How different was that sundown, 25 years ago, in Ayodhya
In poetry as in literature, Shaam-e-Awadh, the evenings in Ayodhya, are believed to rival the legendary evenings of Misr or Egypt. But that sundown, 25 years ago, was different.
All India Radio spoke of chhut-put, or small and insignificant damage to the Babri Masjid, every hour, starting in its 1 pm bulletin. This lasted all through the crisp, sunny Sunday that was December 6, 1992. To those of us there –– eyewitnesses — chhut-put sounded loud, noisy and full of slogans. And from then on, it has always conveyed a sense of old stone being ground down.
Within five and a half hours, after noon, the three domes of Babri Masjid, were reduced to rubble. But now, seen from the vantage point of 25 years after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, what did this change on the ground?
With the Babri Masjid coming down and the Rath Yatra that preceded it, the idea that India and being Indian did not vest in the faith you followed, food you ate or the language you spoke in, suffered a deathly blow. That the PV Narasimha Rao-led Congress was at the Centre and the BJP in power in the state, conveyed a sense of complicity between the two, at the turn of events that followed.
A set of centrifugal forces were unleashed, which pushed old loyal Congress voters away faster than ever, while the BJP gained hugely in terms of being able to weather the Congress down and pitch itself as the principle challenger. Not yet fully entrenched, with regional forces coming in, this slow fracturing of the Congress set the stage for a long era of coalition politics which ended only in 2014.
For a generation born well after independence and with little connect with the Line of Control -– there having been no war with Pakistan after 1971 -– this was another deep fissure in the India project, on pushing the idea of the enemy within. Partition had been reduced to a distant memory for a whole generation, both Hindu and Muslim, but the Babri Masjid dispute ended up helping cement the line of control within, temple and mosque becoming markers of what kind of Indian you were.
The Constitution had done everything to place speed-breakers in the idea of majoritarian sentiment by providing for equality, by not allowing the “majority” to become a mob. As to how large crowds and sheer numbers of people could claim to demolish a Masjid in full public view, with security forces standing by as well as the Supreme Court in attendance, the idea of a mob acquired heft.
The demolition of the Masjid was only one of three significant events that marked the Nineties for India. It took place alongside the opening of the economy, which was having its own impact on India, even as the backward-forward caste divide was forging new social and political realignments in the wake of the Mandal Commission.
The fall of the Soviet Union only one year before, in 1991, had set the stage for economic liberalisation alongside a sense of ‘modernity’ that accompanied the “ópening up” of India, As the Mandir movement raged on, it became increasingly acceptable, not least by association with a new idea of assertion that accompanied rapidly rising new economic classes to the fore.
A project to bring down a medieval mosque and to reconstruct an ancient temple became acceptable to a sizeable section of modern India, in the swirl of overwhelming changes that were taking place at the time.
Ayodhya remained at the centre of the raging storm that was India in the Nineties.
Ayodhya’s faultlines almost became the ‘original sin’ of political mobilisations and campaigns that followed. Whether that was manifested in the formation of the United Front regime around the theme of opposing the BJP post-1992, or the Godhra train burnings with kar-sevaks in 2002, or the riots that followed across Gujarat, or the ten-year rule by the Congress-led UPA that positioned itself as fundamentally anti-BJP — all these events and political processes were seeded within the debris of the Mosque.