This story originally appeared in THE WEEK issue dated December 20, 1992
A diabolical lie was uttered on this Dashami day at the place where Lord Vishnu's seventh avatar is believed to have been born. Vishwa Hindu Parishad general secretary Ashok Singhal said on that day at the Ved Mandir behind an old building called Kausalya Bhavan, named after Ram's mother: "We ourselves are trying to protect the structure (the disputed shrine). We have explained to the kar sevaks that it is the Ram temple and they should not harm it."
The one lakh kar sevaks from various parts of the country did not seem very aggressive either. They bathed in the Sarayu, ate their meals in the camp kitchens, listened to discourses and news in the Ram Katha Park, strolled down the narrow streets buying 'Jai Sri Ram' headbands and drapery. The trident-wielding brigands were there but rare. So were the punk-like kar sevaks who had shaved their hair in such a way that a patch read 'Ram' in Katha Park and marched back, chanting 'Jai Sri Ram'. None of them carried a weapon, not even a shovel or a spade.
Suddenly, as we stood a few yards away from the Seshavatar temple, we saw a group of tough-built men marching towards the disputed shrine. They carried crowbars ropes and three-pronged rope-hooks. Three photographers with us snapped them. That provoked them and their foul-mouthed leader chased us. "No photographs," he shrieked. When we argued, a few volunteers intervened and apologised.
In the melee we missed the clue. We had seen the group that was to lead the assault on the shrine. They were moving about on the right side of the shrine from where they were to climb its walls the next day. But myopic as we were like the rest of the country and its rulers, we walked away having scored another victory for the freedom of the press.
The postponed meeting of the Marg Darshak Mandal of about 180 sanyasins, mendicants and Parishad leaders was to take place in the afternoon to decide the nature of the kar seva. As we learnt later, the meeting had been postponed because some sober leaders opposed the assault plan. And by the time they met that afternoon, the plan had been finalised and rehearsed.
The rehearsal was carried out openly. A group of kar sevaks moving around the disputed shrine looped a large rock on the mound. Trying to pull it down, tugging from different directions, they were learning how to climb up the domes. And a low roofless enclosure had been built just next to the concrete platform. It was meant to store water needed for the Ram temple construction.
Ashok Singhal and the holy men lied on that Ekadasi day, too. After the Marg Darshak Mandal meeting attended by 110 of the 180-odd members, Singhal and Acharya Vamdev declared: "Kar seva will start tomorrow at 12.15 p.m. The architects and engineers say the construction can start only after chiselling and cleaning the chabutra. We will do that tomorrow. There will be no violation of court orders." The Centre seemed only too willing to believe it. Court observer Tej Shankar, though troubled by fever and cold, visited the site again in the afternoon, looked at the 2.77 acres and faxed an all-fine message to the Supreme Court. We were not any wiser as we stood there, tunnelvisioned, seeing only the Ram chabutra where the kar seva was to take place
the next day.
By that evening the crowd had swelled to about three lakh and it was different from the kind we saw the previous day. Foul-mouthed youth danced to vulgar parodies of film songs blaring from cassette shops. The severe-looking RSS men made no attempt to discourage them. Nor did the sadhus and sanyasins moving in and out of the line of houses and temples which had been named Kausalya Bhavan, Kaikeyi's House of Rage, Sita's Kitchen and so on.
There was only one expression of concern that day: Union Home Minister S.B. Chavan's message to Kalyan Singh. Chavan was worried about the lack of security around the shrine. Yet hundred of them forced their way in, but the rest were stopped.
Those who climbed over the barricade sat down a few feet away from the platform, shouting 'Jai Sri Ram' as well as foul abuses in the same breath. The 100-odd holy men on the platform did not mind it. Faizabad district magistrate and police superintendent drove in, spent five minutes there and left as quickly as they came.
By 11 a.m., security sirens screamed. The motorcade of L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi drove up the 12-foot-wide street, followed by a frenzied mob. As we saw later, it was this mob that attacked the mosque from the left, seconds after the storming party (whose rehearsal we had seen) captured the left dome.
A large crowd broke into the plot with the leaders but their crowbar. wielding friends stayed hidden from the eyes of the journalists atop Manas Bhavan. Only a silk-robed sanyasin with his long staff made any attempt to stop those climbing in. All others—including Advani and Joshi who walked importantly across the plot, Uma Bharati and Ritambhara who sat on the pavilion, Singhal and Katyar who bobbed around—seemed to enjoy the fun.
Hundreds climbed up the Manas Bhavan terrace, putting the fear of God in the journalists there. The terraces of all the adjoining buildings, including Sita's Kitchen where UP Police were camping, were occupied by the mob. The air was thick with dust and foul words.
By 11.45 came the announcement that the rituals would begin an hour later than scheduled. It was a ploy to divert attention from the breath-taking action on the right side of the mosque.
There, a lone policeman on the compound wall of the mosque, was holding his bamboo shield against brick-batting. A youth carrying a rope climbed the wall and engaged the policeman in a minute's scuffle. Even after he was pushed down, the policeman fought from the ground, throwing bricks at those madly climbing up the mosque.
That unknown policeman was the only one who fought for the mosque. All his comrades watched his futile action for a few minutes and, as if on orders, trooped out of the compound and stood in a corner.
"I didn't know what to do," Commandant A. Bisht, who was in charge of the CRPF men within the shrine, said later. "I had only one option: to shoot. But there were so many people that it would have been useless." The state police guarding the entry points did not stir and the PAC did not move out its camp.
As the CRPF men trooped out, the mob which came with Advani and Joshi raced towards the mosque. The desperado who pushed down the policeman threw a rope, hooking it on the right dome. For a few moments he disappeared behind the dome and then there he was, climbing the dome. Another youth appeared from behind the dome, with a saffron flag tied round his waist. The first youth unrolled it and tied to the spire of the dome amid feverish cries of' Jai Sri Ram'. Time: two minutes to high noon.
Within seconds there were people on all three domes. The mob that came with Advani and Joshi advanced with their pickaxes and, once again, the policemen around the shrine trooped out to the street. Not a shot was fired nor a baton swished. Those who had pickaxes knocked down the walls but it took more than two hours to bring down the first dome.
The confused district magistrate, R.N. Shrivastava, summoned the Rapid Action Force around 1 p.m. An hour later, the RAF reached the first of the many road blocks on the outskirts of Ayodhya. "It was not at all formidable. We could have cleared it with ease," B.M. Saraswat, who was leading the forces, said later. But the magistrate accompanying them would not hear of it. He asked the force to return. Saraswat insisted on a written order, which was duly given.
Meanwhile, the outer wall of the mosque had fallen, at 1.30 p.m. The barricades had been almost entirely uprooted, barbed wire hung loose everywhere. All the lights within and outside the shrine were smashed, as was the closed circuit TV system.
From the loudspeakers one could hear only the frenzied slogans of Ritambhara and Uma Bharati. "Aurek dhakka do. Babri masjid thod do. Aur jor. Aurjor! (One more hard push. Break the Babri Masjid. Harder. Harder!)," shirked Uma Bharati. Congratulating the kar sevaks, Ritambhara went on recite her famous ballad, Khoon kharaba Hona hat tho ek baar ho jane do (If blood must be shed, let it be shed once and for all).
"No one will leave," roared RSS leader H.V. Seshadri, normally so mild-mannered and professorial but now shaking wildly. "We have heard that the Centre is sending the army to confront us. We will show them the stuff we are made of."
"Block all the roads to the shrine," screamed Singhal, even naming the exact points to be blocked and forgetting that road blocks had been put up much earlier. Advani and Joshi stood there neither appealing to the mobs to leave the mosque nor telling the other leaders to stop egging them.
Hardly had the action over the mosque commenced when some of the kar sevaks turned towards the photographers. Cameras were smashed and their owners thrashed. Sensing the mood of the crowd, many journalists slipped away by wearing Ram shawls and shouting 'Jai Ram'.
By 4 p.m. a good part of the mob had started leaving the site carrying the mosque's bricks as souvenirs. Two domes were still to come down.
Now there was some concern— about the safety of those on top of the domes. Singhal grabbed the mike and shouted: "Here is a special announcement for kar sevaks who have entered Ram Janmabhoomi. Come down from the domes. They will collapse over you."
Next was the turn of Advani. Message had reached that the Central forces were on the way from Faizabad (they were not). Advani's exhortation came through the mike: "Come down from the domes. Otherwise there would be firing at the men on the top of the domes." Nobody asked the mob to spare the mosque.
Singhal's concern for the kar sevaks was not misplaced. Four of them were buried under the second dome which fell at 4.30 p.m. The central dome over the idols came down 15 minutes later. By then the crowd was dancing with the idols in their hands. The collection box of the shrine was open and bare. All the money had been looted.
In less than five hours, the mosque had been reduced to rubble. But more work remained. At the main exit point down the Ram Katha Park, men and women linked hands to form a ring and prevent other kar sevaks from leaving the place. The rubble had to be cleared and construction begun immediately to erect at least a makeshift temple. No matter what happened later, they all knew, no one would dare pull it down.
The debris was carried away quickly in tractor trolleys. By 5.45 p.m. the main floor of the sanctum sanctorum was once again visible. As we walked to Faizabad we saw two small mosques on the road being demolished. A platoon of policemen near one mosque were cheering the demolition squad.
What did they do to that lone constable who fought Babar's last battle? He may never claim a reward for his heroism—that is if he is alive.
DECEMBER 7: No trace of the mosque. The rubble on the top had been cleared overnight. Some kar sevaks were pulling out rocks on the hillock, looking for relics of a temple. The digging was shallow, yet a number of carved marble pieces somehow emerged.
A core group of kar sevaks, male and female, were building the temple, forming human chains to pass the brick and mortar. The tank and the small pit in the concrete platform were full of water. Up on the sanctum sanctorum, at the summit of the hillock, the floor had been repaired and a wall was being built around it. A flight of concrete steps had come up in the night.
Hundreds of ordinary people from Ayodhya milled around, delighted at the turn of events. A middle-ranking VHP acquaintance clasped our hands. "Tell us," we asked him, "was the strike preplanned?" His clasp was tighter when he said earnestly: "It was what I wanted, it was what you wanted, it was what everyone wanted. It was in all our hearts. Of course it was preplanned."
DECEMBER 8: Even on the evening of December 7 there was no evidence to justify rumours of Central forces stepping. We did not know then that four deputy commandants of the CRPF had visited the site around 3 p.m. Orders to take control of the area arrived the next day at 3 a.m. well after the wall around the sanctum sanctorum was completed and a cloth-and-bamboo enclosure erected.
At 3.50 a.m., nine companies of CRPF including six of the RAF, left Faizabad. "They reached around 4 a.m.," said Ramji Gupta, in charge of the temple construction. "There were 500 of us on the sanctum sanctorum. Some sadhus were singing kirtans. The foreground was deserted but 1,000 people were singing a little away. Another 2,000 were in the shamiana to the right. Stones were flung from the shamiana but otherwise we offered no resistance."
Said B.M. Saraswat, commandant of the 108 RAF Battalion which led the forces: "The women took a little more time to leave. The men on the platform ran for their lives." It just took six teargas shells and a mild lathi-charge to disperse the kar sevaks. The tents and adjoining temples were raided, and nearly 30,000 kar sevaks were flushed out and escorted to the main road from where they headed home. The operation was over in 25 minutes.
At 10.30 a.m. it was puja as usual atop the hillock. But the rest of the country was burning.
—R. PRASANNAN and DEBASHISH MUKERJI