Twenty five years ago, India witnessed the demolition of the Babri Masjid. An earth-shattering event – the echo reverberates to this day in society, in politics, in culture and in the minds and hearts of citizens. The entire country erupted into flames of communal riots with this event. With one push, India’s secular credentials were demolished. With one blow, communities were divided forever.
An older generation of Indians has seen the ugliness of partition and the carnage that followed. But those incidents have become a distant and hazy memory. India has survived and electoral democracy has been established. It may not be perfect, but it’s still a work in progress. In the past, Indira Gandhi and General Manekshaw had decidedly dealt with our pesky neighbour. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, the formidable duo of prime minister and finance minister were dismantling the old and decrepit economic system, and replacing it with fresh blood and energy.
But suddenly came the rise of Advani, whom no one had heard of hitherto, and he announced his Rathyatra from Somnath to Ayodhya. The movement gradually started to get attention. Posters of “Mandir wahin banayenge” and “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain” started to show up everywhere. And society gradually started to polarize and drift apart as if Moses’s staff parted the red sea.
Many of us who grew up in those years, were barely in our teens – too young to understand the politics of it. But we became acutely aware of our religious identities. The tension was palpable, the atmosphere was rife with the specter of communal riots in almost every city. But all said and done, no one actually believed that it will happen. It was a mere slogan, a political drama to gather votes.
But as it happened, most of us had underestimated the power of resentment – imagined or otherwise. The organised sentinels of the Sangh had started to dismantle the structure on December 6, 1992. The chants of ek dhakka aur do motivated the karsevaks to perform their ‘duty’. The structure finally crumbled into a pile of brick, stone and dashed hopes of reconciliation. With very little media coverage and no live television reporting at the time, it was difficult to know how it happened. Most of the journalists were beaten and their cameras snatched. All we were left with were second hand accounts of eyewitnesses. It reminded many of us of that scene in B. R. Chopra’s Mahabharata when Draupadi was denuded by her brother in law and a court full of erudite and wise men wrangled their hands in disbelief but did nothing.
Muslim mohallas and communities were stuck to television and radios, watching and listening to the travesty that was unfolding. People started to say Babri Masjid shaheed kar di gayi. Unable to process the events, they were angry at the audacity of the events and more so with the government – which failed to provide even a pretense of law and order, and instead sided with the rioters and demolishers.
25 years have passed since that day, but the wounds haven’t healed. The architect of that event Lal Krishna Advani, now 90 years old, is a husk of his former self. Kalyan Singh has been forgotten and Uma Bharti and Vinay Katiyar (known for their rousing speeches) haven’t been heard of in a long while.
As for both communities, it is hard to gauge the extent of alienation. Beneath the veneer of civility and cordiality is simmering resentment and years of pent up anger. It erupted in 2002 in Gujarat and recently in Muzaffarnagar. But I believe that the true aftermath of the demolition, and its effect on communities can be seen in the electoral victories of the BJP.
With each election cycle, it continues to collect new victories under the benign gaze of the majority community. Elections are rife with the chants of minority appeasement. Every election cycle, this proverbial rabbit is pulled out of the hat and communities begin to polarize, as if under a trance. Either you are for it or against it – no one is free from this all-consuming phenomenon. Our country’s entire politics is now hinged upon the perceived notion of minority appeasement – either overtly or surreptitiously. The reality and true scale of this phenomenon remains to be determined. It has, on one hand, become a tool for demonising Muslims and on the other hand, a carrot for the rise of aggressive polarization.
The Sangh and the BJP achieved what they had set out to do – to create unanimity for electoral gains. Somewhere along the line, the actual concerns of each community remained inarticulate and unfulfilled. What did survive was a deep-rooted resentment that is harnessed by sly politicians, willing to win an election by hook or by crook.
In due course, a new generation of citizens will cross the threshold of youth and become voting citizens of India. They will have little idea of the mayhem that was unleashed by the demolition of Babri Masjid, and the chaos it had caused. As for all of us who witnessed that unfortunate event, we have moved on without any expectation of closure and justice. Our view of politics forever tinged with the colour of religion, our minds forever scarred by the lack of trust in state machinery.