'Although Narendra Modi had no direct participation in the Ayodhya agitation, he would not have been in the dominant position he is now had it not been for the Ram Janambhoomi agitation.'
December 6, 2021, marks 29 years since the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.
A couple of years ago, the Supreme Court, in its verdict, backed the construction of a Ram temple by a government trust at the disputed site in Ayodhya, and ruled that an alternative five-acre plot must be found for a mosque in the Hindu holy town.
Work on the temple has been apace, to get it ready by December 2023, ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay's new book, The Demolition and The Verdict-Ayodhya and The Project to Reconfigure India, traces the history of the dispute and how it came to represent the second biggest national movement since the freedom struggle.
As a young journalist in the mid-1980s, Mukhopadhyay had covered the Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi dispute during its most crucial phase.
This is his second book on the subject. The previous book, The Demolition: India at the crossroads, came out in 1994.
"I owe this book to 65 per cent of India, those who were born after the Babri Masjid's locks were opened in 1986," Mukhopadhyay tells Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.
The Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992. The Supreme Court verdict ending the dispute came two years ago. So, what prompted you to write this book now when India is long past those moments? Why did you feel the need to re-tell the story?
The Ayodhya verdict may have come two years ago and the temple construction may be underway, but the Sangh Parivar's campaign to use a so-called indignity heaped on Hindus in history is not over.
It is now focused on Varanasi and in Mathura, as raked up now (external link) by Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya.
This means that the issues that were at the centre of the country and which altered Indian politics, perhaps irrevocably, remain as important as they were.
Latest developments prove that the decision to write this book even as the verdict was coming out and the construction became imminent was a correct one.
I was a young journalist in my mid-20s when I first went to Ayodhya.
It was in the mid-1980s when the Ayodhya issue became national news. It was then that the Babri Masjid's locks were opened and Hindus were allowed to go in (for shilanayas).
I turned 60 this year.
In these 35-odd years, I have seen India change. I have seen the political cycle of India shifting towards the Right, not in economic terms but in social terms.
In these 35 years, 65 per cent of today's Indians was also born.
I am what is considered to be among those people on the darker side of the demographic dividend.
In the last 35 years, Ayodhya has been a constant obsession of mine as far as my professional tracking has been concerned.
I have written on a wide variety of subjects. But if somebody asks me what is your natural subject, I would say I have studied, possibly most intensely, the rise and growth of right-wing Hindu organisations in the country, which meant constantly watching the Ayodhya developments from the ringside.
I think for those who were born after the Babri Masjid's locks were opened, in the last 35 years, I owe this book to them, that is the 65 per cent of Indians, as well as the 35 per cent of the population who were born before 1986.
The story is seen as it developed to share my perspective.
(interrupts) Also, there is the undeniable fact that my first book was also on Ayodhya, written after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
Ayodhya has been a constant recurring point of my career.
I have also argued on several occasions that although Narendra Modi had no direct participation in the Ayodhya agitation, he would not have been in the dominant position he is now had it not been for the Ram Janambhoomi agitation.
Modi is a product of the Gujarat 2002 riots.
The riots would not have happened had it not been for the Godhra carnage.
The Godhra carnage took place because people were returning from Ayodhya after participating in a Vishwa Hindu Parishad programme.
So, by deduction Modi is the political product of the Ayodhya agitation.
After Independence, its ruling class believed in and promoted social integration of different communities. How and when did this ruling class start compartmentalising different communities?
I would say right from the very beginning (of our Independence in 1947).
Even though India decided to be on the secular path and be on a path where it would be all-inclusive and equal rights were given constitutionally to everybody, the Muslims also made two big sacrifices in 1947.
One is that they decided to not go to Pakistan and decided to be a minority community in India, a country which had such a large dominance of the majority Hindu community.
Second, Muslims also decided to give up separate electorates in 1947 which was granted to them by the British from 1909.
They became a part of the entire society, as one. Despite that there was a section in India within the Hindu community which felt that this country belongs to us and we have given them Pakistan.
If they (Muslims) want to continue to live here they can live here, but then they have to accept our dominance.
There was a very strong sentiment within a section of the Hindu community about this. But it was suppressed because few in politics gave voice to these views. As a result of which, even secular parties made compromises. They made adjustments to it.
For instance, the tallest Muslim leader at that time was Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. He first became a member of the Lok Sabha from the Rampur constituency, because it had a fair amount of Muslim voters.
So right from the beginning there was pressure.
I would say that, subsequently, there were steps taken by the government which possibly led to the scaling up of anger in Hindus and they felt that the government favours or gives greater rights to Muslims.
I would disagree with that viewpoint, but if you actually revisit, then you can say whether there was a need to have a separate personal law for Muslims.
We should have introduced a uniform civil law as after all we had reforms in Hindu law by bringing in the Hindu Code Bill, to which there was tremendous resistance from conservative Hindu groups till 1956, when the bill was finally adopted.
I am not saying there was perfect harmony, but yes, there was a long period when both Hindus and Muslims decided it was very important to adjust to each other.
In the sense, accommodate each other by saying we are separate, but we are also together.
But then there was a strong sentiment in a section of Hindus that they have the primary right over this land and the government, by not accepting this, was actually favouring the Muslims.
Reading your book, one gets the feeling that the seed was sown by the Ram Mandir movement, which wanted to change the notion from 'nation for all' to 'nation for Hindus only'. You also write in great detail how mischief was played in installing the Ram Lalla statue in the Babri Masjid premises in December 1949.
To a great extent, yes.
The Hindu Mahasabha and other right-wing organisations did a lot of things that led to this sentiment gaining ground -- from the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi to installing the idol of Ram inside the Babri Masjid in 1949.
It was a grand plan.
I am sure after (Vinayak Damodar) Savarkar was released from jail (after being acquitted in the Mahatma Gandhi assassination case), he cleared the demands for Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura temples that were raised.
This was part of the resolution of the Hindu Mahasabha in July 1949, a few months before idols were installed by activists who were part of the Hindu Mahasabha.
But despite this it did not become a national sentiment because of the legacy of the national movement.
There was a culture of compositeness and pluralism in the national movement and it was not considered to be politically correct to articulate communal views.
There were, of course, aberrations and communal riots as this country was born in bloodshed.
This started right from the biggest communal flareup in 1946 when the Muslim League gave its Direct Action call in which lakhs of people were killed.
Riots happened all through then and finally Gandhiji went to Noakhali and sat on a fast-unto-death.
There were riots in response to Noakhali in Bihar and that spread 100 km to the borders of Delhi.
The point, however, is that a majority of Muslims of this country chose to remain in India and not go over to Pakistan.
That is something which we cannot forget. We must never make today's Muslims feel their forefathers made a mistake by staying back here.
How did it change from Gandhi's Ram Rajya and 'Ishwar Allah Tero Naam' to 'Lord Ram is only for Hindus' in the late 1980s? What was the trigger point?
Why just that, even (the poet Muhammad Iqbal, who also wrote Saare Jahan Ae Achcha) called Ram Imam-e-Hind -- I wrote this in my book.
Ayodhya was not the issue or demand to open what was called the Babri Masjid to Hindu devotees right from 1949.
In 1950, that place was locked and people had forgotten about it within a few years.
Till 1984, there was a court case going on and people were not bothered about it but then the Rss (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) started an agitation by involving Hindu religious leaders for this movement. I have written in great detail about this in my book.
They marched to the Boat Club (in Delhi) and were supposed to meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
But on the same morning, Indira Gandhi was assassinated and this agitation was put in cold storage.
They revived it in 1985, which led to the pressure to open the locks of the Babri Masjid.
I have argued in my book that the then Congress government under Rajiv Gandhi made a cardinal error by overturning the Supreme Court verdict in the Shah Bano case.
It gave a handle to the RSS and VHP by telling (the Hindu public) that the government overturned the judgment because Muslim conservatives were against it.
The Shah Bano judgment of the Supreme Court of India was a very progressive judgment and the Congress party should have allowed it.
That gave a handle, and the second mistake was when the Babri Masjid's locks were opened by judicial stratagem.
There was a very aggressive response from the Muslim leadership and there was a race going on as to who will be the next Muslim leader of India.
Syed Shahabuddin, former IFS (Indian Foreign Service) officer, was one of the persons with whom I have spent a lot of time and I have thanked him in my book. I feel he went overboard.
He should have been more tactful as he went on articulating his protest to the court order and the opening of the Babri Masjid to Hindus.
Once the agitation gained ground, it became a very sentimental thing.
I would say that the country as a whole has to accept the fact that the RSS and the VHP ran a very strategic campaign.
This was possibly one of the most well-managed political agitations after the national movement.
Ayodhya was the largest mass movement after the freedom struggle.
Was it bigger than Jayaprakash Narayan's movement against the Indira Gandhi government?
It was much bigger than the JP movement, because it went on much longer.
JP's movement was for 18 months and then they all were put in jail, after which there was no movement.
The anti-Emergency movement died down because everybody was (thrown) in jail.
Here, the Ram Janambhoomi was a consistent movement.
It started in 1984 and then put in cold storage. It started again in 1985 and in seven years, they demolished the Babri Masjid.
Yet after that they kept on the pressure.
You can look at what is happening now in Mathura and Varanasi.
The Ayodhya agitation changed the mindset of a majority of Hindus.
This is what gives strength to the Bharatiya Janata Party which takes decisions which are blatantly communal.
For instance, running their campaign on 'love jihad' or for that matter attacking Muslims on mere suspicion of consuming beef -- or even buffalo meat as is mostly the case because cow is not slaughtered in most of India -- even though it turns out to be false.
You go on lynching people and all that is being justified (today) because Ayodhya became such a popular agitation.
Why did Jawaharlal Nehru not intervene when the Ram idol was placed in the Babri Masjid in 1949? Why didn't he anticipate future problems?
Nehru was not very forceful on Ayodhya. He decided to compromise.
He decided to give up that round as he thought people will forget about this issue.
He had other issues to look at like the Constitution being properly followed and various other things. Elections were also due.
I have not gone into those aspects in great detail.
My sense is that Nehru should have been stronger at that particular time.
You also mentioned how the first book to be banned by Nehru in Independent India was Aubrey Menen's Rama Retold. Even Nehru could not tolerate criticism of Lord Ram then.
It is not a question of tolerating.
Nehru on his own knew that he was sitting on a coalition.
The Congress was a single party on paper, but it was a political coalition.
He had to fight great ideological battles with the likes of Purshottam Das Tandon. He fought that and won the battle.
But in wars you have to concede smaller grounds.
Nehru looked at Ayodhya as conceding a small battle in the larger war that he was fighting.
You have written that in Ayodhya, there was no Hindu ruler since 1228 and till 1838 Mughal emperor Babur was never accused of demolishing a Ram temple to build a mosque.
I give the argument in my book that it is believed that the Babri Masjid was constructed in 1528 after Babur came to this part of India.
Now, 50 years later (by 1580) Tulsidas was writing Ramcharitmanas. He wrote (parts of) it sitting in Ayodhya.
He does not make a mention anywhere in his writing about the Babri Masjid being built over a destroyed Ram temple.
These are all stories which were transposed on history much later on.
Then it becomes part of the official belief.
The British also played an important part in making this story truthful, that the Babri Masjid was built after demolishing a Ram temple.
All these points are mentioned by various judges of the Allahabad high court and the Supreme Court.
You mean the British were responsible for propagating that the Babri Masjid was built over a demolished Ram temple?
Yes, of course. They were greatly responsible.
This entire issue makes you feel that Hindus were victims and Muslims were jubilant victors by constructing the Babri Masjid in the 1520s. And this is now reversed in today's India. Can we say that?
It is forgotten by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar that if you analyse the nature of the ruling class during the Muslim era, a majority of them were Hindus.
The emperor himself did not have everything concentrated in his hands.
There were empires and they definitely had a federal character.
If you read medieval history, you will find that there were several occasions where a majority of them were smaller Hindu kings and ruling jagirdars. They were partners.
When we say Muslim rule, we only look at the emperor and we do not look at the power structure.
It might be the Modi government today, but at that point it was not Babur's Empire because centralisation of power would not have been possible in medieval India like it is possible now.