How masjid became a mandir

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 commission was not the proper place to discuss Nehru or have a debate on him”. 

The letter makes it clear that Munshi had made the appeal for holy waters on his own and when Nehru came to know of it only because of the intimation by KM Pannikar, then ambassador to China, he said he was ‘‘very much troubled over this business.” Nehru wrote to Munshi: ‘‘it would not have mattered so much (although even that would have been undesirable) if some private individual had made this request. But the request, coming from persons connected with the government and with the President’s name mentioned, is most embarrassing for us abroad.’’ When Gupta observed that Advani cannot keep saying that ‘‘Nehru’s cabinet’’ backed the Somnath reconstruction, Advani lost his temper.

Why is it so important for the Hindutva brigade to distort history and portray that the Ram idols have existed at the Babri masjid from time immemorial? So that they can claim, as they repeatedly do, that what they demolished was in any case never a masjid in use but a dilapidated structure.

It is an undeniable fact of history that there had been neither any idol of Ram nor any puja in the Babri Masjid prior to the night of December 22, 1949, when a band of armed sadhus raided and forcibly placed the idols of Ram inside the mosque. Puja began only on January 16, 1950. However VHP and BJP leaders’ statements (including the lies contained in the BJP’s ‘White Paper’ on Ayodhya released in early 1993) deliberately distort these facts.
To put the record straight, this concluding part of the series deals with this issue and shows how in fact the Babri Masjid was a mosque in use with namaaz being offered regularly.

How the Babri Masjid became a Ram Mandir?
On May 17, 1989 Atal Behari Vajpayee, then leader of the Opposition: “It was not possible to pinpoint the exact place where Ram was born thousands of years ago. The temple was built and rebuilt over the ages and had existed since Emperor Vikramaditya’s time (The Hindustan Times; May 18, 1989). Yet on September 23, 1990 he had no hesitation asserting that there is only one birthplace of Shri Ram (The Hindustan Times; September 24, 1990). 

The same year none less than Advani admitted in Bombay: “No one can prove that it was the birthplace of Shri Ram”. But he contended that it was a matter of belief which the government could not afford to ignore. (The Independent, October 1, 1990). 

Prof. Sharma told The Times of India on April 7, 1990: “There is no proof at all of Babar going to Ayodhya… It is an irony that a lover of Hindu art and architecture should be credited with the destruction of a temple which in any case did not exist. It is, therefore, very clear that the Babri mosque was not built by demolishing a temple of Ram at Ayodhya “. Dr. Sushil Srivastava of the Allahabad University expressed the same view (Probe India; January 1988). 

From Ayodhya, Sanjay Suri wrote in The Indian Express, February 11, 1987: “The disputed place is not believed even by pandits to be the birth-spot of the legendary god Ram. The pandits, who have not timed the ‘birth’ within thousands of years, have pinpointed the ‘Janam Sthan’ as Ram Chabutra. This Chabutra marked by a platform under a tree is outside the disputed area. The ‘Janam Sthan’ is not claimed by Muslims.”

The locks of the Babri mosque were opened on February 1, 1986 while the Muslim Women’s Bill was introduced in Parliament on February 25, 1986. Advani: “No namaaz had been offered at the Babri masjid since 1939 (Indian Express, September 17, 1990).”

Maulvi Abdul Gaffar, 93-year-old imam of the mosque in an interview to Sunday Mail (July 2, 1989) said: “We used to offer namaaz inside the mosque and the Hindus prayed on the Chabutra. We never fought. I want that things should be restored to the pre-1949 days”.

In 1988, none less than the rabid VHP presented 13 legal/historical documents to the then home minister, Buta Singh. Two of these are reports by Muhammad Ibrahim, inspector of Waqfs, dated December 10 and 22, 1948. The first said: “inside the masjid compound there is a Hindu temple and any Muslim going towards the masjid is accosted and called names. I went to the site when I understood that many of the rumours are true. People there told me that there is a danger to the masjid from the Hindus, the wall of it. It appears that an application be lodged with the deputy commissioner, Faizabad requesting those coming for namaaz should not be troubled and since the masjid is the Waqf property, it should be protected”.

The next report of December 22, 1948 records the beating up of the muezzin and two “pardesi Muslims”. He also recorded: “When the namaazis leave, shoes and stones are hurled” towards them. There are records of the mosque’s registration under the UP Muslim Waqfs Act (Feb. 20, 1944) and a judgement on March 23, 1946 by a civil judge in a Shia-Sunni dispute regarding the mosque.

Despite this historic reality, leaders of the VHP and BJP — none less than India’s home minister, actually continue to treat the mosque like a temple.

“There is a temple in Ayodhya. There is no such thing as Babri Masjid now.” (interview in The Hindustan Times; September 23, 1990). This explains the VHP’s secretary-general Ashok Singhal’s cryptic remark at Hardwar on June 24, 1990 while announcing its “programme of action”. He said: “There will be no demolition of any part of the Shri Ramjanmabhoomi shrine but some remodelling and renovation will be done.” In other words the mosque will be treated as a temple. 

How and when did the Ayodhya problem, as we know it, arise? The first information report (FIR) lodged by sub-inspector Ram Dube, police station Ayodhya, on December 23, 1949 answers both questions authoritatively and irrefutably. (AG Noorani in the Frontline, 1993).

 “According to Mata Prasad (the reporting constable): ‘When I reached to Janam Bhumi around 8 o’clock in the morning, I came to know that group of 50-60 persons had entered Babri Mosque after breaking the compound gate lock of the mosque… and established therein an idol of Shri Bhagwan… Ram Das, Ram Shakti Das and 50-60 unidentified others entered the mosque surreptitiously and spoiled its sanctity’. Even district magistrate KK Nayar, who was responsible for this deed, admitted to the chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh, Bhagwan Sahay, on December 27, 1949 that it was “an illegal position created by force and subterfuge.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ‘White Paper on Ayodhya and the Rama Temple Movement’ distorts these facts and says instead that “the idol of Rama appeared on the night of 22nd and 23rd December 1949” (emphasis added). This is no mere flourish. It is a deliberate lie uttered at the outset (p.23) and repeated towards the end (p.152); “The idols of Sri Rama appeared on….” The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) mouthpiece, Organiser, of March 29, 1987 had said it had “miraculously appeared”. 

“On 25th May, 1885 Mahant Raghubardass appealed to the Faizabad district judge that an order be given for the construction of temple on the Ramjanmabhoomi” (p.22). (p.151)  “The first legal case for repossession of Ramjanmabhoomi was filed…  in 1885.”

The BJP must be held to its carefully chosen words. The mahant had sued for permission to build a temple on the chabutra outside the mosque but within its compound and claimed that as the Ramjanmabhoomi. He did not claim the mosque at all. He sued for “a decree for awarding permission to construct a temple over the Chabutra Janam Asthan situated in Ayodhya.” Para 2 of his plaint read thus: “The Chabutra of Janam Asthan is 21 feet towards north and south, and therein Charan Panya lies and there is also a small temple over it, and which is worshipped.”
The sub-judge, Pandit Hari Kishan Singh, dismissed the suit. On appeal, the district judge, Col. F.E.A. Chamier, upheld the judgement, but he was more impressed by the Gazetteer of Oudh than was the Pandit. The errors in the Gazetteer were fully exposed by Dr. Sushil Srivastava of the Allahabad University first in Probe India (January 1988) and also in his book The Disputed Mosque. 

The first suit filed for the possession of the mosque was on July 1, 1989, by Deoki Nandan Agarwala, a vice-president (VHP). The ones filed in 1950 were for the worship of the planted idol. The White Paper gloats over the fact that only the use of force helped the parivar gain its ends. 1949 was the starting point. The next stage was the opening of the locks on the gateway to the mosque by a court order on February 1, 1986. The last stage was its demolition of December 6, 1992. 

The BJP’s White Paper on the 1986 episode: “Once the ultimatum was given, things started moving at lightning speed” (p.26). Mark the words, “and the judiciary too, responded with lightning speed” (p.32). Sample this: “So the law could not help the Hindus for more than 60 years, from 1885 to 1949. But when they physically occupied the structure after the idols of Sri Rama appeared on 22-23 December 1949, the same law-enforcing courts — the District Court in 1950 and later, in 1955, the High Court — granted to the Hindus the right to worship….” (p. 152). The Paper asserts but admits that while the VHP launched the movement in 1983, the BJP took it up for the first time in its Palampur resolution on June 11, 1989. 

By his order of February 12, 2001, Justice S Shukla of the Allahabad High court held as defective a notification issued by the UP government in 1993 for the trial of the accused Union ministers LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati and five others in the Babri Masjid demolition case. Following this, three public interest writ petitions were filed seeking directions from the court to the state government rectify the lapse. One of them, filed in the Lucknow high court by independent MP, Kuldip Nayar, Swami Agnivesh, AG Noorani, Javed Anand and Teesta Setalvad, was rejected by the Lucknow bench. The petitioners plan to go in appeal before the Supreme Court. Two other special leave petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court seeking similar directions.

Meanwhile, the CBI has itself challenged the order of the designated court which dropped proceedings against 21 accused in the Babri demolition case, in the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court. The CBI, while preferring a revision petition against the May 4 order (on June 19, 2001), has sought a direction to the designated court to proceed against all the 47 accused in 48 cases. The CBI has pleaded that since the court is proceeding only against 26 accused, the proceedings before the court may be stayed during pendency of the petition. The Lucknow bench of the high court is scheduled to pass orders on the CBI petition in the second week of July.

Archived from Communalism Combat, July 2001. Year 8  No. 70, Investigation




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