In the wake of the Liberhan commision's report being tabled in Parliament, Rediff.com's Sharat Pradhan recounts the day the Babri Masjid was felled.
December 6, 1992 was a black Sunday.All hell broke loose in the otherwise sleepy temple town of Ayodhya, with violent Hindu mobs storming the 16th century mosque built by the first Mughal emperor Babur's army commander Mir Baqi. Their contention was uncompromising -- 'the original Ram Mandir stood there and it was Babur's army that pulled down the temple to erect this mosque'
Even the police was ready to believe this well-orchestrated theory on that fateful day. It was no wonder then that the khakhi-clad cops voluntarily abetted the storming of the mosque. What followed was large scale communal frenzy that eventually took a toll of several hundred lives, across the country.
I had reached Ayodhya on the morning of December 5, 1992 to witness, what was described as 'a rehearsal' of the much publicised kar seva that was to follow 24 hours later. That was meant to mark a token commencement of the construction of the much-debated Ram temple at the spot where a foundation stone had been laid at six years earlier.
The proposed ritual was incredibly simple -- kar sevaks arriving from different corners of the country were to march down to the banks of the river Sarayu, barely a kilometre away, carry a fistful of sand and drop it in a pit specially dug for the purpose close to the site of the shilaniyas (foundation stone) carried out in 1986 during the Rajiv Gandhi regime. Simultaneously 101 saffron-clad sadhus were to knock their hammers on the specially erected concrete platform overlooking the disputed structure of the Babri Masjid. The fact that this drill was followed quite religiously led everyone to foresee a boring uneventful day ahead.
The kar sevaks came in their turns and followed the announced programme. That was enough to make everyone believe that the saffron forces had come in for a major climbdown by settling for a symbolic kar seva.
Not only the local authorities but even media persons from different corners of the globe were willing to actually believe that the saffron brigade comprising the activists of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies, the Bajrang Dal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and their common mastermind, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh -- had given up plans of undertaking any drastic step.
"What an anti-climax," a correspondent from a foreign news agency had remarked, as we watched batches of kar sevaks from different Indian states performing a complete dress rehearsal for the D-Day. He even regretted having come all the way to witness the anti-climax. "This will not even make a small story for me," he quipped.
I walked up to the nearby media centre run by the VHP to use their STD line to call the Reuters newsdesk in Delhi to give update them on the events of the day. The PCO culture was yet to take root and mobiles or sat-phones were unheard of. That was nearest available STD line and mediapersons had free access to it. Just as I was climbing the narrow staircase, I overheard a conversation, someone was asked to arrange for 300 hammers and steel containers (used for carrying mortar or refuse) on December 6. "I have already told you about other things, now see to it that everything reaches here by tonight," the voice was saying, before ending the call. I had not seen that man before, but obviously guessing that I was a media-person, he allowed me to use the phone while he walked away to the adjoining room.
It was that phone call which provided some clues to the Central Bureau of Investigation, after I deposed before them and later before the Liberhan Commission. I gave CBI the number I had called and they were able to track down the preceding number called (by this person whom I had heard issuing instructions for supply of some implements). The agency's sleuths were able to pick up both the caller and the person called. It came in handy for the CBI to establish the planning and 'conspiracy' behind the demolition.
Coming back to the scene on December 5, 1992, the day passed off peacefully. The day's only exciting event was the test drill by smartly turned out men of the then newly raised Rapid Action Force in their colourful gear. They covered the 7 km distance from Faizabad to Ayodhya in barely five minutes -- an unparalleled feat that not only evoked wide applause but also renewed confidence among the masses that nothing untoward would be allowed to happen.
Officials patted their backs for such a 'high level' of preparedness, for any eventuality on the following day.
However, they failed to foresee the shape of things to come. They chose to overlook the ground reality that while they had accomplished the feat under tailor-made conditions on a clear road with all traffic stopped, the situation on the day of the demolition would not be the same. Even as the countdown began for the final showdown on the morning of December 6, no one suspected the intentions of the kar sevaks.
Everything appeared to go as per the rehearsal until about 1130 hrs when a batch of kar sevaks, raising passionate Hindutva slogans sought to break through the human chain that was formed by RSS workers, to enclose the entire cemented platform.
The idea, according to the local organisers, was to keep everybody other than the select band of 101 sadhus from stepping onto the platform. After all, these sadhus alone were detailed to perform the symbolic kar seva by knocking their hammers on the platform.
However, the insistence of the kar sevaks to break the cordon led to a clash between them and the RSS volunteers on guard. Soon, a few local mahants (priests) led by Gyan Das, the chief priest of Hanuman Garhi (Ayodhya's oldest temple) also moved in to assist the volunteers in keeping the kar sevaks away. The volunteers got thrashed by the kar sevaks for their trouble.
What worsened the situation at this juncture was the announcement over the public address system, asking the people to stop beating each other. "Please do not beat up the kar sevaks; after all they are our own people." Far from bringing down tempers, this announcement provoked other batches of kar sevaks to rush towards the concrete structure.
Suddenly a huge band of kar sevaks from Andhra Pradesh and Maharastra, reached the spot, ready to teach the volunteers a lesson. A free for all ensued.
Photo-journalists naturally got onto their toes to grab their shots. But the kar sevaks as well as the RSS volunteers objected to being photographed, apparently because both did not want the media to have any hard evidence of their brawl.
Such objections hardly deter any photographers and many photo-journalists especially those from from the foreign media snapped away. Within minutes the kar sevaks and RSS volunteers turned their anger towards these photo-journalists, who were beaten up ruthlessly. Some found their cameras smashed while others ran for their lives. Clearly, the two had found a common enemy in the media, whom they began to target selectively. Even reporters chose to shove their notebooks and pens inside their pockets. Soon, most of the media-persons were huddled up on the rooftop of a neighbouring building overlooking the Babri Mosque.
And it was from here that I watched the remaining sequence of events that culminated in the razing of the 16th century mosque.
The clash with mediapersons allowed more bands of kar sevaks to converge on the platform. They headed straight for the mosque. The steel barricading that stood as the barrier proved no hurdle for them. In fact, many of them managed to pull out the steel pipes used in the barricade and charged at the structure. Soon there were thousands of kar sevaks armed with steel pipes or iron rods, swarming across the place and banging at the 16th century structure.
There was nobody to stop them. The local police was visibly neck deep in abetting the act. "Go faster, dammit; don't waste time; take this way," were the kind of directions coming from the cops, who stood as spectators. The then Central Reserve Police Force Deputy Inspector General O P S Malik, who was leading the contingent detailed to protect the shrine, had no choice but to run for his life with violent kar sevaks pelting stones at his team guarding the inner precincts of the mosque.
Meanwhile, dozens of kar sevaks had managed to scale the tall walls and reached atop the three domes of the mosque. Yet, none could imagine that that the worst was still to come. After all, the kar sevaks were not armed with anything bigger than steel pipes, rods and hammers, that which could not even cause any major dent to the domes. For one hour they kept knocking at the domes and could not reach anywhere beyond peeling off the tough plaster over the 464-year old structure.
An unusual warning rang out over the public address system. "All those on top of the disputed structure must come down, as the structure is about to crumble." The announcement was repeated in different Indian languages perhaps for the benefit of kar sevaks who had thronged from different corners of the country. And it surely had its impact as over the next 30 minutes, the domes were cleared.
Simultaneously, some young men were seen rushing out of the structure holding a steel trunk. All kinds of speculations and rumours abounded. However, it was much later that one learnt that the trunk contained the precious deity and other accompanying adornments kept in the temple.
Around the same time, I saw a large number of kar sevaks, focusing their attention at the base of the mosque. Armed with flat blunt-edged steel rods and hammers, they were busy digging into the three-foot thick walls of the mosque right at the plinth level. The digging was being carried out systematically from both sides of the wall with an obvious intent to narrow down and weaken the supporting walls at the base of the structure. Eventually, holes were dug into the thinned down supporting walls. These holes came in handy to accomplish their ultimate goal of razing the mosque.
Thick jute ropes were looped through these holes and hundreds of kar sevaks pooled in all their strength to pull these ropes. Naturally, the walls gave way with each pull and one by one, the three domes of the mosque caved in to bring and end to the historic landmark even before the sun had set on the ancient temple town.
Interestingly, before the next sunrise, the deity was back in its place -- of course sans the huge domes. Sure enough, kar sevaks had achieved their objective -- of not only pulling down the mosque, but also ensuring re-installation of the deity of Ram Lalla (the infant Lord Ram) under a crude canopy made out of locally available cloth and canvas. Apparently, the idea was to have a makeshift temple in place -- to establish their physical right over the site that had remained disputed for more than four-and-a-half centuries.