'My brothers had come to Ayodhya all the way from our home in Kolkata to participate in the kar sewa, but they never returned home.'
Sensing the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's attempts to rekindle Ayodhya sentiments, the Akhilesh Yadav-led government in Uttar Pradesh has banned a meeting to mark the 25th death anniversary of brothers, Ram and Sharad Kothari, who fell to police bullets while performing the symbolic kar sewa on November 2, 1990 -- two years before the Babri Masjid was brought down.
The decision to disallow the event, in which top Bharatiya Janata Party and VHP leaders were set to participate, was taken late on Sunday night.
"Local officials and the police knocked at our doors well past midnight to convey the administration's decision. We were told to leave Ayodhya by the morning," 63-year-old Sumitra Kothari, the mother of the slain brothers, told Rediff.com shortly before boarding the first available train to Varanasi from where she would return to her home in Kolkata.
"We had arrived here (Ayodhya) a week ago after which we submitted a formal request for permission to hold a condolence meeting as a tribute to my sons who were gunned down in the firing ordered by the Mulayam Singh Yadav government in 1990," she added.
"We had also prepared a short skit on the life of Ram and Sharad Kothari who laid down their lives in an exemplary devotion to the cause of the Ayodhya temple, which we are looking forward to seeing at the birthplace of Lord Ram here," she said.
She was accompanied by her daughter Purnima, who had initiated the entire move in collaboration with prominent BJP leader and Union minister Uma Bharti with whom she reportedly enjoys close proximity.
A dozen other members of the Kothari household had arrived from Kolkata to make the November 2 show a success.
With the government having frustrated their plan, the entire family looked crestfallen.
Both the mother and daughter of the slain brothers wonder why the administration sat over their request for permission for a full week.
"If we were told that they would not permit us to hold the programme, we would have gone back earlier," observed Purnima Kothari, whose proximity to the BJP could be gauged by the fact that she contested two municipal elections on the party's ticket from Kolkata.
"I have been coming to Ayodhya every Kartik Purnima, which according to the Hindu calendar coincides with the date of martyrdom of my two sons," Sumitra Kothari said. "Never before was I stopped from paying tribute to them. I don't know why this government chose to disallow us from doing so now."
Sources in the UP government confirmed that they had received several intelligence inputs to convey that the VHP and BJP wanted to use the event to bring back Ayodhya to the centrestage of state politics.
Besides Yogi Adityanath, the Gorakhpur MP who heads the Hindu Yuva Vahini in this region, several vociferous VHP leaders, Bajrang Dal chief Vinay Katiyar and Union Ministers Uma Bharti and Manoj Sinha were set to join the show.
While VHP supremo Ashok Singhal was the proposed chief guest at the event, his illness led him to cancel his visit.
A routine condolence organised by local VHP leader Sharad Sharma was held at the Digambar Akhara, where several prominent sadhus of Ayodhya assembled on Monday morning to observe what they have termed as 'shaheed diwas' as a mark of respect to those killed in the firing on this day 25 years ago.
Purnima Kothari, below, left, earlier spoke to Sharat Pradhan about the condolence meeting.
How did you decide to observe the death anniversary of your brothers after such a long time?
We have been observing their death anniversary every Kartik Purnima (according to the Hindi calendar) in our home in Kolkata. But since a 25th anniversary holds special significance in everybody's life, we decided to come all the way to this town where they breathed their last.
Is it true that neither you nor your parents came here in 1990 to perform their last rites?
We did not come because my father had to look after me and my mother. My father's elder brother took the trouble to come here and carry out the funeral rites.
A cousin who had joined my brothers was already in Ayodhya to assist my tauji (father's elder brother), who faced a lot of difficulty on account of the round-the-clock curfew that had been clamped all over Ayodhya and Faizabad.
Did you want your brothers' bodies to be brought back to Kolkata?
Of course we wanted that, but the administration in Kolkata advised us against it as they felt that could flare up communal tension in Kolkata.
How old were your brothers and what inspired them to participate in the karsewa?
Ram was 22 and Sharad was 20. They had passed out of college and as staunch RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) activists they were always devoted to the cause of the Ram temple.
They thought that the karsewa would mark the commencement of the construction of the grand temple. They never imagined that they would be targeted by the police.
Do you think they were targeted by the police?
They had participated in the karsewa on October 30, 1990 as well. Mulayam Singh Yadav's government had ordered a firing on that day as well, but they escaped unscathed. We were told by some eyewitnesses that on November 2 Ram and Sharad were shot down by the police.
Are any prominent BJP or VHP leaders coming here for the condolence meeting?
Of course! Uma Bharti, Manoj Sinha, Yogi Adityanath, Laxmikant Bajpai and Vinay Katiyar have promised to join us in Ayodhya on November 2.
VHP President Ashok Singhal was also scheduled to come, but he has taken ill and is currently hospitalised at the Medanta Hospital in Gurgaon.
What prompted you to come up with this event?
Uma Bharti has always been like an elder sister to me.
The moment I told her that I wanted to organise a condolence meeting to commemorate the martyrdom of my brothers in Ayodhya, she readily offered to join in as did Yogi Adityanath. I also approached (Union Minister of State for Railways) Manoj Sinha since he hails from a neighbouring district.
Is this then a political meeting?
Please try and understand that our family has traditionally been ardent RSS activists and attending shakhas was a part of our family tradition.
Both Ram and Sharad were such RSS enthusiasts that they would walk for an hour every day to attend the nearest shakha from our home in Kolkata's Burra Bazar.
I see nothing wrong in associating with all those who were involved in the Ram temple movement.
You have said, in the recent past, that the BJP was only interested in whipping up Hindu passions to serve their vote bank politics. You were also quoted as accusing the VHP of not doing enough to get the killing of your brothers probed.
I never said all that. I am sure I was misquoted.
Let me tell you something. I was barely 19 when the biggest tragedy hit our family in 1990.
I was to get married shortly thereafter, but after the killing of my brothers, I cancelled my marriage and vowed that I would not get married until the Ram temple was in place at Ayodhya.
Believe me, I finally got married only after the makeshift temple was set up under a tarpaulin in December 1992 and got judicial sanctity with the Supreme Court declaring a status quo ante.
That is the kind of commitment I have to the temple.
You ought to know that we are a family which refused Mulayam Singh Yadav's offer of Rs 1 lakh that was being given to those killed in the firing.