Sunset over Ayodhya

On this day 31 years ago, the Babri Masjid, a 16th centu­ry structure in Ayodhya, Ut­tar Pradesh, was brutally torn down by Hindu nationalist mobs, marking a tragic chap­ter in India’s history. The de­struction of the mosque, built during the rule of the first Mu­ghal Emperor Babar, triggered widespread religious riots that claimed over 2,000 lives, making it the worst commu­nal violence since India’s inde­pendence in 1947. Hindu su­premacist groups, notably the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishva Hindu Parishad, seized the opportunity to push for the construction of a Ram temple on the mosque’s site. This move further deepened re­ligious fault lines, creating last­ing fissures in India’s social fab­ric. The roots of the Bharatiya Janata Party trace back to the formation of the Janata Party in 1977, a political amalgama­tion that included the Janata Dal and the Bharatiya Lok Dal. Within this political landscape, the Janata Party provided the foundation for the birth of the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980. However, it wasn’t until the leadership of L K Advani and the controversial events sur­rounding the demolition of the Babri Masjid that the BJP cata­pulted into prominence. 

The early days of the Janata Sangh, a precursor to the BJP, were marked by a struggle to gain significant electoral trac­tion. The political landscape was dynamic, with the party navigat­ing challenges and transforma­tions. It was in this context that the Janata Sangh merged with several parties in 1977 to form the Janata Party. Internal divi­sions led to the disintegration of the Janata Party, paving the way for the emergence of the Bhara­tiya Janata Party in 1980. The BJP, initially, did not achieve sub­stantial success in terms of votes and seats. The turning point for the BJP came with the leader­ship of Lal Krishna Advani. His role in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, particularly the Rath Yatra in 1990, significantly al­tered the political dynamics of the country. 

As Advani’s yatra progressed in October 1990, numerous cit­ies witnessed tragic incidents. In Ahmedabad, 41 lives were lost, while Jaipur, Jodhpur, Lucknow, Delhi, Assam, Patna, and Hyder­abad collectively faced substan­tial casualties. Bhagalpur, Bihar, witnessed a horrifying pogrom against Muslims, resulting in approximately 900 Muslim fa­talities out of a total of 960. The unrest persisted, with multiple regions experiencing prolonged tension. Between April and May 1990, Kanpur witnessed three riots claiming 30 lives, and from May to November 1991, Vara­nasi saw over 50 casualties. The infamous destruction of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, triggered anti-Muslim pogroms in Surat, claiming 200 lives, with around 95% being Muslim. Bhopal, too, faced vio­lence, resulting in 143 deaths. Simultaneously, the Bombay ri­ots led to over 1,000 casualties, predominantly Muslim.

Advani distanced himself from responsibility, claiming no riots occurred along the yatra trail. However, the political landscape shifted dramatically. The BJP’s vote share doubled in the 1991 general elections, securing 20% of the total vote and 120 seats. In the 1996 elections, held after the Babri Masjid demolition, the BJP won 161 seats.

The toll of Advani’s anti-Babri Masjid campaign was stagger­ing, with over 3,400 lives lost. This grim chapter in India’s his­tory propelled the BJP to the brink of power, solidifying Ad­vani’s political success at the cost of countless lives. Alarm­ing revelations, such as the in­volvement of around 150,000 kar sevaks in the planned Babri Masjid demolition and the tacit approval by top leaders of RSS, BJP, and VHP, add a disturbing layer to this narrative. Maloy Krishna Dhar’s claims in “Open Secrets” about providing secu­rity to the meeting where the demolition was planned, fur­ther highlight the intricate web of events.

According to a 2018 Pew Re­search Centre analysis, India ranked as the fourth worst coun­try globally for religious intoler­ance out of 198 countries. Con­cerns from international jurists and intellectuals persist regard­ing India’s religiously motivat­ed violence against minorities, with events like the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992 be­ing widely condemned. In a con­troversial judgment in Novem­ber 2019, the Indian Supreme Court permitted Hindus to build a temple on the site of the his­toric Babri Masjid. Interesting­ly, the Chief Justice at that time, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, was lat­er appointed to the Rajya Sab­ha by the BJP-led Indian govern­ment as a reward for delivering a verdict in line with one of the key ideological commitments of the BJP. The judiciary in India, in its decision on the Babri Mas­jid demolition case, appeared to prioritise the Hindutva ide­ology. Describing it as anything other than a miscarriage of jus­tice would be a challenge, par­ticularly when prominent BJP figures like Advani, implicated in the demolition of the histor­ic masjid, were acquitted by the Indian judiciary.

The date 06 December sig­nifies not just the anniversa­ry of the Babri Masjid demoli­tion but also commemorates the death of Dr B R Ambedkar. In his book “Pakistan and Par­tition of India,” Ambedkar had astutely warned about the per­ils of Savarkar’s divisive ideol­ogy. The echoes of Ambedkar’s caution became eerily relevant as the Babri Masjid demolition unfolded, embodying the man­ifestation of Savarkar’s ideas and leading to profound conse­quences for the unity of India. This event serves as a haunting reminder of a crucial juncture that profoundly influenced In­dia’s social, political, and com­munal landscape. 


–The author is an independ­ent researcher. E-mail:

–The author is an independ­ent researcher.

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