A quarter of a century ago, the medieval structure of Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya was torn down by Kar Sevaks demanding the building of a Ram temple at the disputed site and setting off a chain of events that changed the course of Indian politics
A quarter of a century ago, the medieval structure of Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya was torn down by Kar Sevaks demanding the building of a Ram temple at the disputed site and setting off a chain of events that changed the course of Indian politics.
On December 6, 1992, Babri Masjid was demolished by a crowd of hindu activists in the city of Ayodhya. The incident gained a lot of electoral significance, and the state saw significant changes in its political landscape.
The Hindu nationalist forces raised their demand for building of a Ram temple on the claim that the 16th century Babri Masjid, built by Mughal emperor Babar’s commander Mir Baqi, was standing on the birthplace of Lord Ram.
Meanwhile, LK Advani took up the leadership of BJP after the 1984 general elections. The newly-formed party, as a political front of the Rashtriya Sawyamsevak Sangh, allied with Sangh-outfit Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which was aggressively pushing the Ram Janmabhoomi issue.
The VHP garnered support from the whole corpus of the Sangh family including strong backing from the BJP and RSS.
Geeta Puri, author of books on the BJP and Hindutva politics, said in a lecture that “the support and empathy from large sections located in lower middle and middle classes, as also the rich and wealthy in both rural and urban areas, were harnessed to realise the VHP’s ‘do or die’ demand, first for the ‘relocation’ of the Babri Masjid, and now for the ‘reconstruction’ of the Ram temple on the ruins of the Babri Masjid.”
Against this background, LK Advani led his phenomenal “Rath Yatra” that had started in Somnath to end at Ayodhya with the Ram temple demand. It was by and large an attempt at Hindu consolidation because the then Prime Minister VP Singh’s push for the reservation bill post Mandal Commission report on inclusion of Other Backward Castes in quota, was threatening the Hindu upper-caste support of the BJP.
Thousands of Ram devotees and Sangh supporters joined the Ratha Yatra, which was supposed to culminate at Ayodhya to start the Ram Temple construction in October, 1990. The procession was halted by the police and Advani and his aides were arrested.
After Advani’s arrest in Bihar by the Lalu Yadav-government while the yatra was rolling to Ayodhya from Somnath, Bihar, BJP withdrew its support from the Centre that led to the fall of VP Singh-government.
As the end note to the Ratha Yatra that gave way to the demolition of the Masjid, Advani had underlined that he was a not a religious leader but a political one, and the same distinction applied to the BJP.
The demand of the Ram temple at the disputed Babri site soon became a fervent political issue in the Hindi heartland. BJP won 85 seats in the next Lok Sabha elections.
The party, which started off in 1980 and won only two seats in the subsequent general elections, was able to create considerable public support as it spearheaded the Ram janmabhoomi movement.
In 1991, BJP became the second largest party in Lok Sabha, and formed government in Uttar Pradesh with Kalyan Singh as the Chief Minister. Singh later resigned in the aftermath of the masjid demolition as the state went under President’s rule.
The Delhi Dharma Sansad, an initiative of the VHP, held a convention in April 1991 and acknowledged the support of BJP to the Ayodhya cause, said Puri. Its October convention in the same year was attended by 600 sants who agreed to start ‘kar seva’ for construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.
In the 1991 general elections, BJP finished second with 120 seats. It was the first time that the party crossed the three-digit mark while its vote-share rose to 20 percent. The Congress’ popularity was diminishing as it formed a minority government that year with PV Narasimha Rao as the prime minister.
Under Rao’s watch, the demolition of Babri Masjid took place and he remained infamous for his government’s inaction on the incident.
The demolition became a historical landmark in Indian polity, triggering a number of communal riots between Hindu and Muslims, of which Bombay Riots were the worst with around 900 deaths.
Meanwhile, the BJP, led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, emerged as the largest party in the 1996 elections with 161 seats but failed to prove majority in the Lok Sabha. Congress, which came second, too failed to form a government, resulting in a hung Parliament.
After two years of political uncertainty, general elections were again held in 1998. These elections saw BJP rise again as the largest party with 182 seats and the NDA alliance formed government with Vajpayee as PM. But the following year, the government fell as its ally AIADMK pulled out during vote of confidence.
But NDA again came to power with Vajpayee at the helm in the general elections of 1999. The hindu nationalist sentiment was strong then and BJP also gained support at the back of the Kargil War.
Advani along with other BJP stalwarts — Uma Bharti, MM Joshi and VHP leader Sadhvi Ritambhara — were accused of instigating the Kar Sevaks to demolish the mosque.
A CBI court dropped the conspiracy charges against them in 2001 and the Allahabad high court also upheld the judgment in 2010. However, the Supreme Court on April 19 this year ordered prosecution of Advani, Joshi, Uma Bharti and others for criminal conspiracy in the 25-year old case. They were granted bail by the special CBI court in May this year.
Meanwhile, BJP refutes the conspiracy charges and claims that the demolition was a result of spontaneous action that frenzied Kar Sevaks carried out.In the latest state elections in 2017, BJP named Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh after three-fourth winning majority in the assembly polls.