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Opinion » Comment

Posted at: Dec 6, 2017, 1:01 AM; last updated: Dec 6, 2017, 1:01 AM (IST)

“25 years ago, I was there...”

SNM Abdi
Over the years, the Hindutva forces have become stronger and are in complete control of India today. Rather than being punished, the perpetrators of the mosque demolition have been handsomely rewarded.
“25 years ago, I was there...”
Kar sevaks belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal atop the disputed structure on December 6, 1992, the day the more than four-and-a-half-century-old shrine was pulled down in Ayodhya. File photo
SNM Abdi
Senior Kolkata-based journalist 

The forces which razed the Babri Masjid before my eyes on December 6, 1992, are in complete control of India today. They have gone from strength to strength in 25 years since the demolition of the Ayodhya mosque which, according to the CBI, was the outcome of a criminal conspiracy hatched by BJP-RSS-VHP-Bajrang Dal leaders. But nobody has been punished in a quarter of a century. On the contrary, the perpetrators have been handsomely rewarded and given charge of the country. 

There is, of course, a shade of divine justice in the comatose existence of Lal Krishna Advani — the unquestioned leader of the Ram Janambhoomi movement — doomed to die in the doghouse. Only Bhagwan Ram, who is a stickler for fair play, could have shrunk the Iron Man into a mouse, thank you.     

But the Hindutva big guns who got off scot-free might well cut a Babri Masjid-shaped cake today in Nagpur and Jhandewalan to celebrate the silver jubilee of the demolition. They could also break into a Jai Shri Ram jig just like those lawless kar sevaks of Ayodhya. Debabrata Thakur of the Anand Bazar Patrika, who witnessed the demolition alongside me, mastered the Jai Shri Ram dance number in the volatile days preceding that terrifying black Sunday when the mosque was reduced to rubble within a few hours in broad daylight. 

But Debabrata enjoys a special place in my Ayodhya memories for an entirely different reason. The VHP, which controlled Ayodhya in the run-up to the demolition, had made it mandatory for journalists to fill in forms for a 'press card' to cover the kar seva on December 6. The cards were issued by a VHP media centre where I was handed a form. I was filling it in when Debabrata pulled me aside and said that the kar sevaks wouldn't spare me if the card pinned to my chest had a Muslim name. "For God's sake, take a Hindu name, yaar," he whispered. I told myself that if I was going to assume a Hindu name, it had better be good. Ultimately, I wrote AK Ray on the form along with the name of the magazine I worked for in those days, The Illustrated Weekly of India. AK Ray is phonetically similar to the Bengali words 'E ke ray' — or 'who is he'. The Bengali journalists gathered in Ayodhya complimented me for that touch of irony.  

Congress govt’s failure

The Gujarat pogrom of 2002 was definitely a sequel to the mosque's destruction. Both were the outcome of a criminal conspiracy by the same forces. Although the Congress party scored two mega victories in 2004 and 2009, it did nothing to de-radicalise Indian society infected by the Hindu right or defang the killers of Gujarat, even as it denied justice to Muslims in Congress-ruled states like Maharashtra. Manmohan Singh's government miserably failed to harness the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to nail and jail ringleaders like Narendra Modi or Bal Thackeray. On the contrary, when the USA revoked Modi's visa, the Congress government cried foul and lodged a protest!    

The Congress branded Modi Khoon ka Saudagar but did nothing to bring him to justice. Some Supreme Court judges stepped in when they realised that a massive cover-up was under way in Gujarat. They appointed a SIT, but it didn't deliver. In The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi and Godhra, Manoj Mitta writes that "it seemed as if the SIT panel's brief was more to place Modi's defence on record rather than to ferret out any inconsistency or admission of wrongdoing." Summing up Modi's triumph over India's fact-finding capacity, Mitta wrote: "When the right questions are not put, there will be neither the right evidence nor the right conclusions." 

Shabnam Hashemi openly says that the Congress actually helped Modi to win the Gujarat elections of 2012 so that the BJP would field him as PM candidate in 2014 which would force Muslims across India to vote en masse for the Congress. I don't put such machinations past the Congress. 

Judiciary’s handling of case

No less worrisome is the higher judiciary's handling of the Babri Masjid cases. Earlier this year, then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, JS Khehar, mooted an out-of-court settlement in the civil case (or the title suit to establish whether Hindus or Muslims are the legal owners of the land where the mosque stood) abdicating his responsibility to mete out justice to the aggrieved Muslims. And now the apex court wants to hear the title suit on a day-to-day basis from December 5. The tearing hurry makes no judicial sense. In fact, the criminal case, or the demolition suit, should be tried expeditiously to identify the criminals who razed the mosque. If the title suit is fast-tracked and Hindus win the case, then the demolition will be seen as "justified" to reclaim their own property. 

As Hindutva forces become stronger, there is an alarming new tendency among judges to stop the media from publishing court proceedings in cases where its leaders are in the dock, whether it is Amit Shah in the 2005 Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case or Yogi Adityanath in the 2008 Gorakhpur hate speech case. The courts clearly want to shield Shah and Adityanath from the public glare. This is a dangerous development with huge implications for the rule of law and freedom of the press in a democracy. The handling of the Hadiya case also shows which way the wind is blowing not only in the Supreme Court but also across India today.  

Hats off to former US President Barack Obama for telling us on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Babri Masjid's demolition that he had privately told Modi not to split India on Hindu-Muslim lines, particularly as the country's Muslims clearly identify themselves as Indians above everything else. This is welcome news at a time when Indian Muslims are under siege and are getting killed on any pretext. 

After helplessly watching the Babri Masjid's demolition, I was naturally worried about the safety of my 15-month-old son. The last para of my report, "Brick in the Wall", published in the Illustrated Weekly, read: "I left Ayodhya angry at my own impotence. The symbol of my own potency, my son, was in Calcutta hundreds of miles away. Where did he belong? And wherever that was, would he ever be safe?" 

After studying in Kolkata’s St Xavier's School and Presidency College, he did his Masters from London's School of Oriental and Asian Studies. And according to the young man, it's easier to be a Muslim today in England than in India. 


‘Khoon ka saudagar’

  • The Congress scored mega victories in 2004 and 2009, but it did nothing to de-radicalise society infected by the Hindu right or defang the killers of Gujarat pogrom of 2002 which was a sequel to the mosque's destruction.
  • The Congress branded Modi Khoon ka Saudagar but did nothing to bring him to justice. 
  • Some Supreme Court judges stepped in when they realised that a massive cover-up was under way in Gujarat. They appointed a SIT, but it didn't deliver. 

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