How masjid became a mandir

Written by Teesta Setalvad | Published on: July 1, 2001
With generals of the saffron brigade choosing to shift gear and adopting hardline postures before the Liberhan Commission, the concluding part of our flashback on the controversy focuses on Hindutva’s myth-making

Over the past two months, the depositions of all the leaders who have appeared before Justice Liberhan in
 vestigating the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, led by Union home minister, LK Advani and ably buffeted by comrades Murli Manohar Joshi (Union HRD minister), Vinay Katiyar (founder of Bajrang Dal and BJP MP from Ayodhya presently and at the time of the demolition) and Moreshwar Save (former Shiv Sena MP) signal the return to the blatantly hard-line Hindutva position on the historicity of the masjid-mandir dispute, which includes a clever distortion of fact. 


Faced with an election in Uttar Pradesh next February and with all reports from the ground pointing to the plummeting popularity of the BJP in this critical north Indian state, what better than the time-tested formula of Ram mandir hype laced with the potency of Hindu-Muslim division?

Katiyar attempted to de-rail the commission’s hearings by arguing that under the Commission of Inquiry Act, a lawyer could not be appointed by the commission (is the Hindutva brigade finding the searching examination by Anupam Gupta that troublesome?). The application was rejected. He thereafter proceeded to rake up the Kashi and Mathura temple issues when he spoke of his role in founding the Bajrang Dal in 1984. Its purpose, said Katiyar was, “To make Hindus get rid of western influence and establish Ramjanam Mandir in Ayodhya and Krishna Mandir in Mathura. Here, Hindus pay water and house tax, while Muslims dirty the place. In Kashi, we own the land but not the structure. In short, the Bajrang Dal wants a strong Hindu society for which the youth should work hard. But right now, I am not directly associated with it.” (The Times of India).

Moreshwar Save, true to the anti-constitutional line of his party, the Shiv Sena, launched a scathing attack on the commission of inquiry itself. “Like all Hindus I took the constitution of this commission as a resounding slap on the face of the Hindus, intended to humiliate them and simultaneously appease the Muslim vote bank.” (The Times of India). 

Union HRD minister, Murli Manohar Joshi had this to say when he appeared before the commission: “What I have always maintained is that once the issue of the Ram mandir is resolved, then there will be a grand reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims and India becomes strong. It will be the beginning of recovering the lost part of Kashmir. A unified India will become a very powerful country and the message that will go out to the world is that the Indian government, parties and communities stand as one and the Parliament resolution, that we have to get back PoK, can be fulfilled.” 

Advani in his second appearance before Justice Liberhan was a fine replica of the Advani of 1986-1992 (recalled by CC for it’s readers in the April and May 2001 issues). He became more strident each day, especially in the way he attempted to distort facts until he was pinned down by commission counsel, Anupam Gupta, a fact that made the normally sanguine leader snap at the lawyer in irritation. 

The main thrust of Advani’s deposition was, “We were unfair to ourselves by describing the structure as a mosque a place where idols of Ram had been kept and puja had been going on daily by court order”. This lapse, according to him had “earned India a bad name”. 

Not only did India’s home minister declare his sense of pride in being associated with the Ramjanmabhoomi movement – “As one who has participated in the movement ever since the BJP associated itself with it, I regard it as a great movement and feel proud of it” –, he also attempted to distort history by declaring former prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru’s commitment to re-building the Somnath temple. When Gupta sharply contradicted him producing a letter written by Nehru to KM Munshi in 1951, denouncing the move to transport river waters from around the world for the consecration of the Somnath temple, Advani lost his temper at the historical truth, saying that “the