On this day twenty-seven years ago India witnessed an event that changed the course of its history forever. The anniversary of the demolition of the Babari Masjid brings to mind the destruction unleashed by frenzied kar sevaks on that fateful Sunday and the consequential deaths, busting the myth of Hindu tolerance and inclusivity.
The unforgivable complicity of the state government in Uttar Pradesh and the seeming helplessness of the then central government led the country into a cycle of communal riots, violence and a breakdown of ties between communities. Its aftereffects were felt in the Mumbai blasts of 1993, the post-Godhra riots of 2002 in Gujarat and numerous other incidents.
While communal tensions have been part of the fabric of India since Partition in 1947, the inexorable march of Hindu-Muslim antagonism was fuelled by the mosque demolition. With the Supreme Court now pronouncing its verdict in the Ayodhya title dispute case, the prospect of the grand Ram temple is very much in the sights of the Sangh Parivar even as the trial in the mosque demolition case continues. Senior BJP leaders LK Advani, then UP chief minister Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti and Murli Manohar Joshi are among those facing trial in the case. The Supreme Court has set a nine-month deadline for the case to conclude; it is to be hoped that the same alacrity and expeditiousness is shown in this case as was displayed by the apex court in deciding the Ayodhya title suit in a matter of 40 days.
The top court, while ordering that the disputed land be handed over to a trust to build a Ram temple at the site, held the desecration of the Babari mosque an act in violation of the law. Now that those who defied the law have got their way, it is time for them to show magnanimity and grace, extend a genuine hand of friendship to the Muslim community, agree to a permanent moratorium on other Ayodhya-like demands near mosques in Mathura and Kashi. Had the Supreme Court verdict been the other way round, would the forces which demolished the mosque have restrained themselves or unleashed another spell of violent blood-letting? The 27th anniversary of an event that went against India’s liberal, humanist ethos must prompt some soul-searching.
Those who presided over the demolition are now in power and have shown restraint in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling on the Ayodhya dispute, but to win over the hearts of the country’s 1.3 billion citizens they must embrace the idea of an inclusive, tolerant India. Hatred and brute force are counter-productive, they set back a nation aiming to be a rising superpower. However, BJP MPs openly espousing a Hindu Rashtra, and the government vigorously pushing the Citizenship Amendment Bill are worrying signs.