The year was 1991. With the Chandrasekhar government collapsing, parliamentary elections loomed. Mulayam Singh Yadav's government in Uttar Pradesh too had fallen and elections to the state assembly were due.
There was a perceptible Ram wave in favour of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Even as the nation was in the grip of election fever, the historians associated with the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC) issued a report titled "Babri Masjid or Rama’s Birth Place?: Historians’ Report to the Nation" on 13 May 1991.
This was a cunning, but strategic move. Historians and archaeologists associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) side had come with strong evidence during the earlier meetings and the BMAC side had literally fled from the field.
Unlike the BMAC historians who had the institutional support of the Indian state, the historians appearing for the Hindu side more often than not used their own resources for their research and the only institutional support they had was from intellectual wings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which themselves had no big funders.
Trying to capture the media's elite space, already dominated by anti-temple forces, was a clever move on behalf of the BMAC side.
The irony was this. The so-called obscurantist forces relied on ground support of Hindu masses or, the subalterns but the so-called progressive Left-liberals concentrated on capturing the space belonging to media barons. In southern India especially, a popular Chennai-based newspaper and its allied publications together became a strident voice of the anti-temple Left.
Back to the elections.
On 21 May 1991, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a suicide bomber of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Elections were deferred to June.
The sentiments of sympathy for the late Rajiv Gandhi dampened the chances of the BJP but they were not enough to push the Congress to a full majority.
Eventually though, the new prime minister was from the Congress but wasn't from the Gandhi family — P V Narasimha Rao.
In the Uttar Pradesh assembly, a Ram wave easily lifted the BJP to power and Kalyan Singh became the chief minister on 24 June 1991. On 25 June, he along with his council of ministers visited Ayodhya and promised the temple exactly at the spot where it was being demanded.
The previous Mulayam Singh government had created a lot of obstructions for the pilgrims visiting Ayodhya. Even a canopy that was put over the proposed temple foundation area was removed. Within 10 days of coming to power Kalyan Singh undid all of that and also re-installed the canopy.
And yet, below the surface, the going wasn't smooth.
A large number of the BJP lawmakers, both in the UP legislative assembly and Parliament, were from the VHP background. They desired a faster route to the temple under the current regime. Yet, legal and democratic procedures, trauma from the 1990 massacre, and media narratives fuelled tension.
The upcoming anniversary of the karsevaks' massacre on 30 October heightened emotions with the VHP announcing that the day would be observed as a day of remembering and honouring the memories of balidanis — ‘Shaurya Diwas’.
The anti-temple forces were happy at this friction within the pro-temple side. One more push and the temple movement could be laid to rest and the Babri structure would forever stand tall over the Ram Janmabhoomi. The Ayodhya movement would be a colossal failure for the Hindus because of the inherent contradictions between BJP and the VHP.
However, weeks before 30 October 1991, the Kalyan Singh government announced the acquisition of 2.77 acres of land in the janmasthan complex.
On 10 October, the land was taken by the UP government. The acquisition was challenged in both the High Court and Supreme Court. Meanwhile some VHP functionaries openly spoke to some journalists about how Kalyan Singh would eventually allow them to take control of the acquired area.
In November 1991, some VHP activists even stormed the complex and hoisted the saffron flag on the dome of the Babri structure. This was highlighted by the media as an act of transgression. Clearly, patience was running out.
On 15 November 1991, the Supreme Court transferred all the writs regarding the acquisition to the High Court. The apex court also made it clear that the final disposal would happen within "sometime in December of this year".
Meanwhile levelling of the land in the acquired area was underway. The number of karsevaks coming to Ayodhya was slowly increasing. They wanted to do the karseva at least in the acquired land.
Madhukar Dattatraya Deoras, the all India leader (Sarsanghachalak) of the RSS was a man of exceptional vision. It was under him that the RSS made remarkable progress in expanding its support base. He saw the Ayodhya movement not just as a temple movement but as a movement for a complete rejuvenation of Hindu society.
He also understood that this was a dangerous phase in the history of the movement. Detractors were waiting for Hindu unity to come apart.
Even though ailing, Deoras came from Nagpur to Calcutta to attend a session which of the larger Sangh parivar.
It was agreed that karseva would continue in a phased manner even as the court battles would continue. A pro-temple state government meant no more massacres like the ones that happened under Mulayam Singh Yadav. Presence of such a government is needed. This is our nation and our Constitution.
The temple should be built while upholding their dignity. Achieving the Ram temple goal through legal means, maintaining power balance, and cadre discipline is crucial for the movement's strength. Sangh leaders returned to their respective bases with these well-defined mission perspectives.
Meanwhile, the acquired land started talking.
This is the ninth 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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