While most of the BJP leaders celebrated the fall of Babri Masjid, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was “scared”
This excerpt from Sagarika Ghose’s book Atal Bihari Vajpayee is republished with permission from Juggernaut.
December 6, 1992. At the bottom of the narrow, winding streets of Ayodhya, on a grassy hill, stood the three-domed Babri Mosque. The little mosque was in the eye of a storm, the hotbed of hysterical rage on one side and an assertion of defiance on the other. Railings, barricades, steel fences and ropes encircled the controversial structure. A thin line of police stood against an advancing wave. Thousands of so-called “kar sevaks”, mobilized and galvanized for two years by the VHP, Bajrang Dal and other Hindu organizations had descended on Ayodhya.
Early in the morning of the 6th, angry crowds gathered at some distance from the Babri Mosque in Karsevakpuram, the camp that had been set up for them. Cries and cries arose: “It is time for kar seva at Babri Masjid, it is time to seize the Babri Masjid, it is time to destroy the Babri Masjid.
Stiff, bright-eyed young men, some with “Jai Shri Ram” tattooed on their chest, jumped and scrambled, waving saffron flags and trishuls, their voices shrill. ‘Hindu jis ka khoon na khaule, woh khoon nahin pani hai [The Hindu whose blood doesn’t boil, doesn’t have blood in his veins but water]. ‘ ‘Jai Shri Ram, mandir yahin banayenge [We will build the Ram temple right here]. ‘
Gathered in a nearby dharamshala, leaders of BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal watched the strangely excited crowds with a growing sense of unease. Today, Sunday, December 6, 1992, was the day they had set for a “symbolic” kar seva, to establish the presence of the Ram temple at the disputed site. The leaders hoped that the “ram bhakts” or kar sevaks would gather at the puja and that their planned public meetings would distract the crowds from the mosque.
But the kar sevaks had other plans. As early as 6 a.m., they started arriving in front of the contested 2.77-acre area where the mosque stood. “If the rulers don’t allow kar seva, they will face our maar seva,” one of the kar sevak shouted. The police were on standby, guarding the security cordon around the mosque. PAC jawans patrolled the barrier. RSS volunteers wearing armbands stood in single file alongside the police.
At 10 a.m., LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and the VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders arrived at the site and proceeded to the Ram Katha Kunj, 150-200 meters from the disputed site, where a raised platform had been placed. They started their speeches. But who cared about the leaders and their speeches? It was the hour of kar sevak, the moment of historic vendetta, the moment to unleash a repressed and well mobilized fury. The kar sevaks had their eyes fixed on the masjid, while the rulers said in vain. The leaders were irrelevant. The crowd took matters into their own hands. Some young people started pushing against the barricades and security lines. In large groups, they jostled the police and RSS volunteers and rushed over the metal fences, some trying to get past them.
The police backed off.
At around 11 a.m., a youth ran out of the crowd. He pushed back the gendarme who was trying to stop him and jumped over the barricade. There was a split second pause, then others followed him, running towards the security line and crossing the barrier in several places. A cry is heard: ‘Mandir yahin banayenge.The RSS men rushed after them, trying to stop the flow of kar sevaks by running, leaping, but the kar sevaks set off, deftly dodging the cops. As the PAC watched helplessly and CRPF units quietly left the scene, groups of kar sevaks escaped safety.
Behind the mosque, another group of kar sevaks climbed above the barricades. When the police and some RSS volunteers tried to stop them, the gathered crowd started throwing stones, providing cover for those on their way to the mosque.
As stones and bricks fell, the police melted and hundreds of kar sevaks broke through the barricades and made their way towards the Babri Mosque. A scantily built young man leapt up the steel balustrades encircling the structure like a “circus acrobat.” Others gathered at the base of the masjid and, using ropes and grapples, climbed to the top of the central dome “as if they were trained mountaineers”. On the ground someone has planted a saffron flag. The crowd action did not sound like a sudden insurrection; instead, it seemed well planned and executed by able-bodied infantry.
The voice of RSS General Secretary HV Seshadri rang through the loudspeaker, calling on kar sevaks in several different languages not to damage the masjid. But now the crowd was screaming and singing so loud that he could barely be heard. Well equipped with picks, chisels, huge hammers and blacksmith’s shovels, the kar sevaks, waving saffron flags, climbed to the top of the masjid. They swarmed all over the three domes with the same bustle as a colony of bees shaken from their hive. Advani, looking confused, asked Uma Bharti to try to keep the kar sevaks away from the masjid. Trying to lure them out of the masjid and towards the kar seva site, Uma Bharti exclaimed: “Ram bhakton se meri call hai ki kar seva ka samay ho gaya hai. . . wapas aa jay [I appeal to the Ram devotees that it is time for the kar seva, they must come back]. ‘
The same Uma Bharti would be pictured hours later beaming in front of the cameras after the domes were demolished when she said, “Today is the happiest day of my life.”
The crowd worked at its own pace, deaf to the pleas of the leaders. An almighty punch and smear began. The kar sevaks worked with manic energy in coordinated teams, as if they were well trained for the task. Some hammered, some chiseled, others dragged ropes for tool supplies. Clouds of dust mixed with columns of black smoke that began to rise from mosques and houses in Ayodhya town that had been set on fire by mad kar sevaks. At Ram Katha Kunj, Sadhvi Rithambara, dressed in flowing saffron, began to sing and dance, like a high priestess of misfortune, her eyes half closed, a smile playing around her lips: ‘Ek dhakka aur do, Babri Masjid tod do [Give one more shove, bring the masjid down]. ‘ Bands of kar sevaks waving saffron flags stood on the domes of the Babri Mosque, like an army of tattered pirates aboard a conquered ship. The scene flashed on the camera lenses of the gathered journalists, some of whom were beaten and their cameras smashed.
As the mosque began to crumble, the kar sevaks brandished bricks – “Babur’s bricks, Babur’s bones,” they shouted – as if they were trophies. Suddenly, at 1:55 p.m., the first dome collapsed. Kar sevaks fell and were buried under the rubble; they were freed and transported to hospital. Others attacked the base of the other domes with long wooden poles. A four-century-old, time-worn structure could not withstand this ferocious demolition squad working as if possessed by supernatural spirits. Within hours, the other two domes of the masjid shattered and fell to the ground. At five o’clock in the evening, in a cloud of blood-red dust, the Babri Masjid collapsed.
“The Tainted Republic,” thundered the India time in a front-page editorial the next day: “The pernicious characteristics of the Hindutva married by the Sangh Parivar were exposed. . . hatred, fanaticism
and prejudices ”.
It had taken a little over five hours to flatten the Babri Masjid and to arrive at this difficult moment of its demolition, it had taken five years of a systematic campaign of religious hatred. A decade later, VHP chairman Ashok Singhal said in an interview: “Since the beginning of the movement, it was certain from day one that the masjid was doomed to fall.”
In Delhi, Vajpayee was initially appalled. He was the only top BJP leader not present in Ayodhya at the time of the demolition, partly by calculated design, partly by political instinct, partly by personal recoil from the specter of violence and partly because ‘he wanted to stay away. to share the stage with a group of leaders from VHP and Bajrang Dal. On the evening of December 5, he told Lucknow: “I wanted to go to Ayodhya, but I was told to go to Delhi and I will respect this order. A day after the demolition, he indignantly denounced in Delhi: “This is the worst miscalculation my party has made.