Bypassing the Politics of Ayodhya

More than two decades after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Ravi Shankar recounts his experience of witnessing the kar sevaks bring down the medieval mosque and says that the incident marked the collapse of the ancien regime of secularism and BJP leader L K Advani emerged as the first Hindu Knight Templar of India

Published: 13th December 2013 10:15 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th December 2013 10:15 AM   |  A+A-

Something happened twenty-one years ago this month, that would forever alter the political geography of India. It was the collapse of the ancien regime of secularism, which had been fattened on political cronyism.

Standing on a crowded terrace overlooking a square, hemmed in by bamboo barricades, I could see the crowd of kar sevaks becoming restless as the sun slowly banished the December mist that had obscured Ayodhya’s temple towers. The huge, time-blackened building menacingly squatted on a rise in front. It was built by a brutal warlord who had come all the way from Uzbekistan to seize India. On his way, Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur had torched Lahore, watching it burn for two days. The invader, who Guru Nanak described as “messenger of death”, soon seized the throne of India. He laid the foundations of the Mughal dynasty, born out of a jihad of greed and power. He was no illiterate avatar of Tamurlane, but was a poet and an aesthete. In the tome he wrote, Babur Nama, poetry and ornithology coexist with schizophrenic zeal: ‘For the sake of Islam I became a wanderer; I battled infidels and Hindus. I was determined to become a martyr, Praise be to god that I became a Ghazi—killer of non-Muslims.’ In 1528 Babur “attacked Chanderi and by the grace of Allah captured it in a few hours.... We got the infidels slaughtered”. Mughal rulers, except Akbar, followed Baburology with the same zeal. Shahjehan ordered the destruction of 76 temples. Aurangzeb was the greatest monster —Mughal court records reveal he ordered the destruction of the Kashi Vishwanath temple in 1669, followed by the Krishna temple at Mathura and “a grand mosque was built on its site”. On a December evening 21 years ago Babur’s “infidels” fought back at the past.

At a press conference at Faizabad the previous day, L K Advani answered my question on whether the VHP would demolish the mosque. He dismissed the possibility. The next day, after a journalist was attacked by kar sevaks, all media was herded into safety behind heavily protected police barricades. Looking for more journalists, the cops arrived at the terrace where I stood along with a throng, watching the tumult in the square. I didn’t want to be herded to safety. The atmosphere crackled with the electricity of history. I borrowed a saffron gamcha — a cotton towel that kar sevaks wore around their necks — to make the cops believe I was a pilgrim among many. As the domes fell one by one, people left their positions and rushed towards the mosque, which was by then being attacked with pickaxes, tridents and iron bars. I was swept along in the tide and was perhaps the only journalist to get inside the mosque when it was being demolished. Amid the chaos of dust and falling stones, a sadhu with matted tresses and a flaming white beard thrust a gleaming trident into my hands and urged me to strike a blow for Ram. The air was thunderous with the ancient war cry that conquered Ravan’s Lanka.

That Hindu banzai made Advani India’s first Hindu Knight Templar. His first rath yatra from Somnath in Gujarat to Ayodhya was stopped in Bihar, but the seeds of Hindu political triumph were sown. Advani was the general of the BJP’s march to power, riding on the chariot of faith. But the new saffron samurai who lays claim to the seat of Delhi has skipped the road to Ayodhya for now. Narendra Modi, self-defined ‘Hindu nationalist’, uses the weapons of development and aggressive rhetoric — sometimes historically incorrect — to attack the UPA’s corruption, economic ruin and dynastic politics. The difference between Advani and Modi reflects India’s departure from the politics of communalism to the gratification of aspirations.

Manmohan Singh showed that Nehru’s “modern temples of India” were not dams and PSUs, but the stock exchange and mega malls. Modi seeks to take it forward by forging a new future for India by departing from the ‘secular’ versus Hindu debate. God is the passenger, and not the driver, of his chariot. 

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