How Congress watched Babri Masjid burn

The intolerance found roots in Ram Janmabhoomi and the opportunist politics by the grand old party.

 |  4-minute read |   07-12-2015
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December 6 marks both Babasaheb Ambedkar's death anniversary and the demolition of the disputed Babri Masjid in 1992. This episode led to the consolidation of Hindutva based on the demand for the construction of the Ram Temple at the site of the disputed shrine.

Despite the turmoil and deaths associated with LK Advani's "rath yatra", the riots after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, especially in Mumbai including the bomb blasts, major riots in Surat, etc in which thousands were killed, mainly Muslims as pointed out by the Justice Srikrishna report, whose findings were not acted upon. Perhaps all this could have been avoided if communal politics was not in command.

Firstly, the controversial placing of the Ram Lalla inside the Babri Masjid in the night of December 22-23, 1949 was organised most likely by the Congress who were building up Hindu communal feelings in order to isolate the famous socialist leaders Acharya Narendra Dev and Acharya Kripalani who had left the Congress in 1948, and who were likely to contest by-elections in Ayodhya-Faizabad. Acharya Narendra Dev was born in Faizabad.

Nehru reacted swiftly, but GB Pant refused to remove the idols. This was the first big, and one must say, incendiary and communal, error. Patel who supported Nehru on this issue died the next year. Apart from the insertion of the idol, the Muslim graveyard near the Masjid was uprooted by Congress workers and their supporters. The Pant-CB Gupta ruling faction in UP did not realise that this issue was a ticking bomb. They had sown the wind, and were going to reap the whirlwind.

Nehru, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, and other Congress leaders did not adequately and collectively realise the overwhelming threat the issue posed. What should have been done initially was to house the Ram Lalla idols in a temple in Ayodhya. But since the Pant-Gupta faction was resolutely opposed to it, they couldn't.

Meanwhile, the folklore, later the imbedded religious belief that this was Ram Janmabhoomi grew in intensity and spread. Still the RSS and the Bhartiya Jana Sangh, which was established in the 1950s by Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who was earlier part of Nehru's Cabinet, did not fish in troubled waters. The Allahabad High Court also did not oblige by not ruling for the removal of the Ram Lalla idol, despite the Ayodhya Police FIR. Here also it seems that the top lawyers of the Congress, which had several luminaries, were not systematically deployed.

It was clear that even in the '60s, Nehru and his advisors were not yet aware of the potential this issue had. At this stage, there could have been a compromise on building a Ram temple next to the Babri Masjid, so that the former was also built on the site of the Ram Janmabhoomi.

The Muslims would continue to pray in the Masjid, and the Hindus in the Ram Mandir on the site of the Ram Chabootra, which was considered as a critical part of the Ram Janmabhoomi. At that time, if negotiations had started, a probable, widely acceptable and secular, compromise was acceptable. But as the proverb goes, time is of the essence.

As far back as 1885, a British judge before whom the ownership of the Ram Chaboothra was raised, regretted the delay in resolving this potentially explosive and divisive history. The fact was that even Indira Gandhi did not realise the communal potential of this issue, which was a disaster in the making. By the 1980s, the movement though yet to take off, still would not have allowed any compromise suggested earlier.

The RSS-BJP were determined to claim that a Ram Janmabhoomi on which a Ram Mandir earlier existed was not just a Hindu but a secular birthright, with critics dubbed pseudo-secular. PM Narasimha Rao facilitated the demolition, under the illusion that if the Babri Masjid was demolished, the BJP-led movement would ebb, since the Muslim intrusion on Ram Janmabhoomi would be torn down, and possibly later some pro-Hindu compromise would be worked out. Significantly, the archaeological survey promoted by the Congress, characterised "Hindu" as under Article 25.

Medieval India historians had identified Saket, a Buddhist city, as the city below Ayodhya. But under Article 25, Buddhists are part of the Hindu community, so the PM was taking no chances.

So what does all this amount to? To deal with sensitive social and religious issues swiftly and flexibly is essential for a secular, pluralist democracy. The Congress didn't and the consequences are clear. The intolerance that had risen has not come out of nowhere. Its roots are in the Ram Janmabhoomi and the insufficient and/or opportunist politics by the secular parties led by the Congress.


Kamal Mitra Chenoy Kamal Mitra Chenoy @kamaichenoy

The writer is an academic and activist.

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