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Babri Masjid demolition anniversary: How Ram Mandir movement redefined Indian politics, established BJP as political force

Financial Express 2018-12-06 11:50:50
Babri Masjid demolition anniversary: How Ram Mandir movement redefined Indian politics, established BJP as political force (Pic: Express archive photo)

Today, December 6, 2018, marks the 26th year of Babri Masjid demolition anniversary, the 15th-century structure that was constructed in Ayodhya where Lord Rama is believed to have been born in the Treta Yug. The demotion of the mosque was a well-orchestrated event in the history of independent India that triggered riots killing nearly 2,000 across the country and invited strong condemnation from the western world. The neighbouring Islamic nations along the Gulf also saw a rise in anti-Hindu riots. Indian diplomats in many countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iran also came under attack after the December 6 incident.

The incident is still seen as a blot on the secular theory of India and changed the entire political discourse. Significantly, it established the then 12-year-old Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a major political player in the country that had only seen Congress’ dominance at the Centre and as well as in states thus far.

The History

Right from 1853 when a group of Hindus belonging to the Nirmohi Akhara occupied the Badbri Masjid and claimed its ownership, the Ram Mandir movement has been at the centre of the country’s politics and holds key to government formation. After protests and violent clashes for two years, then British civil administration in 1855 stepped in and divided the mosque premises into two parts – one for Hindus and the other for Muslims. Nearly after three decades, when Hindus renewed their effort to construct a Ram Mandir, they were prevented by the administration. Subsequently, they moved court but Hindu Sub Judge Pandit Hari Kishan Singh quashed the lawsuit in 1885, a decision which was upheld by higher courts the next year and ordered that status quo be maintained.

An idol of Lord Ram inside the Babri Masjid before demolition at Ayodhaya. Express archive photo

India’s partition in 1947 on religious lines reignited the matter. It was in December 1949 when some Hindus placed idols of Lord Ram and Sita inside the Masjid and claimed that they had appeared miraculously. The then Congress government headed by Jawaharlal Nehru took stock of the situation and locked the gates of the structure and declared the area disputed. The next January, Gopal Singh Visharad filed a civil suit in the Faizabad Court seeking grant for Hindus to worship Ram and Sita at the place. Since then, the matter has been among the most hotly debated topics in the country and completely transformed India’s political scenario. Its impact can be gauged from the fact that Ram Mandir continues to be a burning political issue even after 70 years.

Babri Masjid demolition: Making ground

It was in the early 80s when the movement to restore Ram Mandir gathered momentum with Hindus including activists of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) formed a committee to spearhead the construction of a temple. The BJP which was formed in 1980 by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and others, adopted a moderate strategy but failed to create any impact in 1984 election. This led to a shift in its ideology.

Sadhu and Karsewak celebrating ‘Shaurya Diwas’ of demolishing the Babri Masjid on same day before three year at Char Dham in Ayodhay. Express archive photo by Ravi Batra

In 1984, LK Advani was appointed president of the BJP and it was under his leadership that the party became a political voice for the Ram Mandir movement. The BJP led an aggressive countrywide agitation alleging that the Ram Mandir had been demolished to construct the mosque. The BJP gained unexpected public support as lakhs threw their weight behind the campaign. The movement was then made a part of BJP’s election campaign and it won 85 Lok Sabha seats in 1989. The BJP backed the National Front government of VP Singh post-1989 election.

It is worth mentioning that the Rajiv Gandhi government’s decision in 1986 to overturn the Supreme Court’s verdict in Shah Bano case caused massive damage to its fabric among Hindus and fuelled the Ram Janmabhoomi movement further. The move was seen as an effort by the Congress to appease its traditional Muslim vote bank. To earn the confidence of Hindus back, the Rajiv government in 1986 persuaded then Uttar Pradesh CM Bir Bahadur Singh to open the doors of Babri Masjid to allow Hindu pilgrims to offer prayers to Lord Ram.

A view of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Express archive photo

Even in 1989, when the general election was held to constitute the 9th Lok Sabha, Rajiv had launched his campaign from Faizabad. Rajiv promised ‘Ram rajya’ and it is believed that he also allowed laying of the foundation stone of the temple at a place close to the disputed area just ahead of the polls. Rajiv’s plan to woo Hindus, however, backfired. The outcome of the 1989 parliamentary election saw the installation of the second non-Congress government in Delhi.

The Congress, which had won 82 out of 85 seats in Uttar Pradesh in 1984, managed to get only 15 seats in the 1989 elections. The BJP that had won only two Lok Sabha MPs in 1984, sought to claim victory of its Ram Mandir agenda. The election witnessed a transformation in the voting trends in the country. The BJP won 8 seats while Janata Dal won 54 seats in Uttar Pradesh. In the same election, the BJP made significant gains in other states as well to take its tally from 2 to 85.

Politics of Mandal-Kamandal

The Vishwanath Pratap Singh government lasted for only 11 months. Singh who served as the 8th Prime Minister of India is known for taking effective measures to uplift the backwards socially as he implemented the recommendations of the Mandal Commission which suggested that a fixed quota of all jobs in the public sector be reserved for backwards. The decision brought in sweeping changes in the political landscape of the country and also led to widespread protests across the country by people from upper castes. The BJP which enjoys support among forward communities was also virtually unhappy with the decision. However, it was moving with its Ram Mandir agenda forward.

Then BJP president LK Advani embarked on a rath yatra across the country to seek people’s support for restoring the Ram Mandir. Before Advani could complete his yatra and reach Ayodhya, he was arrested in Bihar’s Samastipur on the charges of disturbing peace and instigating communal tension. The arrest forced Advani to defer kar seva date proposed for 30 October in 1990 and a heavy contingent of troops was stationed at the site in Ayodhya. This led to the BJP withdrawing support to the National Front government.

Babri Masjid demolition: The Rise of BJP

When general elections were held in 1991, the Congress came to power at the Centre and BJP became the principal opposition party. The BJP also came to power in at least four states including Uttar Pradesh where it formed the government under Kalyan Singh’s leadership. He publicly supported the Ram Mandir movement and acquired 2.77 acre of disputed land and gave it on lease to Ram Janmbhoomi Nyas Trust. The Allahabad High Court, however, stopped permanent construction activity in the vicinity. At that time, the Congress government at the Centre was headed by PV Narasimha Rao. Tension was on the rise in Uttar Pradesh especially in the temple town of Ayodhya but the Centre also took no action to curb the increasing tension.

BJP leader LK Advani’s Somanth to Ayodhya Rath Yatra on the border of Andhra Pradesh. Express archive photo

The Ram Mandir movement had reached a new level by this time and the BJP used this as an opportunity to mobilise lakhs of people to Ayodhya and convert it into numbers in the elections. The decision to implement Mandal Commission’s recommendation was completely overshadowed by BJP’s fiery campaign for Ram Mandir. On December 6, 1992, as many as 2 lakh kar sevaks including BJP leaders including Lal Krishna Advani and Uma Bharti gathered in Ayodhya, defying the prohibitory orders. The crowd demolished the three domes of the mosque as police stationed there stood and watched the knocking down of the structure.

The movement saw the rise of saffron power in the country. The next general election in 1996 delivered a hung verdict and the BJP emerged as the single largest party with 161 seats and formed the government under Vajpayee’s leadership. But he failed to muster majority on the floor of the Lok Sabha and resigned after just 13 days. The 11th Lok Sabha then saw two more Prime Ministers before elections were held in 1998. Then the United Front comprising non-Congress, non-BJP parties was constituted. The front had support of more than 300 MPs and HD Deve Gowda of Janata Dal was made the 11th Prime Minister. Later, IK Gujral took the command in his hand but when Lalu Prasad Yadav quit the Janta Dal to float his own political party Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Lok Sabha was dissolved and general election was held in 1998. The election again delivered the Lok Sabha with a hung verdict with BJP once again emerging as the single largest party with 181 seats.

Bricks gathered by Kar Sewaks from different parts of the country for the construction of Ram Mandir (Temple) in Ayodhya. Name of Lord Shri Ram engraved on the bricks, seen in the picture. Express archive photo

A number of political parties joined the ranks with BJP to form the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and Vajpayee was sworn in as the Prime Minister. Although Vajpayee managed this coalition successfully, his government lasted 13 months. The coalition collapsed when AIADMK of Jayalalithaa withdrew support. The government lost vote of confidence motion by just one vote. The Lok Sabha was again dissolved and a fresh election was held in 1999. This time again, the Parliament was delivered with a hung verdict and BJP was the single largest party with 182 seats. Vajpayee was again sworn in as the Prime Minister and the BJP-led government successfully lasted a full term. The construction of Ram Mandir was, however, was put on the backburner during Vajpayee’s tenure because he was heading a coalition government.

In 2004 and 2009, although the BJP lost the elections to Congress, the construction of Ram Mandir at the site where Babri Masjid once stood in Ayodhya, figured extensively in BJP’s campaign and manifesto. In 2014, riding high on anti-incumbency against the Congress, the party was voted to power with a brute majority as it crossed the magic figure of 272 on its own. The party won all assembly elections barring Punjab and Delhi. The major gain was in Uttar Pradesh where it bagged 325 out of 403 seats.


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