On December 6,1992, hordes of right-wing Hindutva extremists (called karsevaks) took the town of Ayodhya hostage with the full and willing connivance of the then state government of Uttar Pradesh and in physical presence of most of the top leaders of the Sangh Parivar (the RSS and its affiliates/fronts like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal, the Shiv Sena, and the Bhartiya Janata Party).
By evening of that fateful day, the 460 year old mosque built there by one of Babar’s lieutenants, Mir Baqi, was razed to a heap of rumble on the grounds that the mosque was built over a temple which enclosed the birthplace of the god, Ram.
To this day, there is no evidence of any kind that a temple of any sort pre-existed at the site of the demolished mosque.
Interestingly, the Prime Minister of the day, late Narasimha Rao, failed/refused to respond to insistent pleas both from some members of his cabinet and many others from civil society across religious communities to intervene to forestall that unprecedently brazen assault on the Constitution and the rule of law.
The local government of Kalyan Singh was to cock a final snook at the central government and resign office after the deed was done, and in daylong glare of television coverage, preempting the possibility of being dismissed from office.
Almost instantly, riots broke out, and Muslims were killed with impunity by Hindutva draftees who saw no obstacle to their exertions. In the city of Mumbai, about a thousand innocent Indians lost their lives. (The Justice Srikrishna Commission inquiring into those Mumbai killings was to squarely hold the Shiv Sena and other Hindutva bodies responsibe for those massacres, and recommend legal action including against the Shiv Sena chief, Bal Thackeray. To this day, however, no action has followed, although the state of Maharashtra has been since ruled by the Congress/Natiionalist Congress Party combine with only an interregnum of Shiv Sena rule.)
Justice Manmohan Singh Liberhan was appointed in January of 1993 to enquire into the sequence of events that led to the demolition of the Babri mosque, and to fix responsibility.
After seventeen long years, the Liberhan report is in. Over a thousand pages long, the Liberhan report concludes that "the RSS was the author" of the carnage, and all "logistical arrangements" were "coordinated between RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal, and the BJP," calling the latter "a front of the RSS"-the worst-kept secret of India’s modern political history.
Characterising the event as the result of "tailor made" and "meticulous" conspiracy rather than a spontaneous outrage, the Liberhan report draws up a list of 68 names whom it holds culpable of the same, names that include almost every scion of the Sangh Parivar. Significantly, it lists the erstwhile Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, at number 7, holding him responsible of taking the "country towards communal discord." A day before the demolition, Vajpayee had been recorded on video making a public speech in Lucknow, the Capital of Uttar Pradesh, expressing the need for the ground at Ayodhya to be "leveled" inorder to facilitate the karseva (collective religious activity) the next day.
Justice Liberhan exonerates the then Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao of responsibility on the ground that he was duped by sworn affidavits submitted by the chief minister, Kalyan Singh, to the Supreme Court of India, undertaking to see that no harm would come to the mosque. Liberhan also accuses the Sangh leaders of duplicity in having "lulled" him and the central government into complacence through their misleading pronouncements. While this is true enough, not many are convinced that this fact alone forestalled any action on behalf of the Prime Minister.
There is substantial evidence that one or two of his own cabinet ministers had warned him of the RSS plans for December 6 well in advance. One of those ministers, Makhan Lal Fotedar-a distinguished Kashmiri Pandit secularist-has revealed how the then governor of Uttar Pradesh was instructed by Rao not to recommend President’s rule till asked by Rao to do so. Fotedar claims he was told about this by the then President of India, Shankar Dayal Sharma-another distinguished secularist Brahmin– whom he found in tears on the day.
Whereas Justice Liberhan has not recommended any specific action against anyone, it has noted some correctives, chief among these the need to have laws in place punishing the use of religion in political activity.
Mysteriously, the Liberhan report was leaked to the media before it was tabled in Parliament. Both the Home Minister and Justice Liberhan deny responsibility for the leak.
The BJP which has been in tatters recently as a result first of its electoral reverses, then of the most unedifying internecine discord, and finally of the open and overt take-over of its decision-making prerogatives by the RSS, its puppet master since inception, has sought to unite around two issues: a fake outrage at the naming of Vajpayee (whom both the RSS and Advani have wanted out for long), and at the leaking of the report.
It has also sought to make much of the report having been submitted 17 years after the event-a detail that in the BJP’s view renders it only of academic interest, warranting no follow up.
That, even as it continues to demand action against the perpetrators of the Sikh killings of 1984-eight years prior to the Babri demolition-and even as it admires the Zionists no end for pursuing Nazi war criminals some half century after the second world war. Having led the assault on the mosque on the grounds of a four-century old "dishonouring" of a "Hindu nation," it advises that there is little point in revisiting the Babri demolition some 17 years after the demolition! It utters not a word of remorse at the dishonouring of Muslim sentiments.
Privately the BJP hopes that the submission of the Liberhan report and the recorded culpability of the Sangh Parivar may help to portray the Sangh, and with it the BJP, as martyrs and warriors in the cause of "cultural nationalism," and revive its political fortunes which stand now at nadir.
There are, however, fatal reasons why the demolition of the Babri mosque by a fascist, Hindutva putsch must never be relegated as just one communal episode among many in post-independence India.
The controversy whether the Babri mosque site was indeed the birthplace of the Hindu god, Ram, has for a hundred years or so remained a matter of localized and legal contention, as "title" suites are still being argued in courts to determine whether the Muslim Wakf Board or some Hindu organization had rightful claim to possession of the site.
Till as late as 1983, nobody outside Faizabad District in Uttar Pradesh bothered a great deal about what was going on in those suites. And not many did so even in Faizabad and Ayodhya which, paradoxically, had remained bastions of age-old inter-community harmony. Indeed, many of the plethora of temples in Ayodhya were managed and run by Muslim devotees of Ram.
It was between 1983 and 1992 that the Sangh decided to convert the Ayodhya issue into a cause celebre of "cultural nationalism," leading to the assault on December 6, 1992. That as a ploy to enter Parliament with some seats more than the humiliating two it had got in the elections of 1984.
In projecting the issue as they did, the Sangh had a macro-historical enterprise in mind, something that had little or nothing to do with the Hindu god, or with the purity of faith.
One, the project was to assert the majoritarian premise that India, notwithstanding its secular constitution, was first and foremost, a Hindu nation-state.
So that as the pick-axes rained on the domes of the mosque to the accompaniment of the grossest communal abuse, the fury of the doing suggested that it was not a mosque that was being demolished but, verily, the very body-incarnate of Islam. The subliminal rage of the erasers might have suggested that it was not a dome they were bashing but the head of the Moghul, Babar. Very much as in demolishing the Berlin wall, the body of the wall was seen to represent not an entity that separated two parts of a city but as an entity that embodied Communism.
Far from being just one vandalising episode at the hands of sectarian hordes, the assault on the mosque was constructed and propagated as a campaign to vanquish the secular Constitution of India and to shame it once and for all as being at bottom tilted against Hindus, and violative of racial principles of nationhood-an idea for which the erstwhile RSS ideologue and President, Golwalker, was to be full of praise for Hitler and the Nazis.
Never reconciled to the secular Republic, the RSS thought to make of the campaign an occasion to reverse the principles of secular and pluralist citizenship that India had chosen to give to herself after Independence in 1947.
Two, the campaign was calculated to register the view that the will of the majority community superceded all the institutions of state, an initial gambit towards turning India into a theocracy, or a Hindu Rashtra in consonance with the well-laid out ideology of the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS (see Golwalker’s We, Our Nationhood Defined, and Savarkar’s Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu?). A mirror image of the hardline Islamic idea of nationhood and state!
It should surprise nobody that the Sangh has a standing list of thousands of mosques which are slated to be demolished and replaced by temples, some 36,000 at last count. The question is never asked as to how many temples stand at sites that used to be Buddhist or Jain stupas.
And, not the least, to catapult the BJP as being the primary "nationalist" political formation of India, and relegate the Congress and the Leftists as essentially "appeasers" of Babar’s progeny, the Muslims, whose right to Indianness was to be formally damaged by the construction that they continue to be non-indigenous and disloyal progeny of invaders.
India may have come a long way since 1992; yet so long as the BJP remains a mannequin to the RSS, so long as it fails or is unwilling to transform itself into an autonomous "political" formation, so long as, willy nilly, it harks back to "cultural nationalism" as its chief raison d’ etre of political existence, remaining thereby unreconciled to secular citizenship, minority rights, and equality of opportunity and equality before the law, so long as, in one word, its chief point of political reference remains its visceral hatred of Muslims, it would be fatal to forget the lessons of the Babri demolition.
In that context, the indifferently evolved secular convictions of the Congress party after Nehru pose no small obstacle to any forthright firming up of the Constitutional regime. It cannot be said that many more than half a dozen top leaders of the Congress hold Nehruvian secularism to be sancrosanct, especially when votes are in question.
And the Congress has only one way of disproving those reservations, namely, to grab Liberhan’s injunction about the separation of religion and politics, and to put in place legislation that may heretofore brook no heinous mixing of the two.
Legislation, it must be noted, that is then backed up with the legal resolve never to pussyfoot any instance of communal appeal to the polity, and to come down with the full majesty of the law and the state on instances of communal violence instigated by political agents, whoever they be, or however high or mighty.
Taking a cue from the Liberhan recommendations, the Election Commission of India, a Constitutional Body beholden to no political or governmental regime, may consider the time ripe for laying down that any political use of religion would be ground for derecognition of the party found culpable.
This must include due and prompt punishment to all those who, in school, pathshala, madrasa, or wherever else seek to frame curriculi around communal perceptions of history and polity, calculated to undermine the rights and prerogatives of secular citizenship or to instill antagonism towards other religions, and a ruthless denial of all attempts to grab public spaces for unauthorized communal/religious use/propagation (something that the Supreme Court has recently enjoined) as well.
Even if the current UPA dispensation forgave all the designated culprits of the Babri crime (very few believe that the state has the will to do otherwise) but made the long-lasting redressals suggested by Liberhan and listed above, the generation of Indians to come might inherit a worthwhile democracy in regard at least to the matter of a non-negotiable secular citizenship and a country free of "internal dangers" far worse and debilitating than pockets of insurgency floated around issues of livelihood.
And if none of that were to be done, the Liberhan exercise would indeed have been a criminal waste at tax-payer’s expense. And, worse, an incentive to further depredations along the lines of the Babri crime.