Twenty years back, on the 6th of December, the historical monument called Babri Masjid was destroyed by an armed mob. Developments leading to the destruction were orchestrated by the BJP government of Kalyan Singh in Uttar Pradesh with tacit support from Narasimha Rao’s Congress government at the centre. The criminal act of demolition was followed by widespread and large scale communal violence. The demolition symbolised a turning point in the Indian polity, for the worse.
The demolition had a historical and political context. The Babri Masjid dispute was a Machiavellian creation of the British colonialists who erected a fence in 1859 around the monument, and ordered that Hindus are to enter from the East gate and Muslims from the North gate. For the following 90 years, the British colonial courts allowed petitions from so-called Hindu and Muslim leaders, keeping the dispute smouldering, to be re-ignited whenever required.
After the partition, in the dark night of 22nd December, 1949, an idol of Ram was installed surreptitiously inside the mosque. The interim Government of Nehru immediately proclaimed the premises as a disputed area and locked the gates. The gates remained locked for the next 40 years, until Nehru’s grandson, Rajiv Gandhi, ordered it to be reopened in 1989.
The next three years witnessed a shrill campaign to build a temple for Lord Ram at the site where the Babri Masjid stood. The BJP built up a frenzied atmosphere through Rath Yatras demanding that the Ram temple should be built exactly where the 400-year old monument stood. The Central Government acted as the mediator between self-styled leaders of Hindus and Muslims, purportedly to strike a negotiated deal, but really keeping the dispute alive.
The Political Turning Point
The reason why the gates of the Babri Masjid were reopened after a 40-year hiatus can only be understood in the specific political context of the time. The decade of the eighties was tumultuous. The deepening economic and political crisis stared at us in the face. The old Nehruvian model had run its course and the decade ended with an acute crisis of government finances and external balance of payments. It was a period of intense conflicts and rivalries among different parties and the sectional interests they represented. There was tremendous pressure to push the country onto a path of economic reforms that would launch India into the superpower orbit and acquire world class status for India’s business houses.
The Congress Party headed by Rajiv Gandhi had come to power in 1985 on a communal platform, after the sacrilege of the Golden Temple and the genocide of Sikhs in November 1984. The next five years witnessed two important movements which prepared the political climate for a minority government to push through far-reaching policy reforms while people were otherwise preoccupied. Competing sectarian campaigns provided the justification for the law and order machinery to resort to blatant terror in the name of restoring order. There were agitations for and against the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations on caste-based reservation quotas for the “other backward classes” or OBCs. And in the midst of the ensuing chaos, the vehicle of Rath Yatras was used to launch a campaign for erecting a Ram Mandir at the site where the Babri Masjid stood.
It was a time when major and abrupt changes were taking place across the world, culminating with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the bipolar division of the world. In the new dispensation, with the US pushing for a unipolar world, certain prescriptions were laid down for all countries to follow. It was made clear that there was simply no alternative to liberalisation and privatisation and to multi-party representative democracy. Any country which did not follow these prescriptions would be liable to be branded as a rogue state.
These developments created a conducive atmosphere for a section of the powerful business houses in our country to seize the initiative and launch the liberalisation and privatisation program, aimed at getting India a seat at the high table of major imperialist powers of the world. This was accompanied by diversionary and divisive campaigns to neutralise the growing opposition to the aggressive drive of India Inc.
The BJP harped on the pseudo-secularism of the Congress Party and its “appeasement of Muslims” as being the main problem faced by the country. The Congress Party blamed the religious chauvinist outlook of BJP as being the main danger. The activities of these two parties, who were apparently at loggerheads with one another, tended to polarise public opinion into the Hindutva camp and the Secularist camp. While these camps seemed to have irreconcilable differences, they vied with each other to support the reforms platform.
The demolition of Babri Masjid typified the growing rot in the Indian polity. It meant that the two biggest parties in Parliament could get away with any sort of crime to expand their vote banks. The genocide against Sikhs in 1984, following the assassination of Indira Gandhi, had already confirmed the fact that the new economic offensive required a new method of governance as well. The communal violence of 1992-93 marked the institutionalisation of this criminal method of governance.
The Liberhan Commission, which was appointed by the Narasimha Rao government to investigate the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992, submitted its report after 17 years, in 2009! The report described how the Uttar Pradesh government of Kalyan Singh and top leaders of the BJP were directly involved in the destruction of the monument. But the equally shameful role of the Narasimha Rao government at the centre was downplayed by the Commission. In any case both the Congress and the BJP made sure, through a barrage of accusations and counter-accusations in Parliament at each other — after the Commission released (or rather leaked) its report — that the guilty at the highest levels went scot free.
The fall of the Babri Masjid symbolised not only the mindless destruction of a historical monument but a turning point in the Indian polity for worse. In the new system of governance ushered in by the economic reforms, political parties representing big moneyed interests increasingly resort to criminalisation and communalisation to capture or to retain power. They remain unaccountable to the voters who elected them. They fight proxy battles in Parliament for various business interests and are steeped in corruption.
For all men and women of conscience, the 20th anniversary of the demolition of Babri Masjid is an occasion to dedicate ourselves to see that justice is done; that the guilty of communal violence are punished; and that our polity is cleansed of communalism and communal violence, through radical political reforms to empower the people.
This article by S. Raghavan was first published at Countercurrents.org on 9th December, 2012