By Advait Moharir
It has been observed throughout the course of history that certain incidents just refuse to die down, no matter how old they become. They rear their heads at some point, clearing our foggy memories and reminding us anew about their historical significance. One such event is the Babri Masjid demolition case. While the incident itself happened 24 years ago, the Supreme Court gave the involved parties a shocker when it announced that the conspiracy charges against BJP leader LK Advani and four others could not be dropped on “technical grounds”. While the announcement has triggered new questions about Mr Advani’s future, it is necessary for the past to be examined to understand the context behind this act.
A recapitulation of the demolition case
The roots of the Masjid demolition can be traced back to the Ramjanmabhoomi Movement that began in the late 1980s. There was a growing demand for a temple dedicated to Ram to be built in Ayodhya on a site where a mosque had already been built, by Babur’s general Mir Baqi. The demand was based on the argument that Babur had destroyed the existing Ram temple at the spot which was “the birthplace of Lord Ram”. This argument was primarily led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and its affiliates. The Rajiv Gandhi government ordered that the gate of the locked mosque be opened to allow prayers to take place. The VHP also announced that a “shila” or a stone would be established for temple construction. The main party opposing this was the Sunni Waqf Board which contested the claims of the VHP about the pre-existing temple. Both the VHP and Waqf Board were added as plaintiffs and defendants respectively to a lawsuit filed in 1950 after someone had placed idols in the disputed site, along with a third party called Nirmohi Akhara which represented a group of saints, who claimed to have been occupants of the site since centuries.
The conflict escalated after the BJP threw its hat in the ring in support of the movement, with the then party President LK Advani embarking on a Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya to canvass support for the temple. While the yatra drew huge crowds of support throughout, it was also marred by reported incidents of communal violence. The Rath was finally stopped at Samastipur by Lalu Prasad Yadav and Advani was detained. The UP CM Mulayam Singh Yadav ordered the police to fire at many participants of the yatra in UP, which polarised the populace to a large extent. The culmination of these events took place on 6th December 1992, when a group of karsevaks flooded the disputed site and demolished the Babri Masjid. This incident took place despite the full security assurance given by the succeeding UP CM Kalyan Singh, a BJP member. Consequently, cases were filed against prominent BJP leaders for being co-conspirators and making provocative speeches. A Commission was set up to probe the case and the BJP government in UP was brought under the President’s Rule.
Immediate as well as far-reaching impacts of the incident
The worst consequence of the case was the Gujarat riots in 2002 caused by the burning of a train full of karsevaks. Another landmark event was the 2010 Allahabad HC judgement on the case where it suggested splitting the disputed site equally among the concerned parties. However, this judgement was put on hold by the SC. The Masjid demolition was a watershed event in the history of Indian politics. It firmly established the BJP as a national political party and contributed to its coming to power in 1996. The momentum gained from thereon propelled it to form a full-fledged non-Congress government in 1999.
The event also polarised the country like never before. For some, it caused a shift in ideological consciousness as many hardcore Left wing politicians joined the BJP. However, the biggest impact was the emergence of new debates on the ideas of communalism and secularism. Political issues pertaining to minority appeasement and Uniform Civil Code were discussed with renewed vigour. The nexus of politics and religion was firmly established, as BJP has made building the Ram temple an electoral problem in UP since the 2009 elections. The new SC order has reminded us of why the incident continues to be important. Whether it will mean the end of Mr Advani’s Presidential ambitions will be seen when the final verdict of the order comes on March 22nd.
Featured Image Credits: The Indian Express