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The Rediff Special

December 6, 1992: A Memoir

Five years ago, the foundations of the Indian nation-State were rocked by the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.

How did it happen? Who masterminded the assault on the 16th century structure? Why did the forces of law and order collapse suddenly?

What follows is an eyewitness account of the demolition. An account that casts fresh light on those tumultuous events that winter's day.

By the end of November, more than 20,000 karsevaks had reached the city, and as their numbers continued to rise with the approach of 6 December, it became clear that the entire show was, probably for the first time, being orchestrated by the RSS..

Never before in the history of the temple movement had the BJP-VHP-Bajrang Dal combine managed to collect such large crowds at Ayodhya on their own. At the final count, an estimated 200,000 persons came from all the states of India barring those in the North-East, a large proportion of them drawn from the RSS cadres. Everyone could not join the karsevaks; severe controls and preliminary screening were introduced by the RSS. It was not a purely spontaneous show put up by the faithful, but a tightly organised, fully planned political exercise.

The largest representations were from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and UP. And this time round, the composition of the karsevaks differed from that of the earlier gatherings at Ayodhya. There was a heavy turnout of women, dalits, and tribals and the 'backward' castes. Besides, a large number of karsevaks were drawn from the rural areas.

The BJP sent L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi on separate yatras to mobilise karsevaks for Ayodhya. The tempo was building up. Though towards the end of November Advani had advised party MPs to stay away from Ayodhya, within 36 hours he was to change his mind. Now he himself was going to offer karseva, presumably to convince the supporters of his party that he was not backtracking on the promise to build a temple at the place of the Babri mosque.

Carried away by his new-found enthusiasm, Advani, in a public meeting at Azamgarh, UP, assured the crowds on December 2 that the karseva would be 'physical, with bricks and shovels,' a remark he was later to deny making. Vinay Katiyar (the Bajrang Dal leader and BJP MP) had been less circumspect. He had already declared on November 30:

'There is nothing called symbolic karseva... This country is not run by court orders. It is run by society... (The) judiciary has no authority to pass any orders regarding the Ram mandir... If there is any sangharsh we are ready for it....Kuch bigadne par hi kuch banta hai (Only when something is destroyed is something born).

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was subtler when speaking to one of us on the morning of December 5 at Lucknow. Asked if, given the large gathering of karsevaks at Ayodhya, he thought the Babri Masjid would remain safe on December 6, Vajpayee said, 'Asha hai, aur ashanka bhi(There are hopes, but also doubts).'

On December 6, minutes before the Babri Masjid was attacked by the karsevaks, Sadhvi Ritambhara in a brief conversation at the site used a similar double entendre. Asked if she thought that the Allahabad high court order would be violated that day, she replied, 'Karseva will be performed like karseva. Whether there will be any violation or not, you will see later.' She added, 'All the tasks that are carried out before the construction (of the temple) begins will be performed. We will do karseva only in the mandir.'

What did she mean by karseva, as opposed to the official VHP announcement? 'Now look,' she replied, 'we can calm ourselves, but we cannot calm lakhs of people by making them pour some water around. Everyone knows this well. So we are not going to leave this place after only washing and cleaning it.' Did that mean they were going to pull the mosque down? 'What we want to say is that, today, we do not want to break the structure, and it will not survive either.'

But by the day-end there were signs that Vajpayee's misgivings about the karsevaks would be proved right and the karseva would not be restricted to hymn-singing at the disputed site, as Kalyan Singh had claimed in his affidavit before the Supreme Court.

In the evening, angry karsevaks confronted Nrityagopal Das and Ramchandra Paramhans and abused them for agreeing to a symbolic karseva. Hundreds more roughed up Katiyar, when he went to Karsevakpuram to pacify the already highly charged and motivated karsevaks. They made it clear that they had come to Ayodhya to demolish the mosque and would not settle for less. The plan to have carefully selected, highly indoctrinated karsevaks was not paying dividends.

If there were pressures from large sections of the karsevaks, subjected to intense propaganda for months if not years, the intentions of a section of the leadership of the parivar, too, had become suspect by this time. Journalists were barred entry into the Ram Katha Kunj and the surrounding areas adjoining the disputed 2.77 acre plot where, it was widely believed, selected groups of karsevaks were being trained to demolish the Masjid.

A photograph of karsevaks pulling a huge boulder with ropes at a practice session at the Ram Katha Kunj on December 5 was published the following day in the Indian Express. The same day a journalist from Lucknow, who managed to get into the forbidden premises, was detained for several hours, and allowed to go only after her captors were sure that she would not file any copy for her newspaper on what she had witnessed.

Shortly before midnight, we found near the mosque, Katiyar deep in discussion with a youngish man called Champat Rai, a relatively unknown and non-descript RSS leader posted at Ayodhya who headed the Sangh's activities in the Avadh region and, thus, was automatically in charge of the karseva scheduled for the following day.

The two men surveyed more than once the area that lay between the makeshift gate that was the only way open to the mosque and a pit that had been the shilanyas sthal (before being demolished earlier in the year). It seemed that they were deciding upon the spot where karseva would be performed the following day, especially since the area they were marking out was not on the disputed plot.

By the next morning, a saffron flag, too had been planted at the spot. As later events showed, it was through this very place that hundreds of karsevaks were allowed to force their way in, after breaking down the bamboo fence enclosing the disputed plot, and attack the mosque.

Excerpted from Creating a Nationality, by Ashis Nandy, Shikha Trivedy, Shail Mayaram and Achyut Yagnik, Oxford University Press, 1995, Rs 295, with the publisher's permission.

'As some karsevaks started to break down the mosque, an RSS functionary stood on the watchtower directing them, frequently blowing a whistle, as if he was directing an athletic team'

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