At Ayodhya, India discovered its nationalist soul

That day was crisp and sunny for December. The heat emanating from the crowds that had gathered on a large, grassless maidan on December 6, 1992, had its own voltage.

Published: 02nd December 2018 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st December 2018 12:23 PM   |  A+A-

That day was crisp and sunny for December. The heat emanating from the crowds that had gathered on a large, grassless maidan on December 6, 1992, had its own voltage. The Babri Masjid squatted on a small hillock, its domes scarred with ugly patches, its body black and stained with turbulent history. A dinosaur from a bloody past, cornered by nationalism’s foot soldiers. I stood on the terrace of a building opposite Babur’s abomination, watching the heaving sea of people baying for blood. 

They were mostly young, with saffron headbands on which ‘Ram’ was inscribed. There were sadhus bearing shining tridents and wooden staffs. I had evaded the cops who had entered the area to take reporters away. They anticipated trouble. Unlike now, the media was not a favourite with bhakts because most magazines and newspapers—the raucous age of raging, ranting, shallow television journalism lay in the future—did not support the movement. 

With the sun at its meridian, a sudden surge among the restless multitude below me caught my attention. Cheers rent the air as waves of people raced up the slope, smashing through police barricades into the disused mosque. Their roar spread through the air, scattering the birds on the domes. In the matter of what seemed like minutes, the first dome fell to pickaxes and even bare hands. Beside me, an old gentleman held his grandchild aloft and told him, “Look beta, they are setting Ram Lalla free.” 

I borrowed his Ram headband and rushed down to join the crowd. Propelled by their energy, I ran up the incline into the collapsing structure which wept dust. Through the swirling plumes of collapse and clamour, a sadhu spotted me. He thrust his trident into my hand and exhorted me to pound the wall down. It was a scoop for the magazine I worked for then.

Now, almost 26 years later the old man may not be around. That grandchild would be a young man who has a job or is looking for one. His father probably drives a motorbike, and he is looking to upgrade his car. He may be married or expecting a child. A very different life from December 1992. The probability is he also voted BJP in 2014 and 2017—a vote for Narendra Modi and development.

A vote against the minority appeasement politics of the Congress. Perhaps he is now aware that Udhav Thackeray desires to become a national leader from Ayodhya and the VHP is looking for a comeback under its old Ram banner. 

India discovered its nationalist soul in 1992, which was reborn as the nemesis of the Congress over four years ago. India also went through unprecedented prosperity. Ayodhya is the conjunction of faith and aspiration. It is possible that both would become one. Whether it will happen at the cost of one over the other will predict the contours of politics for the next 26 years.

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