Minutes before he entered the tent for the bhoomi pujan of the temple for Ram in Ayodhya, Prime Minister Narendra Modi prostrated before the idol of Ram Lalla. That single frame, beamed live by public broadcaster Doordarshan, was not just an act of devotion but a powerful message to the country — of his party keeping its word on building a temple for Ram at his janmabhoomi, an ideological promise delayed by years of coalition dharma and courtroom battles.
Inside the tent, the Parivar waited: RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat; UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, whose mentor and guru Mahant Avaidyanath was one of the leading lights of the temple movement; BJP firebrand Uma Bharti, who played a frontal role in the final months of the Babri Masjid; Durga Vahini’s Sadhvi Rithambara, whose fiery speeches were manna from heaven for kar sevaks staring at the doomed mosque; Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, head of the VHP-controlled Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas and now president of the Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshetra, the Trust constituted by the Centre for the construction and management of the Ram temple; VHP leader Champat Rai who is now general secretary of the Trust.
Incidentally, four of them — Uma Bharti, Sadhvi Rithambara, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das and Champat Rai — are facing charges in a criminal conspiracy case related to the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. They have all appeared before the special CBI court in Lucknow, which has been directed by the Supreme Court to complete the trial and deliver a verdict by August 31.
For the Parivar, August 5 is the realisation of a dream, the end of a journey and the start of another. It also marks one year of the abrogation of Article 370 and the bifurcation of the state of Jammu & Kashmir into two Union Territories. Article 370 and the Ram temple were two ideological issues that the BJP, in the NDA’s earlier avatar under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had been forced to place on the backburner due to coalition compulsions.
In his speech today, Bhagwat recalled how Balasaheb Deoras — Madhukar Dattatreya Deoras, the third Sarsanghchalak after Keshav Baliram Hedgewar and Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar — told them that the temple movement will require “20-30 years of struggle” and how, in the 30th year, that has been fulfilled.
That may be so. Because the movement to reclaim the disputed Ayodhya site began in earnest after the shilanyas in 1989 — it happened under the watch of the Congress government led by Rajiv Gandhi. Yet the first stirrings were in 1984 when the VHP called a dharma sansad and passed a resolution for the “liberation” of Ram Janmabhoomi.
The assassination of Indira Gandhi, the anti-Sikh riots and the uncertainty interrupted VHP plans. But it didn’t have to wait long to mobilise Hindus. And the chance came from unexpected quarters — from three decisions, two totally unconnected to the temple movement.
Four months after the Rajiv Gandhi government was swept to power in a landslide in December 1984, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Shah Bano, a divorced Muslim woman who had taken her husband to court seeking maintenance. This April 1985 ruling led to a Muslim backlash who saw it as an encroachment on their personal laws. The Rajiv Gandhi government, in its wisdom, decided to bring in The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act to overturn the ruling in the Shah Bano case.
A controversial move, it generated much heat across the country, especially among Hindus who said the government had surrendered to the Muslim clergy.
While the government in Delhi readied the new legislation, K M Pandey, a district judge in faraway Faizabad, acting on a petition in February 1986, ordered the unlocking of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid premises. But most saw this as a move by the Rajiv government to placate Hindus. And that was when the Parivar stepped in to steal the thunder from the Congress. As the VHP and Sangh’s front organisations returned to mobilisation, enlisting the support of religious heads in and around Ayodhya, the BJP adopted a resolution at its Palampur convention in 1989 to promise the temple. The shilanyas that year, a little distance away from where the bhoomi pujan took place today, was a turning point.
The very next year, L K Advani set out on his rath yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya, but it was ended in Samastipur in Bihar by Lalu Prasad. Incidentally, the IAS officer tasked to arrest Advani was R K Singh, now a minister in the Modi government.
Following Advani’s arrest, Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced he would be going to Ayodhya. I remember boarding the same flight on an October evening from Delhi to Lucknow where prohibitory orders were already in place. Many on board were raising Jai Shri Ram slogans, and I walked up to Vajpayee to ask what he planned to do or say in Lucknow. He looked at my portable typewriter and said, “don’t waste your time, start typing Atal placed under arrest”. That’s what happened after the plane landed.
From the airport, I made my way to Ayodhya where kar sevaks had gathered in large numbers and were trying to head to the Babri Masjid, but police had cordoned off the approach. UP was then under Mulayam Singh Yadav and he had given clear instructions that no harm should come to the Babri Masjid. But the kar sevaks did storm the disputed premises on two days, October 30 and November 2, and at least 16 were killed in police firing.
Reporters like me kept returning to Ayodhya in the months that followed. The VHP would announce some sort of kar seva or temple-related work every now and then, but away from the disputed site. This would anger the kar sevaks who only wanted to scale the walls and plant saffron flags atop the domes. Anyone could tell that the Babri Masjid’s days were numbered.
The driver of the rickety Ambassador I would rent for my daily runs from the Shan e Avadh hotel in Faizabad to Ayodhya was a Muslim. It intrigued me that each time I would say I have to go to Ayodhya, Afzal would turn around and ask, “Janmasthan?”. One day, he explained. “Everyone here believes it’s the Janmasthan. I don’t know that, but who am I to decide. So, I also call it Janmasthan. Ram is Maryada Purushottam. Muslims, in any case, don’t go there. Maybe, if the VHP hadn’t come, and the politicians hadn’t come, we would have let the Hindus take it. Not now, not anymore. Chheen ke lena padega (you will have to snatch it from us).”
Afzal didn’t know it, I didn’t know it, but he was right. It was snatched on December 6, 1992. And today, officially liberated.