On September 27, 1989, Buta Singh, at the time Union home minister, landed in Lucknow on a secret mission.
He drove straight to the chief minister’s residence to meet a high-profile delegation of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) headed by the late Ashok Singhal.
The closed-door meeting concluded with the Congress government in Uttar Pradesh and the VHP signing an agreement that gave a fillip to the temple movement, which culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.
The VHP leaders beamed as the state government granted permission for ‘shilanyas’ (foundation-laying ceremony) of the proposed Ram temple at the ‘undisputed site’, close to the disputed structure. In return, the VHP agreed to abide by the directives of the Allahabad high court.
It was election time. Communal passions ran high as the VHP moved truckloads of ‘sanctified shilas’(stones) to Ayodhya for the temple’s foundation on November 9, 1989. Shila pujan, aimed at mobilising public support, ended with the foundation laid about 200 feet from the disputed complex.
As the Sangh Parivar stepped up its temple campaign, the Congress realised its blunder, but it was too late. It lost power in India’s most populous state and has never won it back since. The Janata Dal formed governments in Delhi under VP Singh and, in UP, under Mulayam Singh Yadav.
In 1990, BJP leader LK Advani embarked on his Somnath-to-Ayodhya ‘rath yatra’. He was arrested in Samastipur on the orders of the then Bihar CM Lalu Prasad in October. Emphasising the security of the disputed structure, Mulayam said, “Parinda bhi par nahi maar sakega (not a soul will be able to reach there),” which incensed the kar sewaks. On October 30, sewaks hoisted the saffron flag atop the heavily barricaded disputed structure. More than two dozen people were killed in police firing and Mulayam was derided as ‘maulana’(Islamic cleric) by some.
The Janata Dal governments fell, first at the Centre, and then in the state. The BJP won UP in 1991 polls and the Congress returned to power at the Centre under PV Narasimha Rao. The government of Kalyan Singh, UP’s first BJP chief minister, moved in tandem with the VHP, to clear the hurdles for the Ram temple.
Young and old thronged Ayodhya as the undisputed land, acquired adjacent to the disputed complex by the Congress government, was leased to the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas. Several temples were demolished to level the ground for ‘kar sewa’ in the garb of promoting tourism.
Opposition leaders made a beeline for Ayodhya but were stopped midway. The late PM VP Singh staged a dharna in the middle of the national highway.
The biggest congregation was planned for December 6, 1992. All entries to the temple town were sealed, but temple enthusiasts reached days before for ‘symbolic kar sewa’. Kalyan Singh submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court that Babri Masjid will be protected. He also said his government will not fire at kar sewaks.
On December 6, a huge and restless mob started assembling around the disputed structure. Senior VHP-BJP leaders addressed the kar sewaks from a makeshift dais. The CRPF waited in Faizabad, 10km away, even as the SC-appointed observer sent his reports to the court.
Soon, the mob went berserk and the first dome collapsed. Some pulled down the iron barricade and used sticks, along with axes and shovels, to demolish the other two. The VHP-BJP leaders embraced each other as slogans like ‘ Ek dhakka aur do’ (Give it another shove) rent the air.
A makeshift temple was raised on the debris of the disputed structure. The idols were reinstalled. The incident triggered rioting and arson that left 2,000 dead across the country. Rao dismissed the Kalyan Singh government, promised reconstruction of the mosque and slapped cases against senior BJP-VHP leaders.
Despite the VHP’s sporadic campaigns, the issue lost mass appeal soon. The BJP was defeated in subsequent elections and has ruled the state only twice since — first as part of a coalition, and again from March 2017 onwards with a majority.
Chief minister Yogi Adityanath, a strong votary of the Ram temple, appears to have quietly stepped into Kalyan’s shoes, reiterating his commitment to Ram Rajya (Ram’s empire). In over eight months, he visited Ayodhya five times.
The BJP’s former district president Dr Banke Bihari Tripathi recalls, “Kalyan Singh had released funds for civic infrastructure, research centre and beautification of Saryu ghat. However, he could not deliver as his government was dismissed in 18 months. CM Yogi has taken up the development of Ayodhya on the same lines. His ascent has raised hopes of temple construction.”
There is expectation in the air that he will complete the task by removing the last hurdle.
In 1986, when the gates of the disputed structure were thrown open, I, too, was oblivious of the history that was in the making. As it turned out, I was witness to the creation of history