On 5th August 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lays the foundation stone for Ram temple in Ayodhya. 175 people have been invited for the event of which 135 are religious saints. On the platform will be PM Narendra Modi, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, trust chief Nritya Gopaldas Maharaj, UP CM Aditya Yoginath, and UP Governor Anandiben Patel. Yogi Adityanath called the moment “not just historic but emotional” and asked people to “light lamps, decorate temples and recite Ramayana”.
It was only last November that a five-judge constitution bench comprising former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justices S.A Bobde, D.Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan, and S. Abdul Naseer pronounced a unanimous verdict in the 450-year-old Ayodhya land dispute case. The judgment paved the way for construction of a Ram Temple at the disputed site and The Sunni Waqf board was to be given an alternative five acres at a “prominent” location in Ayodhya.
While it is an emotional moment for millions in the country, the 450-year-old history of Ram Janmabhoomi also encompasses construction and subsequent demolition of Babri masjid, the birth of Bharatiya Janata Party, appeasement to Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists, numerous court cases and violent riots.
Roots can be traced back to the 16th century when Mir Baqi constructed the masjid on the instructions of Mughal emperor Babar. Until the 18th century, there was no record or claims of the masjid being built upon a demolished temple.
In 1859, British administration fenced the site as the local belief of Babri masjid being the birthplace of Lord Ram surfaced. Hindus were allowed to use the outer court and Muslims prayed inside the inner court of the mosque.
It was only in 1885 that attempts were made to involve the authorities when Mahant Raghubir Das sought permission to build a Chabutra in the outer courtyard of Babri Masjid; his plea was rejected.
On 22nd December 1949, idols of Ram Lala (infant Ram) were placed inside the mosque by Hindu Mahasabha activists. K.K Nayar, District Magistrate of the local court refused to order the removal of idols due to fear of large-scale riots in the country. Nayar later joined the Bhartiya Jan Sangh, predecessor to BJP, and was also elected as a member of the parliament.
As the Ram Janmabhoomi issue gathered impetus, the period between 1964 and 1984 saw the birth of Vishwa Hindu Parishad(VHP) and Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP). VHP was formed to protect “Hindu interests” and BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani assumed the leadership of the committee formed to spearhead the construction of Ram temple.
BJP’s Hindutva politics and advocacy of Ram Janmabhoomi issue failed to garner political gains as it only won 4 seats in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections. Two other historic developments took place during 1986 that marked appeasement to Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists by the ruling party Congress; a local district judge’s decision to allow Hindus to worship inside Babri masjid and Congress overturning the infamous Shah Bano judgment.
Historian Ramchandra Guha says the order of the district court was believed to be “directed from the Prime minister office”. Local administration was aware of the judgment beforehand as the “locks were opened in just two hours”. In the second development, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court’s judgment in the Shah Bano favoring maintenance to divorced Muslim women displeasing Muslim conservatives. Rajiv Gandhi’s congress passed Muslim Women ( Protection of rights) on Divorce Act 1986, effectively overturning the Supreme court’s decision. Years later in 2001, L.K Advani admitted that these two decisions were “crucial factors” to “BJP getting involved in the Ayodhya movement”.
Rajiv Gandhi’s government was coming under the scanner for corruption charges and the move was part of its divide and rule tactics and appeasement of Hindu and Muslim conservatives. In 1989, he even allowed VHP to lay the foundation stone on the disputed land. BJP won 89 seats in the 1989 elections and BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani launched a Rath yatra to gather support for Ram Temple and mobilize people to lay the stone of Temple. Mulayam Singh led UP Government arranged security on the ground to prevent communal clashes. On 30th October 1989, 20 Kar Sevaks were killed in violent clashes with the UP police. Post this event, Uttar Pradesh witnessed communal clashes.
BJP started to influence Indian politics as it emerged as the second-largest political party in 1991 elections with 121 seats and also formed a government in UP under Kalyan Singh.
December 6, 1992, marked the day when over 1,50,000 people gathered at Ayodhya to listen to speeches by BJP and VHP leaders including L.K Advani, Uma Bharti, and Murli Manohar Joshi. Despite a commitment from the state to the Supreme Court that the mosque would not be harmed, people stormed the site and demolished the mosque in a matter of hours. Later that evening, Kar Sevaks attacked Muslim households, torched their houses. Riots broke out in other parts of the country as well where almost 2000 people were killed. This issue and the politicization of it tore apart the secular fabric of the country for years to come.
In March 1993, Mumbai was ravaged by 12 bomb blasts in a day that are believed to be staged to avenge the Babri Masjid demolition, 257 people lost their lives. In 2002, at least 58 people were killed when a train in Godhra returned from Ayodhya carrying Hindu activists. Following the train attack, Gujrat riots took place. Around 1000-2000 people, mostly Muslims were killed in riots in Gujarat. The state was ruled by current Prime minister Narendra Modi.
Almost 25 years after its demolition, the Supreme Court found L.K Advani, Uma Bharti, and 19 others guilty of criminal charges in the conspiracy of demolishing Babri Masjid. The trial is yet to pronounce its verdict. BJP has come to power at center five times since its inception with Ayodhya issue as one of their prime election promises and the foundation stone of the religious institution will be laid down by the Prime Minister of the World’s largest democratic secular nation.
BJP’s birth as a political party and its appeasement to Hindu majority sentiment in India can be traced back to history. It is not a coincidence that the inauguration of the temple is taking place at the one year anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370. The meaning of the word ‘secular’ when deconstructed translates to the separation of power between state and church (religion). It is being questioned if it’s truly secular for the Prime Minister of our nation to participate in an event that has left deep scars on the secular fabric of the nation. Modi’s favorite point of reference, Nehru, refrained from celebrating any religious festival as a Prime Minister so people wouldn’t associate him with playing partisan politics.
While Narendra Modi as an Indian citizen is free to practice his religion and inaugurate Ram Mandir, the stakes change when he is the Prime Minister. In his official capacity, should he be the chief in attending the event?. The issue is indeed formative of the existence of BJP but let’s not forget that Narendra Modi is not just a leader of the party but the nation which is representative of all communities. He is bound by duty to uphold constitutional ideals, most important of them being secularism, maintaining the trust of all communities, respecting the past, and atrocities committed against minorities. But the question here is not of legality but morality, which is seldom found in Indian politics. Today, as the PM lays the stone of the temple, the land shall always remember years of violence, communalization, the blood of the nation etched in our memories. Deemed as “another historic moment’, let’s remember that history never forgets.