The Yatra that left a trail of violence in its wake

Was the ‘movement’ to demolish the Babri Masjid simply about this one, unlawful act?
Or was there a more sinister motive, evident in the carefully crafted rath yatra  that caused violence in its wake?  To understand the mass mobilisation that lay at the root of this turning point, it is critical to go back three years to 1989-1990 where it all began.
This series examines LK Advani’s role in leading the rath yatra from 1989-1990 and again in 1992.
Defiant Advani dares the law and order machinery

Advani led the rath yatra from Somnath in Gujarat through Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, and Purulia in West Bengal until its culmination. News reports of the period portray the then BJP president in a defiant and angry mode, as he challenges the law and order machinery to dare act against him. These reports also warn of the fast-deteriorating ground reality around the trail of the rath yatra that caused deep polarisation and brutal and violent communal outbursts. 

The Telegraph dated October 16, 1990 titled ‘Advani defies govt to stop rath yatra, arrest him’, reads: “ The BJP president, Mr LK Advani, today warned the government not to “stand in the way” of building the Ram Janmabhoomi temple and said any obstruction on its part would prove costly… Speaking from atop his rath, Mr Advani challenged the government to arrest him and his associates and impound the rath.  

He warned: ‘If the government stops us, it should be ready to face the consequences.’” 
Warnings from the Media, grave threat to social harmony
A spate of reportage and editorial comment in the Indian media around this period warn of the grave consequences to harmony and unity caused by the divisive politics of Advani’s rath. An editorial in The Times of India, dated October 5, 1990 called ‘Playing With Fire’ really sums it up:“If the BJP president is congratulating himself on the success of his rath yatra – and going by his recent utterances in Maharashtra he seems to be doing just that — the rest of the country has reason to be greatly worried. For, with the conclusion of the Gujarat chapter of the programme, it should be plain that Mr Advani’s campaign is leaving a trail of destruction in it’s wake. Communal riots have already broken out in Baroda and Banaskantha. It is difficult not to see the connection between the rath yatra and the Ram Jyoti campaigns on the one hand and the heightening of communal tensions in different parts of the country on the other… Indeed the collection of lethal weapons, particularly of trishuls, gory ceremonies and performance of other rituals designed to create a spirit of militancy… it would be something of a surprise if violence did not follow it.

“By taking the lead in the campaign whose divisive and destructive potential is just going to unfold …he has considerably lowered his political stature. His inflammatory speeches, his indulgent wielding of glittering Sudarshan Chakras in public and his endorsement of the most bigoted among the militants threaten to identify him with the likes of Acharya Giriraj Kishore of the VHP… If Mr Advani is concerned about the unity and integrity of the country and stands for the defence of law and order, he should reconsider his course.”
Unheeded and Defiant, the Yatra Continues
‘Stop rath yatra, government told’, read a headline in The Hindustan Times, October 7, 1990. An article in The Sunday Observer, dated October 14, 1990 titled, ‘The Communal Flare-up’ was authored by none less than Sudheendra Kulkarni, then assistant editor with the paper. Kulkarni later rose to become officer on special duty to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

The article read: “Tumkur, Mandya, Kodagu or Coorg, Chitradurga, Mysore, Mangalore, Shimoga, parts of Bangalore city itself and even Dharwar in North Karnataka, have all reported instances of mounting tensions and even minor clashes. What is new to this present round of communal violence in this state, is the extent to which it has succeeded in penetrating the villages. The burning down of an entire hamlet of Muslim farmers near Chennapatna is only the most shocking among the cases reported so far. In Kolar district, too, Muslim houses in several villages have been reported to have been attacked by unknown outsiders. 

“Even as the state was reeling under the sudden spurt of religious strife, yet another piece of inhumanity was committed in Bah Malkheda, a village in the north-eastern district of Bidar (which borders Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh). Seven persons, including a woman and a child, were roasted alive, in a clash that was set off by nothing more than a minor altercation between two drunken youths… There is no doubt whatsoever, that the Muslim community (which constitutes about 35 per cent of the town’s population) bore the brunt of the rioting, both in terms of lives lost and property damaged — of the 17 dead, 13 were Muslims. Muslim hoodlums, in turn, attacked a colony of Tamil speaking Adi Dravidas (Adivasis) and set ablaze 15 houses.”
Trail of Violence
In a long report, The Telegraph (Insight) dated October 14, 1990, was scathing in its comment. The newspaper has likened Advani’s rath with ‘Chariots of Fire.’

 “…The extent to which communal passions have been heightened is evident simply by taking a look at what is happening in UP today: even before Mr Advani’s rath has entered the state, the death toll in communal clashes has gone up to 44. And with the BJP chief about to enter UP, there is apprehension that this figure might shoot up…When the rath moved into Maharashtra from Surat, the armed Bajrang Dal activists were less prominent — but the speeches of the BJP leaders were as full of venom… “”

Everywhere that Advani’s rath went, bloodshed followed. Within days of him passing through Solapur, on October 3, communal clashes claimed 20 lives in Kolar, Chennapatna and Ramanagram and another 12 a few days later in Davangere. In nearby Mandya and Hasan places of worship of the minority were desecrated.
Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, all affected
The sinister message of the sangh parivar  was clear. Browbeating Muslims to choose the masculine Rama over the thuggish Babur as he wound himself through 13 of Madhya Pradesh’s 45 districts in Central India, Advani was re-fashioning Indian nationhood, even as the institutions of the
republic impotently watched.

The Telegraph, October 14, 1990 ran a story titled,. ‘When the Pink City ran red with blood’, The Sunday Observer report, by Nirupama Subramanian, dated October 28, 1990, reads: “Death arrived at Mohalla Koliyan and Rishi Ghalib Nagar in the congested Ramganj area this week with a savageness that has few parallels in this part of the country. The Pink City acquired several shades to turn a crimson red, the colour of blood and mindless violence.”Similarly, Another report from the Telegraph dated October 28, 1990, titled ‘Purulia violence after Yatra’ by  Barun Ghosh says: “The communal flare-up that rocked Jhalda in Purulia district on Thursday claiming 9 lives, is a direct fall-out of the rath yatra of Mr. LK Advani which passed through the town on October 20.” The Independent, dated November 2, 1990 in a story titled, ‘Communal riots take a new turn in Indore’, depicts the grisly violence in that town.

The events in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 and countrywide in the dark months that followed are further testimony to the fact that the assessments of scribes were proved woefully correct.
As the Chariot reaches its goal, the Babri Masjid is demolished


The demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, an act that took place in gross and open violation of Indian law and the Constitution has remained a black spot in the social democratic history of India. Twenty-two years ago, on a Sunday, in full public view, with just the cameras of Doordarshan and BBC to record the event, a 400 year old mosque was demolished. Countrywide violence had preceded and followed this action. Senior leaders of the sangh parivar who rose to become prime minister and deputy Prime Minister (Atal Behari Vajpayee and LK Advani) participated in the mass mobilisation that led to the act. Two hundred companies of central paramilitary forces were present at the spot but did not prevent the demolition that took place in broad daylight.
Hand of providence that destroyed the Mosque, Advani
One month after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, on January 25, 1993, Advani expressed “no regrets over the demolition” adding, “it was the hand of providence that willed the fall of the Babri Masjid”. (The Indian Express dated January 26, 1993 reported on his public meeting in Ahmedabad under the headline: ‘No regrets over demolition, says Advani’) Advani was addressing a public meeting in Narangpura, Ahmedabad. Gandhinagar in Gujarat is the constituency that has returned Advani to the Lok Sabha (upper house of the Indian Parliament) six times.

Not only did Advani state as quoted by The Indian Express that he did not regret the demolition though he added as a rider that he was sad that day because his fervent pleas to kar sevaks not to damage the monument had been ignored. Reciting a couplet from Tulsi Ramayan, ‘Hoi So Soyi Jo Ram Lech Rakha’, he said the disputed structure was destined to fall because Providence had ordained it so.”Another report of the same event in The Economic Times dated January 26, 1993 had the headline ‘Providence willed fall of Masjid, Advani’. It was no coincidence that the report appeared on Republic day.
Jubiliation, polarisation means consolidated voter support
The immediate reaction of senior leaders of this ‘movement’ was jubilation and recognition that a consolidated voter base, built on the politics of hatred and division had been created and would stand it in good stead. They were clear that the political gain to the BJP from the demolition far outweighed outpourings of secular remorse. December 6, 1992 meant increased voter support for the BJP. At no place is this more clearly evident than in the foreword to the BJP’s white-paper on Ayodhya, authored by Advani and triumphantly released by him at the party office in New Delhi in April 1993. (Frontline, May 21, 1993, Black and White)

The Frontline report details the foreword to the white paper drafted by Advani. In this document, the sangh parivar draws a clever but vile distinction between those sections of Indians who were repulsed by this unlawful act and the rest (at the time the BJP’s vote base stood at 27 per cent, nationally) who saw it as liberation. Liberation from what? A false construction of the past and history that has chosen to see ‘Hindus’ as opressed and dominated by Muslims.
The Day the Yatra ended

Did the Violence stop after the 400 year old Mosque had been pulled down in full public view?
Here are some of the newspaper headlines from the period:
  • ‘Over 200 killed in nationwide frenzy’, reads The Indian Express, December 8, 1992;
  • ‘Anarchic situation in Ayodhya,’ is the headline of The Hindu, December 8, 1992;
  • ‘SC hints at trial of BJP leaders,’ said The Pioneer of December 8, 1992;
  • ‘Violence toll crosses 500,” was the headline in The Indian Express, December 9, 1992;
  • “Violence Unabated, toll mounts to 700”, The Economic Times, December 10, 1992; and,
  • “Shoot at sight in Calcutta: Toll mounts to 950, The Economic Times, December 11, 1992.
  • The Frontline on January 1, 1993 in its story headlined ‘Wounds all over — The violent aftermath’ said: “It may well go down in history as the worst round of widespread violence the country has seen since Partition: over a thousand people were killed in the week following the Black Sunday. The states of Maharashtra and Gujarat were burning and bleeding with more than 200 of their people consumed by the communal fury in less than a week.... Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Assam and Karnataka were also reeling under the impact of riots. Surprisingly, while West Bengal remained by and large peaceful initially, a belated bout of violence broke out in Calcutta and adjoining districts.”
The Real Motive, cleansing of neighbourhoods, purging of culture

Two years later, this report in The Independent  dated July 25, 1994 is a sombre reminder of just what the Ayodhya movement was really all about. “Fears of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Ayodhya; ‘Shuddhikaran’ programme includes fight against ‘Islamikaran’ of holy city by Janardan Thakur. “Behind the surface calm of this besieged town, a sinister plot is being executed. Its goal: to scare away the Muslim population, take over their land and property — and their holy places. Leaders of the community wake up to threatening calls by unidentified callers demanding that they ‘quit Ayodhya or die’. Muslim shops are ransacked and burgled at night and the police refuse to register their cases lest the shopkeepers claim compensation from insurance companies to keep their establishments going.”