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Uttar Pradesh

Struggle and violence: The chronicle of a 167-yr-long saga

August 05, 2020 07:26 AM


Struggle and violence: The chronicle of a 167-yr-long saga

Ram Ki Paidi lit up by earthen lamps on the eve of the Ram temple foundation-laying function in Ayodhya on Tuesday. DEEPAK GUPTA/HT
Sunita Aron

LUCKNOW : When tens of thousands of kar sevaks, or Hindu religious volunteers, descended on the Uttar Pradesh town of Ayodhya in 1990, few carried the conviction that their dream of a Ram temple would ever become a reality.

The Ram Janmabhoomi movement was at its zenith and the lanes of Ayodhya rang with chants of “Mandir yahin banayenge” (the temple will be built here), but the contentious issue was caught in a legal tangle and a political consensus looked impossible. At a press conference, journalists even asked former Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) chief Ashok Singhal, who was leading the mass movement, if the temple would ever be built.

Sitting in Karsewakpuram, the nerve centre of the temple movement, he told them, “Yes, Ram temple here at the sanctum sanctorum will turn into a reality --(although) it may not happen in our lifetime.” Some others, including former CM Kalyan Singh, Ramchand Paramhans, the chief of the influential Digamber Akhara, and current UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, shared the conviction.

Despite the efforts of these leaders, enthusiasm around the movement cooled by the 2000s. The VHP and its rival group, the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC), kept the issue simmering by marking December 6 as‘ “shaurya diwas” (day of valour) and day of mourning, respectively, but public attendance at these events was thin.

All that changed with the rise of Narendra Modi to power at the Centre in 2014 and Yogi Adityanath becoming UP chief minister in 2017.


The documented history of the dispute goes back to 1853, when the first communal violence was recorded. In 1885, a priest unsuccessfully petitioned a local court to start prayers and in 1949, idols of Ram appeared under the central dome of the Babri Masjid, triggering one of the longest legal battles over land ownership, which finally concluded in November 2019 in the Supreme Court. There were three major turning points– appearance of idols of the deity in 1949, the order of the Faizabad sessions judge allowing “darshan” of the deity by unlocking the gates in February 1986, and the demolition of the structure in December 1992.

In 1983, the RSS and the VHP first raised the emotive issue of Ram temple. At a meeting in Muzaffarnagar town, Dau Dayal Khanna, Dinesh Tyagi, Gulzari Lal Nanda and RajjuBhaiyya spoke about constructing a temple at the disputed site. Khanna, a former state minister, and Singhal later visited Ayodhya where they met Paramhans.

At a meeting of 50 saints later, a decision was taken to form the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Yojana Samiti under the chairmanship of Mahant Avaidyanath, the head of the Gorakhnath mutt and guru of Adityanath.

By October 1985, the VHP, constituted in 1964, launched its first formal “Rath Yatra” demanding the unlocking of the disputed structure. In February 1986, unlocking of gates pushed the dispute under a spotlight and triggering communal tension. The BMAC, a key Muslim party in the case, was also born that year.

Soon after the unlocking, the VHP and various Hindu groups intensified their public mobilization campaigns. The first big event was the “Ram Shila Puja” held in thousands of villages across the country. About 250,000 consecrated “shilas” or carved stones reached Ayodhya in a matter of months. In 1989, a shilanyas (foundation ceremony) was performed near the disputed structure, the permission for which was granted by the Congress government in the state. In a balancing act, a confused Congress wanted to win over Hindus without losing Muslims.

Before the 1989 Lok Sabha election, then Union home minister Buta Singh flew to Lucknow in the early hours of the morning and drove straight to the chief minister’s residence at Mall Avenue in Lucknow. Senior VHP leaders were already present there. Then chief minister, ND Tiwari of the Congress, walked out in a huff after signing an agreement.

Weeks later,prime minister Rajiv Gandhi launched his election campaign from Faizabad, four kilometres away from the shilanayas site. He spoke about Ram Rajya and not Ram temple. But while the Congress attempted to maintain ambivalence, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) doubled down on Hindutva. When the results were announced, the Congress’s tally fell from 15 to five seats. The BJP won eight of the 85 seats and its tally in the Lower House soared from two to 85. This momentous election marked the fall of Congress in UP politics, the rise of BJP and the dominance of two regional powerhouses: Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati.


As the 90s dawned, the country was vertically divided on the issue politically. The shilanayas activated the opposition parties, which came together under the banner of Janata Dal before the 1989 polls. Former Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh along with leaders belonging to left parties gave a call for “ Ayodhya chalo.” Members of the National Integration Council, a body of politicians and intellectuals set up in 1961, went on an inspection that left them more confused as the disputed structure appeared like a mosque with an idol of Ram inside. Some members paid obeisance inside. Perplexed, some asked, “But where is the Babri mosque?”

In December 1989, Mulayam Singh became the chief minister of UP for the first time, but he was dependent on the support of Congress. Mulayam’s relations with VP Singh soured after a split in the Janata Dal as both wanted to be the messiah of Muslims in UP.

In September 1990, BJP veteran LK Advani embarked on Somnath-Ayodhya yatra. In October, he was arrested in Samastipur in Bihar by then chief minister Lalu Prasad. But kar sevaks had reached Ayodhya in thousands by then and started gathering near the structure. Such was the frenzy that despite heavy deployment of security forces, the crowds kept moving towards the site in great waves, with one group managing to reach the dome. The government ordered the police to fire at the crowd, and around 20 people were killed. The government fell.

Assembly elections followed. The BJP grew from 57 to 221 in 1991. Kalyan Singh became chief minister. When the Lok Sabha election results were declared, no party was close to a majority but the BJP bagged 51 seats.


The BJP government quickly changed the complexion of the disputed area. The government acquired 2.77 acres of land around the 0.313 acre disputed shrine . Next, the government demolished various temples and buildings to level the ground.

In early 1992, the government gave 42 acres of land to the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, a key Hindu party in the case, on a 99-year lease on an annual rent of Rs 1 per year . The trust also bought some additional six acres of land.

It is in this 48 acres of land where kar sevaks congregated in December 1992 for roughly a week before marching towards the disputed site.

On December 6, 1992, the disputed structure was demolished. PV Narasimha Rao, the then PM, dismissed the Kalyan Singh government. The Centre acquired 67 acres of land, including the one belonging to the trust.

Some senior BJP leaders feared losing a potent public issue in the political arena. For the next 25 years, the BJP came close to power but never won a majority in Uttar Pradesh. In the 1993 and 1996 state assembly elections, it won 177 and 174 seats, respectively. Its numbers sharply fell to 88 in 2002, and 51 in 2007. It only returned to power in 2017 with a thumping majority of 300-plus seats. From August 5, a new chapter will start in Ayodhya.

The city is geared up for the ground-breaking ceremony. Religious sentiments are palpable but communal amity prevails with even firebrand BJP leaders talking about Muslim participation in the construction of the temple, reminding many of Kalyan Singh’s words, “Let Muslim brothers participate in building the Ram temple, I will lay the first brick of their mosque.

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