The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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On the trail of forgotten foot soldiers

New Delhi, July 6: The Ramjanmabhoomi movement today is inseparably linked with certain individuals. Think of Ayodhya and the names and faces of Ashok Singhal, Praveen Togadia, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, Syed Shahabuddin, S.Q.R. Ilias and Zafaryab Jilani come to mind.

But, this movement goes back to 1983 when the VHP prepared the ground from Sitamarhi in Bihar for the journey to Ayodhya to reclaim the “birthplace” of Ram. Most of those who spearheaded and sustained the movement may not even feature as footnotes in history.

The only constants, as it were, are Singhal, Kishore, Shahabuddin and Jilani. Who were the other leaders associated with Ayodhya and where are they today'

Morapant Pingle: Senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader and the main brain behind the Ram temple demand. The early Bharat Mata, Ganga Mata and shila yatras were crafted by Pingle, who, at 86, lives in Pune with a failing memory.

Pingle conceptualised the 1989 shilanyas, which was supposed to be Hindutva’s reply to the Congress brand of “minority appeasement” as evidenced in the Shah Bano case. .K. Advani’s Ram rath yatra was also Pingle’s contribution, if it can be called that, to posterity.

Abdul Mannan: Lucknow-based lawyer and a founder-member of the Babri Masjid Action Committee, which was formed after the Faizabad district court ordered that the Ayodhya mosque be opened to Hindus. Old and sick, Mannan, a former CPI member, is spotted occasionally in the Lucknow court where the Ayodhya title suit dispute is being adjudicated. Ironically, he used to be the Babri committee’s chief legal counsel.

K.. Govindacharya: Former BJP ideologue who put the nuts and bolts of Advani’s yatra together. Out of the party, Govindacharya is preoccupied with his other hobby horse — swadeshi economics.

Shankar Sinh Vaghela: Advani’s “charioteer” when the Ram rath rolled from Somnath in Gujarat. Fell out of favour subsequently, quit the BJP, floated his own party which died unheard and unsung, and joined the Congress where he is just as unheard and unsung after the Gujarat rout.

Shirish Chand Dixit: Former director-general of Uttar Pradesh police. The buzz in Lucknow was that, as a serving cop, he helped the RSS-VHP identify Muslim-majority areas in the state so that it could plan its Ayodhya strategy accordingly.

Post-retirement, Dixit plunged himself into the VHP. When the Babri mosque was first attacked in 1991, police inaction was attributed to Dixit’s presence at the spot and their “loyalty” to their former chief.

Mulayam Singh Yadav put him in jail but he emerged a hero and won the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat with a huge margin. Never contested another election and lives a sedentary life in Rae Bareli.

D.B. Rai: As senior superintendent of police in Faizabad on December 6, 1992, he pulled out all stops to ensure that his forces sat back when the mosque was pulled down. Was promptly rewarded by the BJP with a Lok Sabha ticket from Sultanpur. Won, became disgruntled when he was not made a minister, embarrassed the government on Hindutva in Parliament and then left the BJP. At present acting president of the All-India Hindu Mahasabha.

K.M. Pandey: Faizabad district court judge who gave the most critical impetus to the movement by ordering that the locks of the mosque be reopened in 1986. After retirement, penned a book on the saga but never published it because he made an “offering” of it to Ram Lalla. The book is in Lalla’s safe custody and will be so because Pandey is dead.

Mohammad Hashim: Once as ubiquitous a figure on the Ayodhya landscape as Mahant Ramchandradas Paramhans by virtue of being the prime litigant in the title deed suit on behalf of the Sunni Waqf Board. Hashim’s flip-flop on a settlement eroded his credibility among Muslims.

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