 the BJP was selling itself to Indian voters as the only viable alternative to the Congress. And central to this sales pitch was Ram Mandir, firmly entrenched in the party’s strategy to make it stand out in India’s highly polarised political landscape. By the time the 1996 elections approached, the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the ensuing communal riots had singed the nation. For the first time since 1984, the BJP introduced Hindutva in its electoral discourse and started expounding the concept of ‘Bharatvarsha’ as the true identity of a united India.
Between 1996 and 2014, the saffron party toned down the pitch for building a Ram temple. In 2014, the BJP’s election manifesto committee further diluted the Hindutva pitch in the run-up to the elections. Hindutva was never uttered. The BJP would now ‘explore all possibilities within the constitutional framework’ for the construction of a Ram Mandir.
Muslims feel an out-of-court settlement will be surrender
There have been efforts by people like Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravishankar to act as mediators with the goal of negotiating an out of court settlement but that is a minefield not all parties want to enter. The Muslims represented by the Sunni Waqf board are averse to an out of court settlement. The Nirmohi Akhara welcomes Ravishankar’s mediation but wants to firmly keep out the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) from the talks.
The very question of dislocation from the disputed site, unless ordered by the country’s highest court, is unacceptable to the Muslims. Moreover, the Sunni Waqf board says any out of court settlement should also be monitored by the court.
Zafaryab Jilani, the lawyer of the Sunni Waqf board representing the Muslim side in the Ayodhya dispute case, says, “Any negotiation will have to start with the realisation on part of the VHP that Muslims will not surrender. I don’t think the VHP is prepared for this. When somebody told me that Sri Sri Ravishankar wants to meet me, I told the person that he should be meeting VHP first because we know from experience that VHP doesn’t want any negotiation. It wants only surrender. Surrender is not negotiation.”
There was no trace of Ram temple, revealed British accounts
The Allahabad High Court, which delivered its verdict trifurcating the disputed site in Ayodhya, had relied extensively on the 19th-century accounts of British gazetteers.
While these accounts, which were recorded and dispatched at a time when modern-day archaeological techniques were unheard of, mention no substantial remains of what Hindus would consider a grand Ram temple, there are some mentions of remains that might have belonged to a temple and which were subsequently repurposed for building the Babri mosque.
Dr Buchanen’s account after he surveyed the eastern parts of the country, including Ayodhya, from 1807 to 1816 said: “…. if these temples ever existed, not the smallest trace of them remains to enable us to judge of the period when they were built; and the destruction is very generally attributed by the Hindus to the furious zeal of Aurungzeb, to whom also is imputed the overthrow of the temples in Benares and Mathura. What may have been the case in the two latter, I shall not now take upon myself to say, but with respect to Ayodhya the tradition seems very ill founded. The bigot by whom the temples were destroyed is said to have erected mosques on the situations of the most remarkable temples; but the mosque at Ayodhya, which is by far the most entire, and which has every appearance of being the most modern, is ascertained by an inscription on its walls (of which a copy is given) to have been built by Babur, five generations before Aurungzeb… The only thing except these two figures and the bricks, that could with probability be traced to the ancient city, are some pillars in the mosque built by Babur. These are of black stone, and of an order which I have seen nowhere else, … they have been taken from a Hindu building, is evident, from the traces of images being observable on some of their bases; although the images have been cut off to satisfy the conscience of the bigot.”
Montgomery Martin published parts of the said reports in 1838 in a six-volume book titled History, Antiquities, Topography and Statistics of Eastern India.
The faces of the Babri era
Many of the BJP’s tallest leaders, as mentioned before, were involved in the mosque’s demolition, an incident that shook the secular fabric of the Constitution. Then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao, BJP elders L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, the current Minister of Drinking Water and Sanitation Uma Bharti, former UP chief minister and current Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh Governor Kalyan Singh, and politician Brij Bhushan Singh were the prominent leaders associated with the incident, either as alleged perpetrators or bystanders.
Comprehensive timeline of the dispute
The Babri Masjid was built by Mughal emperor Babur in Ayodhya in 1528.
The Hindus, however, claim that a Ram temple that originally stood there was demolished to construct the mosque. On December 6, 1992, a large number of religious volunteers, or “Kar Sevaks”, gathered in the temple town and demolished the 16th-century structure, leading to widespread rioting and political crisis in various parts of the country.