Indian members of parliament have an impressive record of forcing unscheduled adjournments of Parliament for the flimsiest of reasons. On the face of it, the disruption that marked the first three days of the monsoon session appeared politically significant. If the Central Bureau of Investigation had indeed been pressured by the Centre into dropping the charge of criminal conspiracy against the deputy prime minister, L.K. Advani, in the Ayodhya demolition case, it was a matter of significance that warranted expressions of outrage. After all, it is conventional wisdom in Delhi that the charge-sheets prepared by this apex investigating body are politically negotiable.
Tragically for those who saw the CBI’s apparent retreat in the Rae Barely case as a handle to discredit the man who is widely regarded as the strategic brain of the National Democratic Alliance government, the matter turned out to be a three-day wonder. Without going into the labyrinthine legal details of the multiple charge-sheets, it now emerges that the real conspiracy was an attempt by a faction in the P.V. Narasimha Rao government to superimpose a charge of criminal conspiracy into a case where it wasn’t there in the first place. This crude exercise in political vendetta wasn’t merely foiled by the Lucknow high court; it was also felt to be unwarranted by the then Uttar Pradesh governor, Motilal Vora. With its failure to provide the much-expected audio and video tapes to prove Advani’s personal involvement in the demolition of the 16th century shrine, the CBI has, in effect, confirmed what motivated it to act as it did in October 1993.
The CBI’s failure comes as no real surprise to me. Being one of the five journalists who was with Advani from late-morning to early-evening on that fateful December 6, 1992, in Ayodhya, I have been struck by the fanciful accounts of his involvement. There have been suggestions that Advani instigated the frenzied mob to go hammer and tongs at the 16th century shrine. It has been reported that sometime in the late-afternoon Advani implored the crowd over the public address system to block the roads into the complex and prevent the arrival of the troops. These versions of what took place in Ayodhya that day don’t correspond to my experience.
What I witnessed from the terrace of the Ram Katha Kunj bungalow which served as the dais, was something different. When the news that some kar sevaks had broken the cordon and entered the disputed shrine was relayed to the dais around 10.45 am, there was absolute panic among the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders. An angry Advani was seen issuing instructions to various people to ensure that there was no damage to the shrine. He then climbed down from the terrace and went into one of the dingy rooms that was equipped with a telephone. Simultaneously, a series of senior leaders took hold of the microphone to appeal to the kar sevaks to climb down from the three domes. A visibly irritated Rajmata Vijaye Raje Scindia even demanded that the demolition men be yanked off the dome by their trousers.
Around 11.30 am or so, it was clear that the appeals had fallen on deaf ears. The three domes were now choc-a-block with kar sevaks, many of them equipped with pickaxes. It was clear that the shrine was going to be seriously damaged and that this would put the state government of Kalyan Singh in an awkward position. Yet, until the former editor of a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh publication arrived on the dais from the scene of action to plead for the idols of Ram to be put away in safe custody, there was no realization that the damage would lead to total demolition.
It was at that juncture, a little after midday, that Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi (then BJP president) instructed Pramod Mahajan to go to the site and assess the extent of damage. Mahajan returned around 3 pm and confirmed that the situation was indeed very serious. It was only a matter of time, he said, before at least two domes collapsed. The mob had gone completely out of hand and there was very little anyone could do.
At this point, Advani reappeared briefly on the terrace. He was distraught, almost in tears. He told me that he had spoken to the chief minister, Kalyan Singh, on the phone and advised him to resign. The “greatest mass movement” he had so assiduously helped build had clearly gone out of hand, carrying with it the RSS’s famed reputation for discipline.
Then something curious happened. A ragged kar sevak, his hands and face blood-stained, rushed up to the terrace, his hands covering a small offering. It was the Ram lalla idol. He fell at Advani’s feet and offered him the idol. Advani was completely disoriented. He didn’t know how to react. There was a stunned silence for a moment till the East Delhi MP, B.L. Sharma, took charge of the deity.
After the first dome collapsed, around 3.30 pm, we could not see it from Ram Katha Kunj, the BJP leaders gave up the fight to keep the shrine intact. The public address system was taken over by the more militant sections of the VHP who exhorted the kar sevaks to finish the job. At around 4 pm, the firebrand Sadhvi Rithambara assumed charge. What took place subsequently is difficult to capture in words. For nearly 45 minutes, until the Babri shrine collapsed in a cloud of red dust, she kept up the chant of Ek dhakka aur do to a mob that swayed in rhythm, retorting Babri Masjid tor do. From her face, Rithambara seemed possessed and the crowd was in a trance. Even ten years later, I cannot forget the experience.
Ecstatic celebrations followed the demolition. There were sadhus dancing on the dais and sundry leaders arrived from the demolition site to participate in the “victory celebration”. Someone opened a box of sweets and a very composed RSS general secretary, K.S. Sudarshan (he is now the RSS chief), made the observation: “History doesn’t always happen; sometimes it is made to happen.”
Advani wasn’t there to “celebrate”. As the sun set over the horizon and smoke billowed from a distance, the riots had begun, he was alone in a dark room, illuminated by a solitary candle. It seemed his world had collapsed around him. “It was the saddest day of my life,” he was to say subsequently.
Looking back at the events, I cannot deny there was a criminal conspiracy hatched by someone to rid India of what they regarded as a kalank (blot). It was a conspiracy that made a mockery of the rule of law the price of which the Ayodhya movement is still paying and changed the course of India’s politics. As a leader of the movement, Advani cannot absolve himself of the political responsibility for what happened just as Mahatma Gandhi couldn’t absolve himself of the responsibility for the carnage in Chauri Chaura, 1922. Like the Mahatma, he too had contributed immeasurably to the passions that generated the mass fury on December 6.
But criminal conspiracy' Unless Advani is a consummate actor, what I witnessed that day was a man who watched helplessly as he was devoured by a revolution he helped create. Advani’s role in the Ayodhya movement warrants scrutiny, even a trial. But the proper forum is a court of history where the scope, mercifully, is larger than the provisions of Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code.