The Babri Masjid is in the news again. Consequent to the Supreme Court judgement, the Government has now constituted a trust for the construction of the Ram temple. Some of the members of the trust include those that are facing trial in the Babri Masjid demolition case. Kalyan Singh was the UP Chief Minister when the Masjid came down. He is obviously not on the trust or the committee constituted for construction of the temple but is one of the accused in the demolition case.
The Babri Masjid was a bone of contention between the two communities for decades. The structure was apparently built during 1520-29 CE by Mir Baqi on the orders of the Mughal emperor, Babar, but the dispute surfaced during the 19th century. The mosque was located on a hill known as Ramkot. The Hindus believed that there was a pre-existing temple at the site that was destroyed by Baqi. They also believed that Lord Ram was born here.
This belief emanates from documents of Sawai Jai Singh. In Kapad-Dwar collection in the City Palace Museum of Jaipur, there is a sketch map of the Babri Masjid site. Map portrays an open courtyard and a structure resembling the Babri Masjid with three domes. The courtyard is mentioned as Janmasthan and shows a Ram Chabutra.
A group of Hindu ascetics occupied the site in 1853 and claimed ownership over the structure. After a Hindu-Muslim clash in 1855, a boundary wall was constructed to prevent disputes. Thereafter, Hindus prayed on the raised platform and Muslims offered prayers in the inner courtyard.In 1877, Syed Mohammad Asghar, the guardian of the structure, filed a petition with the Faizabad Commissioner requesting for restraint on Hindus who had raised a chabutra on the spot regarded as the birthplace of Ram. The dispute thus acquired a legal dimension.
A nine-day recital of the Ram Charitramanas was organized by the Akhil Bharatiya Ramayan Mahasabha in December 1949 just outside the mosque. On December 23 morning, the event organisers announced that idols of Ram and Sita had appeared miraculously and exhorted Hindus to come for darshan. Given the sensitivity of the issue, the government declared the mosque a disputed area and locked the gates. The unlocking of the gates took place in 1986, when all Hindus were given access to the site.
A massive campaign was subsequently launched to build a Ram temple at the site. It was against this background that the Bharatiya Janata Party, under the leadership of Kalyan Singh, came to power in Uttar Pradesh in 1991 and I was appointed as the Director, Information and Public Relations.Singh took on his job in right earnest. He was concerned about the Ram mandir issue but on assuming office, he made his intentions clear to provide an honest and purposeful governance. He was keen on conveying a message that he meant business. His vision went much beyond the mandir. His objective was to build a new and vibrant Uttar Pradesh.
A list of officers with honest credentials for critical posts like District Magistrates and Secretaries of Departments was drawn up at his behest. Certain social evils like mass copying in school examinations were sought to be reined in. Cabinet meetings would go on for hours, discussing policies on various issues before taking a final call. He got a set of extremely bright officers like Sanjay Aggarwal and Anant Kumar Singh (both later became Secretaries to the Centre), to his secretariat. He left no stone unturned to achieve his objective.
Improvements were clearly in evidence in the form of delivery of services at the field level and in the posting of competent officers. These officers were provided security of tenure and necessary backing to implement the policies. Steps that were taken to prevent mass copying in examinations were unprecedented.
He did want a grand temple at Ayodhya and was diligently working towards a peaceful and amicable consensus. There were indeed a few options emerging. One such option was the construction of a new masjid close to the site. He even gave the example of the shifting of mosques when the Aswan Dam was being constructed in Egypt. This idea was gradually gaining currency. He was engaging intensively with all stakeholders but he was totally against the aggressive posturing that was the hallmark of right-wing religious organizations. Ironically, what emerged in the Supreme Court judgment was the solution that Singh had been working on and attempting.
What happened on December 6, 1992 shocked him as well. Those who believe that Singh was the man behind this demolition overlook the fact that he had an absolute majority in the Assembly. Why would he want to bring his own government down in case the Babri Masjid was demolished? He would have known the consequences of demolition. Any person would have known that. In his repeated interactions with the Central leadership, he argued against the congregation of kar sevaks at the site. This became evident on December 6 during his conversation with the then Rajasthan Chief Minister, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. I was present when this conversation took place.
Singh was livid. He reiterated that he was against such a congregation but he was over-ruled and no one listened to him. His reservation about such a congregation was not based on any apprehension of a mishap. He was somehow convinced that the structure would never come down in the manner it finally did. He was opposed to the congregation in July as well but fortunately no untoward incident happened then. It was a long conversation in which Singh did most of the talking.
One argument often raised against Singh is why Central forces that were stationed nearby to handle the situation were not allowed. It is a fact that Singh didn’t permit the Central forces to take over or seek their assistance, but it does not automatically imply that he did not allow the Central forces to come in because he wanted the demolition to take place.
A similar event had taken place in July and it went off peacefully. Singh believed that, as in July, the kar sevaks would go back after performing pooja and that no harm would come to the masjid. But, on this occasion he was wrong. The structure came down and, with it, came down his government.
(This is an extract from the author’s forthcoming book ‘Ethical dilemmas of a civil servant’)