Unleashing lawlessness: Citizens Tribunal on Ayodhya

Image Courtesy: Pablo Bartholomew
Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy, Justice D. A. Desai, Justice D. S. Tewatia (Panel)

The political programme and deliberate escalation of the dispute while breaking the law and defying Court directives received momentum when the Babri masjid was unlocked on February 1,1986. In November 1985 the VHP had demanded the restoration of the "Ramjanmabhoomi” and threatened a national agitation if their demands were not met.

Further Excerpts from the Report:
The entire Report of the Citizens Tribunal Report is available at  https://sabrangindia.in/reports/1994-citizens-tribunal-ayodhya
The Build Up to the Demolition
The second major change took place when the Babri Masjid was unlocked on February 1, 1986, a full 36 years after it had remained locked. At this time also the Congress party was in power both in UP and at the Centre. Senior functionaries of the government interviewed by the Commission have suggested that the government was instrumental in facilitating the unlocking of the Masjid. Two days after the unlocking of the Masjid some Muslim leaders from outside Ayodhya formed the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC) and Maulana Muzaffar Hussain Kichhochhavi became its president A competitive militancy of words and action pushed the dispute at almost the top of the communal mobilisation agenda. The VHP launched a temple construction campaign to expand its mass appeal. The mahants of Ayodhya remained divided on the issue and remain so till now. The residents of Ayodhya were not a keen party in it till then. The issue was assuming the form of a movement and the Babri Masjid-Ram temple dispute was introduced on the national agenda both for Hindus and Muslims.
Following the unlocking of the Masjid and the establishment of the Babri Masjid Action Committee, the frequency and intensity of protests by a section of the Muslim community increased, particularly in U.P. In a particularly unfortunate incident, 16 Muslims were killed in police firing in Barabanki during a court-arrest programme in April 1986. The protests continued and the dispute escalated and moved to Delhi. Then the Babri Masjid Coordination Committee (BMCC) was formed, with Syed Shahbuddin as convener, in December 1986.
In early 1987, protests were held in Ayodhya, and a rally organised by some Muslim leaders in Delhi protested the unlocking of the Babri Masjid, and demanded their right to pray there. At the same time the VHP organised rath yatras and expanded their campaign over large parts of the country. This resulted in communal violence in many locations. The VHP organised a virat Hindu sammelan in Ayodhya to demand restoration of the Ramjanambhoomi in April 1987. The atmosphere was successfully communalised in Ayodhya and the issue of Babri Masjid Ramjanambhoomi taken beyond the confines of U.P. and made more complex. In the midst of this, the legal issues were complicated further when the U.P. government filed an application in December 1987, to have all the cases connected with the Babri Masjid transferred from the District Court in Faizabad to the Lucknow bench of the High Court.
The tempo of communal mobilisation was then accelerated. The sense of denial among the Muslims was also aggravated by the postures of some of their self-appointed leaders. The `Sangh Parivar' also launched a Shila Pujan programme all over the country which resulted in communal violence in many parts of the country. In July 1989 the Lucknow bench of the High Court transferred all suits for trial by a three judge bench. In all these years no judgement was given on any of the disputes and the problem was allowed to expand and become more complex. In October 1989 hearings started in the Supreme Court on a suit filed by the Sunni Waqf Board.
Then in November 1989, the Central government allowed shilanyas of the Ram temple to be performed on the disputed site in Ayodhya. Rajiv Gandhi, as Prime Minister, also launched his election campaign from Faizabad and gave a speech promising to usher in Ram Rajya. In spite of all these religious appeals, the Congress party failed to come to power both at the Centre and in U.P. The Janata Dal formed a government on its own in U.P., and at the Centre with support of the BJP from outside. The support of the BJP was crucial for the survival of the Janata Dal government at the centre.
The Ramjanambhoomi issue moved centre stage in the political battle for power and was pushed up to a feverish pitch by L.K. Advani, after the policy for job reservations for backward classes was announced by V.P. Singh. L.K. Advani launched a rath yatra across the country, to end at Ayodhya where kar seva was to take place to build a Ram Mandir in place of Babri Masjid.
All efforts at coming to an understanding between the leaders of the Sangh Parivar' and Muslim leaders were unsuccessful, both sides being unyielding. Finally, L.K. Advani had to be arrested in Bihar. But the Sangh Parivar' was successful in collecting a large number of supporters in Ayodhya in spite of the best efforts of the U.P. administration to prevent them from doing so. The government had to use force to clear the Babri Masjid area and some kar sevaks were killed and injured. The `Sangh Parivar' appeared to have made gains from this event.
This resulted in the BJP withdrawing support from the Janata Dal government at the centre and the V.P. Singh government lost the vote of confidence in Parliament. Internal divisions between the Janata Dal and electoral game plans of the Congress party were partly responsible for this. The government of Mr. Chandrasekhar at the centre took a constructive initiative to initiate a dialogue between the principal organisations involved in Ayodhya dispute, on an all India basis, in order to arrive at negotiated solution. The Union Home Minister became the broker. However, elections were called in June 1991 for the Lok Sabha, and also the UP (Uttar Pradesh)Assembly. The BJP gained heavily and formed a government in 11 The Congress party assumed the reins of government at the centre.
The above summary of events concerning the Babri Masjid shows that the issue has been inextricably enmeshed with power politics for a long time. It is not surprising, then, that matters were getting increasingly complicated, instead of being resolved. Even issues regarding ownership of land and the facts regarding history of the area in general, and the mosque in particular, were not clarified in all this time. Most politicians refused to take a clear and logical stand on the issue. This made it easier for the Sangh Parivar' to exploit the problem and change an almost non-existent issue into one of "national" pride and importance.
When the Congress party came back to power at the Centre, along with a BJP government in Uttar Pradesh in 1991, the power equations changed. Two political factors stood out: the ruling party at the Centre did not have a numerical majority and the BJP government in UP had made the building of Ram temple in Ayodhya an electoral pledge. This made the issue of Babri Masjid and Ram temple critical in national politics. In the judgement of the Commission, the juxtaposition of a politically weak central government, an aggressive and determined Sangh Parivar' and a duplicitous BJP government in UP, ended up deciding the course of events leading to the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on
December 6, 1992.
This was still not too late to start an educational and political campaign around the country to convince the citizens about the dangers of communal politics. This was not done. No political or educational campaigns were launched to counter the aggressive BJP communal propaganda or to put non-disputable facts regarding the issue before the public. As a result the Sangh Parivar' was left free to spread half-truths and even blatant lies in an ideological vacuum. One glaring example of this kind of propaganda was the often repeated assertion by `Sangh Parivar' leaders that a large number of temples had been destroyed in Kashmir. This would have been easy to counter for the Central Government by providing facts and taking a special group of journalists to Kashmir to see for themselves. Even this was not done and the lie became "truth" by repetition.
The governments at Lucknow and Delhi and the parties backing them had their own compulsions to provide further credibility to the `Sangh Parivar' as well as AIBMAC or BMCC. The decision to start another edition of kar seva from December 6, 1992 was taken in this background. The VHP's commitment to negotiation was meaningless.
Decision on Kar Seva irreversible
The Central government continued its efforts to have the kar seva postponed but showed extreme reluctance to take any concrete action. The Prime Minister expressed the view, in a statement on November 15, 1992, at Allahabad, that he failed to understand the mystery (mayajal) behind the resumption of kar seva at the construction site in Ayodhya. However, Kalyan Singh had already urged the Prime Minister on 2 November to work on a war footing to resolve the dispute within the extended time. "All-out efforts should be made" stated the Chief Minister, "to persuade the Muslims to give up their claim over the disputed shrine to help facilitate construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya". The BJP Party President, M.M. Joshi, stated "The party would be prepared to pay any price for the construction (of Ram Mandir)". On November 5, L.K. Advani, leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, demanded in Calcutta that the Centre should allow immediate resumption of kar seva on 2.77 acres of land. VHP General Secretary Singhal was more strident. He demanded, at about the same time, that the Prime Minister should recognise the contradiction in his statements to "protect the mosque" and "construct the temple," and modify them accordingly.
The Muslim leaders involved were getting apprehensive. Gilani reasserted on November 1, 1992 that the idols inside the mosque should he removed and the opinion of the Supreme Court on the shrine should he binding on the parties. On November 2, Sultan Owaisi of the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee urged the Centre to protect the Babri Masjid in view of the kar seva already announced. The apprehension amongst the minorities all along was that assault on the structure was a certainty and its outcome predictable. They were pinning their hopes on the central government, in view of the ground situation in Ayodhya after he IIJP took over the administration in U.P.
By November 16, the VHP was stating that the assertions of the Prime Minister, that government would not allow kar seva, was an affront to the religious leaders. The BJP was still continuing with its proposal that kar seva on 2.77 acres of acquired land, in dispute in the local High Court, should be delinked from the safety of the structure and the Centre should facilitate the former. It was at this stage that the Union Home Minister initiated the proposal for adjudication under Article 138 (2) of the Constitution by the Supreme Court. Both the U.P. Government and the BJP secured a written offer, and then the BJP rejected it within an hour of its receipt. In any case L.K. Advani is reported to have rejected the proposal of one point reference to the Supreme Court and wanted it to be delinked from the planned kar seva. This written offer does not form part of the Union Government's White Paper. The VHP-Bajrang Dal-RSS did not, at any time, indicate that the kar seva plans were negotiable.
It was under these circumstances that a meeting of the National Integration Council was called for on November 23, 1992. Simultaneously, the Supreme Court asked the Union government to "spell out its stand on the proposed VHP kar seva", as also its response to its appointment as a receiver. The BJP president, M.M. Joshi criticised the involvement of the Supreme Court in the dispute over kar seva. The BJP, followed by the U.P. government decided to boycott the NIC meeting. The planned dialogue between AIBMAC-VHP was also made meaningless by 'the sangh parivar' calling for kar seva. The NIC was denied the opportunity to openly debate with the BJP. The BJP-RSS-VHP obviously had closed their options and were no longer interested in the process of a democratic dialogue.
The Prime Minister stated before the NIC on November 23, 1992: "The issues on which there are differences of opinion are the plan of construction, the safety of the existing structure, and the compliance of the court order on the subject." The NIC gave a free hand to the Prime Minister to deal with the Ayodhya crisis.
There was no question by now that the planned kar seva could be deferred or stopped through consensus. The Sangh Parivar was obviously in the hands of its field commander, Vinay Katiyar, who had asserted in an interview in April 1992, "Might is the only law I understand. Nothing else matters to me".
The Entire Report is available at
 (The report of the Citizens Tribunal was published in May 1994; the Amici Curiae were : K. G. Kannabiran, A. G. Noorani, Lotika Sarkar; the Secretariat Members were : Anuradha Chenoy, Achin Vanaik, E. Deenadayalan, Gautam Navlakha, Raju Damle, Sumanto Bannerjee, Tapan Bose)



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