Rajiv Gandhi tried to run with the hare and hunt with the hound, as one of the observers wrote after the Shah Bano and Ayodhya episodes. He had to please both the sections of the population, Hindus and Muslims, in order to tide his party over the revolt from eminent leaders such as V P Singh and Arun Nehru as well as the Bofors scandal. He addressed a huge gathering in Faizabad (near Ayodhya) and promised Ram Rajya to the people. Just a few weeks before the general elections in 1989, Rajiv Gandhi sent home minister Buta Singh to participate in the shilanyas ceremony organised by VHP in Ayodhya.
The tactics didn’t yield dividends, however. Congress did not win the majority in the elections and a coalition government led by V P Singh came to power. BJP also became a force to reckon with winning 85 seats in the place of the former 2. BJP leader L K Advani hit upon an idea to further strengthen the party; he organised a rath yatra from Somnath in Gujarat (a place where the Shiva temple had been repeated razed by Muslim invaders) to Ayodhya. Many of the Hindus were inflamed by V P Singh’s decision to implement the Mandal recommendations on job reservations. The mood was just right for an emotive rath yatra.
Advani’s air-conditioned Toyota van moved from city to city, escorted by VHP militants. “The march’s imagery was,” writes Ramachandra Guha in India after Gandhi, “religious, allusive, militant, masculine and anti-Muslim.” Advani accused the government of appeasing the Muslims and practising “pseudo-secularism.” A Ram temple in Ayodhya was projected as the symbolic fulfilment of Hindu pride and aspirations.
Advani’s rath yatra ended up as a rakt yatra. His volunteers clashed with the security personnel leading to at least twenty deaths. Many religious riots broke out in UP. In Guha’s words, “Hindu mobs attacked Muslim localities, and – in a manner reminiscent of the grisly Partition massacres – stopped trains to pull out and kill those who were recognizably Muslim.”
V P Singh lost the Prime Minister’s chair to Congress’s Narasimha Rao and BJP’s position in the Lok Sabha improved with 120 seats. VHP and RSS acquired land around the Babri Masjid and started preparations for constructing the Ram Mandir. Court orders were blatantly flouted. The chief minister of UP, Kalyan Singh, turned a blind eye.
20,000 troops of paramilitary forces were stationed off Ayodhya as more than 100,000 volunteers moved in carrying trishuls, bows and arrows. Even before the troops were ordered to move in, the volunteers did their job which was apparently well planned much ahead. “Ek dhakka aur do, Babri Masjid tor do,” Sadhvi Ritambara’s scream became the mob slogan. Soon the mosque was a heap of rubble.
Advani later claimed that the demolition moved him to tears. The Sarayu wept tears of blood.
The Sarayu continued to weep as riots broke out in city after city killing at least 2000 people in the two months that followed the demolition.
“No revolution is possible by shedding tears,” roared the Tiger of Mumbai, Bal Thackeray. He encouraged bloodshed as a sacrifice for the sake of the Akhand Hindu Rashtra. Hindus and Muslims killed one another in Mumbai and the Tiger fed on the blood.
Hatred is a very potent force. It has caused a lot of problems in the world, as Maya Angelou said, but has not solved one yet. Hindu-Muslim hatred grew like cancer in the country. The altercation between Muslim vendors and Hindu volunteers in Godhra in 2002 was just one of the many avatars of the quintessential hatred that came to mark Hindu-Muslim equation in the country. A whole compartment of a train was engulfed by the fire of hatred. 58 Hindu kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya perished in that fire.
Within hours riots broke out all over Gujarat. Thousands of Muslims bore the brunt of arson, looting, vandalism and rapes. Chief Minister Narendra Modi justified the violence calling it a “chain of action and reaction.”
The chain of action and reaction binds the Indian mindset to one of the two poles that mark the country’s politics today: Hindu-Muslim, or, in a recent avatar, Hindu-Traitor. Ayodhya is a symbol of that polarisation. The place certainly belonged to Hindus once upon a time. No one can deny the sanctity of the place in the Hindu beliefs and traditions. But history plays its own inevitable games and like many other temples the Ayodhya temple too was probably replaced by a mosque. Is it possible to rectify an error by replicating the same error?
A staunch BJP loyalist told me the other day that the Ayodhya temple is “a matter of self-respect” for Hindus. Not all Hindus may agree with him but a considerable section will, I think. My question why self-respect has to be rooted in medieval darkness elicited no response from him though he is a learned person. Eventually I became his ‘enemy’ merely because I questioned some of his views. He is a symbol of a lot of people I meet these days. Everyone has a religion. And everyone is very edgy about that religion. It is as if religion is a very brittle, gossamer thing just waiting to shatter into smithereens the moment somebody pokes a finger at it. This atmosphere in the country makes me feel smothered. I write in order to redeem myself from that feeling. Ayodhya is just one of the many issues that create such a vitiated atmosphere. That’s why I pursued the topic. I would like to take a look at the court verdicts related to the issue as well as the ‘discoveries’ of the Archaeological Survey of India. Maybe, in the next post.