India in 1990. The Ayodhya issue.
Following the fall of the V.P. Singh Government, a minority government led by Chandrasekhar emerged at the Centre. Many parties opposed to Hindutva also opposed immediate elections, fearing a potential BJP victory. In an interview with 'Sunday' magazine, a leader admitted, "BJP would have swept the elections." Their strategy was to let Hindu sentiments over Ayodhya subside, anticipating the rise of caste identity politics.
The Chandrasekhar government, formed with just 60 MPs and diverse outside support, including socialist Congressmen, feudal caste leaders, minority-appeasing regional chieftains, and ambitious turncoats, became a virtual mockery of democracy aimed at preventing a BJP resurgence.
Outwardly neutral, the Chandrasekhar government was more hostile to Hindus than perhaps even the V.P.Singh administration.
Dr. Subramanian Swamy played a crucial role in establishing the Chandrasekhar Government. In a 1993 address in Hyderabad, he proudly recalled how Prime Minister Chandrasekhar took dealt harshly with the VHP.
We took the decision on my urging, that (if) RSS insists on Kar Seva, then one week before the Kar Seva all top leaders of BJP, Bajrangdal, Viswa Hindu Parishad should be arrested under National Security Act and sent to Laksha Dweep and Andaman for some time, and this decision was to be communicated them. Mr. Chandra Sekhar the Prime Minister, communicated this to Mr. Singhal of VHP at the residence of Raj Matha. He went there and asked this Kar Seva be called off as otherwise they will be arrested under the National Security Act. Singhal said, “there is the Hindu wave in the country, you will have to shoot Sadhus”. Chandra Sekhar said, ‘I am prepared to shoot all the Sadhus because the Sadhus’ Karthavya and duty is to go to heaven and I will make it faster for them.’
The Chandrasekhar government, facing a need to be hostile to Hindu claims in Ayodhya for its very survival, attempted to portray a genuine effort to address the issue. Negotiations were initiated, demanding evidence from both sides. Despite a biased platform and media propaganda against the VHP, the VHP was fully prepared to submit evidence.
The fact of the matter was that the Sangh had quite a team of accomplished archaeologists and historians on its side. They did not argue on the basis of faith. They presented clinical arguments.
In the October 1990 issue of Manthan, the journal of the Deendayal Research Institute (DRI), B.B.Lal published a paper that brought out the archaeological evidence for the structure below the then domed edifice.
Leftists tried to dub Manthan as a BJP magazine. However Manthan had its own reputation. It hosted multiple seminars that brought together influential figures from India's intellectual landscape, irrespective of their political or ideological affiliations. Even in the B.B. Lal paper, the archaeologist had questioned the cherished belief of Hindus that Ram preceded Krishna. According to Lal, the Mahabharata’s core events occurred before the core events of the Ramayana.
The intellectual wing of the RSS was ready with robust archaeological evidence to be presented at the first meeting.
The gathering would include the Minister of State for Home, Subodh Kant Sahai, with Chief Ministers Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sharad Pawar, and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat as observers. The first meeting occurred on 1 December, 1990.
The whole issue was condensed to rest on two important questions:
-First, whether a Hindu temple had existed on the site occupied by the Babri structure.
-Second, whether such a temple was demolished on Babar’s or any Islamist commander’s orders for the construction of the domed structure.
If the Hindu side could prove these two assertions, then, the Muslim fundamentalist leader Syed Shahabuddin, who was also the convener of the Babri Masjid Co-ordination Committee and later one of founder-members of Babri Masjid Action Committee, said that he himself would demolish the structure. Rajiv Gandhi too wrote to Chandrasekhar that whether the site should be handed over to Hindus or Muslims should be decided by archaeological and historical evidence.
Moropant Pingley from the RSS, representing the VHP, and Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat proposed that both sides bring in experts in history and archaeology to exchange evidence. Zafaryab Jilani, a lawyer from the BMAC side, suggested that committee members should first verify the evidence among themselves and then seek expert cooperation. They agreed on a timeframe:
-Both parties should provide their respective evidences to the Minister of State for Home by 22 December, 1990.
-The Minister would make copies of the evidences available to all concerned by 25 December, 1990.
-After verification of these evidences, the two sides again would meet on 10 January, 1991 at 10.00 a.m.
Things seemed to move fast.
On 23 December, 1990 both sides submitted the evidence. BMAC ‘evidence’ turned out to be article, op-eds and rhetorical content.
It seems the BMAC were led to believe in the strength of their case and stupidity of the other side. So much so that what they compiled even had data against their own stand.
For example, what they presented included the work of R. Nath on Mughal architecture. Hearing about this he wrote that he sent in a reply, stating he was sure the 'mosque' was erected on a temple, with on-site inspection reinforcing his belief (as mentioned in Koenraad Elst's Ayodhya and After). Perhaps the temple was destroyed in a previous Sultanate's time and the domed structure renovated under Babur’s orders, so he gave his opinion.
The VHP submitted evidence that was systematic and addressed only one question – whether or not a temple was demolished and the current structure built upon on it. This systematic body of evidence not only answered this question but also naturally addressed other aspects, such as archaeological attestation suggesting Ayodhya's historical continuity from the days of the Ramayana. From archaeological data and travellers' accounts to Muslim testimonies and revenue records, the empirical evidence directly supported their case.
The VHP had done its homework through its expert team of professional historians and archaeologists which consisted of Prof. B.R. Grover, Prof. Devendra Swarup Agarwal and Dr. S. P. Gupta. Though Prof. Gupta was formally associated with the Sangh, he was a well reputed name in Indian and international archaeology. The other historians had no connection with the RSS or the VHP.
On 10 January, 1991, it was also decided that both sides would submit the names of their experts, who would study the relevant documents and then meet on 24 and 25 January, 1991, and give their comments by 5 February, 1991.
BMAC, misled by Marxist historians, did not anticipate the evidence from the VHP. Their team which arrived on 24 January 1991 included four executive officers and four JNU experts—Dr. R.S. Sharma, Dr. D. N. Jha, Dr. Surajbhan, and Dr. M. Athar Ali.
On behalf of the VHP were legal luminaries like Justice (retd.) Guman Mal Lodha, Justice (retd) Deoki Nandan Agarwal, Justice (retd) Dharamveer Sahgal and Senior Advocate Virendra Kumar Singh Chaudhury, and present as historians and experts were Dr Harsh Narain, Prof. B.R. Grover, Prof. K.S. Lal, Prof. B.P. Sinha, Prof. Devendra Swarup Agarwal and archaeologist Dr S.P. Gupta.
Ironically, the ‘experts’ of the Babri Committee said that none of them had visited Ayodhya nor had studied the evidence. It was at this point that the four historians of BMAC side made a strange demand that they be recognised as an independent body of historians. Minister S.K. Sahai completely rejected this outrageous and pretentious demand. They then asked for six weeks to study the evidence and rejoinder submitted by the VHP. The next day, which too was a designated day of meeting, the VHP experts came and they waited for two hours. None of the BMAC experts turned up. Same thing was repeated in the subsequent meeting.
With this, talks failed.
Meanwhile paranoid over two plain clothes Haryana police men allegedly snooping his house Rajiv Gandhi created political tantrums pressurising Chandrasekhar Government to yield to each and every demand Rajiv fancied. Subramanian Swamy acted as the middleman between Congress and Chandrasekar.
Irritated and humiliated, Chandrasekhar resigned as Prime Minister in March 1991. On April 2nd and 3rd, 1991, the VHP organized a massive rally at Boat Club in the capital, with thousands of sadhu delegates and three lakh Ram bhaktas. Delhi came to a halt. The resolution openly declared the intent to liberate not only Ayodhya but also Kashi and Mathura.
A political statement followed, urging Hindus to politically oppose Mulayam Singh and the trio of Chandrasekhar, Rajiv Gandhi, and V.P. Singh.
"Devotion to Ram is the strength of the nation," Lal Krishna Advani declared as the nation entered election mode.
This is the eighth piece in the 'Ayodhya 2024' series that Aravindan Neelakandan is writing in the build-up to the inauguration of the Shri Rama Janmabhoomi temple. We will be publishing one article every week. You can read the rest of the pieces in the series here.
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