(The contentious issue of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya has reared its head once again in the run up to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections 2017. In a seven-part documentary series, The Quint retraces the events that led to the 6 December 1992 demolition of Babri Masjid.)
The year was 1949. Independent India was two years old. While Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was grappling with an ideal called India, his deputy, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, was defining its frontiers. As the people of a free, yet divided nation were still recovering from the partition – which ripped apart our social fabric – somewhere in Uttar Pradesh, the ground was being prepared for a confrontation in Ayodhya on the night of 22 December 1949.
In his statement to the police, guard Abdul Barkat said that on the night of 22 December 1949, he saw a flash of lightning near the Babri Masjid, following which he spotted a child aged about four or five inside the structure, behind its locked gates.
The events that unfolded on 22 December 1949 destroyed the status quo set by the British in allowing Hindus and Muslims to worship at the mosque that had been built in the honour of the first Mughal conqueror Babur.
But it took another four decades for the VHP, the BJP and the Congress to act in an unintended concert that led LK Advani to launch the Rath Yatra, sparking a mass movement that ended with the demolition of the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992.
1. Ram Lalla and a Contrived Miracle
At 3 am on 22 December 1949, Sri Ram appeared to a guard at the Babri Masjid. This supposedly divine occurrence was the first turning point in the “centuries long” struggle of the Hindus to “liberate Ram Janmbhoomi”
2. Did a Divine Monkey Unlock Babri Masjid?
On 22-23 December 1949, idols of Ram Lalla were surreptitiously placed inside the Babri Masjid. Two days later, a civil suit forced devotees out and ordered for the status quo to be maintained. The mosque would stay, as would the idols, to be tended to by a designated priest who had access through a side entrance at the disputed site.
So who ended the 36-year-old status quo? There are three prime suspects – a district court Judge, the Rajiv Gandhi government, and a monkey with divine sanction.
3. How Congress Politicised the Ram Mandir Movement
A series of political miscalculations by Rajiv Gandhi led the BJP to completely hijack the Ayodhya movement, and launch a Rath Yatra.
4. Political Desperation Led to Shilanyas
It was the time when optimism around a young, technocrat Indian Prime Minister had faded. Despite winning 75 percent seats in the Lok Sabha, Rajiv Gandhi was going into the 1989 General Election with his back against the wall.
The Congress needed to reverse the country’s sentiment back in his favour. At the time, the BJP with its two MPs and their resolve to build the Ram Mandir, was not a serious contender. Latching on to the popular Hindu sentiment of the day should’ve been the politically prudent move at the time.
5. Mandal’s Caste & Quota vs BJP’s Rath & Ram
On 25 September 1990, Advani prayed to Somnath and kicked off the Rath Yatra. Not only did this yatra set in motion the wheels for the ultimate desecration at Babri Masjid two years later, it also defined the country’s politics.
6. The Making of “Mullah Mulayam”
“Masjid par parindaa bhi par nahin maar sakega” (“I won’t let even a bird enter the Masjid”), said Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, even as a determined LK Advani ploughed along on his Rath to reach Ayodhya.
7. Demolition of the Disputed Structure
By 6 December 1992, at least 2,00,000 kar sevaks had arrived in Ayodhya from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and UP. Never before had the RSS, VHP, or the Bajrang Dal managed to put up such a big attendance.
(This piece has been reposted from The Quint's archives. It was originally published on 6 December 2016.)