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  Books   05 May 2019  How a mosque became a temple and besieged a nation

How a mosque became a temple and besieged a nation

Published : May 5, 2019, 6:20 am IST
Updated : May 5, 2019, 6:20 am IST

Acharya Narendra Dev lost by 1,000 or so votes to Baba Raghav Das.

Ayodhya: City of Faith, City of Discord By Valay Singh Aleph, Rs 499
 Ayodhya: City of Faith, City of Discord By Valay Singh Aleph, Rs 499

Titled Independence and Its Aftermath, Chapter 9 of this book traces the controversial beginnings of the Ayodhya debate. An excerpt

When India became independent on 15 August 1947, Ayodhya witnessed nothing out of the ordinary. In Faizabad, Congress leaders made perfunctory speeches… Later in 1947, some Bairagis and members of the Hindu Mahasabha, the Hindu counterpart of the Muslim League, gathered in Ayodhya and vowed to capture the Babri Masjid by force. The mahant of Hanumangarhi, Sitaram Das, and others also tried to impose restrictions on Muslims offering namaz in the mosque. Amidst this communalised atmosphere, the chief minister of the United Provinces, Congress’ Govind Ballabh Pant, a known sympathiser of the communal Hindu Mahasabha, changed the official Congress candidate at the last minute in the June 1948 by-election for the Faizabad seat. This had become necessary to defeat the socialist leader Acharya Narendra Dev, Pant’s rival and someone who enjoyed Nehru's confidence more than Pant. Narendra Dev was the leader of the Congress Socialist Party, which had remained in the Congress as a separate faction since its formation in1934.

In 1948, Narendra Dev had resigned along with 13 other legislators of his party, thus necessitating by-elections. Pant, who had become chief minister through fortunate circumstances, now needed to prove once again that he was in control of the Congress in UP. The candidate that Pant nominated for the Faizabad seat was Baba Raghav Das, a Gandhian sadhu from Deoria. Das led a communally vitriolic campaign against Narendra Dev, who was a local as well as a socialist leader of national stature… Baba Raghav Das and his backer, Pant, campaigned extensively in Ayodhya and Faizabad. Pant made full use of the religious zeal of the people of Ayodhya and the lack of it in Narendra Dev...

Acharya Narendra Dev lost by 1,000 or so votes to Baba Raghav Das. This was the first time that Ayodhya’s religiosity was harnessed in a democratic election.

Communalism on the rise
Authors Dhirendra Jha and Krishna Jha, in their meticulously researched book, Ayodhya: The Dark Night, note the importance of the Ayodhya victory for Hindu communalists, especially the Hindu Mahasabha. They write that the victory ‘had set a useful precedent for the Hindu Mahasabha and had shown militant Hindu communalists that gains could be achieved by exploiting religious sensibilities for popular mobilisation in Ayodhya’…  However, in July 1948, the Hindu Mahasabha was banned and its leaders imprisoned following Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination and their suspected role in it…

Less than a year later in June 1949, the ban on the Hindu Mahasabha was lifted... In its resolution dated 14 August, 1949, the Mahasabha used the government decision to rebuild the Somnatha temple in Gujarat as an example to be emulated… Pursuant to this resolution the Mahasabha scaled up its mobilisation of Bairagis and the general Hindu public in Ayodhya. In 1949, its local leaders had formed the All India Ramayan Mahasabha in Ayodhya and under its aegis, in October 1949, they organised a nine-day recital of Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas in Hanumangarhi… On the ninth day, after the recital had ended, the Hindu Mahasabha leader Mahant Digvijay Nath and others addressed a public meeting in which they announced the plan for a similar recital to be held a month later. This was to be held at the Ram Chabutra outside the Babri Masjid and would start on 24 November. The purpose of the recital was to pray for a miracle by which the idol of Ram Lalla placed at the Chabutra would move inside the Babri Masjid because, the
Hindu Mahasabha leaders insisted, that was the original place of birth of Lord Ram. Like the previous recital, this one also ended after nine days on 4 December, but the idol of Ram Lalla had not chosen to move inside the mosque.

Ram Lalla idol ‘appears’ inside Babri Masjid
Bhaye prakat kripala Deen Dayala
(There appeared the kind God himself)

Almost three weeks later, on behalf of Ram Lalla, the miracle was performed by a group of Bairagis led by Abhiram Das, a young Naga of the Nirmohi Akhara. On the night of 22-23 December, 1949, this band of men scaled the wall of the Babri Masjid after overpowering the lone sentry posted outside, beat up the muezzin, and placed an idol of infant Ram below the central dome of the masjid…

The First Information Report (FIR) lodged by Constable Mata Prasad on 23 December, 1949, at the local police station in Ayodhya named Abhiram Das and two others, Ram Shukla Das and Sudarshan Das. The rest were described as ‘50 to 60 other persons, names and addresses not known of thana Ayodhya’.

Interestingly, the FIR was lodged some time during the day but district magistrate Krishna Kumar Karanakar Nair had already received information about the events of the night on his daily morning walk. Mata Prasad had stated in the FIR that he reached the mosque at 9 a.m. In Faizabad, at a distance of a few kilometres, Nair had sent a radio message to the three topmost government officials in Lucknow by 10.30 a.m...

K.K.K. Nair was stating the truth when he said that the situation was under control. But it was only a half-truth. The situation was under his control, as it was he who had been part of the plan since its inception. He was ably assisted by wife Shakuntala Nair, who led the singing of bhajans and kirtan outside the entrance to the Babri mosque, effectively creating a deterrent against forcibly dislodging the idol from the mosque. Nehru learnt of the incident the next day and gave directions that were expressly clear: the idol needed to be removed and the mosque restored to its original state prior to 23 December. Three days later on 26 December, 1949, Nair explained to his superiors in Lucknow why he had not taken any preventive action to avert the incident. He wrote that he had no prior information about it and nothing of this nature was suggested by the last Crime Investigation Department report he received on 22 December…

K.K.K. Nair: A ‘devout’ DM
In July 1949, Nair had arranged for a request by the Hindus of Ayodhya to build a temple at the Ram Chabutra to be sent to the chief minister’s office. And even though Nair had got his protégé Gurudutt Singh, the city magistrate, to send a favourable ‘go-ahead’ report, nothing had come of this plan... Until 10 October, 1949 (the day when the city magistrate sent his reply), it was the Ram Chabutra which was considered and universally accepted to be Lord Ram's birthplace. But the capture of the Babri Masjid had caught the fancy of many men like Nair. He also had the support of Mahant Digvijay Nath and his friend, the Mahasabha’s local leader, Gopal Singh Visharad. The role that Nair played in ensuring that the idol remained inside the mosque after it was forcibly implanted was crucial. Without him and his carefully worded replies to his superiors, the idol would have been removed and the masjid restored to its previous state. But Nair warded off pressure from Lucknow by citing reasons of law and order and by maintaining that the issue was an emotional one…

Nearly a week had passed since the idol was placed. Nair knew better than anybody that the situation could easily go out of control and cause more bloodshed, in which case the idol would most likely have to be removed. A legal device to maintain the present status quo needed to be deployed quickly. Although it would have been easy for him as the district magistrate of Faizabad to get the Babri Masjid transferred into the government’s custody, or ‘attached’, as it was now a disputed property, he still had to zero down on a trustworthy receiver. Nair’s hunt for a reliable receiver ended in Babu Priya Dutt Ram, who was the chairman of the Faizabad-cum-Ayodhya Municipal Board and came from a Kayastha political family...

On 29 December, 1949, the Babri Masjid was attached and Priya Dutt Ram was appointed its receiver. Nair had succeeded in his plan of capturing the Babri Masjid — for all practical purposes it now stood converted into a temple. But one last thing needed to be done: Nair needed to ensure that the right of worship was given to Hindus, along with this he needed to secure legal protection against the removal of the idol by the district administration in the future.

Tags: babri masjid, ayodhya