Uneasy calm prevailed in Ayodhya, which on Saturday looked like a fortress, with deployment of more than 10,000 cops on the 22nd anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Mosque.
What sent the authorities into a tizzy were the multiple terrorist strikes in Kashmir on the eve of the anniversary, which has different connotation for Muslims and Hindus in different parts of the country.
Back in Ayodhya, even as bulk of the local population condemns the politicisation of the vexed Ramjanmbhoomi-Babri Masjid issue, a small section of both communities continues to fume or revel over the demolition which triggered country-vide communal violence, that left thousands dead or wounded.
However, the call by a virtually-defunct Babri Masjid Action Committee for observing December 6 as ‘black day’ seemed to have met with as feeble response as that of the call by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad for observing today as a ‘day of bravery’.
Other than the handful of activists of both organisations, which have lost their relevance for the larger part of the two communities, not many were visible in the token demonstrations that were staged in different parts of the twin towns of Ayodhya-Faizabad.
Armed cops belonging to the central para-military forces as well as the state provincial armed constabulary were trotting down the streets of Ayodhya with more than two dozen close circuit cameras keeping record of every movement on all major lanes and bylanes in and around the disputed site, where a makeshift temple stands under a tarpaulin shade.
Yet, tension was palpable as both black and saffron flags were hoisted from rooftops of few houses and commercial establishments across the twin towns.
Since section 144 Cr PC was clamped in the district, activists had to be remained confined to their respective four walls where they staged their own demonstrations in the presence of a few, largely for the benefit of the media. While the pro-temple volunteers observed their ‘day of valour’ under the leadership of Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, who also heads the Ramjanmbhoomi Trust inside the Karsewak Puram premises, the call for ‘black day’ echoed from the residence of Haji Mehboob Ali, who has spearheaded the Babri Masjid Action Committee protests for many years in Ayodhya.
Locals claimed that activists from both sides enjoyed very little support of the public. “We know that the VHP is only out to make our lives miserable; their interest lies only in getting publicity through which they project themselves as some kind of heroes of the Hindutva movement , which gets them tons of funds from God knows where,” observed a teacher of Ayodhya’s Saket Degree College.
“We have only been misled by these self-seekers since December 6, 1992, when the Babri Mosque was brought down; neither VHP nor the Bharatiya Janata Party are capable of building a Ram temple,” he added on the condition of anonymity.
Even the shopkeepers of Ayodhya whose main business comes from pilgrims coming from far and wide appeared to be cut up with VHP and its pro-temple allies.
“Except for causing financial loss to all shopkeepers whose business suffers every time they take the temple issue on a high pitch, which keeps pilgrims away, the VHP has done nothing for this town”, said the owner of a restaurant close to Hanuman Garhi, the oldest Hanuman temple in the area.
Significantly, no prominent VHP leader cared to be in Ayodhya. Even Vinay Katiyar, a former Ayodhya BJP member of Parliament and the founder of Bajrang Dal was not to be seen in the temple town. Katiyar was among those prominent Hindutva figures who had remained at the forefront of the temple movement for many years.
However, local VHP spokesman Sharad Sharma pleaded, “While Ashok Singhalji was indisposed, working president of the VHP Praveen Togadia had prior engagements elsewhere hence he could not be here.” As for Katiyar, he was stated to have kept away from Ayodhya for quite sometime now.
Image: RAF Jawans patrolling the area on the day of anniversary of Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya. Photograph: PTI Photo